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Bama, Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State are Top Four

BYU gets left back at 14, Marshall 21st

FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 file photo, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) leaves the field with his teammates after Clemson lost to Notre Dame 47-40 in two overtimes during an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. As virus disruptions mount and the Dec. 19 end of college football's regular season draws closer, the possibility grows that conference championships, major awards and even College Football Playoff participants will be determined by COVID-19. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP, File)

By RALPH D. RUSSO

AP College Football Writer

Alabama was No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season Tuesday night, followed by Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State.

Texas A&M was fifth and Florida was sixth, giving the Southeastern Conference three of the top six teams along with Alabama., which is No. 1 in the CFP rankings for a record 19th time.

Unbeaten Cincinnati from the American Athletic Conference at seventh has the best ranking for a non-Power Five team in the seven-year history of the selection committee’s top 25.

No. 8 Northwestern, Georgia and Miami round out the top-10.

Another unbeaten team from outside the Power Five was not so highly regarded by the committee. BYU was slotted 14th, behind No. 11 Oklahoma (6-2) and No. 13 Iowa State (6-2) among others. The Cougars were No. 8 in the latest AP Top 25.

The highest ranked Pac-12 team was Oregon at 15th and Southern California was 18th.

Much the like this college football season in a pandemic, the rankings schedule has been delayed and truncated this year.

The 13-person selection committee usually starts rankings teams around Halloween and produces six rankings before the final ones that determine which 12 teams will play in the semifinals and major bowl games.

This is the first of four rankings leading up to the only ones that really count, scheduled to be released on Dec. 20.

The pandemic didn’t stop the selection committee from meeting in person as usual at the Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine Texas, just outside of Dallas. And the playoff itself is scheduled to go off as scheduled with the semifinals on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl and the championship game Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Because of the strange season these initial committee rankings probably had a little intrigue than normal and questions to answer.

Q: How did the committee treat the non-Power Five unbeatens such as Cincinnati and BYU?

The Bearcats should be thrilled. The Cougars, not so much.

No non-Power Five team had ever ranked better than 12 in the first rankings. The best ranking in any selection committee top 25 by an team from outside the Power Five had been No. 8 by unbeaten UCF in the final 2018 rankings.

At worst, Cincinnati is lined up nicely to win out and grab the spot guaranteed to the top Group of Five conference champion in the New Year’s six bowls.

The other contenders for that spot is Cincinnati’s collapses down the stretch are Coastal Carolina at 20, Marshall at 21 and the Bearcats’ AAC rival Tulsa at 25.

BYU is not only on the outside of the realistic playoff race, but the Cougars would still need to rise a few spots to have a shot at getting an at-large invite to one of the lucrative New Year’s Six games.

“Great motivation for our guys,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said on ESPN while mostly taking the high road about the rankings.

A bid to the Fiesta, Cotton and Peach bowls would be worth $4 million to the independent Cougars, who are not eligible of the spot reserved for the Group of Five.

BYU has only one more game left, against San Diego State on Dec. 12, but is looking to add opponents. There were some discussions in the last few days between Washington, which had its game with Washington State called off, and BYU, but it didn’t work.

“We’re not afraid of anybody,” Sitake said.

Well, how about Cincinnati? The Cougars and Bearcats are both off Dec. 5.

It always comes down to risk/reward. The Cougars could certainly use a boost. The Bearcats still have Temple this week and likely two games with Tulsa.

Would that be enough for the Bearcats to move into playoff position after some of the teams in front of them are cleared out? BYU would definitely give the resume a lift.

Stay tuned.

Q: How much emphasis was put on data points?

Some, clearly by looking at unbeaten Ohio State sitting behind Clemson and the Pac-12 teams being way back. But then again, Wisconsin (2-1) at 16th suggests maybe not enough.

Q: How much did head-to-head matter?

In the case of Texas A&M and Florida, a lot. The Aggies beat the Gators and are ahead of them.

In the case of Oklahoma and Iowa State, not so much. The Cyclones beat the Sooners last month, but Oklahoma has been on a roll recently and is ranked ahead of Iowa State.

Notably, Louisiana-Lafayette from the Sun Belt won at Iowa State to open the season and has just one loss to Coastal Carolina. And the Ragin’ Cajuns are unranked.

Q: Yes, and about the Big 12?

The conference is not going to do better than a two-loss champion that will need a lot of help to reach the top four, but the ranking suggest the Big 12 is not quite out of this thing. Especially, if Oklahoma keeps up its recent rampage.

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