Number one goes down. Number three gets destroyed. Number 2 barely escapes defeat (granted they were depleted at the linebacker position). Of Course, this is a simplistic reference to Georgia and Notre Dame both losing in devastating fashion on the road while Alabama gave everything they had to remain undefeated on the season in a hard-fought victory over Mississippi State. From a bigger picture perspective, the College Football Playoff landscape certainly looks vastly different than it did last week as several of the programs that were on the outside looking in emphatically dethroned the best teams in the country to become the new kings of college football. Did Miami’s dominant win over the Fighting Irish earn them top honors or did Alabama do enough to move up one spot to claim a familiar pedestal? Let’s find out.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Despite four of Alabama’s starting linebackers not participating in their most recent matchup against Mississippi State, the Crimson Tide still held the Bulldogs to 24 points while winning a nail-biter. Even when their defense is not at its best, they have plenty of big-play scoring options in running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough while wide receiver Calvin Ridley is always in the right place at the right time to provide deep passing opportunities for athletic quarterback Jalen Hurts. With an Iron Bowl contest against Auburn coming up in two weeks, the Crimson Tide will need their defense to be 100% healthy if they hope to beat a supremely confident and talented Tigers program.
2. Miami Hurricanes
Eight turnovers. In two games. Digest that for a second. Arguably the most opportunistic defense in college football, the chain-gang has made the likes of Virginia Tech and once Playoff contender Notre Dame look like FCS programs. While that may seem like a hyperbolic statement, the Hurricanes have dominated their last two opponents with quarterback Malik Rosier completing just 56.7% of his passes on the season. If running back Travis Homer can continue to be as explosive as he has been in his last two games (averaged no less than 6.8 yards per rushing attempt), the Hurricanes should have no problem winning the ACC while clinching a well-deserved Playoff spot.
3. Clemson Tigers
The wins have not always been pretty. Nevertheless, Clemson has put the loss to Syracuse in the rearview mirror as quarterback Kelly Bryant has led this offense to several notable victories, mostly by utilizing his impressive athleticism. If their defense can do what they did to Florida State this past week, they will provide an immense challenge for the Miami Hurricanes in the ACC Championship game while further bolstering their resume as a serious Playoff contender should they win.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
Despite the issues the Sooners have on defense, as long as Baker Mayfield continues to perform at a legendary level, it won’t matter. After picking apart a great defense in TCU, Mayfield and the Sooners set themselves up to not only compete in the Big 12 Championship Game but to also potentially have an inside track to the Playoff if they win out. If running back Rodney Anderson can continue to impress with his newfound rushing abilities (has rushed for 5.5 yards per rush attempt in last four games), it’s hard to imagine most program being able to stop this dynamically dominant offense.
5. Wisconsin Badgers
Yes, quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s propensity when it comes to throwing interceptions is concerning, but everything else about this Badgers program is highly impressive. Their defense has been incredible all season long (forced three turnovers against Iowa, have allowed just 13.4 PPG, 3rd in the country) and their rushing game has been nothing short of incredible thanks to Jonathon Taylor (12 touchdowns, 7 rushing yards per game). If the Badgers win out in the regular season and in the Conference Championship game, it will be tremendously difficult to keep them out of the Playoff.
6. Auburn Tigers
Give the Tigers a ton of credit. They took full advantage of a Bulldogs team that was undisciplined while stifling their dominant rushing attack. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was fantastic at picking apart Georgia’s secondary (214 passing yards and three touchdowns) while running back Kerryon Johnson rushed for 167 yards against a Bulldogs defensive front that is normally merciless to opposing rushers. With the dominant victory, the Tigers will be sharpening their teeth as they anxiously await to take on Alabama in the Iron Bowl in two weeks.
7. Georgia Bulldogs
Losses happen, even to great teams. However, supposedly great teams should not be excused for making a plethora of bone-headed mistakes in big games. Such was the case for the Bulldogs who continuously made one silly mistake after another, which resulted in the fearless Auburn Tigers having their way with them in a 40-17 rout. While the Tigers still probably would have won this contest considering how stout they were against the run, this game should have been much closer. Luckily for the Bulldogs, they have a decent chance at redemption assuming they can win the SEC Championship Game.
8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Wow. Considering that the Fighting Irish have one of the best offensive lines in the country, it was astounding to watch the Maimi Hurricanes continually manhandle them from start to finish. As a result, quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams were unable to be explosive, which forced Wimbush to throw the ball frequently. While Notre Dame still has a great offense and their defense is still solid, they were completely exposed as being overly-reliant on their rushing attack, which is something that cannot happen if you want to contend for a National Title. Even if the Fighting Irish wins out, without a Conference Championship game to compete in, their chances of making the Playoff are severely diminished.
