GRAPEVINE, Texas — Undefeated Tennessee earned the No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff’s initial Top 25 ranking Tuesday night, marking the first time in the program’s history it cracked the top four, followed by No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Clemson.
The 13-member committee ranked undefeated Michigan No. 5, and one-loss Alabama was No. 6 ahead of undefeated No. 7 TCU. Alabama had been ranked in the top three of the initial rankings in each of the past six years. It never has been lower than No. 6 in the committee’s first ranking, as it earned the same spot in 2014.
“We talked about this earlier in the week, but we didn’t know where we’d be ranked,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said on the ESPN telecast. “At the end of the day, one thing we’ve tried to do here is enjoy the journey.”
Tennessee, which is averaging 49 points per game and leads the FBS in total offense, became the seventh different program to earn the top spot at any point in the playoff era.
“We’ve continued to build our roster, and really believe in where we’re going,” Heupel said. “We are continuing to get better over the course of the season.”
The Vols entered Tuesday’s initial ranking ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s Strength of Record metric with the best win in the country, against No. 6 Alabama.
“When you look at the [top] three teams, the two wins with Alabama and at LSU really sealed the day for Tennessee,” CFP committee chairman Boo Corrigan, the athletic director at NC State, said on the ESPN telecast.
When asked about the difference between Ohio State and Georgia for the No. 2 slot, Corrigan said that one of the primary factors the committee looked at was “the explosive nature of their offense at Ohio State.”
Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, before the rankings release, Ohio State coach Ryan Day sounded more focused on preparing for this week’s opponent, Northwestern, than where his Buckeyes were going to land.
“Do I think we deserve to be in the top four, absolutely,” he said. “Do I think it matters all that much right now, no. What matters is beating Northwestern.”
Seven of the past eight teams that were ranked No. 1 in the committee’s first ranking have gone on to reach the CFP. The only exception was Mississippi State in 2014, the first season of the CFP.
At No. 8, one-loss Oregon was the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team.
Tennessee and Georgia will face each other Saturday in a game that will have a drastic impact on the committee’s second ranking, and Ohio State and Michigan will ultimately face each other in their regular-season rivalry game.
“There’s a long way to go,” Heupel said, “and obviously, we have a huge test with Georgia.”
All told, the first release features five teams each from the SEC, ACC and Pac-12, four each from the Big Ten and Big 12 and two from the American.
“We really don’t look at conferences, we’re looking at individual teams,” Corrigan said. “End of the day, we’re trying to pick the best teams and slot them the right way.”