Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are among four SEC teams appearing in the top nine of the initial rankings, along with No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 6 Florida and No. 9 Georgia. (Auburn, at No. 22, gives the conference five teams in the overall rankings.) Georgia is the highest-ranked two-loss team, despite double-digit defeats to Alabama and Florida, and Clemson, which lost its only game to Notre Dame in two overtimes while playing without starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence, is the highest-ranked one-loss team.
"It's definitely a challenge. We knew that coming in," selection committee chair Gary Barta, appearing Tuesday on ESPN's rankings reveal show, said of putting together the first set of rankings. "You're evaluating teams that have played three games against teams that have played eight or nine games. We embraced the chaos."
Although BYU appears behind three two-loss teams -- Georgia, No. 11 Oklahoma and No. 13 Iowa State -- Cincinnati received a more favorable initial ranking, at No. 7, despite playing one fewer game than the Cougars. The Bearcats have league wins over SMU, Memphis, UCF, Houston, East Carolina and South Florida, and on Dec. 12, they are scheduled to visit Tulsa, which debuted at No. 25 in the CFP rankings.
BYU's original 2020 schedule featured games against six Power 5 opponents -- Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Missouri and Stanford -- all of which were canceled when the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC went to league-only schedules because of the coronavirus pandemic. As an FBS independent, BYU revised its schedule and has victories over Boise State, Houston, Navy and Troy, winning all but one of its games by 17 or more points and outscoring its opponents 428-125 for the season.
"Great motivation for our guys," BYU coach Kalani Sitake said of his team coming in at No. 14. "Love our team, love our players -- I think we play a great brand of football with excitement and passion, and we have a lot of work to do and a lot to prove, obviously, in a short amount of time, and hopefully we can get that done."
Barta indicated that the committee is "very impressed by BYU" but acknowledged that the Cougars' "schedule compared to the teams around them came into play."
"Zach Wilson is definitely a Heisman candidate playing at a high level," Barta said of the team's starting quarterback. "They've beaten three or four teams above .500. But as you look at their schedule -- and that's certainly where the committee went and looked at -- their best win is against Boise State. Boise was short-handed in that game."
The Cougars have open dates this week and next week and have only one remaining regular-season game scheduled, Dec. 12 against San Diego State. BYU is No. 8 in both the AP and coaches' polls this week.
Sitake said BYU had an opportunity to play Washington this week, but "it just didn't work out for whatever reason." Washington will instead play Utah on Saturday.
"There's this narrative out that we were hiding or ducking or waiting, and that's just not true. It is a false narrative," Sitake said. "I want to make sure everybody understands that we aren't afraid of anybody. ... We have two weeks left that are open, Dec. 5 and 19, that we're willing to play football -- and if there's anybody that actually has availability to play those games, we would like to do it."
Ohio State (4-0) is the Big Ten's highest-ranked team, followed by No. 8 Northwestern, which is 5-0 and likely to face the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game for the second time in three seasons. The Big Ten tied the SEC for most teams in the initial rankings, with five. No. 12 Indiana, No. 16 Wisconsin and No. 24 Iowa also appear.
"They're playing at a high level. They have some talented, young players," Barta said of the Ducks. "With three games, they haven't yet beaten or played a ranked team, and so right now, we had three games to evaluate. We put them where we thought they should be for now. We have four more weeks of the CFP meeting, and I'll look forward to having more games to add to that résumé to see where they go from here."
Two undefeated Pac-12 teams -- Washington (2-0) and Colorado (2-0) -- are unranked.
The CFP selection committee is scheduled to release rankings on Dec. 1, Dec. 8 and Dec. 15 before announcing the final selections Dec. 20. Conference championship games and other contests are set for Dec. 18 and Dec. 19.
The pandemic didn't stop the selection committee from meeting in person as usual at the Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine, Texas, just outside of Dallas. The playoff is on track to go off as scheduled, with the semifinals Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl and the championship game Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.