Ten weeks into the college football season and after Statement Saturday we have a picture of where teams stack up against each other. While I agree with the top six teams of the three major polls, I have some major shakeup throughout the rest of the list. I think the playoff committee has overvalued some teams in a big way while not giving some other programs the credit they deserve. To make myself clear – this is not a ranking of how likely I think it is that teams will be among the final four, because many of them are eliminated already or because I never thought they had a chance to get voted into the playoff. It rather is me grading the resume and as the analysts like to say – who is most deserving – but also how good these teams are compared to each other.
I don’t think there is any doubt who number should be. Alabama stands alone at the top of the list and to me nobody deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with them. They were already the favorite in most years of the last decade, but this is a completely different level to where they have been in any of the prior years, because they have a Heisman trophy favorite under center. It’s like you took the best team in the country and at the most important position, where they didn’t look special, you added the best player in the nation as well. Tua Tagovailoa easily is the best quarterback Nick Saban has ever had and the last time the Crimson Tide had a captivating guy like him under center that guy’s name was Joe Namath. The Crimson Tide lead the nation with over 50 points per game, they have the most effective passing offense and they convert the highest percentage of their third downs. That high-flying offense has taken away some of the shine from a defense that is still outstanding. No matter which metric you want to use, they have a top three player in the country at each level – Quinnen Williams might have been the most disruptive defensive linemen, Mack Wilson is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker and Deionte Thompson is lining up and making plays all over the field. The Bama defense is basically top ten in every single meaningful defensive category and altogether the team is outscoring the opposition by a record margin of 37.2 points. They have already booked their ticket to Atlanta, but even if they somehow lost to Georgia, I don’t see how you could keep them out of the playoffs.
While I think Bama is in a class by themselves, the Tigers have their own tier behind those guys. It took a while for the coaches to hand the reigns to their freshman quarterback, but now they are the national contenders everybody knows they should be. Trevor Lawrence makes them so much more dangerous with the explosive passing game. However, it is running back Travis Etienne that is mentioned as a Heisman candidate due to his 8.6 yards a carry and 15 touchdowns on the ground. I like their mix of playmakers on the perimeter and when you need to convert on third downs you know you have this guy Hunter Renfrow in the slot that will get the job done for you. Defensively, they have been ridiculous in recent weeks. Overall they are fourth in points allowed with 13.3 and they hold opponents to just 28 percent on third downs. The Tigers defensive line now is the undisputedly best in the country with Nick Bosa preparing for the draft and they will likely have three first round picks on that unit themselves. Early on in the year I thought their secondary had some holes and I still see those elite QBs having some success against them, but when they play zone and the passer has to identify the coverage first and gives the pass rush a chance, those guys get home. They are second in the nation in sacks as well as tackles for loss, which explains why they hold opponents to 2.24 yards per rush attempt. The Tigers travel to Boston College this weekend, but I don’t see any real challengers in the ACC and they should have this number two spot firmly wrapped up.
3. Notre Dame
This is where we start with four to six teams, depending on how you see it, that are very comparable. I have the Irish at number three because they are undefeated and they beat the next team head-to-head in the season-opener. I applaud Brian Kelly for inserting Ian Book into the starting lineup despite being 3-0 at that point. Since he has been under center for them, Notre Dame is averaging 38.9 points per game (15 more than before). And Book himself is completing just under two thirds of his passes with an average of 8.9 yards per attempt. Despite the difference the aerial attack has made for them, the basis of this team has stayed the same – they are big and mean up front. On offense they move people off the line in the running game and have Dexter Williams going wild when he gets to the second level. However, they have some stars on defense. Jerry Tillery is a disruptive force on that D-line, Te’Von Coney is punishing people coming into his area and Julian Love is the best cornerback in college football that nobody is talking about. I love that guy’s attitude and overall game. With that being said, the loss of guard Alex Bars was a big one, because he was their leader and best player up front until he got hurt. Why do I not think the Irish are as good as Clemson or Alabama? They won by one score against Ball State, Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh. Those other two teams would have beat all of them by at least 30 and 40 respectively.
