In the four years of the College Football Playoff, how do the 16 teams in the era stack up? How would they be ranked by the committee?
All-Time College Football Playoff Ranking of All 16 Teams
Now that we know how the College Football Playoff committee has gone through its process through the first four years of this grand experiment, what if we took all the precedents and all the thoughts and applied them to all 16 teams that made it into the tournament?
There’s obviously a reason why some teams are ranked where they were in a given season, but the criteria has changed a wee bit here and there – the CFP really likes the four best teams belief – so there’s some adjusting to do.
So let’s say the committee had to seed all 16 teams from 2014 to 2017. How would it rank them?
One key note: pretend we don’t know what actually happens in any of the playoffs. Forget about the results – as amazing or ugly as they might have been. This is strictly going on the merits of each team at the end of each regular season.
The (#) after each team is the final College Football Playoff ranking in a given year.
16. 2016 Washington (12-1)
The Case For: The Pac-12 Championship means just about everything to the Huskies’ case. They didn’t just beat Colorado (10), they brought a 41-10 stomping.
The Huskies looked like the real deal on both sides of the ball for most of the year year, destroying Christian McCaffrey and Stanford (18) 44-6, and rolling through Utah (19) on the road.
The Case Against: The resume stinks. The Pac-12 was awful in 2016, and the UW non-conference schedule was worse, facing Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. The hottest team going was USC (9), and Washington didn’t just lose, it lost at home 26-13.
Final Decision: The speed and talent are there, but the resume wins aren’t. There wasn’t anything in non-conference play to get excited about.
15. 2017 Alabama (11-1)
The Case For: There’s a whole lot of talent on both sides of the ball. When it was focused and rose up from time to time – like against Ole Miss in a 66-3 win – it was fantastic.
The Crimson Tide ended up beating six bowl teams including LSU (17) and Mississippi State (23). Crushing Fresno State 41-10 is far better now than it looked at the time.
The Case Against: Where are the big wins? The Crimson Tide struggled against a mediocre Texas A&M, it was just okay against LSU and Mississippi State, and while beating Florida State was good, that turned out to be a way overrated Seminole squad. Throw in the double-digit loss to Auburn – the one good team on the slate – and there’s nothing here.
And, of course, there’s the huge problem of not winning a division or a conference championship in a down year for the SEC.
Final Decision: On talent and reputation, the Crimson Tide can hang with anyone, and they could certainly get hot and win two games against anyone on this list. But based on eye test and resume, this team is just okay compared to some of Nick Saban’s juggernauts.
14. 2015 Oklahoma (11-1)
The Case For: As far as non-conference wins go, the comeback against Tennessee (23) on the road was the important tone-setter for everything else. The offense picked up steam from there, scoring 41 points or more nine times, including a 44-34 win at Baylor (17).
In the key final two games of the season, OU came through, taking down TCU (11) 30-29, and beating Oklahoma State (16) on the road in a 58-23 blowout.
The Case Against: The loss was in a rivalry fight with Texas, but it was still unacceptable – the Longhorns suffered a losing season. The defense didn’t always pass the eye test, and overall, the Big 12 was okay, not amazing. Not having a conference championship game isn’t that big a drag, but 11-1 is obviously different than 12-1.
Final Decision: The offense was terrific, and there some nice wins, but beating Tennessee didn’t turn out to be quite like it was supposed to be, and the 11 wins come across as a bit light in the no-big-deal Big 12 of 2015.
13. 2014 Florida State (13-0)
The Case For: 13-0. It might not have been pretty, but this was the only Power Five team to finish the season without a blemish. The Seminoles fought through plenty of adversity and still answered every challenge, beating Clemson (17) and Louisville (21) teams that finished in the top 25, and beat Georgia Tech (12) in the ACC Championship.
The Case Against: The eye test hurts. There are too many lousy performances, too many close calls, and too many battles without one truly great win. This wasn’t playing like a top team, even at 13-0.
Final Decision: There’s a benefit of the doubt factor kicking in. There’s something to be said for being the only unbeaten team in a given year, especially as the defending national champions. But the Seminoles could never quite wake up – they don’t look the same as they did in 2013.
12. 2015 Michigan State (12-1)
The Case For: The early season win over Oregon (15) set the tone as the Spartans seemed to invent ways to win close game after close game.
The punt block finish against Michigan (14) on the road was an all-timer, but it was the road victory over Ohio State (7) – the Buckeyes’ only blemish – that changed everything. Handing Iowa (5) it’s only loss gives the Spartans one of the best resumes on the board, but …
The Case Against: The loss to a Nebraska team that finished with a losing record wasn’t okay. The Spartans played with fire time and again, and in Lincoln, they got burned. Six of their games were decided by a touchdown or less – they didn’t always pass the eye test.
Final Decision: This was more like a team that just found a way to get it done. There’s no arguing against what the Spartans did, but based on look and the “four best team” theory, it’s hard to make a case for anything higher.
