How Do College Football Rankings Work?

How Do College Football Rankings Work

Ever wondered where the rankings come from in college football? Or, have you wondered who determines the bowl games and which teams make the college football playoff? Read this piece to find out how college football rankings work, and who is behind them.

What are College Football Rankings?

College football rankings work to rank the best college football teams. There are several different rankings, including the AP Top 25, the College Football Playoff Ranking, and the AFCA Coaches Poll. Each ranking is calculated by averaging the rankings of many voters. These voters are trusted members of the world of college football, such as athletic directors or coaches.

Here are some of the factors used to determine the rankings of college football teams:

  • What was the team’s record during the season?
  • Did the team win their conference championship?
  • How hard was the team’s schedule?
  • How did the teams play against one another? This applies if they are choosing between teams that faced off during the season.
  • How did the top teams compare in their games against common opponents?
  • Are certain teams expected to play better or worse than they did during the season? This could be due to a change in injury status to a player, or a midseason firing/hiring of a coach.
  • These polls do not take into account how the college has performed in previous years

AP Top 25

The AP Poll, or Associated Press Poll, is a poll of selected broadcasters and writers on who the 25 best college football teams are. To make things fair, every state’s number of voters is proportional to the number of college football teams in that state. The first AP poll is released in late August, with subsequent rankings coming out every week. 

Each voter comes up with a ranked list of what they believe are the 25 best college football teams. Each ranking has a corresponding point value; a team ranked first gets 25 points, a team ranked second gets 24 points, and so on until the team ranked 25th gets one point.

Once all the voters submit their lists, each teams’ total points are calculated. From there, teams are ranked based on their total points. The top 25 such teams make up the AP Top 25.

College Football Playoff (CFP) Ranking

The CFP rankings are separate from the AP Top 25 rankings. These CFP rankings are determined by a special CFP selection committee. The committee meets about 10 times a year, typically at Gaylord Texan Hotel in Grapevine, Texas. This secret society of football experts works to determine not just the four teams who will qualify for the college football playoff, but also who will play in each of the New Year’s Six bowl games. The members of this committee are typically Athletic Directors, or people who work in some other important role, at Division I college football schools.

The CFP rankings are considered the most important rankings of the three, since they determine who makes the College Football Playoff. The CFP rankings are released weekly, starting in early November. The last CFP ranking is released in early December, following Conference championships. 

AFCA Coaches Poll

The AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Coaches Poll is a weekly ranking based on a poll of coaches of Division I college football teams. The first coaches poll is released in August, during the pre-season. The final coaches poll is released during the final week of the regular season, in November. Following the final AFCA Coaches Poll of the year, the team ranked first receives the AFCA Coaches' Trophy

The AFCA Coaches Poll was started in 1950. The scoring follows the same style as the other two polls, with teams receiving points based on their rankings on each voter’s list. 

College Football Rankings Rules Summary

  • There are three main college football rankings: the AP Top 25, the AFCA Coaches Poll, and the CFP Rankings.
  • For each ranking, the associated voters come up with their own top 25 teams. The ranks of these teams are averaged to determine a cumulative top 25.
  • Only the CFP Rankings are actually used to determine who makes the College Football Playoff.
  • For the AP Top 25 Poll, the amount of voters per state must be proportional to the number of college football teams in that state.
  • If there is a tie, the team ranked higher in the most previous CFP wins the tie-breaker.


How do they determine the rankings in college football?

College football rankings are based on polls by broadcasters, coaches, and a selection committee. The AP Top 25 Poll comes from selected broadcasters and writers, with each state getting a number of voters that is proportional to the number of college football teams the state  has. The AFCA Coaches Poll is very similar to the Top 25 Poll, but it is voted on by coaches rather than journalists. The CFP selection committee is made up of 13 members, many of whom are college athletic directors. Each poll’s results are determined by averaging the voters’ lists. 

What rankings are used to determine the College Football Playoff teams?

The College Football Playoff teams are determined by the CFP rankings. These rankings are put together by a special group called the CFP selection committee. The rankings determined by the CFP selection committee are not always the same rankings that result from the AP Top 25 Poll or the AFCA Coaches Poll. With that said, there is typically not too much variation between the three rankings, especially concerning the top four teams. 

When are the College Football Playoff Rankings released?

The CFP rankings are first released during the first week of November. From then on, they are released once a week, on Tuesdays. The final CFP rankings are typically released on the first Sunday of December.. The final rankings matter the most, as they determine which four teams qualify for the CFP. The day these final rankings are released is often referred to as “selection day.”