Like I said, I had to put Notre Dame ahead of the Wolverines because of the direct matchup, but since then the Maize and Blue have been on an absolute tear. They got a scare at Northwestern, where they had to climb out of a 17-0 hole, but they crushed Wisconsin by 25, only didn’t win with the same margin at East Lansing because of some untimely fumbles landing in Sparty’s hands and last Saturday they annihilated Penn State 42-7. Michigan has the number one total defense by a comfortable margin, they are fifth in points allowed with just 13.6, they are number one with just 3.73 yards surrendered per play and they have scored four touchdowns themselves. Most impressively however, they have done all that without Rashan Gary for large stretches. While Don Brown’s unit has been one of the best in recent years, it’s been the quarterback position that has held Jim Harbaugh’s team back since he arrived at Ann Arbor. It took them a while until they figured out how to best utilize Shea Patterson, as they started with more of a wild mix of power rushing out of heavy personnel and spread elements, and he now is looking very comfortable in that Michigan offense, starting to stretch the field vertically and using his legs as a weapon. Karan Higdon is running as hard as pretty much anybody I have seen in college football and they only now get their most explosive receiver in Tarik Black back. They have defeated everybody on their revenge tour so far, but the biggest enemy still lies ahead – Ohio State.
That loss to LSU three weeks ago felt like an enormous hit to the Bulldogs season and some people already wrote them off for the playoff, but this still is the only blemish on their record and they look like a dominant force in the SEC East once again. They already booked their trip to Atlanta to face off with Alabama once again, so they still control their own destiny. I said it before the season started – D’Andre Swift is special. That guy has incredibly contact balance and you saw it on that first touchdown run versus Kentucky that he can leave defenders stuck in sand effortlessly. I really can’t say enough great things about him as a dual-threat weapon, but he is not even their leading rusher, which shows you how monstrous their offensive line is. Georgia’s defense was pretty banged up heading into last Saturday, but they still got after Kentucky. I know they lost a lot of talent from last year, but when they are fully healthy, they can match that 2017 unit. DeAndre Walker is a beast up front against run and pass, Monty Rice is already drawing comparisons to Roquan Smith at inside linebacker, J.R. Reed is an experienced and versatile safety and while LSU’s Greedy Williams is a top-five draft prospect on my board, I’m not sure if anybody has been playing the cornerback position better than DeAndre Baker in 2018. That guy is a stud and he doesn’t back down from anybody. So I look at this team and how quarterback Jake Fromm hasn’t been scared in the big moments for them and I have to say that they are a complete squad. Can they give Alabama a run for their money? Maybe.
Unlike most years of the Saban – Alabama era, we don’t look at how to crack their mighty defense, which is still one of the elite units in the nation, but rather it’s about slowing down Tua and this high-flying offense. Well, Oklahoma offers a different approach – Why not just try to outscore them? Of course it’s a possibility that the Sooners defense gives up a hundred points if these two teams were to square off at some point, but at least they are not scared if they got into a shootout because that’s what they do in the Big XII every single weekend. Any other season we would talk about Kyler Murray as the lead candidate for the Heisman trophy. Unfortunately for him he cost himself the chance of having one of those Heisman moments against Texas, but he is a dynamic playmaker. Murray is somewhere in the top five as a passer, but he is also probably the most dangerous running QB in the nation. He is not just shifty and gets out of trouble with his feet, when he gets in the open he can flat-out outrun defensive backs. Just check out that 65-yard run he had versus those Longhorns. He was clearly the fastest guy on the entire field. The Sooners have been putting up even more impressive numbers with him at the helm than number one overall draft pick Baker Mayfield, as they average a bonkers 8.7 yards per play and 49.1 points a game. Their collection of skill position players is better than any team ahead of them has. I thought the loss of running back Rodney Anderson would be a huge blow, but Trey Sermon has emerged as a guy who can make defenders miss as well as having the power to run through tackles.