11. 2017 Georgia (12-1)
The Case For: Being able to avenge an earlier loss matters. The defeat on the road at Auburn (7) hurt, but getting the job done a weeks later in a 28-7 pounding made up for it.
Beating Notre Dame (14) on the road really makes a difference. That was a different Irish team back then, and taking down rival Georgia Tech on the road should count, even if the Yellow Jackets didn’t get bowl eligible. The Bulldogs also stomped Mississippi State (23) 31-3.
The Case Against: There are losses, and there are 40-17 losses, even on the road. While the Dawgs pass the eye test, there were a whole lot of wins over mediocre teams. Mississippi State wasn’t that great. Tennessee – awful. Florida – awful. Vanderbilt – awful. There are a few great wins, but there’s not enough meat on the schedule bone.
Final Decision: The debate is on. The NFL talent is there in several spots, and the team certainly looks and plays the part in a lot of ways. but the way it lost to Auburn was scary. It seemed to expose the Dawgs a bit, even if they were able to avenge it.
10. 2016 Ohio State (11-1)
The Case For: The resume wins are staggering. The Buckeyes beat a Tulsa team that had a great season, but it was the 45-24 win the week after on the road against eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma (7) that was the key to the season.
They survived Wisconsin (8) in overtime in Madison, and they destroyed a solid Nebraska team that should’ve finished ranked 62-3. They followed that up with another 62-3 win over a Maryland team that went bowling.
Finish it all up with a gut-check win over Michigan (6), and that’s three wins over top eight teams, with the one loss came in miracle fashion on the road.
The Case Against: The Buckeyes didn’t even win their own division, much less their own conference. The overall body of work is fantastic, and the 24-21 loss to Penn State on a blocked kick for a score was forgivable, but no conference title = big problem.
Final Decision: Conference championships really do matter. However, when it comes to the top-line of the resume, it’s hard to beat what the Buckeyes did, especially with the two wins on the road over Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
9. 2017 Clemson (12-1)
The Case For: Based on the eye test, good luck finding a better defensive front. The Tigers destroyed a great Auburn (7) team that went on to play for the SEC Championship, followed it up with a win over Louisville on the road, and was solid in a 31-17 win over Virginia Tech (22) for a strong September – but one that turned out to be a bit overblown.
In all, there were eight wins against teams that went bowling, and that was before stomping all over Miami (10) 38-3 in the ACC Championship. South Carolina isn’t ranked, but that was a solid rivalry win on the road, and taking down NC State (24) looks strong on paper.
The Case Against: Of all the 16 College Football Playoff teams, no one has a worse loss than the 27-24 misfire on a Friday night at Syracuse. The Orange not only didn’t go bowling, they didn’t win another game the rest of the way finishing 4-8. Overall, the ACC was good, not amazing. Florida State was down, and Louisville was just okay.
Final Decision: The Kelly Bryant injury issue against Syracuse is taken into account, but that was still a loss to an eventual 4-8 team. Those September wins – except for Auburn – zzzzzzzzzz. They were fine. However, this team might be humming at the right time, rocking at the end of the regular season.
8. 2016 Clemson (12-1)
The Case For: On talent, Clemson was as good as anyone on this list. There’s NFL prospect after NFL prospect on both sides, led by Deshaun Watson conducting it all.
Beating Auburn (14) to start the season on the road was strong, and while it was a fight to get by Troy at home, that turned out to be a fantastic Trojan team. Surviving Lamar Jackson and a red-hot Louisville (13) helps, beating Florida State (11) on the road was great, and winning the ACC Championship over Virginia Tech (22) padded the resume.
The Case Against: The 43-42 shootout loss at home to Pitt was a problem. Considering the Tigers lucked out against NC State a few weeks earlier – a missed field goal was needed to survive – this was a shaky team despite all the talent.
Final Decision: The problem is that NC State game. Clemson certainly has the talent to turn it all up a few notches – and Watson is Watson – but there are a whole lot of moments that didn’t add up. Would the Tigers have been more focused if they lost to the Wolfpack? Maybe, but that lack of focus is scary to put up any higher than this.
7. 2014 Ohio State (12-1)
The Case For: Purely on the eye test, it’s hard to close a season stronger. With everyone paying attention, the Buckeyes overcame the scrutiny with a brilliant 59-0 Big Ten Championship win over a fantastic Wisconsin (18) team. There were three wins over final top 25 teams, led by the shootout victory over a Michigan State (8).
The Case Against: Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21. It might have come early in the season, but it was still a blowout loss at home to a mediocre team. Also, the loss of starting quarterback J.T. Barrett against Michigan is a factor. The Big Ten Championship win was great, but the Buckeyes losing the starting quarterback matters to the committee.
Final Decision: This is a tough one, mainly because it absolutely looked the part as the season went on, but the Virginia Tech game was the one chance to come up with something decent against a real non-conference team, and at home, they blew it.
