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What do the CFP Top 25 rankings really mean?

What do the CFP Top 25 rankings really mean?

Today is a pivotal date for college football teams and fans across the nation, as this is when the College Football Playoff Selection Committee releases its first rankings of the season at 6:30 pm (CT) on ESPN.

The College Football Playoff website describes the new process this way:

“This season, college football enters a new four-team playoff era. The format is simple: the best four teams, two semifinals played in bowl games and a championship game played in a different city each year. It’s the biggest innovation in the sport in decades.”

You may wonder how “the biggest innovation in the sport in decades” works and what the results, once released, actually mean. If you’ve been watching ESPN at all this season, you have probably seen analysts speculating on who the Top 4 teams will be or offering their own lists of  “Who’s In?”

So, who is on the committee? What data will they use? What is the voting procedure? Is it a secret ballot or do they know how each other votes?

Here are the Top 5 questions we’ve been asked about the College Football Playoff:

1) What, no BCS? What happens now?

Basically, the first thing you need to know is the old BCS system of using polls and computer rankings to determine who plays for the national championship is no more. There’s a new sheriff in town–actually 12 of them.  Now the only numbers that are important are the rankings announced by the committee—a group of 12 people who hold the future of many college football programs in their hands.

The committee’s final ranking of the top four teams determines the only teams who will play for the national championship.

2) Who is on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, and when do they vote?

The second thing you need to know is who is on the committee and when they will release their results. The selection committee consists of 13 members (click HERE for the members’ names and their background info); however, one member (Archie Manning) is on a health-related leave of absence for the 2014 season.

The remaining 12 members meet weekly, in person, on Mondays and Tuesdays to produce rankings, with the first rankings issued today, following the completion of the ninth week of the regular season. The top 25 will be announced on ESPN each Tuesday evening and continue for the next five weeks. The list of dates for the release of the rankings is below:

Calendar for Rankings Release

Oct 28 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN
(First set of rankings released)
Nov 4 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN
Nov 11 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN
Nov 18 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2
Nov 25 6 p.m. CT on ESPN
Dec 2 6 p.m. CT on ESPN
Dec 7 11:45 a.m. CT on ESPN
(Selection Sunday and Playoff Semifinal teams announced)

On Sunday, December 7, after all regular-season and conference championship games have been completed, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will announce the playoff semifinal pairings and semifinal bowl assignments. (This will be shown live on ESPN at 11:45 a.m. CT.) Then, at 1:45 p.m. CT, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will announce the Cotton, Fiesta and Peach Bowl pairings, as well as the final top 25 rankings. At this time, the Orange Bowl pairing will also be announced.

3) What information will the committee use to make its decision?

The third thing you need to know is how the committee will ascertain who the top 25 teams are and what data the members will study when making their decision as to which teams are the top four in the nation. How on earth will these 12 people come to an agreement on who should be in the playoffs?

The committee will have an overwhelming amount of information– including review of video, statistics and their own expertise–to guide them in their deliberations.

They will emphasize obvious factors, including (but not limited to):

  • win-loss records,
  • strength of schedule,
  • conference championships won,
  • head-to-head results and results against common opponents.

Additionally, the committee will use SportSource Analytics who will provide the data platform for the committee’s use. This platform will include statistical information for every Football Bowl Subdivision team, as well as general information such as each team’s opponents’ record and opponents’ opponents’ records.

The platform will allow the committee members to compare and contrast every team on every level possible.Many experts believe the committee will place special emphasis on Power Five teams who have won their conference’s championship. (The Power Five consists of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference.)

4) How does the voting actually work?

The fourth thing you need to know is the actual mechanics of the voting process. Basically, the committee will rank the top 25 teams in the country and ultimately assign teams to the playoff semifinals, as well as to the Cotton, Fiesta and Peach Bowls (in years when they are not hosting semifinal games). All votes will be via secret ballot.

The committee will come up with its top 25 teams in the country by identifying small groups of teams and evaluating them against each other in a detailed and deliberative manner. The committee will then vote the teams into the rankings in a combined selection-and-seeding process that will work as follows:


  1. Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by THREE or more members will remain under consideration.
  2. In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
  3. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
  4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
  5. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.

Notes about the voting process: It is interesting to see there are also rules in place that allow the committee to go back and reconsider the rankings it has just determined. For example, after the rankings are completed, any group of three or more teams can be reconsidered if more than three members vote to do so. Step No. 3 would be repeated to determine if adjustments should be made.

Also, at any time during the process, the “the number of teams to be included in a pool may be increased or decreased with approval of more than eight members of the committee.”

One important note about the committee’s ranking of the teams is that members are supposed to start FROM SCRATCH each and every week. So the Top 25 rankings could look drastically different from week to week–especially after the conference championships are played. 

5) Do the rankings determine who plays in any of the traditional bowl games?

The fifth thing you need to know is how the rankings affect the college football bowl games.

The committee’s final rankings will dictate what teams will be in seven post-season games, including two national semifinals and a final to determine the eventual national champion. The other four games will be bowl games that should have very competitive matchups.  

College Football Playoff Schedule for 2014-2015

Sugar Semi-Final (January 1)
Rose Semi-Final (January 1)
Orange Orange (December 31)
Cotton Cotton (January 1)
Peach Peach (December 31)
Fiesta Fiesta (December 31)
Championship North Texas (January 12)

According to, “both participants in the Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls are contracted outside the playoff arrangement (Big Ten and Pac-12 to Rose Bowl; SEC and Big 12 to Sugar Bowl; ACC to Orange Bowl against the highest ranked available team from the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame).” In the case of a conference champion qualifying for the playoff, the bowl will then choose a replacement from that conference. Further, when those bowls host the semifinals and their contracted conference champions do not qualify, then the displaced champion(s) will play in the other New Year’s bowls.

Conclusion  – Pros and Cons

Many folks have spent hours debating the pros and cons of the new playoff system, and there is no doubt some will be happy with it while others will not.

The most obvious “pro” is the national champion will actually be determined on the gridiron. There won’t be any guessing as to which team is best or waiting to see who the pollsters choose. Secondly, fans will get to watch quality games that are sure to be exciting. Further, since the “big” bowl games will be integrated into the playoff system, rotating each year, that means the Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl and Fiesta Bowl will all get to host playoff games in the upcoming three seasons.

The “cons”—at least for players–include the additional football game they will play if they are to reach the national championship. This would cut into their time with family over the holidays, as well as potentially increase their chances for injury. For fans, it would mean the added expense of trying to attend an extra football game.

One thing is for sure–once the top 25 rankings are released, there will be non-stop discussions about them!

Check back with The Rebel Walk, as we will post the CFP Top 25 each week. 

About The Author

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn's love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.

1 Comment

  1. Carl Tetrick

    Just pray my Rebels can stay at least #4 so they have the opportunity to play for a National Championship. They dedicated this season to my late grandson Chance Tetrick. Chance and our entire family are so proud of the Rebels. We love you players and coaches.


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