Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated tweeted this morning “Power rankings have Florida State back at number one this week because I’m neurotic and can’t make up my mind.” While I don’t have the Seminoles on top, I do concur that the top three teams are all very close. And none of them are overwhelmingly great, either. In fact, I almost decided to put them in a three-way tie for third, then rank the rest of the teams from fourth on. That being said, there’s a new number one…
1. Alabama (4-0, Last Week: 3rd)
Out of the top three team’s victories on Saturday, Alabama’s was, believe it or not, the most impressive, in a 42-21 win over Florida that was closer than the score would indicate. Florida led 14-7 late in the first, before the Tide took a 21-14 halftime lead, and the Gators tied the game at 21-21 before Alabama scored 21 unanswered, aided by Florida turnovers. We know the Tide are very young–but they are still very talented and, while they will need to improve to run the table in the tough SEC West, they are off to a very good start. Their first major test will come next week when they travel to Ole Miss, after a bye this week.
2. Oregon (4-0, 1st)
The Ducks dropped a spot, although they won a conference road game at Washington State, 38-31. Why? It’s not the fact they struggled against the Cougars, but it’s how they struggled. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked seven times in the win, which makes me wonder: if the Ducks offensive line can’t protect the quarterback against Washington State, how are they going to do it against the elite teams of the Pac-12 such as Stanford and UCLA. Before those two tests, after a bye this week, they will face another test at home against Arizona a week from Thursday. This is a revenge game after the Wildcats beat the Ducks last year in Tuscon.
3. Florida State (3-0, 2nd)
Florida State defeated Clemson in overtime, 23-17, to survive and remain undefeated, playing the game without their quarterback, after defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston was suspended for the game. Clemson’s red zone fumble with less than two minutes left in a tied game got the game into overtime, and the Seminoles defensive stop on a 4th-and-1 in the extra session kept Clemson out off the end zone again and led to a Seminole touchdown to secure the victory. In my opinion, if a team is number one in the polls (which Florida State still is), they should be able to play as well, or at least very nearly as well, without one player (in this case, Winston), as they do with him, since it is, after all, a team sport. If Winston had been on the field Saturday night, I am sure the Seminoles would have scored more than 17 in regulation. Clemson is a very good football team, but I don’t know that they would have taken the Seminoles to overtime with Winston on the field. This week, the Seminoles will hit the road to face NC State, in a renewal of a series that has a tendency for upsets, particularly in Raleigh.
4. Oklahoma (4-0, 4th)
The Sooners avoided the fate of an upset at West Virginia, winning 45-33 in a game that many, including me, had picked them to lose in a tough road environment. The game was tied at halftime after a back-and-forth first half, but after the Sooners scored in the early minutes of the third quarter to take the lead, they never lost it. Samaje Perine made his presence known, rushing for 242 yards and four touchdowns. Like two of the three teams ahead of them, the Sooners have a bye this week, as they prepare to travel to TCU next week.
5. Auburn (3-0, 5th)
The spotlight was on Auburn on Thursday night, as they took on Kansas State in a primetime, nationally televised game on the road. The Tigers beat the Wildcats 20-14, led by QB Nick Marshall, who threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns. The win came 52 weeks after their last regular season loss, a 35-21 defeat against LSU. Since, as we all know, they have gone on an incredible run of close wins, upsets, and a 13-game winning streak against the spread, which ended on Thursday when they were favored by seven and won by six. This week, after the tough game in Manhattan, the Tigers get a much easier test when they host a Louisiana Tech team out of the Sun Belt, who lost on Saturday to FCS opponent Northwestern State. The Tigers should enjoy the game, because they play ranked opponents in their next six games after playing the Bulldogs, and seven of their final eight in the regular season, with four of those on the road.
6. Texas A&M (4-0, 7th)
The undefeated Aggies dominated from start to finish against a mismatched, winless SMU team, winning 58-6 on the road in Dallas. The game was the finale of a trio of easy non-conference games for the Aggies, playing Lamar, Rice, and SMU, coming off their opening week blowout of then-9th ranked South Carolina. Like Auburn, the Aggies have a tough remaining schedule, which includes five remaining games against ranked teams, so you can’t blame them for playing a pretty easy non-conference schedule. While the Aggies do not play one of those ranked teams when they resume SEC play this week, they do play a decent Arkansas team, at a (relatively) neutral site in Arlington, Texas. A&M is currently second in the nation in points scored, and eighth in points against, although I’ll take that with a grain of salt considering who they’ve played.
7. Notre Dame (3-0, 8th)
With LSU’s loss to Mississippi State, the Irish moved up in these power rankings despite not playing a game due to a bye week. Saturday night they will play in primetime from the Meadowlands when they take on the Syracuse Orange.
8. Baylor (3-0, 9th)
Similarly, the Bears of Baylor move up a spot after a bye, having not played since Friday, September 12 at Buffalo. They will also play in primetime on Saturday when they make a trip to Iowa State to take on the Cyclones, a team that always seems to pull the occasional upset.
9. Ole Miss (3-0, 10th)
In Oxford, the Rebels also move up a spot after a bye. This week, they will host Memphis in an intentionally lighter test in their final tuneup before hosting Alabama next week in a big SEC West duel between two top ten teams.
10. Michigan State (2-1, 11th)
While Michigan State did not have a bye, they might as well have, as they played a very easy game against Eastern Michigan, winning 73-14. With the win, and LSU’s loss, the Spartans jump back into the top ten in these rankings. The Spartans had 496 yards of offense, including 336 on the ground, in the win, holding to their normal style of an attack rushing team. The game was the first for the Spartans since September 6, as they had a bye after their 46-27 loss at Oregon. This week the Spartans will conclude their non-conference slate as they host Wyoming, before beginning conference play next week against a ranked Nebraska team. The Spartans are currently the highest ranked team in the Big Ten, widely considered the worst of the “Power Five” conferences, so they are favored to win the league and could potentially run the table and win the remainder of their games.
11. Georgia (2-1, 13th), 12. UCLA (3-0, 12th) 13. Arizona State (3-0, 14th), 14. Mississippi State (4-0, unranked), 15. Stanford (2-1, 16th)
16. LSU (3-1, 6th), 17. South Carolina (3-1, 15th), 18. Penn State (4-0, 17th), 19. Wisconsin (2-1, 19th), 20. USC (2-1, 18th)
21. Ohio State (2-1, 21st), 22. Duke (3-0, 22nd), 23. BYU (4-0, 23rd), 24. East Carolina (3-1, unranked), 25. Clemson (1-2, 20th)
Fell from rankings: Missouri (3-1, 24th), Virginia Tech (2-2, 25th)