College Football Playoff 2016: Final Four Predictions After 1st Top 25 Rankings

Joe Pantorno@@JoePantornoFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2016

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 22:  Quarterback Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies looks downfield to pass against the Oregon State Beavers on October 22, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The first College Football Playoff poll of the 2016 season was released on Tuesday night, giving contenders and fans alike an early look at which programs will be the ones to beat.

Here is what the committee's first set of rankings look like:

There are just six weeks remaining until bowl season starts up, which offers plenty of time for those Top Four teams to change. 

This is who I believe will be contending for the National Championship come December:

                    

Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama retained its No. 1 ranking on Tuesday despite having a bye week, though there was little doubt that it would appear lower. 

The Crimson Tide have been nothing short of dominant over their past five games, winning by an average margin of 30.6 points per game. 

They defeated three ranked SEC opponents in a row, including a 49-10 drubbing of then-No. 9 Tennessee before defeating then-No. 6, now No. 4, Texas A&M 33-14 in Week 8. 

A harrowing matchup against No. 13 LSU awaits Alabama on Saturday, but it has had two weeks to prepare for the Tigers and running back Leonard Fournette, who went off for 284 yards against Ole Miss on Oct. 22. 

Alabama has handled Fournette well, though, holding him to just 110 yards on 40 carries, which is an average of just 2.8 yards per carry.  

If it can get by LSU, there is somewhat clear sailing that awaits Alabama as its next two matchups are against Mississippi State and Chattanooga before a season-ending matchup against Auburn. 

But with a defense that has allowed just 14.9 points per game to support a loaded rushing attack that includes Damien Harris and quarterback Jalen Hurts, Alabama won't be stopped in 2016. 

                          

Clemson Tigers

No. 2 Clemson has already navigated through its toughest part of the 2016 season, which was headlined by a thrilling 37-34 come-from-behind victory against then-No. 12 Florida State:

This came after quarterback Deshaun Watson and Co. outdueled Louisville and Heisman-candidate quarterback Lamar Jackson 42-36 in early October. 

Watson has continued to prove why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation this year with over 2,300 passing yards and an additional 331 on the ground. 

Thanks to his dual-threat capabilities, Clemson is scoring 36.6 points per game, and its 314 passing yards per game ranks 17th in the nation. 

With a defense that gives up just 17.6 points per game, that's a formula for success for the rest of the season, especially with a remaining schedule that boasts no ranked teams in Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and South Carolina. 

                                     

Washington

As one of the surprises of not just the Pac-12 but of all of college football, No. 5 Washington has passed each and every one of its minimal tests so far in 2016. 

After starting the season 4-0, the Huskies became a legitimate contender after drubbing Pac-12 favorite Stanford 44-6. The following week, they posted 70 points on Oregon. 

Quarterback Jake Browning has emerged as a Heisman candidate thanks to an elite start to the season, passing for 1,895 yards on 67.7 percent passing with 28 touchdowns and three interceptions. 

Like Alabama and Clemson, Washington's defense is just as stout, allowing 15.8 points per game. 

The Huskies will have to be big to finish this season as matchups with California, USC and No. 25 Washington State remain. 

I believe Washington will get the nod into the Top Four later on after Texas A&M loses on the final day of the regular season to LSU. 

                    

Ohio State

A loss to No. 12 Penn State has created an uphill battle for No. 6 Ohio State, but one game still basically holds its ticket to the College Football Playoff, and that's on Nov. 26 against No. 3 Michigan. 

Considering that the Buckeyes have played in the bigger games over the past few seasons and have a four-game win streak over Michigan, I'm still taking an Urban Meyer-coached team on such an enormous stage at home.

This is, of course, assuming that Ohio State can pick up wins against No. 10 Nebraska, Maryland and Michigan State before then.

If that's the case, the Buckeyes would hold wins over Michigan, Nebraska, No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 14 Oklahoma, who were all ranked at the time they played. That would be a difficult resume to turn away if they win the Big Ten. 

Ohio State is still one of the teams to beat in college football despite one loss. Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel have combined for over 1,250 yards to anchor the nation's eighth-best rushing attack. 

It's contributed to an offense that's scored over 42 points per game opposite a defense that is giving up just 15.1 points. Both of those figures are ranked in the nation's Top 10 and will set up another Ohio State run at a national championship. 

                

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com