7. Ohio State
Man, these last two weeks have been ugly for those Buckeyes. First they get blown out at Purdue and then they come back to win a close one against Nebraska, who was winless until the middle of October, by just five points. Talent-wise Ohio State might be right behind Alabama and Clemson, but where is this team’s identity right now? Coming into the 2018 season, I thought J.K. Dobbins would be in the running for the Heisman trophy and their defense would suffocate opposing teams. Right now they are outside the top 50 in rushing yards and total defense, but more importantly get this – they allow 1.5 points more per game than West Virginia, who is just coming off a 42-41 shootout versus Texas and plays those type of games most weeks in the Big XII. Their lack of defensive success is unacceptable, yet I think they will turn it around eventually. They are too talented to keep this up. Of course they miss Nick Bosa up front, but let me tell you – Chase Young will be an absolute monster for them. In addition to that Dre’Mont Jones is a stud defensive tackle and their entire starting secondary would be drafted in the first two days right now. Offensively, I’m concerned with this tendency of relying on Dwayne Haskins to throw the ball all over the yard, because he is frighteningly immobile and that will be a major problem if they did square off against one of the elite defensive fronts in the College Football Playoff. They will need some help from the Big XII and SEC, but if they still win their conference they have a solid chance. I think they need to go back to being a smashmouth running football team however, which was the key to their last national title.
8. West Virginia
Boy, was that an entertaining game or what? The Mountaineers and Longhorns went back and forth and Will Grier has finally established himself as one of the absolute top candidates for the Heisman trophy. The WVU quarterback had some head-scratching performances in recent weeks, throwing four TDs but also four picks combined against Kansas and Iowa State, before getting back to picking apart Baylor’s lackluster secondary. At Austin he was special. His number were off the charts, completing two thirds of his passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no INTs, but he also came through big-time in the clutch, taking his offense down the field for the game-deciding score with two-and-a-half minutes left and converting for two points with his legs on a draw play. Obviously the Mountaineers high-powered spread offense can put up big numbers, averaging over 40 points per game, and outside of those four picks in two games, Grier has thrown the ball to the opposition just three other times, but I was surprised to see that they hold opponents to 22.2 points a contest. Outside of linebacker David Long their personnel isn’t well-known around the country, but they force almost nine tackles for loss each game. Of course they have taken advantage of matchups with Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State, but that PPG is only a point more than the lowest mark in the Big XII held by Iowa State. With that being said, they will face pissed off TCU and Oklahoma State squads playing for nothing but pride and then they have a season-finale against Oklahoma. They might have to put up 50 to have a chance versus the Sooners, but they could get a second crack at them a week later already in the conference championship game. That is if Iowa State slips up on the way, since they are only a game back and own the tie-breaker over WVU.
Take Alabama out of the equation and LSU probably runs away with the West and faces Georgia in a huge SEC championship game matchup. However, Big Bad Bama is still out there dominating the country and the Tigers were their latest victims in a 29-0 shutout. Let’s forget about winning the conference or any playoff implications – LSU is a really good team. Their defensive personnel is excellent. They probably have the best overall secondary in the country with a premiere shutdown corner in Greedy Williams and a safety in Grant Delpit trying to step into the shoes Jamal Adams, Devin White to me will be an even better draft prospect than Reuben Foster or Roquan Smith and Rashard Lawrence makes life uncomfortable for anybody up the middle. Offensively they might not have a star running back like Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice, but Nick Brossette is a bruising runner, who has reached paydirt ten times already. I’ve been defending quarterback Joe Burrow because I think his numbers don’t display that he has delivered on a ton of critical third downs and I think he still is the best LSU signal-caller over the last five years or so. With that being said, he limits what you can do to some degree, especially when you play against a defensive front like Alabama’s, which can completely shut down the ground game and force you to put the ball in the air. So to kind of recap which type of team the Tigers are – they are a tough-minded group that relies on their rushing attack and defense, plus they have a guy under center who can deliver when they need him, but has a ceiling that puts them in the third group of teams.
10. Washington State
I don’t think anybody saw Gardner Minshew have the success he has had this season. He leads the country in passing yards and right now he is fourth in the Heisman race. The Cougars offense is for real, scoring 38.3 yards per game and last Saturday being just their second game in which they failed to reach the 30-point mark. The other time came against Utah, when they were “held” to 28 by the number one defense in the country at that point. They also keep their QB clean, allowing the second-lowest percentage of sacks per dropback. As far as their defense goes, they might not scare anybody with their ability to stop the opposition, but they average three sacks per game and they allow opponents to convert on only 34 percent of their third down attempts. Wazzu has now won five straight and their only loss came by a field goal at the hands of USC. However, their biggest test is still remaining as they are set to host Washington in the season finale, which will decide who represents the North division and likely win the Pac-12 championship game. I don’t see how anybody out of this conference has a shot to be among the final four in the CFP, but with one narrow loss it’s Washington State that should be the only squad with any hopes of doing so. Mike Leach’s troops have been climbing up the ranks each week now and the Old Crimson flag will go wherever their team takes them. Of course for them to play on New Year’s day it would probably take Ohio State to beat Michigan and then lose to whoever comes out of the West in the Big 10 championship game, plus Notre Dame to slip somewhere on the way and Bama to own the SEC title game.
