The first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2020 season saw the usual royalty hold sway even in an unusual year, with Alabama at No. 1, followed by No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Ohio State. The Crimson Tide has held down No. 1 for precisely half the 38 rankings across the seven seasons of the four-team playoff concept, while Clemson, forgiven for its lone and narrow loss at Notre Dame, gained a top-four spot for the 30th time, the most of any program.
Two SEC teams, Texas A&M and Florida, got the Nos. 5 and 6 rankings, respectively, while No. 7 Cincinnati snared the highest ranking yet for any of the schools from the Group of Five conferences, the sport’s second tier.
For its first rankings of 2020, the committee met in Texas in recent days staring at an inscrutable puzzle with 17 unbeaten teams ranging from BYU at 9-0 to Washington and Colorado at 2-0, with Alabama and Notre Dame tucked in there at 7-0 and Ohio State at 4-0. That’s even though it’s three weeks later in the year.
The year has, of course, gone bent out of recognizable shape. Some conferences began in early September. Some began in late October. Some teams barely have begun at all. The usual appetizer buffet of nonconference games used for keener measurements hasn’t happened as conferences have played almost entirely themselves. The second-tier, so-called “Group of Five” brims with eight unbeaten teams partly because the nonconference games weren’t around to leave some of them beaten.
In a pandemic year of varying medical opinions, the usual unsolvable rankings questions of an eccentric sport have multiplied into cascading unsolvable rankings questions.
How should one measure the Pac-12 with its unbeaten Oregon (3-0), Southern California (3-0), Colorado (2-0) and Washington (2-0)? With the Big Ten starting late and upheaved by cancellations, is Northwestern’s 5-0 record better than Ohio State’s 4-0 record in ways beyond the numbers? Shouldn’t No. 1 go to Notre Dame just ahead of Alabama? No? Where to place BYU (9-0), Cincinnati (8-0), Coastal Carolina (8-0), Marshall (7-0), Nevada (5-0), San Jose State (4-0), Buffalo (3-0), Kent State (3-0) and Western Michigan (3-0)?
The semifinals and final of the College Football Playoff will be at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1 for the semifinals, and the national championship game on Jan. 11 in Miami for the final.