9. USC Trojans
With a solid win over Colorado this past week, the Trojans clinched the PAC-12 South and will likely face Washington State or Washington in the PAC-12 Championship Game. Quarterback Sam Darnold has looked markedly better in his last three starts as he has thrown seven touchdowns and just one interception. Combined with the rushing proficiency of running back Ronald Jones II (14 touchdowns, 6.7 yards per rushing attempt), the Trojans have a high-octane offense that can dismantle most opponents. Assuming the Trojans can win their final regular season game against UCLA and win the PAC-12 Championship game, this team may have a very slight chance of making the Playoff.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes
With a dominant win over Michigan State, the Buckeyes put themselves in a favorable position to win the division and clinch a berth to the BIG 10 Championship game against Wisconsin. While the Buckeyes have proven consistency issues on both offense and defense, when everything is in sync with this program, it’s nearly impossible to slow them down. Barring a crazy loss to either Illinois or Michigan down the stretch, the Buckeyes will do everything in their power to win their conference confidently to at least put themselves back into the Playoff conversation.
11. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Despite having one of the worst defenses in the country, the Cowboys were still able to win a shootout against a defensively sound Iowa State program. Between their impressive rushing game led by Justice Hill and their potent passing attack led by quarterback Mason Rudolph and wideout James Washington, the Cowboys have more than enough firepower to out-gun most of their opponents. With two critical matchups against Kansas State and Kansas coming up, the Cowboys will attempt to fight for a coveted spot in the BIG 12 Championship Game.
12. Penn State Nittany Lions
If any team should be disappointed about receiving the 12th ranking in the country it’s the Nittany Lions. Losing back-to-back games to ranked BIG 10 opponents killed off any chance that the Nittany Lions had at making the Playoff. Considering Penn State has one of the best players in the country on their team in running back Saquon Barkley and a more than reliable quarterback in Trace McSorley, it’s honestly shocking that this once all-around dominant team is in this position. Obviously, Penn State should soundly beat both Nebraska and Maryland to finish out the season, but neither win will be enough to redeem what has to be considered a disappointing season for the Nittany Lions.
13. TCU Horned Frogs
While the loss for the Horned Frogs was not pretty, it was more of a result of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield being a legendary college passer (333 passing yards and three touchdowns) rather than the Horned Frogs defense putting up an inept performance. Certainly, it did not help that the Horned Frogs quarterback Kenny Hills could not take advantage of what is arguably a poor defense (completed just 13 of 28 passes for one touchdown). While the schedule gets easier for the Horned Frogs going forward, their chances of making it as a Playoff team are slim to none.
14. UCF Knights
You can say the undefeated Knights are overrated if you want to. As for me, I have been in awe of how well-balanced the Knights have been on defense (20.7 points allowed per game, 29th in the country) and offense 47.7 PPG, best in the country) this season. Sure, the American Athletic Conference is not strongest in terms of legitimate competition but wins over the likes of Memphis, Navy and SMU should count for something, especially when you consider that all three have high-powered offenses (held all three of them to 24 points or less). If the Knights can win their next two contests and remain undefeated, this team is more than deserving of a New Years Six bid so that their winning ways can finally be respected and not considered a fluke.
15. Washington Huskies
Like their in-state counterparts, the Huskies have lost two games in head-scratching fashion. In their most recent loss to Stanford, the Huskies gave up 30 points for the first time this season and were unable to outscore the Cardinal despite running back Myles Gaskin rushing for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Still, the Huskies defense should not be completely slighted despite this lapse as this squad will have an opportunity to redeem themselves against the Utah Utes this week before having to face their hated rival in Washington State to finish the regular season.
16. Washington State Cougars
After embarrassing losses to California and Arizona this season, the Cougars have gotten back to what made them great earlier this year: playing sound defense and throwing the football effectively. Behind Luke Falk’s six touchdown passes in two games, the Cougars have been able to overwhelm two defensively stout opponents in Stanford and Utah most recently. With the Apple Cup coming up in two weeks (against Washington), the Cougars will have a chance to finish off a highly-successful season for a program that has struggled to win in recent years.
17. Michigan State Spartans
Just when it appeared that the Spartans were heating up offensively, they get blown out 48-3 at the hands of an immensely frustrated Ohio State program. Without question, it was the worst performance by the Spartans this season as quarterback Brian Lewerke (completed just 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions) and running back LJ Scott (rushed for just 30 yards) were stifled from start to finish. Although the Spartans will be heavily favorited in their last two games against Maryland and Rutgers, it will be hard for fans to make peace with the fact that this program was a win away from putting themselves in the driver seat to win the BIG 10 East.