Alright, this is what everybody wants to talk about – does Central Florida have any shot of making the college football playoff? My answer is a simple no. I love to watch the Knights and those 21 straight wins are incredibly impressive, but if there ever was a time I thought they deserved any consideration it was last year. I don’t think this team is nearly as good as the 2017 version and let me show you what I mean. They routed UConn and South Carolina State, but they barely squeezed by a Memphis team that lost to Navy, Tulane and then Missouri by 30, and Temple gave them a scare as well last week. I absolutely love quarterback McKenzie Milton, they have an excellent running back duo and this offense is putting up 45.4 points a game. However, that number is a little inflated due to weaker competition than last year and I’m concerned about this defense. Temple’s Anthony Russo sliced them apart until the end of the game and Memphis’ Darrell Henderson ran for 200 yards against them. UCF will likely run the table with South Florida finally losing some of those games they pulled out of a hat until two weeks ago and then I’m interested to see if Houston can challenge them, even though they just lost at Tulane. UCF is outscoring their opponents by 22.6 points per contest and they are second in the country in turnover differential, but for me to give them any consideration they needed to blow out everybody on their schedule and to be honest, they needed the AAC to be a little better overall.
It was really cool to see Kentucky have a chance to compete for the SEC title for the first time in about 40 years, but all good things come to an end. The Wildcats won some tough games as underdogs at Florida and versus Mississippi State plus they came back late to defeat Missouri on an untimed down of that game. With that being said, this team wants to get a lead early on to pound you in the running game and get after opposing quarterbacks. Benny Snell has been their bell-cow back with just one carry away from 200 and having crossed the 1000-yard mark last Saturday, but with Georgia being up big early on the Wildcats were forced to put the ball more into the hands of QB Terry Wilson, who had been attempting less than 20 passes up until that point. This also slowed down their pass rush and gave the most productive edge rusher in the nation less opportunities, since their run defense is only average. Josh Allen still pounced onto two fumbles, but he never really got off in terms of making life hard on Jake Fromm. Even after that 34-17 defeat they are still eight in the country in points allowed. The East now belongs to the Bulldogs, but how good is this Kentucky team? Outside of Alabama, Georgia and LSU there are only four other SEC schools that received votes in any of the polls – Mississippi State, Florida, Missouri and Auburn. Kentucky has beaten all three of them that actually were on their schedule. I never thought they could compete with Bama even if they stunned UGA, because they have no shot of keeping up with that type of offense, but I love their gritty style of play.
A team that I think is criminally underrated is the Washington Huskies. When this week’s College Football Playoff rankings were revealed, they just made the list, coming in at number 25. There is no way there are 24 better teams in the country and the FPI backs me up on this. They have them ranked ninth overall, ahead of teams like West Virginia, LSU and division rival Washington State – that one by quite a wide margin. I know they have three losses, but let’s look at them more closely. They lost to top-ten ranked Auburn in a one-possession contest to kick off the season at a supposedly neutral site, which was full of Tiger fans. Then they lost a heart-breaker in overtime at Eugene against Oregon, which was number number 17 at that point. Yet, what really hurt them was the 12-10 defeat at Cal two weeks ago, but the Bears also just played Wazzu very tough at their place. Obviously Washington is not in any playoff race at this point, but as long as they don’t completely mess up versus Oregon State and beat the Cougars on the road, they will qualify for the Pac-12 championship and I expect them win that game no matter if it’s against Utah, USC or Arizona. This team is still loaded with talent. Byron Murphy will be a first round corner, Taylor Rapp is one the most well-rounded safeties in the country and Ben Burr-Kirven leads the nation in total tackles. The Huskies have ten players with at least three sacks and they are a top ten scoring defense for god’s sake. I know Jake Browning has times where he doesn’t nearly take good enough care of the football, but he is tough and comes through for them when they really need to extend a drive. Plus Myles Gaskin probably is the most underrated college back and he might not even be their most talented option out of the backfield.
