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Hamilton: CFP rankings far from final

Remember the buzz that engulfed us about this time three years ago? The excitement and the hype and the hoopla tethered to the first-ever College Football Playoff rankings was intoxicating. It validated the decades-long pleas (screaming) for a playoff.

But now? Eh.

Certainly the next seven days will be lively. There will be debate and discussion regarding the first draft that was released Tuesday evening for the fourth edition of the College Football Playoffs. The merits of Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson will be built up and broken down along with those regarding the contingent right behind them. It’s what happens with anything that’s subjective.

And make no mistake about it –– choosing the four-team CFP is a subjective process even if the selection panel considers 13 analytic data points to assemble the rankings. Everything is perfectly flawed anytime something called an “eye test” is in play.

That means the consternation and scrutiny between now and next Tuesday night might match that from the initial batch in 2014. After all, an invitation into the four-team CFP party isn’t like getting an invite to the Music City Bowl or making the NFL playoffs with a ho-hum 8-8 record. It offers validation and the opportunity to plant sturdy pillars for future success. The CFP is a big deal and teams will scream and beg to gain entrance.

But those first rankings, the ones we once so giddily anticipated? Eh.

Certainly champagne corks feel threatened in a handful of locales across the country. Fans of the teams holding those coveted Nos. 1-4 spots had their championship dreams enhanced Tuesday night. Being in the mix speaks volumes about their bodies of work to this point.

Each team’s worth is confirmed by combining strength of schedule, quality wins, common opponents, margin of victory and other metrics into a bundle that’s then paired with plain human intuition gleaned through 13 sets of intuitive eyes. Those aren’t simple tests to pass and doing so successfully means a prime and well-deserved position among college football’s elite.

And so there is glee in Athens, where the Bulldogs are in the driver’s seat. Likewise in Tuscaloosa and Upstate South Carolina, places that have tasted recent titles and crave more. The Fighting Irish are anxious because Notre Dame is one step closer to returning to the top shelf of football brands that it once occupied.

But here’s the buzzkill: It will all be moot not long after Thanksgiving.

These initial rankings are just that and won’t look the same –– perhaps not even remotely similar –– by the time the final list is released on Sunday, Dec. 3. It could even be far different when the second version rolls out next week.

Don’t think so? Consider the history of the still infantile playoffs.

The first 2014 rankings was an all-Southern affair, with the SEC’s Mississippi State, Auburn and Mississippi in the mix as well as Florida State of the ACC. The Seminoles were the only member of that quarter left in play when the playoffs started Jan. 1, 2015. The first winner of the CFP was Ohio State, which started the 2014 playoff poll at No. 16. We should’ve quickly learned that season not to hyperventilate over the first rankings.

That trend continued. Only half of the initial top-four teams made the playoff a year later and Oklahoma was 15th out of the gate, yet made the playoff. Remember when Michigan was third and Texas A&M was fourth at this time last year? Probably not because neither made the cut a month later.

Doing the math, only 42 percent of the teams atop each season’s initial rankings ended up going to the playoff. Forty-two percent. It’s a number that’s low enough it should keep the teams currently in play still a little uneasy and give everyone from the fifth spot down hope.

Nothing, it seems, is definite regardless of the logo on the helmet.

Because there can be no certainties when human judgment is a factor. That includes more than just the folks making up the selection committee, but also every player and every coach for every team that’s jockeying for playoff position or playing for a playoff prospect. Small decisions can have big consequences.

Considering what it all means in the end –– a true national champion that’s determined on the field –– it’s exciting stuff even if what was released on Tuesday is only a start.

It’s just not as exciting as it was the first time because it’s merely that –– a start.


Follow Scott Hamilton on Twitter @ScottH_Sports





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