The first release of the 2015 College Football Playoff rankings came during Tuesday evening's ESPN telecast, with the Clemson Tigers debuting at No. 1.
Since the Ohio State Buckeyes are atop the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll, it's quite a surprise to see the defending national champions check in at No. 3—behind Clemson and LSU. The last team in the Top Four is Alabama, which has benefited from a stout strength of schedule.
Check out the complete CFP Top 25 below, as Notre Dame and Baylor are the first two teams out right now:
Ohio State has been indecisive at the most important position and hasn't really registered a signature win to date.
Sophomore quarterback and team captain J.T. Barrett had seized the job temporarily but is suspended for this Saturday's game against Minnesota for an arrest because of operating a vehicle while impaired. Cardale Jones has a new lease on life under center in Columbus for the time being.
Thanks to a loaded defense and a rushing attack spearheaded by Ezekiel Elliott, OSU has remained undefeated and is thus still the team to beat. Its schedule gets tougher down the stretch with Michigan State and Michigan to close the regular season.
Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports noted how teams who are well outside of contention or are lower than expected at the moment shouldn't be devastated about Tuesday's release:
At least one big shift promises to happen at the top of the current CFP picture late in the year when TCU plays host to Baylor in the Horned Frogs' regular-season finale. TCU checked in at No. 8, which was surprisingly low considering its rank of No. 3 in the Amway poll.
Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Info highlighted one key factor as to why Baylor was rated sixth:
Since the Bears are without starting quarterback Seth Russell for the year because of his neck injury, it stands to reason the dynamic passing combination of Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson will be enough to challenge Baylor for a slot in the postseason Top Four.
Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long explained why the powers that be decided to slot the Big 12 rivals where they are, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:
The following quote from TCU head coach Gary Patterson prior to the rankings' release was incredibly prescient.
"I think we're going to be wishing that it's an eight-team playoff, not a four," said Patterson, per the Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton.
There is still plenty of football to be played between now and the TCU-Baylor showdown. Ohio State has difficult hurdles to clear in the Big Ten; the same goes for LSU in the extremely difficult SEC.
Of more importance this weekend, the Tigers may well fall in the next edition of the rankings if they can't go to Tuscaloosa on Saturday and grind out a victory over Alabama. Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette is the foundation of LSU's success and must keep running the ball at his current pace to ensure the victories continue coming.
ESPN Stats & Info illustrated how Alabama sports a stout CFP resume despite losing to Ole Miss earlier in the season:
The Crimson Tide have the means to catch anyone ranked ahead of them, even if those teams run the table. Not everyone agrees with Alabama's gaudy standing, though, including CBS Sports' Gary Parrish:
Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee raised a fair point about Alabama as well:
Although some may believe name recognition may be a point of bias in the committee's decision regarding the Tide, that isn't the case with regard to Memphis. Led by QB Paxton Lynch, the relatively unheralded program is all the way up to 13th. ESPN's Brett McMurphy alluded to the significance of Memphis' ranking:
To circle back to the teams at the top, what's encouraging for both LSU and Clemson is the development of their sophomore signal-callers in Brandon Harris and Deshaun Watson, respectively. Harris has the luxury of Fournette to complement him but does have a cannon for an arm and has yet to throw an interception in 2015.
Long also outlined why Clemson opened ahead of Ohio State and every other team in the country, per Mandel:
Strong performances against the stout defenses of Boston College and NC State in recent weeks suggest Watson can handle the big stage and make enough plays to boost Clemson to the College Football Playoff. The ACC isn't quite as difficult to run the table in, though the Tigers have a huge home game this Saturday against Florida State.
Mississippi State opened atop the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings last year but couldn't stay there. The current college football hierarchy is not set in stone by any means, and with the tough tests LSU and Clemson face this weekend, a huge shakeup could be in store in the imminent future.