With the final installment of the College Football Playoff rankings just days away, many fans and pundits are trying to distinguish between the four best teams and four most deserving teams in America.

And yes, there is a difference – especially for the committee.

“The committee’s mission is to select the four very best teams for inclusion in the playoffs,” College Football Playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “So that’s what we focus on each and every week: ranking the very best Top 25 teams and ultimately the very best four teams for participation in the semifinals.”


So if No. 7 Penn State (10-2) wins the Big Ten Championship on Saturday and is left out of the playoff in favor of No. 2 Ohio State – a team the Nittany Lions beat in October – then you’ll know why. It’ll be because the committee feels Ohio State is simply better, despite the head-to-head matchup indicating otherwise.

“It’s always been the best teams (in the playoff),” Hocutt said. Now when there are two teams that are very comparable and the margins between two teams are razor thin, the management committee has instructed the committee to use four metrics to separate those teams.”

Those metrics are conference championships, strength of schedule, head-to-head (if possible), and comparative outcomes against common opponents.

“Those four metrics are in no particular order,” Hocutt said. “They’re not weighted against each other. It’s up to each particular individual – so 12 of us – as to what we place priority or emphasis on. The task, the mission, has been the four best teams, but when there are two teams that are comparable, then those four measures come into play.”

The Buckeyes have perhaps the most impressive resume in the country – outside of No. 1 Alabama (12-0), that is – and, based on the rankings, appear to be a lock for the playoff. After all, Ohio State has been ranked No. 2 for three consecutive weeks and will not play – and thus, cannot lose – before the final rankings come out Sunday.

That means the Buckeyes are playoff locks and no one will overtake them, right?

“I can’t answer that question,” Hocutt said. “As we know, every year is different. Anything can happen in any particular weekend of the college football season. As we all know, this is an important weekend in front of us. (The committee) will watch all of the games this weekend together, which I’m looking forward to. But every year is different. Anything can happen on a given particular weekend, but our rankings this week show that Ohio State is the second-best team in the country.”

Hocutt said Tuesday night that the difference between No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Michigan is razor thin. If the Huskies beat Colorado on Friday, then they – one would think – would likely make the playoff. But if they look unimpressive in the process, well, anything is possible.

“Washington is a team that the selection committee has been impressed with all year,” Hocutt said. “Their strength of schedule has been a concern and continues to be. They’ve played some good teams and beat some good teams. At the same time, Michigan has a very impressive resume with three wins against top-10 teams, and they looked impressive last week against No. 2 Ohio State despite coming up short in that game. So you’re right. Very small margin of separation but just cannot anticipate what may happen this weekend.”

All that said, Doug Gottlieb can’t help but wonder if No. 3 Clemson (11-1), which could easily have three or four losses this year, is overrated and living off their reputation based on accomplishments in previous years.

Is that a fair assumption?

“It’s not a fair assumption to think that past history has anything to do with this year’s rankings,” Hocutt said. “What we discuss is based on (this) college football season. Clemson has built a solid resume. They’ve got three wins against Top 25 teams, they’re an extremely talented football team and very talented at the quarterback position. They’ve built a strong resume that’s deserving of that No. 3 spot.”


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