OSU, UGA, Michigan, FSU named CFP top 4. NCAA's Wolverines investigation not considered in rank

EMichigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh watches his team warm up prior to a college football game between the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines on Oct. 21, 2023, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, MI. (Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Spor

The NCAA investigation hanging over Michigan as it heads into the final month of the season as a national championship contender is not affecting the College Football Playoff selection committee's assessment of the Wolverines.

Ohio State was No. 1, followed by Georgia, Michigan and Florida State in the season's first CFP rankings Tuesday night, with unbeaten Washington and its Pac-12 rival, Oregon, next.

The NCAA is investigating a sign-stealing scheme that allegedly involved impermissible in-person scouting by Michigan.

Selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan, who is the North Carolina State athletic director, said the allegations against Michigan were not part of the debate about where the Wolverines should be ranked. He called it an NCAA issue, not a CFP issue.

"Fact of the matter is no one knows what happened," CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. "The NCAA is dealing right now with allegations only. The committee's judgments are based on what happened on the field. And clearly Michigan has been a dominant team."

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel is also part of the 13-member selection committee.

"No, there wasn’t any suggestion that anything change regarding Warde's position on the committee," Hancock said. "He was fully engaged in the meeting the last two days, as usual."

The committee has a recusal policy that precludes Manuel from being part of discussions about Michigan's ranking.

"Warde brought credibility when he came to the committee and he still has it," Hancock said.

The Buckeyes (8-0) are No. 1 in for the fourth time in the 10-year history of the CFP, and the first time since 2019. Victories over Penn State and Notre Dame, both ranked in the CFP's top-15, bolstered Ohio State's case, Corrigan said.

Two-time defending champion Georgia (8-0) and Michigan (8-0) have been Nos. 1 and 2 in The Associated Press college football poll since the preseason, but schedules light on big-time competition to this point worked against them with the 13-member selection committee.

Florida State (8-0) is in the CFP top four for the first time since the 2014 season.

Washington (8-0) beat Oregon (7-1) earlier this season and both still have ranked USC and Oregon State left on the schedule as the Pac-12 tries to snap a six-year playoff drought.

"The Pac-12 right now, from top to bottom, there's no gimmes," Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said in an interview with ESPN.

Texas (7-1) was seventh, ahead of Alabama (7-1). The Longhorns beat the Crimson Tide, but lost to Oklahoma (7-1), which was ranked ninth.

The first of six rankings sets the table for a month of scrutiny on the top teams and their performances.

The final rankings will be released Dec. 3, after the conference championship games, and those set the four-team playoff field, with semifinals at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl ahead of the national championship game on Jan. 8 in Houston.

This is the final season for this playoff format before it expands to 12 teams.

Four is the magic number for now and just once have the initial CFP rankings revealed the eventual playoff field. That was 2020, the pandemic season, which was far from normal in so many ways.

Last year, Tennessee was the committee’s first No. 1, followed by Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson. Only the Bulldogs and Buckeyes made the playoff.

Overall, 21 of the 36 teams (58%) that have appeared in the first CFP rankings of a season have made the playoff.

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Among the 36 teams that have made the playoff in nine years, 29 started in the top six.

The longest climb to the CFP was Ohio State in 2014, when the Buckeyes were 16th in the committee’s first ranking. Oklahoma was No. 15 in the first rankings in 2015 and made the playoff.

The highest-ranked Group of Five conference teams were Tulane at 24th and unbeaten Air Force at No. 25. The highest ranked conference champion from outside the Power Five receives an invite to a New Year’s Six game.

Unbeaten James Madison is not under consideration by the committee because the Dukes are in Year 2 of their transition to the top tier of Division I and by NCAA rule are ineligible for the postseason.

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