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.
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?
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.