The College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken — and it likes the SEC.
At least for now.
Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi are the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings.
The first of seven Top 25 rankings compiled by a 12-member selection committee was released Tuesday night. The selection committee will ultimately pick the four teams to play in the national semifinals and set the matchups for the other four big New Year’s Day bowls that are part of the playoff rotation.
“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.
Oregon was fifth and Alabama was sixth, giving the Southeastern Conference’s West Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining matching those SEC West rivals, starting with Saturday’s matchup of Auburn and Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.
The final rankings will be released Dec. 7, the day after the most of the conference championships are decided.
“Everyone on the selection committee recognized that our rankings will change over the next six weeks,” Long said. “I think that’s important for us to emphasize. … One week’s rankings won’t influence the next week’s rankings.”
Kansas State debuted at No. 9, within striking distance of qualifying.
To move up five spots by the end of the season K-State — 6-1 and 4-0 Big 12 — will have to navigate three difficult road games — at No. 7 TCU, No. 20 West Virginia and No. 13 Baylor. But a difficult schedule could provide a boost if K-State continues winning.
“There are 18 one-loss teams in the FBS and the differences between many of these teams are slight,” Long said. “The bottom line is it’s early, it’s close and it’s going to change.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder understands that. Maybe that’s why his players don’t seem interested in rankings of any kind at the moment.
“We aren’t focused on that right now,” K-State linebacker Will Davis said Tuesday before the rankings were revealed. “We really aren’t focused on anything other than Oklahoma State and working hard in practice.”
Added cornerback Morgan Burns: “We are going to continue to worry about us and to prepare the best we can. Coach always says, ‘Be 1-0 every day.’ That means not getting caught up in anything other people are saying about us. That is going to be huge for us moving forward.”
This is the first year for the playoff format in college football, and the list is the first indication of how the committee is evaluating teams’ playoff potential.
While Ole Miss received a better ranking than Alabama, head-to-head victories weren’t always the deciding factor for the committee.
Arizona, which won at Oregon, is 12th. Baylor beat TCU but is six spots behind the Horned Frogs.
Long said in both cases the head-to-head loser had the better overall resume. Long said Oregon’s victories against Michigan State and UCLA stood out. And Baylor’s lack of quality opposition so far held back the Bears.
“They have not had a strong schedule outside of their win against TCU,” Long said.
The committee creates small groups of teams, debates their merits and ranks the teams using as many votes as needed to come up with a consensus.
The Star’s Kellis Robinett contributed to this report.