The Alabama Crimson Tide has one of the three best passing offenses in the nation in addition to the No. 1 overall defense. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The first of six College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday, and the 13-member selection committee decided Georgia (8-0) was the top team in the nation, followed by Alabama (8-0), Notre Dame (7-1) and Clemson (7-1). Oklahoma (7-1) and Ohio State (7-1) are just outside the top four, with Penn State (7-1) also on the outside looking in. If the Bowl games were played today, the Bulldogs would play the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl, while the Crimson Tide would face off against the Fighting Irish in the Rose Bowl.

Normally, being left out of the initial Top 4 hasn’t been all bad news. Of the 12 teams ending the season in the Top 4 in the first three years of the College Football Playoff rankings, only five were part of the Top 4 in the initial rankings.

2014 Initial ranking Selection Day
1 Mississippi State (7-0) Alabama (12-1)
2 Florida State (7-0) Oregon (12-1)
3 Auburn (6-1) Florida State (13-0)
4 Mississippi (7-1) Ohio State (12-1)
2015 Initial ranking Selection Day
1 Clemson (8-0) Clemson (13-0)
2 LSU (7-0) Alabama (12-1)
3 Ohio State (8-0) Michigan State (12-1)
4 Alabama (7-1) Oklahoma (11-1)
2016 Initial ranking Selection Day
1 Alabama (8-0) Alabama (13-0)
2 Clemson (8-0) Clemson (12-1)
3 Michigan (8-0) Ohio State (11-1)
4 Texas A&M (7-1) Washington (12-1)

However, this year, the selection committee may have gotten it right on the first try.

According to Jason Kirk of SB Nation, teams that wind up in the final playoff bracket are programs that figure to have solid resumes by season’s end, and that includes:

  • finishing with one loss or fewer
  • beating at least three programs ranked in the committee’s Dec. 3 top 25
  • beating at least six programs that have .500-plus records on Dec. 3
  • winning a Power 5 conference — Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac-12 or Big 12 — outright

For this I turned to Cade Massey, a practice professor at the Wharton School, Rufus Peabody, a Washington-based sports analyst, and their Massey-Peabody rankings, a ranking system for projecting future performance, to see which teams should satisfy all four criteria by the time the selection committee’s final rankings are announced. Their initial projections listed Georgia, Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame as the most worthy Top 4 on Monday, based on performance to date.

According to their simulations of how the season will play out, run on Tuesday night, Alabama meets all four criteria in 61 percent of their simulations, by far the highest of any college program this season, no doubt buoyed by one of the three best-passing offenses in the nation per Bill Connelly, creator of the S & P+ Ratings, which focus on a team’s efficiency, explosiveness, field position, ability to finish drives and prevent turnovers. The Tide’s defense, meanwhile, ranks No. 1 overall.

Clemson meets all four criteria in 44 percent of Massey-Peabody’s simulations but then there are three teams that have between a 26 and 28 percent chance of also satisfying all four bench marks by year’s end: Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma. Alabama and Georgia, meanwhile, are on track to meet in the SEC title game, which could make some of the selection committee’s decisions easier later in the season.

Team Beat at least six teams that have .500-plus records on Dec. 3 Beat at least three teams ranked in the committee’s Dec. 3 top 25
vs. T25
Finish with one or fewer losses Win a Power 5 conference outright
conf champ
Met all four criteria
Alabama 96% 85% 90% 62% 61%
Clemson 99% 99% 44% 54% 44%
Ohio State 89% 33% 65% 79% 28%
Georgia 99% 88% 53% 30% 26%
Oklahoma 62% 70% 26% 47% 26%
Washington 78% 21% 38% 46% 15%
TCU 59% 28% 11% 23% 11%
Miami (FL) 28% 42% 34% 22% 10%
Oklahoma State 27% 16% 16% 25% 8%
Virginia Tech 18% 14% 11% 13% 5%

The wild card, of course, is Notre Dame, which doesn’t play in a conference. That said, they have a 32 percent chance of finishing with an 11-1 record and there is a 62 percent chance they have victories over at least three other teams in the committee’s final ranking. The Fighting Irish also have a 97 percent chance of tallying at least six wins against teams that are above .500.

Those are pretty good odds for the Irish, but they’d have to push out one of the five Power 5 conference champions to make the final cut. If we remove the conference champion criteria from the model, Notre Dame is a good bet to join Alabama, Clemson and Georgia among the teams in the Top 4 on Selection Day.

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