Chuck Culpepper (c) 2014, The Washington Post. GRAPEVINE, Texas — Mississippi State University, a longstanding football underdog that last won a Southeastern Conference title in 1941 when it went by the name “Mississippi State College,” became an enchanting trivia answer on Tuesday night.
Bucking long-established football hierarchy, the Bulldogs became the first team ranked No. 1 by the inaugural College Football Playoff selection committee, which issued its findings after two days of data study and secret-balloting at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
Mississippi State University joined No. 2 Florida State University, No. 3 Auburn University and No. 4 University of Mississippi in the crucial top four positions.
After the first of seven weekly Monday-Tuesday meetings aiming toward Dec. 7 and the announcement of the first four-team playoff in the sport, the committee’s top 25 mirrored the traditional polls at the top, then diverted somewhat just below. “Let me tell you, it was extremely difficult, more difficult than any of us expected,” said committee chairman Jeff Long, the athletic director at Arkansas.
Just as in the Associated Press media and USA Today coaches’ polls, Florida State followed Mississippi State. Thereafter, however, the committee placed Auburn at No. 3 while enamored of its optional early-season visit to win at Kansas State University, which placed No. 9. That made Auburn (6-1) the top-ranked of the 16 top-level, one-loss teams the committee had to unscramble.
“Auburn stood out at number three,” Long said.
The group, with its five standing athletic directors, two former coaches (Tom Osborne, Tyrone Willingham), one former U.S. Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice) and one former member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Osborne), placed Ole Miss at No. 4, valuing its 23-17 win over one-loss the University of Alabama, which landed at No. 6, three spots below the two polls. “The gap among Ole Miss at number four, Oregon at five and Alabama at six is paper-thin,” Long said, emphasizing there would be volatility to come.
Different considerations marked two other head-to-head histories. The University of Oregon, which lost at home to the University of Arizona, landed at No. 5 with Arizona at No. 12.
Long attributed it to Oregon’s greater body of work that has included wins over No. 8 Michigan State and No. 22 UCLA. A further case had No. 7 Texas Christian University six places higher than Baylor, the only team to defeat TCU. Long attributed it to the overall weakness of Baylor’s schedule.
In another departure from the polls, the University of Notre Dame came in at No. 10, while it ranks No. 6 among the media and No. 7 among the coaches. “Like many teams on this list, they’ll have a chance to play themselves up the ladder, or down the ladder,” Long said, referring to upcoming games at Arizona State University and the University of Southern California.
Beneath Mississippi State and Florida State, the only two unbeaten teams from major conferences, came 15 of the 16 one-loss teams (excluding Duke University, which ranked No. 24). The top two-loss team was No. 18 University of Oklahoma (5-2), followed closely by No. 19 Louisiana State University (7-2).
Marshall University (8-0), the only other unbeaten team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but which operates among the conferences presumed second-tier, did not make the committee’s 25, with Long citing strength of schedule.
One team ranked in neither traditional poll did make the list: University of Louisville at No. 25, ahead of a game Thursday night against Florida State.
The committee met on the fourth floor of the complex, while the first floor featured a convention for Paccar, the medium- and heavy-duty truck designer. The resort sports restaurant features wait staff in Dallas Cowboys jerseys.
Mississippi State’s biggest encounters up ahead are believed to be on the road at Alabama on Nov. 15 and at Ole Miss on Nov. 29. Florida State has potentially trying trips to Louisville on Thursday night and to the University of Miami on Nov. 15. And the litany of games involving the 16 one-loss teams includes:
— Saturday: No. 3 Auburn at No. 4 Ole Miss.
— Nov. 8: No. 9 Kansas State at No. 7 TCU, No. 10 Notre Dame at No. 14 Arizona State University, No. 16 Ohio State University at No. 8 Michigan State University.
— Nov. 15: No. 3 Auburn at No. 11 University of Georgia (in addition to Mississippi State-Alabama).
— Nov. 28-29: No. 14 Arizona State at No. 12 Arizona, No. 10 Notre Dame at Southern California, No. 3 Auburn at No. 6 Alabama (in addition to Mississippi State-Ole Miss).
— Dec. 5: the Pacific-12 championship game (Santa Clara, California).
— Dec. 6: No. 9 Kansas State at No. 13 Baylor University, the Southeastern Conference championship game (Atlanta), the Big Ten championship game (Indianapolis).
A horde of other games should factor into the outcome, including No. 5 University of Oregon’s annual attempt Saturday to solve Stanford University, a matchup that has held uncommon sway over the national picture recently.
Pivotal meaning also could come from the Pac-12 cluster of University of Utah, Arizona and Arizona State, all of whom still must play one another, and the Big 12 thicket of Kansas State, TCU, Baylor and the University of West Virginia, with two-loss West Virginia hosting both TCU (this Saturday) and Kansas State (Nov. 20)