18. LSU Tigers
This time next year, the Tigers could very well have one of if not the best defense in the country (despite their youth, they have given up only 19.4 points per game this season). Even in their losses, the Tigers have given up more than 30 points only once this season, which sadly is not always enough to cover up the inconsistency issues of quarterback Danny Etling (58.9 CMP% this season). Luckily, running back Derrius Guice has been a tremendous workhorse for the Tigers as he has rushed for less than 70 yards only once this season. Although the Tigers do not face a reputable opponent during the last couple of weeks of the season (Tennessee, Texas A&M), they can still show off their physical defense and get fans excited about next season.
19. Mississippi State
Nick Fitzgerald (66 rushing yards and a touchdown) and Aeris Williams (97 rushing yards and two touchdowns) did everything within their power to overcome the depleted linebacking corps of the Crimson Tide. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the backups for Alabama would normally be considered reliable starters on any other team. Combined with their poor secondary (gave up 171 receiving yards to Calvin Ridley alone), the Bulldogs were outmatched by a team that was clearly more talented on both offense and defense. Still, the Bulldogs will have two opportunities to blow off steam against both Arkansas and Ole Miss to close out the season.
20. NC State Wolfpack
Without question, the Wolfpack have one of the best defensive lines in the country and future first-round pick Bradley Chubb (10 sacks on the season) has been tremendous at attacking the quarterback all season long. However, the Wolfpack have a less than reliable secondary, which was exposed in losses to both Clemson and Notre Dame. Coupled with quarterback Ryan Finley’s recent struggles (has completed less than 50% of his passes in two of his last three starts), the Wolfpack have been inept offensively and were completely reliant on their dominant defense to eek out a win over Boston College most recently. With Wake Forest and North Carolina coming up next, the Wolfpack have a grand opportunity to finish off what has been a very successful season for this program on a high note.
21. Michigan Wolverines
Despite being 8-2 on the season, it’s been a relatively disappointing season for the Wolverines. And that may be a bit of an understatement. Still, the Wolverines have looked much more impressive in their last three games with freshman quarterback Brandon Peters playing mistake-free football (four touchdowns and zero interceptions this season). Unfortunately, the Wolverines lost their star running back Karan Higdon in their most recent victory over Maryland, which would be a serious blow for a Michigan program that still has to face Wisconsin and Ohio State in their last two games of the regular season.
22. Memphis Tigers
As the Tigers had an off-week, there is not a lot to unpack here. However, it bears repeating that the offense is highly prolific as it pertains to their passing game and wideout Anthony Miller is one of the best receivers in the country (11 touchdowns, 13.5 yards per reception). With an equally talented SMU offense and a dreadful ECU program remaining on the schedule, the Tigers could put themselves in the New Year Six bowl conversation with two impressive wins down the stretch.
23. Northwestern Wildcats
Quietly, the Wildcats have won five games in a row with two of those wins coming against the likes of Iowa and Michigan State. Defensively, the Wildcats have been surprisingly stout as they have allowed just one opponent (Michigan State) to score more than 24 points during their win streak. While quarterback Clayton Thorson has been inconsistent as a passer, he has been much more confident as a rusher in the red zone as Thorson as rushed for six touchdowns in his last five games (rushed for just two touchdowns in previous five games). With two relatively non-threatening opponents in Minnesota and Illinois on the remaining schedule, the Wildcats could feasibly cap off a better than expected season with two emphatic victories.
24. Virginia Tech Hokies
Apparently, when it rains it pours Blacksburg. Since their first eight games where the Hokies went 7-1, this program has looked like a shell of itself as they have lost their last two games by a score of 56-32. After showing glimpses of greatness throughout the season, freshman quarterback Josh Jackson has struggled mightily recently as he has thrown two picks and zero touchdowns during the Hokies two-game losing streak. Of course, it does not help that the rushing game of the Hokies has been anemic as running back Travon McMillian only rushed for 2.9 yards per rush attempt in Virginia Tech’s most recent loss to Georgia Tech. With Pittsburgh and Virginia rounding out the remaining schedule, the Hokies have a chance of finishing strong while putting themselves in a decent position to participate in a reputable bowl game.
25. Army Black Knights
Winning their sixth contest in a row against the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday, the Black Knights looked dominant on defense and impressively potent on offense. While their strength of schedule is fairly weak when compared to the other programs in these rankings, their consistency on both sides of the ball is indicative of a program that is both well-coached and disciplined when it comes to playing their style of football. With the annual “Army vs. Navy Game” less than a month away, the Black Knights could easily dispatch their armed forces rival for the second year in a row.