14. Mississippi State
With three losses within the SEC, the Bulldogs have eliminated themselves, which is not a shame when you play in the same division as the best team in the country. However, they have made some noise recently and could continue doing so. Their defense is tied for second in the nation allowing just 12.3 points per game and they have given less touchdowns than anybody with nine a piece. While they lost against the top three teams on their schedule – Kentucky, Florida and LSU – they also picked up a quality win over Texas A&M two weeks ago, which was ranked 16th in the nation when they faced them. Mississippi State averages a ridiculous 6.04 yards per carry and QB Nick Fitzgerald is on pace for another 1000-yard rushing season, while being ranked second in the nation in time of possession. Their passing attack is ranked 115th out of 130 in yards per game, but they win with defense and running the ball down the opponent’s throat, while not turning it over. Outside of maybe Clemson they have the best duo of defensive linemen in Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons, combining for 23 tackles for loss and completely wrecking opposing gameplans. They are a big reason the Bulldog defense is holding opponents to under 30 percent on third downs. Overall this MSU team is outscoring opponents by about two touchdowns and a field goal. What put their name back on the map was that 28-13 victory over Texas A&M and this week they have a chance to really make some noise as they face number one Alabama. I doubt that they will have any chance against the Crimson Tide, but they are not beating themselves and I want to see if their defense can at least slow down Tua.
15. Penn State
The Nittany Lions’ dream of somehow winning the Big 10 were wiped out when Michigan obliterated them 42-7 on Saturday. The Wolverines are clearly a better team and they let their opponents feel it big time, but that doesn’t mean that Penn State can’t play. Their two other losses came at the hands of the Buckeyes, who were number four in the country at that point, by one point and Michigan State who threw a game-winning touchdown pass with under 20 seconds left. Even after last weekend, they are still ranked seventh by the Football Power Index and there are some numbers beyond that, which back it up. Prior to last Saturday when they were blown out by Michigan they had not surrendered 30 points since the season-opener against a feisty Appalachian State team and on offense they have converted 30 of their 37 red zone possessions into touchdowns. Quarterback Trace McSorley is a born winner and absolute baller. He has willed his team to victories in the past with late drives down the field and if you think you can play man-coverage against him, he will break your neck when he takes off. Just ask the Buckeyes, who saw him rush for 175 yards against their defense. Their featured back Miles Sanders is doing all he can to beat Saquon Barkley’s records in the weight room and on the field. He is closing in on 1000 yards from scrimmage on over six yards per touch. Their defense might be somewhat average in the major statistics, but they have come up with some big stops or turnovers late as well. They have had a tough schedule, but I wouldn’t want to face them, because they have a great college quarterback and an excellent head coach in James Franklin.
The Hawkeyes are basically done in the race for the Big Ten West, because not only do they need to run the table themselves, they also need all three teams ahead of them to lose two out of their last three, because those programs outside of Northwestern, who they will face this weekend, have tie-breakers over them. However, I think they are a pretty darn good team who ruined their chance of running away with their division by losing one-score games to Penn State and Purdue these last two weeks. With that being said, they have a top ten total defense that holds opposing offenses to 18.6 points per game and they score over 30 points per game, which is highly untypical for a Iowa team. Nathan Stanley is the best quarterback in college football that nobody is talking about. He might not complete 70 percent of his passes and put up numbers like those spread offense guys, but he can go play-action, turn his back to the defense and throw absolute darts, he can extend plays and keep his eyes downfield and he is not afraid to just let it rip. That’s why he carved up Ohio State for five touchdowns last year and already has a six-TD performance this season. Noah Fant might be the best tight-end prospect in the last decade and he is not even their leading receiver at that position, because T.J. Hockenson is averaging 16.4 yards a catch. The Hawkeyes rushing offense is not nearly what we’re used to because they don’t have any special back, but they are still seventh in time of possession. Iowa is 13th in FPI and I think they could blow somebody out in their bowl game.
