As the 2021 college football season enters Week 9 and its forthcoming homestretch, the first installment of the College Football Playoff rankings is soon to arrive. While a total of six announcements will be made this season, culminating in the final, official rankings dropping on Dec. 5, the first set of rankings will be announced this evening at 7 p.m. ET. While there’s been talk to extend the pool of competing teams in the near future, for now, each of the top four teams in college football—as determined by the CFP selection committee—will participate in the semifinals on Friday, Dec. 31, and the winners of each semi will compete for the National Championship game on Monday, Jan. 10.
Last year, Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide was the top team in each set of rankings and the final CFP field joining Alabama included Clemson, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. Alabama dominated Ohio State 52-24 in the National Championship game, but the 2022 version of the playoff looks to be much more up in the air as to who will ultimately hoist the trophy in Indianapolis.
With just four weeks left in the regular season, here are my CFP Top 10 rankings, and who I envision will make up the first installment of the Final Four when announced this evening.
No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs (8-0)
So far this season, it’s been all about the Bulldogs. The consensus No. 1 team in the country heading into Week 10, if there were any doubts surrounding Kirby Smart’s unit, they were put to rest against an uber-athletic Florida Gators backfield. As they’ve done all year to opposing offenses, they made the athletic freak that is Anthony Richardson look like he’d never played football before in a 34-7 romp of the Gators. Headlined by defensive line hoss in Jordan Davis and a menacing linebacking corps anchored by Nakobe Dean, the Bulldogs have allowed a nation-low five offensive touchdowns, six fewer than the next closest program. They are as stout a defense as they come in college football today and it’s going to take a herculean offensive game plan to attempt to stop the Bulldogs from ravaging any offense they square up against. The clear and away favorites to end the year atop the rankings, the No. 1 team in the country has solidified their status as the team to beat.
No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1)
Two SEC bluebloods that looked destined to meet in the SEC title game in early December headline the top two spots in my rankings. Despite a rollercoaster loss at the hands of Texas A&M, Alabama’s season could ride on a win or loss on Dec. 4 in Atlanta. But, are you going to count out Saban in a must-win game? Didn’t think so.
Offensive tackle Evan Neal anchors the way for quarterback Bryce Young, who headlines Saban’s offense with Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams and the versatile John Metchie III as the anchors in the passing game. Veteran back Brian Robinson and in-line talents Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley round out Saban’s offensive arsenal. Defensively, they aren’t the Crimson Tide of old with first-rounders at every level, but that’s not to discredit their production—they are stacked with high-profile talent. Unlike in years past when Alabama is a shoo-in for a final-four ticket, a newly welcomed underdog mentality for the one-loss Crimson Tide has them playing inspired football with their hair on fire.
Death, Taxes, Alabama in the CFP. Book it.
No. 3 Michigan State Spartans (8-0)
What a fall it’s been for Mel Tucker’s Spartans, who, despite an unblemished record, sit third for me in my rankings due to a slight committee bias toward the SEC—and who could blame them? While I could go on for days on running back Kenneth Walker III, the job Tucker has done in acquiring talent via the transfer portal has been two-fold with the success Michigan State has enjoyed so far this fall. A Nov. 20 matchup against Ohio State remains the circled event in both locker rooms and will be the put-up-or-shut-up game for Tucker’s unit, who have just one victory against an AP Top 25 team so far this year.
No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (9-0)
With Caleb Williams at the helm, Oklahoma, as they always are, can put up gaudy numbers each and every time they step foot on the gridiron. A true freshman, Williams was called upon following the benching of preseason QB1 Spencer Rattler and hasn’t looked back, leading the Sooners to an undefeated record and 50 or more points scored in three of the last four weeks. Their defense continues to remain a question, however, but if all comes to fruition, the Sooners could surprise.
No. 5 Cincinnati Bearcats (8-0)
The Bearcats have a signature win (Notre Dame) and the chance to seriously bolster their resume when they face SMU on Nov. 20, but they aren’t a Power Five school; it matters.
They also tout one of the best defenses in the country, giving up just 14.3 points per game. Only Georgia (6.6 PPG) gives up less. If they run the table, it's going to be very hard to keep them out. Also, a Desmond Ridder vs. Georgia’s defense matchup in the CFP semifinal would be a dream come true. I’m a big fan of the Bearcats, but conference prestige and strength of schedule carry a ton of weight.
No. 6 Oregon Ducks (7-1)
An overtime loss to Stanford hurt their resume, but a Week 2 victory over Ohio State looms large for the Ducks, who tout an impressive blend of premier defensive talent and an explosive offensive attack. Headlined by potential 2022 No. 1 overall selection Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon could very easily sneak their way into the CFP despite a bad loss to the Cardinal.
No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1)
Of any team in the country, the Buckeyes have arguably the greatest amount of room to move up due to their upcoming schedule against Michigan State and Michigan to close out the year. If any of the teams ahead of them were to suffer an upset, expect the high-octane Buckeyes to leapfrog due to their high-profile talent and explosive offense headlined by the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked wideouts in the 2022 TDN100, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.
No. 8 Michigan Wolverines (7-1)
A tough loss at the hands of Kenneth Walker, err Michigan State, has the Wolverines wishing Walker was still at Wake Forest. Make no mistake about it, the Wolverines can play ball, and with dominant victories all season long, I have a feeling the Wolverines aren’t done just yet.
No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-1)
Oh, those reliable Fighting Irish. The same program that has snuck its way into the CFP over the last couple of years only to suffer blowout losses at the hands of Power Five dynamos looks to be on the outside looking in this year.
No. 10 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (8-0)
Speaking of Wake Forest, could you imagine if Walker hadn’t transferred to the Spartans? Undefeated in the ACC just doesn’t mean what it used to, but as long as the Demon Deacons keep winning, their stock will continue to rise. Matchups against North Carolina, N.C. State, and Clemson will be a telltale sign if Wake, led by gun-slinger Sam Hartman, are contenders or pretenders.