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 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 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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Lions 2017 Draft Picks Solid But Unspectacular

Bob Quinn’s Picks

In his second draft since coming to the Detroit Lions, General Manager Bob Quinn didn’t make any headlines, but wasn’t really trying too. The players they acquired were good, solid players, but lacked big-name appeal.

Detroit Lions Football DraftGranted, they made the playoffs last year and were drafting in the 21st position in Round One, but in some cases passed up bigger names and higher ranked prospects. But Quinn did the same last year when he started off with offensive tackle Taylor Decker from Ohio State in the first round. Decker went on to start as left tackle from Day One and looks like he has All-Pro potential. In fact, almost every player from the 2016 draft class contributed in one way or another to the Lions playoff season.

Round One

So Thursday night, Quinn nabbed Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis with the team’s No. 1 selection. Davis is a high character, highly productive player who should step in and start from Day One. In doing so, they passed on Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. Foster was ranked considerably higher than Davis but had injury and off-the-field concerns.

Round Two

Quinn went back to the Seminoles in Round Two taking Cornerback Teez Tabor, a teammate of Davis. Tabor’s game film is extraordinary even though his 40 yard dash time was not. However, he shows the ability to make plays which is something this Lion team has lacked in recent years.

Round Three

Round Three brought a Wide Receiver from Northern Illinois, Kenny Golladay. At 6’4”, Golladay is a good Red Zone target and provides a replacement for Anquan Boldin should he not return. He also provides 4.5 speed and caught 87 passes and 8 touchdowns last year while making the All-MAC team.

Fourth Round

The Lions ended up with two fourth round choices after dropping down a few spots in the third. Their choices were Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a Linebacker from Tennessee and Michael Roberts, a Tight End from Toledo.

Reeves-Maybin was injured after Game Four last year and didn’t play again. However, he expects to be a solid special team’s contributor and another cover linebacker to pair with Davis.

Roberts, a 270 pounder, caught a total of 16 touchdown passes last year and will be another Red Zone target for Matthew Stafford. He’ll also be a help in the blocking game and provides insurance should Eric Ebron not stay with Detroit long-term.

Other picks included Jamal Agnew, a speedy cornerback from San Diego, Jeremiah Ledbetter, a Defensive Lineman from Arkansas, Quarterback Brad Kaaya from Miami and Defensive End Pat O’Connor from nearby Eastern Michigan.

Quinn is sticking to a plan with the Lions. He’s looking to add starters at key positions as well as build depth throughout the roster. Although most players he drafted are not familiar names, they’ll all fill roles with the team that according to Quinn will make the team better.

After the performance of last year’s picks, it’s a good bet not to judge this class too quickly. Expect to see several of these players in starting roles and others providing key contributions during
the Lions 2017 season.

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Three Turnovers Decided the Texan – Patriots Playoff Game

New England Patriots win over Houston TexansThe Houston Texans knew that if they were going to go into Gilette Stadium and upset the heavily-favored New England Patriots, they had to apply heavy pressure to Tom Brady, and play a mistake-free game on their end.

Houston did accomplish one of those two objectives on Sunday, but that wasn’t nearly enough, because their three turnovers played a large part in their 34-16 loss.

The Texans defense was ranked #1 in the NFL in total yards allowed per game this past season, and had the #2 passing defense in the league this year, only behind the Denver Broncos.  The duo of Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney registered a sack of Brady, and hit him five times during the game, putting him under far more duress than he’s used to. Brady threw two interceptions during the game; by comparison, he threw only two total interceptions in the 12 games he played during the regular season.

But after entering the game with guarded optimism around quarterback Brock Osweiler, given his steady performance in the Texans win against the Oakland Raiders, they were dealt an unforgiving reality-check. Houston’s high-priced free agent acquisition, who was benched late in the regular season due to his erratic performance, threw three interceptions of his own on Sunday, finishing the game with a pathetic quarterback rating of 13.7.

The Texans were 4-point underdogs by the time kickoff took place on Sunday, but the idea of pulling off one of the greatest playoff upsets in the history of the NFL was still somewhat a reality, when they cut the Patriots lead to 14-13 thanks to Osweiler’s seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. That score was set up for the Texans when Patriots running back Dion Lewis, who scored both the Patriots touchdowns at that point in the game, fumbled a kick return attempt. On Lewis’ most previous kick return attempt, he went 99 yards for a touchdown.

