Alabama, SEC in good position for playoff rankings

The news out of Tuscaloosa, Ala., over the last 24 hours was mostly good, including a group of students being unharmed after their school bus was involved in an accident. There were no reports of looting or fires being set across the city or Alabama football boosters reneging on their $3.2 million donation to pay off head coach Nick Saban’s mortgage.

It seems even the most disturbed of fan bases realizes that nothing involving a college football playoff will be decided before Halloween, although I’m guessing Saban might be in a sour enough mood that he will hand out wax candy corn to all the kids at the mansion Friday night.

He can take solace in this: If initial rankings released by the 12-member playoff selection committee on Tuesday are any indication of which four teams will be seeded into the playoff, Alabama at No. 6 has only to win out to secure a place among the semifinalists.

It’s not impossible, likely even when you consider its toughest remaining regular-season games are at home.

It’s one thing we learned as history was made with the release of the committee’s rankings, which included a top four of Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi. Those names are sure to change as a new Top 25 is made public weekly until things are made official on Dec. 7.

Other things that became obvious Tuesday:

■ We will see over the next month or so if the committee agrees with a popular opinion (not mine) that the West Division of the Southeastern Conference is a mixture of Nebraska of 1971 and Southern California of ’72 and Oklahoma of ’74 and Notre Dame of ’47 and so on.

Three teams from the SEC made the initial final four and five are among the top 11. But it’s also true that Mississippi State must still play road games against Alabama and Mississippi; that Alabama must host Auburn; that Ole Miss hosts Auburn this week; that Auburn plays at Georgia.

It’s not about SEC wins, but rather how much the committee will penalize the top teams from that conference once losing to each other. When it comes to Top 25 polls, the SEC is always (and wrongly) given a much larger benefit of the doubt following losses than other conferences. How the committee judges such matters will ultimately determine how many SEC teams make the playoff.

■ In several ways, the committee seemed to credit impressive victories when slotting teams. The more Kansas State (ranked ninth) wins, the better Auburn looks for having won in Manhattan. Oregon is fifth, and its victories against UCLA and Michigan State obviously impressed voters more than the resume of 12th-ranked Arizona, which beat the Ducks in Eugene.

But how, then, is Notre Dame not ranked higher than 10th?

If the argument goes that the best win for the Irish thus far is Stanford, how can Florida State be ranked eight spots ahead of Notre Dame when the Seminoles’ best win came only after the Irish were penalized on the last play of a game in Tallahassee, where they outplayed Florida State?

■ That home setback to Virginia Tech is absolutely killing Ohio State. The one-loss Buckeyes from the ridiculously soft Big Ten are ranked 16th, meaning even if they run the table and beat both No. 8 Michigan State and then perhaps No. 15 Nebraska in the conference championship, the odds still don’t favor Urban Meyer’s team sniffing a playoff.


■ No matter the rankings or criteria, I still can’t believe any group of 12 people believe there are six better teams than No. 7 Texas Christian today and 16 better than No. 17 Utah.

■ Georgia at No. 11, given its defeat to a four-loss South Carolina team, is grossly overrated.

■ My old buddy Mike Hamrick needs to hire a better public relations firm to champion his undefeated Marshall team, because the one our favorite athletic director has employed is failing miserably. The highest-ranked team from a non-Power 5 conference is assured a berth in a major bowl game, which means millions of dollars to its league. East Carolina at 6-1 is ranked 23rd. Marshall at 8-0 is unranked by the committee today.

“It was extremely difficult, more difficult than any of us had expected having gone through our mock selections before,” Arkansas athletic director and committee chairman Jeff Long said about the process. “There are 18 one-loss teams in the (Football Bowl Subdivision) at this point in time, and the difference between many of them is very slim.

“Everyone on the selection committee recognized that our rankings will change over the next six weeks. I think that’s important for us to emphasize: We expect our rankings to change over the next six weeks. One week’s rankings won’t influence the next week’s rankings.”

Translation: It’s not even Halloween.

That comes when Saban stiffs the poor kids at the mansion.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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