17. Fresno State
This Fresno State bunch is for real. They had a bad loss by a touchdown at Minnesota early on in the season, but other than that they have absolutely destroyed their competition. The Bulldogs are tied for second in the country with just 12.3 points allowed per game, they are second behind Michigan in passing effiency defense, allow just under 30 percent on third downs and they have forced 21 turnovers, while leading the nation with five defensive touchdowns. They have done all that while putting up more than 40 points per game, giving them the fourth-highest winning margin only behind Alabama, Clemson and Utah State. Marcus McMaryion is a name not a lot of people know, but the Bulldog QB is completing more than 70 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns compared to just three picks. With him at the helm this Fresno State offense is converting basically half of their third down attempts and they have turned the ball over just five times all year, giving them a +14 overall in that department. Outside of Notre Dame, the FPI usually doesn’t favor teams outside the Power Five conferences, but the Bulldogs are ranked 18th in total. To put that into perspective – UCF is everybody’s darling and they are outside the top 30. Considering that their two matchups against teams from the major leagues came against Minnesota and UCLA and that they lost one of them, I don’t expect them to get a lot of buzz nationally, but pound for pound they might be the best Non-Power Five team out there. Their toughest in-conference contest should come this weekend when they travel to Boise to face the Broncos, who will battle Utah State in the season finale to decide which of the two could potentially play the Bulldogs in the Mountain West championship game.
I really thought we were headed for another classic Oklahoma – Texas championship game in the Big XII and that the Sooners would get their shot at revenge versus the Longhorns, but Will Grier and the Mountaineers ripped their hearts out on Saturday in that epic back-and-forth game. Now the Horns have to hope that WVU slips against TCU or at Stillwater along the way to the season-finale against Oklahoma, since they now own the tie-breaker and could face OU in consecutive games. However, at this point it seems more likely that Texas will take themselves out of the race over these next two weeks. First the travel to Lubbock to face the best 5-4 team in the nation, which I think can beat just about anybody in this conference, and then Iowa State visits after having won five consecutive games probably, including WVU, OSU and TTU. Texas is back – at least somehow. They defeated USC and TCU convincingly in consecutive weeks before handing Oklahoma their only loss of the season, but they barely beat Baylor at home and now have lost two straight. Sam Ehlinger and those two receivers he has around him have been outstanding, but the Longhorns run game leaves something to be desired unless the QB carries the rock and their defense hasn’t looked anything like they did early on in the year. Outside of the Baylor game they have surrendered almost 42 points in their last three close games. What made me think they could be actual contenders was the fact that they run real pro concepts defensively under Todd Orlando instead of simple quarter coverages like most Big XII teams, but they are right down the middle among all 130 qualified teams in points allowed.
19. Iowa State
These guys might be my favorite team in the country right now. The Cyclones lost three out of their first four games, including Oklahoma and two tough road tests at Iowa and TCU, but since then they have reeled off four straight, including a victory at Bedlam, versus then-sixth-ranked West Virginia and a red-hot Red Raiders team. Whichever QB Iowa State inserts into the lineup seems to work and they have two of the best skill-position players in all of college football. Running back David Montgomery is already far and beyond all the other guys in my draft evaluations because of his ability to make defenders miss and run through contact. Hakeem Butler is one bad boy at the receiver position, with the size to win contested catches and the speed to run away from defenders. That play on Saturday versus Kansas when he mossed his DB and then threw him off to walk into the end-zone might have been the play of the year. Their defense may not be among the best in any statistics, but they could be the only unit that has 15 players with at least one sack, in addition to seemingly always coming up with a turnover when their team really needs it to seal the deal. Combine that with an offense that has turned the ball over just nine times all season and Matt Campbell’s crew has found a recipe for success. If they travel to Texas and defeat the Longhorns and WVU at least loses their final game of the season against Oklahoma, the Cyclones can make it to the Big XII championship game. With three losses on their resume they obviously won’t do anything beyond their conference, but I truly believe they can run the table and knock Oklahoma and with them the entire conference out of the playoff race.