New England added a field goal before halftime. The Texans defense did force the Patriots to punt on five of the seven times they got the ball on offense, including a three-and-out after the Patriots got the ball to start the second half. But after the Texans went three-and-out themselves, the Patriots went 90 yards on nine plays, including Brady’s 19-yard touchdown pass to running back James White. That pushed the Patriots lead out to 24-13.

Houston did tack on a field goal late in the third quarter, but on their next drive, Osweiler threw his second interception of the day deep in his own territory. That gave the Patriots the ball on their own six-yard line, and Lewis ran the ball up the middle for a one-yard touchdown just two plays later. That made the score 34-16 with just over 12 minutes left in the game. Houston went three-and-out on their next possession, and on their last drive of the game, Osweiler threw his third pick, which basically represented the definitive ending of the game.

The Patriots win pushed their postseason record since 2001 at home to 16-3. They’ll now face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI.


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Preview of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins Wildcard Game

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins face up on a wildcard game.  This is a preview of how that game might go.

Before the 2016-2017 regular season began, the Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the trendier picks to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 51. With an offense featuring three players among the best at their position, in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and wide receiver Antonio Brown, many people felt that in spite of their youth, they had enough firepower to beat any team in the conference.

Over the second half of the season, the Steelers appeared to prove many of those prognosticators correct. After a tough loss to the Dallas Cowboys in mid-November, Pittsburgh won their last seven games of the regular season, en route to an 11-5 record and the AFC North division title.

Miami Dolphins

As the postseason begins, the Steelers appear to have a favorable match-up in the first round, taking on the upstart but injury-ravaged Miami Dolphins team. While the Dolphins also had a strong finish of the regular season, going 9-2 over their last 11 games (after starting the season with a 1-4 record), they managed to do so with some of their most important players ailing on the sideline.

For starters, quarterback Ryan Tannehill missed the last three regular season games after injuring his knee in Miami’s Week 14 win against Arizona. While there was some thought around Tannehill potentially being back in time to start in the playoffs, he hasn’t taken any meaningful repetitions under center since the injury. There’s little chance the Dolphins would start him this week without him having practice for so long, meaning backup quarterback Matt Moore will likely be Miami’s starter this weekend.

Moore will likely be asked to simply manage the offense, and rely on the bevy of young and talented skill position players that the Dolphins have quietly assembled. Running back Jay Ajayi ran for over 200 yards the last time the Dolphins played the Steelers (Week 6 of the 2016 season). Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is one of the most productive pass catchers in the league, having recorded his second straight year 90+ receptions and more than 1100+ yards receiving; as a slot option, he is incredibly difficult to defend.

Over the last six weeks of the regular season, second year receiver DeVante Parker tallied 445 yards receiving and three touchdowns. The former first-round pick presents a size (6’3 and 212lbs) and speed element that’s very difficult to defend. Fellow wide receiver Kenny Stills leads all Dolphins receivers with nine touchdown passes, and could be the beneficiary of a few deep shots from Moore (who does throw a nice deep ball).

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers defense allowed opposing running backs to run for 15 touchdowns and 4.3 yards per game, both of which were in the bottom half of the league this season. So, if they devote much of its game plan towards ensuring Ajayi doesn’t have another monster day, that will likely open up opportunities downfield for Moore and those receivers.

Miami’s 29th-ranked defense will also be facing a bit of a “pick your poison” scenario. The Dolphins could similarly devise a scheme to stop Bell, who was one of the most productive running backs in the NFL this year. Even after missing the first four games of this season, Bell finished fifth in the NFL with 1,268 rushing yards this year, accumulating 100+ rushing yards in five of the Steelers last six games. But if Miami’s defense sells out to stop the run pulling out every wrinkle they can to help shore up their 30th-ranked rushing defense to stop Bell, that could be at the sacrifice of Roethlisberger putting up an air show. Byron Maxwell, Miami’s top cornerback, hasn’t played since injuring his ankle on December 17th, and asking rookie cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett to stop Antonio Brown doesn’t sound like an optimal game plan.

The Dolphins could potentially make this game interesting, but it’s very hard to see them having the ability to stop the Steelers offense, and put up more points on their own. Those tasks are even more difficult, given the fact that this game will be played in Pittsburgh. The Steelers lost only two games at home this year, and those were to perhaps the two best teams in the NFL (New England and Dallas). They haven’t lost at home game since before Thanksgiving. They score more than 28 points per game at home, and outscore their opponents by 10 points per game in home match-ups.

Preview for Sunday’s game: Look for the Steelers to pick up the win, and advance to Kansas City.

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