The College Football Playoff selection committee is even more impressed with the Georgia Bulldogs than the traditional polls are.
Georgia landed the No. 1 position in the committee’s initial rankings of the season, released Tuesday night, one spot higher than the Bulldogs rank in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls this week.
The playoff committee ranked Alabama No. 2, Notre Dame No. 3 and defending national champion Clemson No. 4.
Georgia and Alabama are unbeaten and currently on course to meet in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Notre Dame and Clemson have one loss apiece, with Notre Dame’s coming by one point to Georgia.
The Bulldogs’ victory over the Fighting Irish made the difference in landing the committee’s No. 1 ranking over Alabama, which tops the AP and coaches’ polls.
Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt, the athletic director at Texas Tech, said there was much debate over two days of meetings in Grapevine, Texas, about the order in which to rank Georgia and Alabama.
“We spent considerable time (Monday) talking about the differences between Georgia and Alabama. We began … and ended our day (Tuesday) with great debate, as passionate a debate as I’ve seen,” Hocutt said on the ESPN show unveiling the rankings.
“At the end of the day, it was the two wins against CFP Top 25 teams for Georgia, specifically the win over No. 3 Notre Dame, that gave Georgia the very slight edge over Alabama this week.”
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In addition to Notre Dame, the other CFP Top 25 team beaten by Georgia was Mississippi State, ranked No. 16 by the committee.
Although Alabama has been dominant, it doesn’t have a win over a team currently ranked in the committee’s Top 25. What would have been the Crimson Tide’s signature victory, over Florida State in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 2, may have been devalued by the Seminoles’ struggles since losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois to injury in the opening game.
But Hocutt said the committee took into consideration that FSU was at “full speed” against Alabama and that “their quarterback participated in that game.”
Although media and coaches’ polls have been ranking teams since August, the selection committee’s rankings are the ones that count in ultimately deciding which teams qualify for the four-team playoff that determines the national championship. The committee will re-rank the teams each week through Dec. 3, when it will place the top four in the national semifinals, which this season will be played in the Rose and Sugar bowls on New Year’s Day.
The semifinal winners will meet for the national championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 8.
Following Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson in Tuesday’s initial rankings were Oklahoma at No. 5, Ohio State at No. 6, Penn State at No. 7, TCU at No. 8, Wisconsin at No. 9 and Miami at No. 10.
Having SEC teams in the top two spots undoubtedly will be unpopular in other conferences.
In the CFP’s first three seasons, no conference placed more than one team in the playoff field in a given season. But there is no rule to prevent it, and on a recent visit to Atlanta the playoff’s executive director, Bill Hancock, said the selection committee doesn’t consider conference affiliation in ranking teams.
Its sole mandate is to pick the nation’s four best teams, regardless of conference or geography, he said.
Through the playoff’s first three seasons, Georgia was a non-factor in the process. The Bulldogs’ highest ranking previously was No. 9 on Nov. 25, 2014. They weren’t ranked by the committee at any point in 2015 or 2016.
The AJC’s Tim Tucker keeps you updated on the latest happenings on the Road to Atlanta and college football’s national championship game. You’ll find more on myAJC.com.