College football is a sport characterized by its uncertainty — right when a team makes a statement and cements itself as the cream of the crop, it turns around the next week and drops a game to an underdog.
The madness of college football was once again on full display this weekend, specifically with our “friends” to the north, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Urban Meyer’s squad mounted a giant comeback last week against Penn State, in which senior quarterback J.T. Barrett played a nearly perfect fourth quarter to overcome an 18-point deficit.
This week, the Buckeyes travelled to play a 5-3 Iowa team and entered the game favored to win by nearly 20 points, but were dominated by the Hawkeyes by a score of 55-24. After putting the state of Ohio on his back one week, Barrett sent Columbus into misery the next — throwing four interceptions in a lopsided upset.
This is the nature of the sport, where the only things you can count on are uncertainty and debate. The source of this debate will resurface tonight, as the College Football Playoff Committee will release their second installment of rankings.
Inevitably, fans of teams ranked no. 5 to 25 will take up arms on Twitter after finding themselves on the outside looking in on the playoffs, while supporters of the top-four programs will furiously defend their teams. With that said, here is how I would rank the Top 10 teams at this point in the season.
At this point in the Nick Saban dynasty, it would be irrational to not mark ‘Bama as America’s top team. “Alabama” has become synonymous with “defense” and 2017 is no exception.
The Tide are only surrendering 9.8 yards per game, the best mark in the country. Once again, the Tide’s defense is vaunted with future NFL players including defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne and defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison.
The scariest part is, ‘Bama hasn’t needed to stop many teams with the way their offense is rolling. The Tide has the most underrated asset in America under center, with sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts who leads an offense that puts up nearly 41 points per game. The one-two running attack between running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough makes defenses choose to defend either Hurts by dropping five or six in coverage, or stacking the box to stop the run. Either way, the Tide have proven to be potent and I don’t anticipate anyone in the nation being able to stop them.
The college football playoff committee placed Georgia ahead of Alabama for one reason — Georgia handed Notre Dame their only loss. The story of the season for the Bulldogs has been freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who has stormed on to the scene to pass for 1,459 yards and 15 touchdowns. Combined with the resurgence of running back Nick Chubb, Fromm leads an offense that puts up 36 points a game, while only allowing 11.7 points per game.
With these stats comparable to the Tide and a major win at Notre Dame, many ask why put them below Alabama? The difference in these two teams is sustained success — starters on Alabama have played in College Football Playoff games each year of their career. Quarterback Jalen Hurts went toe-to-toe with Deshaun Watson in last year’s National Championship. Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick had the task of covering wide receivers Mike Williams and John Ross in the 2016 playoffs.
The Tide have hunger, talent and experience even the Bulldogs cannot match. Here’s the best part though: the Bulldogs will likely have the chance to silence doubters, like myself, in the SEC Championship game. Until then, the debate will wage on.
- Notre Dame
Brian Kelly entered 2017 on the hot seat following an unacceptable 4-8 2016 campaign. The Irish have handled the pressure of rebounding. Much like the two teams ahead of the Irish, Kelly’s team has struck a balance on offense with underrated pieces running the show.
The anchor of the potent Fighting Irish offense has been junior running back Josh Adams. Adams has rushed for 1,191 yards on 137 carries — averaging 8.69 yards per carry.
On paper, the Irish have one of the strongest resumes in college football — the lone team to hand Notre Dame a defeat is an undefeated Georgia team. Their wins include blowout victories over Michigan State, USC and NC State and yes, our beloved Miami RedHawks. Since that Georgia loss, no team has come close to the Irish.
The one question surrounding Notre Dame is if their defense will be able to generate enough stops to win close games down the stretch, as ND gave up 37 points to Wake Forest this week. By no means is the season over, and Notre Dame still has to defeat undefeated Miami and rival Stanford on the road. If the Irish can win out, I see no possible way to leave them out of the playoffs.
This is where the debate becomes fiercest. In my opinion, Oklahoma has made the strongest statements thus far and has the best player in America — Baker Mayfield. After the departure of long-time head coach Bob Stoops, Mayfield has been the glue of the program to carry them through such a transition, passing for an insane 3,226 yards and 28 touchdowns.
What really makes Mayfield special is the way he comes up big in games — in his road matchups at Ohio State and at Oklahoma State, the gunslinger passed for 386 and 598 yards, respectively.
Like Notre Dame, the Sooners have struggled at times to stop teams, having given up more than 30 points four times thus far. However, their quality wins and lone loss coming to a respectable Iowa State team is what makes Oklahoma a touch better than other suitors for the fourth spot.
Who’s Out and Why?
Clemson: Clemson’s lone loss came to Syracuse. Yes, they went on the road and defeated Virginia Tech and NC State after knocking off Auburn at home. However, that Syracuse loss is by far the worst of any contending CFP teams. Unless Oklahoma loses, I cannot put a team that lost to Syracuse over a team that went on the road to beat Ohio State and Oklahoma State.
Miami: The Hurricanes certainly helped their case this week by defeating Virginia Tech, but there is still much unknown about them due to a weak schedule. However, opportunities remain for the ‘Canes, as they could put the nation on notice with a win against Notre Dame. If Miami can pull that off, they will be in. But until that happens, the Hurricanes will remain on the fringes.
Wisconsin: Like Miami, the Badgers have an undefeated record, but find themselves outside the top four. Why? Wisconsin simply has no trademark wins. Their most noteworthy victory has come at the expense of the Purdue Boilermakers.
However, I highly doubt Wisconsin will be a team the committee needs to worry about when making their final decision — the Badgers play a tough Iowa team next week and will also face Michigan. Should they survive those two games, Wisconsin would have a date in the Big Ten Championship game, likely versus Ohio State or Michigan State. Yes, the Badgers are undefeated. No, they are not serious threats to make the playoffs.