At the top of college football’s rankings, there is currently a very tight top five teams, making up the same top five as you will read below. Each of the five can make a case as to why they should be number one, and looking through the lens of the College Football Playoff, you could arguably make a case for each of the five to be the one team among them left out of the four-team field. Each of the five received at least three first-place votes in the AP Poll, and with the exception of one writer who voted for Alabama (which doesn’t make much sense since they have a loss), the five at the top were the only teams receiving first-place endorsements.
Why focus on the top five, you might ask? Those five have created a gap between themselves and the rest of the field. It isn’t a big enough gap to where the teams can lose a game and drop to fifth, but it is there nonetheless.
Following the top five, it gets easier to put the teams in order, as my rankings below match the AP Poll exactly from seventh to 12th, and are very close to it all the way through 25th. While we are now over halfway through the season, there are still a lot of games left, and any of the teams on this page can still reach the College Football Playoff, although some near the bottom need to win out and get a lot of help for that to happen.
1. TCU (7-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 5th)
The Horned Frogs were idle over the weekend, preparing for a this week’s Thursday night contest at home against West Virginia (3-3). TCU is at the top on the strength of an offense that has scored 23, 70, 56, 55, 50, 52, and 45 points in their games so far, supplemented by a defense that has allowed just seven points twice and 21 or less four times, although in the other three games that defense has been a bit of a question mark for Gary Patterson’s club.
2. Ohio State (8-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 1st)
In the Buckeyes’ first game since Urban Meyer named J.T. Barrett the starting quarterback, in place of Cardale Jones, Ohio State cruised to a 49-7 win over Rutgers (3-4). Barrett completed 14 of 18 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 101 yards on 13 attempts, scoring two more touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott also ran for 142 yards and two scores. The Buckeyes have a bye Saturday before beginning a pivotal November stretch with Minnesota (4-3), a stretch that ends with Michigan State (8-0) at home and Michigan (5-2) on the road.
3. Clemson (7-0, LW: 3rd, AP: 3rd)
While Miami (4-3) coach Al Golden was probably already on a short leach, the Tigers accelerated Golden’s demise, as they destroyed the Hurricanes, 58-0, and Golden was fired after the game. The Tigers outgained the ‘Canes 567-146, including 416 rushing yards. Even with seven Tigers touchdowns, they were spread out amongst the offense, with the only player to score two being backup quarterback Kelly Bryant (as an Anderson Independent-Mail freelancer I’ll add that Bryant is a Wren High School product). Saturday the Tigers face a decent NC State (5-2) team on the road, a week ahead of a potential de facto divisional title game against Florida State (6-1) at home in Death Valley.
4. Baylor (7-0, LW: 5th, AP: 2nd)
The Bears won and lost on Saturday. They won their contest with Iowa State (2-5), 45-27, in a game they led 35-0 over the Cyclones. However the win was a pyrrhic victory, as the Bears lost starting quarterback Seth Russell for the year with a neck injury. For the season, Russell has thrown for 2,104 yards, with 29 touchdowns against six interceptions, and although he didn’t have as good of a game against Iowa State, his loss is a huge blow for the Bears moving forward. Backup Jarrett Stidham will now step in, and the question for the rest of the regular season will be if he can lead the Bears to the College Football Playoff (Bears fans, remember, Ohio State won the title last year on their third QB). Luckily, the bye on the Bears schedule comes at the perfect time, as Stidham has an extra week to prepare his first start, next Thursday, November 5, at Kansas State (3-4), before facing a gauntlet of three straight ranked opponents the following three games.
5. LSU (7-0, LW: 6th, AP: 4th)
The Tigers easily dispatched of Western Kentucky (6-2), winning 48-20 in their final regular season non-conference date. Running back Leonard Fournette got his normal workload, rushing for 150 yards on 26 carries for “only” one touchdown. Fournette is rushing for 193 yards per game, and has now scored 15 touchdowns in LSU’s seven games. The Tigers are idle this weekend, as scary thought for Alabama (7-1) this Halloween, as they are the Tigers next opponent on November 7 in Tuscaloosa.