So who had the Orange going 7-2 before the season started? I’m waiting. Syracuse has been a cool story, because this is the first time they have reached seven wins since their first season joining the ACC in 2013. With that being said – and I like this team – the committee has overrated the entire conference in a ridiculous manner. Clemson is clearly the second-best team in the country right now, but the fact that there are three other ACC teams in he top 20 just because they have only lost two games, feeding on a really bad conference this year, simply isn’t right. Syracuse at 13 in all three major polls is mind-blowing to me with their biggest win coming at home versus N.C. State, who I think shouldn’t even be ranked, and the FPI saying they are only the 40th-best team in the nation. And I don’t want to hear anything of this nonesense about how they almost beat Clemson. The Tigers defeated them with a redshirt freshman, who was a three-star recruit, and if Trevor Lawrence didn’t leave the game he would have sat the fourth quarter anyway because of the lead they would have had built until then already. Okay, now that is out, so let’s give the Orange some credit. Their offense is putting up 43.3 points a game and even though their running backs don’t have any high totals, combined with their QB scrambling for them they on average pick up 11 first downs on the ground. Eric Dungey is fun to watch, because he just doesn’t give a damn about getting hit. He has put up some nice stats as a passer, but he also is their leader in rushing with over 600 yards and 10 touchdowns as a runner. However, they also allow 28.1 defensively. Regardless, they still have a chance to prove me wrong when they meet Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium and they close at Boston College.
Dan Mullen has arrived in Gainesville and he is about to turn this program around once again. However, they have not arrived quite yet. The Gators won a couple of tough games at Mississippi State and at home versus LSU, but that 36-17 loss to Georgia brought them back to Earth. Of course losing by a margin of an extra two points to Missouri. hurts even more. Considering they lost to Kentucky by double-digits early on as well, that makes them a little irrelevant in the SEC for 2018, especially with Georgia having wrapped up the East already. Before those last two losses however, they were surrendering just 18.3 points a game and they are still averaging five yards per rush. Quarterback Feleipe Franks might not blow anybody away with the numbers he is putting up, but he has been playing so much better than anybody the Gators have been trotting out there since Tim Tebow probably, considering their two best guys since then (Jacoby Brissett and Will Grier) didn’t find any success and transferred eventually. Mullen is already putting way more pressure on opposing defenses than Florida has done in quite a while with different formations and looks and he doesn’t even have real playmakers yet, as a grand total of 12 players already have 100 yards or more from scrimmage. I don’t think their defense is as talented as it’s been in recent years, which doesn’t mean they don’t have some ballers on that side of the ball, when you look at Jabari Zuniga, Jachai Polite & company showing up in the backfield and Chauncey Gardner flashing everywhere on the field from his safety spot. Georgia looks poised to compete for the SEC with Bama for a long time, but with a good recruiting class the Gators could be their main competition for the East next year already.
War Eagle started the year off so well, defeating Washington in a top-ten matchup to open the season, but once again a loss to LSU put them in the wrong direction. That hard-fought battle was decided by one point didn’t put them out of the race however. That was the 23-9 defeat at Mississippi State, which they followed up with a bad lass to freaking Tennessee at home. Without Kerryon Johnson putting the Tigers on their back, they simply couldn’t go on a run like they did last year and possibly even upset Alabama to win the West, but rather they seem like an afterthought. To that I say: Not so fast my friends! The Auburn defense is still holding opponents to 17.3 yards a game and they are tied for eight nationally in total sacks and third in tackles for loss. This Tigers front is very disruptive and they have made Jordan Ta’amu and Kellen Mond look mediocre at best in consecutive weeks now. I have never been a huge fan of Jarrett Stidham because he has benefitted from a strong running game and throwing tons of quick screens for the most part, but he has been making big-time throws down the field recently. Down by ten entering the fourth quarter versus Texas A&M last Saturday, Auburn put the game into the hands of their QB and he delivered despite just 19 yards rushing on the day. I think with Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis he has at least two serious weapons on the perimeter and there are a couple of other guys who have made an impact. What has been the difference for them however have been their special teams. The Tigers have already blocked five(!) field goals and scored a couple of return touchdowns this year, while also having a top ten punter in terms of average net yards.
