Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples reacts to Washington being listed outside of the top four in the first College Football Playoff rankings.
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The race for the College Football Playoff has officially begun.

This week’s debut rankings raised eyebrows with the selection committee’s decision to seed one-loss Texas A&M fourth, a spot ahead of unbeaten Washington.

As committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said, however, “There’s a lot of football left to be played.”

For the next five weeks, the 12-member committee will comb through reams and reams of data — strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head results and more — before settling on the best of the best.

The committee could choose to weigh teams namelessly, comparing contenders by the numbers, statistics and metrics at their disposal. Let’s put two teams battling for position in the Playoff race to this blind test.

TEAM A

Strength of schedule, NCAA method: 22nd

Strength of schedule, Sagarin ratings: 33rd

Number of games vs. current ranked teams (Amway Coaches Poll): 3

Number of wins vs. teams in the current Playoff top 25: 2

Number of top-50 Sagarin teams played: 4

Opponents’ average Sagarin rating: 58.5

Offense vs. defenses ranked in the top 25 in yards per play: 5.55 yards per play (1-0)

Defense vs. offenses ranked in the top 25 in yards per play: 5.93 yards allowed per play (1-0)

TEAM B

Strength of schedule, NCAA method: 13th

Strength of schedule, Sagarin ratings: 23rd

Number of games vs. current ranked teams (Amway Coaches Poll): 2

Number of wins vs. teams in the current Playoff top 25: 1

Number of top-50 Sagarin teams played: 5

Opponents’ average Sagarin rating: 68.63

Offense vs. defenses ranked in the top 25 in yards per play: 4.74 yards per play (1-1)

Defense vs. offenses ranked in the top 25 in yards per play: 4.97 yards allowed per play (1-1)

Team A has a slight edge in overall strength of schedule, with an edge in opponents’ average Sagarin rating, number of games against teams currently inside the Amway Coaches Poll and number of wins against teams currently in the Playoff top 25.

It’s not a great advantage, however. Team B has played more teams ranked inside of Sagarin’s top 50 and has played a stronger schedule overall, according to the same metric.

A better separation may been seen in how the two teams have fared against the top offenses and defenses in the country: Team A has fared better in games against top-25 offenses and defenses than Team B.

Drumroll, please:

TEAM A is Ohio State.

TEAM B is Texas A&M.

In the debut rankings, Ohio State was seeded sixth while the Aggies were inside the hypothetical four-team field. Why might that be?

Hocutt firmly stated that the committee placed enormous value on A&M’s strength of schedule, but based on the above metrics, the Aggies’ edge is not as wide as one might be led to believe.

Think of each team’s best wins. A&M has Auburn, ranked No. 9 in this week’s Playoff poll. The Buckeyes have Wisconsin (No. 8) and Oklahoma (No. 14). A&M does have the better loss: Alabama to OSU’s defeat to Penn State.

In other words, you can make the case for A&M being ranked fourth. You can also make the case for Ohio State. (Not to mention No. 5 Washington.)

The biggest difference between the two teams is that Ohio State controls its destiny. The Buckeyes can win the Big Ten Conference by running the table, defeating Michigan and potentially notching a second win against Wisconsin by the end of the regular season.

A&M, meanwhile, needs help. With Alabama holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Aggies’ only path to the Playoff involves a chaotic close to the regular season.

AMWAY COACHES POLL TOP 25 TEAMS

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