Race for the Top College Football Rankings

Who is at the Top of the College Rankings

As we cross the one-third mark of the 2017 college football season, there are only two things we can feel comfortable saying with any level of certainty, given how topsy-turvy the early part of the season has been:

  • Alabama is still the best team in the nation and
  • The race for the other three spots in the college football rankings, at least as of today, are there for the taking

The rankings will tell you that Clemson, Oklahoma, and Penn State round out the top four teams in the nation, and that very well may be true. But it might also be the case that voters will have a tough time justifying those rankings, given those schools are among eight teams with undefeated records (not including Alabama, who deserves their current perch at the top).

Clemson

Clemson gets the benefit of the doubt at the #2 spot, because they’re the defending National Champions, and because they have two wins against teams that were ranked in the top 15 when they played. They defeated Auburn University — ranked #13 at the time — in their second game of the year, and then followed that up by beating Louisville University, who was ranked 14th when they played.  Both of those teams are still among the top 20 in the country as of today. While the offense has put up gaudy scoring totals of 34 or more points in three of their four games, it’s that vaunted defense that’s making the biggest difference.  The defense has held three of their four opponents to seven points or less this season.

Oklahoma Sooners

Even though they had an unnecessary nail biter last week, the University of Oklahoma team deserves their spot among the top three teams in the nation.  They are the team with the biggest “quality win” on its early-season resume (defeating Ohio State), and quarterback Baker Mayfield is putting up a Heisman-caliber season so far. However, detractors point to the same problems as last year: the Sooners still have very suspect special teams, and their passing defense is still terrible, even in the “optional defense” standard of the Big 12.

But what about after that?

Penn State

The Nittany Lions have three decisive wins in their four games this season, and might have the services for another Heisman hopeful in running back Saquon Barkley.  But can we really call this team one of the four best in the nation after they squeaked out a win against Iowa last Saturday? They won’t play a really meaningful game until the second half of October, when they face Ohio State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks.

USC


USC and its fans in Southern California are probably screaming about an east coast bias, having been left out of the top four teams, despite having perhaps the most exciting quarterback in the nation leading their team.  Red shirt sophomore Sam Darnold’s style of play makes the Trojans a combination of dangerous, exciting, and perhaps susceptible to an upset considering he’s also thrown seven interceptions this early in the season. Darnold could be the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia Bulldogs and Wisconsin Badgers


History has taught us that looking at the top four or five teams this early in the season is basically a waste of time, because somebody is going to make a late run towards the top of the rankings. Even with their early season loss, Ohio State is still very capable of making such a run. Michigan is looming back there with a #8 ranking, and will always boast a tenacious defense under Jim Harbaugh. Kirby Smart is making the Georgia Bulldogs look really good right now. TCU just put the nation on notice after their big win against Oklahoma State in Stillwater. And don’t forget Paul Chryst’s undefeated
Wisconsin Badgers.

There’s still plenty of football left to go this season, before we start taking a closer look at the college teams who could be playing in the postseason. The beauty of this season so far is that there’s going to be a lot of intrigue between now and then.

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Slow Start for the Ohio State Buckeyes

After the first two weeks of the college football season, the mantra that Ohio State football head coach, Urban Meyer, most probably having his team tell themselves over and over is: “don’t look backwards — only look forward.”  It has been a slow start for the Buckeyes.

Meanwhile, the offense — orchestrated by new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson — has gotten off to a sluggish start of their own, scoring only 13 points in the first half of a 49-21 win at Indiana on opening night, and then only a field goal in the first half of the loss to the Sooners. Despite hosting the Oklahoma Sooners at home at Ohio Stadium, and again entering the second game of the home-and-home series as favorites to win, the Buckeyes played an uncharacteristically lackluster and mistake-filled game.  Ohio fell to Oklahoma by a 31-16 score, and cast a major shadow over what the best case scenario for this year’s team could be.

Before the season started, many people felt that the Buckeyes were heavy favorites to return to the college football playoffs for the third year in a row, and make it back to the National Championship game for the second time in three years.

As the case has been since Meyer first arrived in Columbus, this team is absolutely loaded with talent, and featured a talented, accomplished, and experienced fifth-year senior at quarterback (J.T. Barrett). But this star-studded Buckeyes defense is now ranked 130th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, allowing opponents to complete 67% of the passes they attempt.

But it isn’t just on Wilson or Barrett. In Meyer’s first 64 games at Ohio State, the Buckeyes averaged 41.9 points and failed to score 20 only twice, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the past five games, the Buckeyes are averaging 22.4 points and failed to score 20 or more points three times. In other words: relieving yet another coach of his duties, or making a change at quarterback, isn’t going to suddenly make this team better.

Meyer’s teams — at Utah, at Florida, and at Ohio State — have been too good, for too long, to where he should feel forced to completely overhaul his coaching philosophy. More importantly, Meyer can look at his team and honestly tell them that he’s been there before — after his Buckeyes lost their second game of the season, in a shocker against Virginia Tech. Later that year, Meyer and the Buckeyes ended up with a National Championship ring.

So, going back to the mantra: it’s all about taking care of the business that lies ahead for the Buckeyes. Avenge last year’s loss to Penn State, who has to come to Columbus this year (and the Buckeyes get an extra week to prepare for that game, since they’ll have their bye week the weekend before). Beat the University of Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend. Win the Big 10 title game (nobody in the Big 10 West looks like they could dethrone whoever comes out of the East). That should wrap up the conference title, and a spot in the playoffs.

From there, it’s right back to a two-game season. And Ohio State will know better than to suffer a letdown in the second game.

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