I believe Utah is the most disrespected team in any of the college football rankings. That 38-20 loss in the desert against Arizona State might have been their dagger in any dreams of going beyond the the Pac-12 Championship game, but let’s not completely forget about the Utes. They didn’t even make the cut in the CFP rankings or AP Top 25, yet the Football Power Index has them with the 14th-highest score of any team in the nation. We are all prisoners of the moment and as much as we would like to completely cross off names that have taken themselves out of the running, we still have to judge teams based on what they have done over the course of the entire season. Until last week, Utah had a top ten scoring defense, they are still tops in the red-zone, holding opponents to scoring any points on 55.6 percent of their drives inside the 20, and their only two losses have come at the hands of then-tenth-ranked Washington and at Wazzu, which now looks like the favorite to win the conference. That rushing attack with Zack Moss is something to behold and Tyler Huntley had some impressive moments. With the quarterback likely missing the remainder of the season due to a broken collarbone, they are not nearly as dynamic offensively, but I’m not quite ready to completely write them off. They still have meetings with Oregon, Colorado and BYU on their remaining schedule and they will only have to face the Buffs on the road. Thanks to tie-breakers over USC and Arizona they are still on top of the South division and they control their own destiny – at least as far as the Pac-12 goes. Let’s see what this kid Jason Shelley can do with a week of preparation and if the entire team can regroup, after it felt like all the air went out of these player when their QB got hurt.
24. Boston College
As you might have read already, I’m not incredibly fond of ACC teams this season – outside of Clemson of course. So it should come to no surprise that I have Boston College seven spots lower than the AP Top 25 and CFP rankings do. Once again I look at what their biggest wins were and I think those came against Miami and Virginia Tech these last two weeks. However, they are one game above and right at .500 respectively even with a weak ACC schedule for the most part. They both lost badly when they faced top ten teams. I guess Temple was a solid win as well, but other than all of BC’s opponents are having losing seasons. Plus they lost to Purdue by 17 and at N.C. State. Alright, back to the positives – the Eagles are rushing for 225 yards per contest, their scoring average lies at 37.2 and they are almost +1 in the turnover department on average. With A.J. Dillon you feel like you can hand him the ball 50 times a game and while the opponent keeps him in check for large stretches, his punishing style of running has a cumulative effect on the defense and at some point he breaks a big one. Quarterback Anthony Brown might not be a big name in college football and his numbers have taken a dip compared to where they were at the start of the year, but he can push the ball down the field off play-action and burn man-coverage on the outside. When I watched his tape versus Wake Forest I saw that his team can rely on him as well if defenses single in on Dillon and the ground game. Their defense might not be quite up to par, but they have allowed just over 18 points a game through these last three weeks and they have the pieces to succeed – an outside duo of edge rushers and a very rangy safety in Lukas Denis. BC hosts Clemson this weekend, so we’ll see what they are really made of.
25. Michigan State
This was pretty much the hardest team to pick for me. Texas Tech is my favorite four-loss team in the country because of how tough they have played some of the best opponents, Wisconsin is averaging a monstrous 6.24 yards per rush, 274 yards on the ground per contest and still have an outside shot of playing for the Big 10 title and then you have Utah State, whose only loss came in the final moments of the season-opener against these Spartans and has the highest average margin of victory behind only Alabama and Clemson. However, I went with Michigan State for this reason – they have more quality wins than any of the other teams while being competitive in basically every game, even though Michigan kind of helped them stay in that game with fumbles. Sparty’s losses came by a field goal versus a hungry Arizona State game in the desert in the late window, versus the West-leading Northwestern who has only lost one in-conference game so far and then against the aforementioned Wolverines, who would have probably blown out any other squad that isn’t as feisty as this MSU team. On the other hand they have won three Big 10 road games, including facing then-number eight ranked Penn State in a hostile environment, and they beat Purdue by ten a week after they dismantled the Buckeyes. While the numbers might not be very impressive, I don’t think there’s many other teams who fight in every game more than the Spartans do. Their quarterback Brian Lewerke has to be more cautious with the ball, but they are getting their top back L.J. Scott back. Defensively, they hold opponents to 19 points and allow them to get into the end-zone on just 45 percent of their red-zone trips, plus they have recorded 17 takeaways and it feels like all of them came in crucial situations. They are facing their third matchup against a top-ten team this Saturday against the Buckeyes.
Just missed out: Michigan State, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, N.C. State, Boise State, Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Utah State, Stanford, Oregon, Purdue, South Carolina