The teams expected to be in the top four when the College Football Playoff committee released its initial ranking of the 2018-2019 season Tuesday were all there. The lone surprise was the order they were ranked, with LSU, the only non-undefeated team in the bunch, placed ahead of 8-0 Notre Dame.

LSU football
LSU is No. 3 in the recent College Football Playoffs ranking, and is hoping to celebrate in January. (Image: USA Today Sports)

Alabama was No. 1, and Clemson No. 2, as they are in the AP Top 25 Poll. But the next two left a few people scratching their heads, with 7-1 LSU at No. 3 and unbeaten Notre Dame at No. 4.

According to committee chairman Rob Mullens, the reason was simple:

“One-loss LSU is ranked No. 3 ahead of Notre Dame because they’ve beaten six teams with winning records,” Mullens said. “Within the FBS, no other team in the country has that many victories over winning teams. They’ve played a strong schedule. In comparison, Notre Dame has three such wins.”

Familiar Faces Playoff-Bound

Alabama has played in all four College Football Playoffs since the format was instituted in 2014. They have been in three of the four championship games, winning twice.

They are the favorite again to win the title. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has them at -250. The next closest team is Clemson at +350. The Tigers have been to the CFP three times, and won the national championship in 2017.

LSU has a golden opportunity this Saturday to knock the Crimson Tide out of the No. 1 spot. The Tigers are a 14-point underdog at home against Alabama, a team they lost to 24-10 last year.

They are a 40/1 pick to win the national championship, mostly because sportsbooks believe LSU won’t defeat Alabama, and thus fall out of the CFP race.

Irish Fighting to Stay in Top 4

Notre Dame doesn’t have the same strength of schedule that LSU has in the SEC, but two games could trip up the Fighting Irish. The first is this weekend at Northwestern. The Wildcats are notorious for upsets. This year NU has already downed Michigan State and Wisconsin. It is not out of the realm of possibility that they could do the same to Notre Dame.

The other game is their final one, a road trip to USC. Even though USC is down this year, the rivalry usually produces high drama. The teams have traded blowout wins the last two meetings. USC downed the Fighting Irish 45-27 in 2016, while Notre Dame clobbered the Trojans, 39-14 last year.

Notre Dame probably doesn’t have the margin for error the other top teams have. Because of their strength of schedule, if the Fighting Irish lose any of their remaining four games, it would be difficult for them to get back in the top four.

Especially with the next ranked teams Michigan, Georgia, and Oklahoma, who play in Power 5 Conferences, lurking right behind Notre Dame. Mullens, though, said at the moment the independent university has done enough to earn their No. 4 ranking.

“It’s a quality team that’s 8-0,” Mullens said. “Impressive opening-season win over Michigan. The committee certainly has recognized their improvement on offense. Overall, we’re very impressed with Notre Dame.”