6. Michigan State (8-0, LW: 4th, AP: 6th)
With the exception of a 7-0 score in the first quarter, the Spartans never trailed Indiana (4-4), but much of the game was closer than the 52-26 final score would indicate, as Sparty scored 24 unanswered points in the fourth. They drop two spots in these rankings after I reassessed their season. While the Spartans haven’t lost, their seven games against currently unranked teams were won by margins of 13, 3, 14, 20, 3, 7, and 26, and while they were statistically better than Michigan in their win in Ann Arbor, there was certainly a peculiarity to the way they won that game. The Spartans are 2-6 against the spread, meaning they haven’t played as well as expected in most of those games. Therefore, I have dropped them behind the first five, although they still could very easily make the College Football Playoff if they win out, starting with a trip to Nebraska (3-5) next Saturday after a bye this week, with a big one lurking at Ohio State (8-0) on November 21.
7. Alabama (7-1, LW: 7th, AP: 7th)
It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the Crimson Tide survived their rivalry game with Tennessee (3-4), 19-14, in a very even, back-and-forth contest. While the Tide were held by the Volunteers to 117 rushing yards, Derrick Henry ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns (yes, the rest of the team ran for -26 yards), including the game-winner with 2:24 to go from 14 yards out for the Tide’s come-from-behind win. Henry increases his season totals to 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight games. After a bye this week, the Tide are likely to be home underdogs for the first time since 2007 when they host LSU (7-0) next week.
8. Stanford (6-1, LW: 11th, AP: 8th)
The Cardinal took care of business late Saturday night, beating Washington (3-4), 31-14. Christian McCaffrey, who has become one of the nation’s best players, rushed for 109 yards on 23 attempts, with one touchdown, and caught five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. For the season, McCaffrey has 1,237 yards of offense, including 953 rushing yards, and has 1,818 all-purpose yards (includes kick/punt returns). McCaffrey and company travel to Washington State (5-2) this week, in a game pivotal to the Pac-12 North divisional race.
9. Notre Dame (6-1, LW: 10th, AP: 9th)
The Irish enjoyed an off weekend, fresh off their win over USC (4-3) last week, which now looks even better after the Trojans’ win over Utah. A big key for the Irish so far this season has been running back C.J. Prosise, who has rushed for 922 yards and 11 touchdowns despite being in his first season as a running back. Prior to this season, Prosise had 126 career rushing yards, although he did have 588 yards and two touchdowns over two seasons as an Irish receiver. This week, the Irish travel to Philadelphia to play Temple (7-0), in a game that didn’t look very interesting before the season but has suddenly become a big game for both sides, and is the best game in college football this weekend.
10. Iowa (7-0, LW: 12th, AP: 10th)
The Hawkeyes reach the top 10 for the first time this season, and for the first time in the two-year history of these rankings. This team has shown it has an ability to win the close ones, beating Pittsburgh (6-1), 27-24, and Wisconsin (6-2), 10-6, as well as the ability to put teams away with authority, beating Northwestern (6-2), 40-10. That win over Northwestern was October 17, before the Hawkeyes were idle this past weekend, and featured a breakout performance by backup running back Akrum Wadley, who was thrust into the spotlight after injuries to the team’s top two backs, and responded by running for 204 yards and four touchdowns. Kirk Ferentz’s team doesn’t play a ranked team the rest of the way, and has a two-game lead in the Big Ten West, hosting Maryland (2-5) on Saturday.
11. Florida (6-1, LW: 13th, AP: 11th)
12. Oklahoma State (7-0, LW: 15th, AP: 12th)
13. Michigan (5-2, LW: 16th, AP: 15th)
14. Oklahoma (6-1, LW: 17th, AP: 14th)
15. Memphis (7-0, LW: 18th, AP: 16th)
16. Ole Miss (6-2, LW: 21st, AP: 19th)
17. Florida State (6-1, LW: 9th, AP: 17th)
18. Utah (6-1, LW: 8th, AP: 13th)
19. Toledo (7-0, LW: 19th, AP: 20th)
20. Temple (7-0, LW: 20th, AP: 21st)
21. Houston (7-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 18th)
22. Duke (6-1, LW: 23rd, AP: 22nd)
23. UCLA (5-2, LW: unranked, AP: 24th)
24. Mississippi State (6-2, LW: unranked, AP: 25th)
25. North Carolina (6-1, LW: unranked, AP: unranked)
Fell from rankings: Texas A&M (5-2, LW: 14th, AP: unranked), Pittsburgh (6-1, LW: 24th, AP: 23rd), California (5-2, LW: 25th, AP: unranked),