6. 2014 Alabama (12-1)
The Case For: The talent-level is jaw-dropping. The lines were incredible, and the offense explosive. Beating Mississippi State (7) was excellent, and getting by LSU (23) on the road was important, but it was the way the offense rolled when it needed to in a 55-44 win over Auburn (19), and the 42-13 dominance over Missouri (16), that took the 2014 Tide to another level.
The Case Against: The defense was too inconsistent for the talent level. There were a few too many tight games when Bama was the far better team, and the 23-17 road loss to Ole Miss (9) is an anchor.
Final Decision: The lack of consistency is troubling. This might be the most talented team on the list, but there was way too many struggles along the way. However, some credit has to be given for being the conference champ in an epic year for the conference, especially the SEC West.
5. 2017 Oklahoma (12-1)
The Case For: The offense … the offense. Who’s stopping this thing? Texas was able to keep it in check, but even in the loss to Iowa State the Sooners put up 31 points.
Baker Mayfield came up with a season-long performance for the ages, especially in a Heisman-defining 31-16 win at Ohio State (5). Based on the look, this team answers every question on offense, surviving a 62-52 shootout against Oklahoma State (19) on the road, and beating TCU (15) twice, including in the redo of the Big 12 Championship. Beating seven bowl teams – including one twice – is terrific.
The Case Against: The defense is still suspect. Granted, playing in the Big 12 will do that, but the conference wasn’t that great. The loss to Iowa State, while generally acceptable, was still a loss. At home. To Iowa State.
Final Decision: The Texas game needed a late boost, and Mayfield saved the day against Kansas State, but it’s really all about that win at Ohio State – considering the final ranking, the best by anyone on this list.
4. 2015 Clemson (13-0)
The Case For: The only unbeaten team left in 2015, the Tigers fought through the adversity of some close calls to roll to 13-0 with an ACC Championship.
Surviving the two-point play against Notre Dame (8) was a key moment, but taking down Florida State (9) was when it all came together. The ACC Championship win over North Carolina (10) overcame a whole bunch of mediocre schedule issues.
The Case Against: There are way too many wins over average teams. In all, the Tigers beat five teams – all with four wins or fewer – that finished with losing records, along with a win over Wofford from the FCS world. The Notre Dame win was great, but there were plenty of layups to get to 13-0.
Final Decision: 13-0 is 13-0. Beating three top ten teams is enough to overcome the padding across the rest of the schedule. Take that, along with the undeniable talent, and the overall body of work is there.
3. 2014 Oregon (12-1)
The Case For: Who’s stopping this offense? On a roll, Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota led an attack that cranked up 42 points or more in every game except the 31-24 loss to Arizona (10).
The Ducks avenged that with a 51-13 Wildcat stomping in the Pac-12 title game.. The 19-point win over Michigan State (8) is the big win, but winning at UCLA (14), blowing out Utah (22) on the road helped.
The Case Against: The loss to Arizona the first time around was at home. The rest of the Pac-12 was relatively mediocre, and there were some defensive issues against bad Washington State and California teams.
Final Decision: This is a whole different ball game for this up-tempo offense. Mariota is the key, able to run it at the highest of levels. And the Ducks have a defense, too. No, beating the team that beats you doesn’t take the sting totally away, but it comes close.
2. 2015 Alabama (12-1)
The Case For: The defense was at an all-time amazing level. It’s not just the eye test – it’s in the results, allowing 17 points of fewer against everyone by Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
The resume wins are good enough, winning away from Tuscaloosa against Wisconsin and Georgia teams that should’ve been in the final rankings, and with victories over Tennessee (23), LSU (20), and in the SEC Championship over Florida (19).
The Case Against: The 42-37 loss to Ole Miss (12) was at home. The offense was a bit hit-or-miss, and the home win over Tennessee was a wee bit of a grind.
Final Decision: 11 of the 12 wins were by double digits. It wasn’t always pretty, but the defense made up for most flaws. The Ole Miss loss passed the lose-a-game eye test. That was a weird, funky game where everything that could go right for the Rebels, did.
1. 2016 Alabama (13-0)
The Case For: Perfect. The Crimson Tide made it look so easy at times, starting out with a dominant 52-6 win over USC (9) – Bama all but made USC flat quit.
Even with a freshman in Jalen Hurts at quarterback, the offense rolled at will. The defense didn’t allow a thing, and outside of a 48-43 firefight with Ole Miss and a 10-0 battle against a game LSU (20) team on the road, there wasn’t a whole lot of drama.
The defense allowed 16 points or fewer 11 times, including in the 30-12 win over Auburn (14) and the 54-16 SEC Championship win over Florida (17).
The Case Against: The 48-43 firefight at home against Ole Miss might have come early on, but the Rebels ended up finishing with a losing season. Yes, the Tide rolled, but the SEC wasn’t all that great.
Final Decision: Along with some of the all-time great Miami teams, this Tide squad passes the eye test on several levels.
Throw in the 49-10 road win at Tennessee (21), and there are more than enough resume wins to go along with the talent.
As long as this team doesn’t do something crazy like mess with the coaching staff in the midst of the playoff, it should play like the one-seed of ones.