While several of the top teams were idle over the weekend, there was still some excitement Saturday. Temple hosted Notre Dame, in arguably their biggest game in school history. Miami and Duke had what appeared to be a finish for the ages, before becoming the controversy of the year in college football. Minnesota came a foot short of upsetting Michigan.
After the dust settled, there isn’t a major shakeup in this week’s rankings, as the highest ranked team from last week that lost was Temple (20th). However, there was plenty of food for thought on Tuesday when the College Football Playoff committee’s first rankings of the season came out. Clemson was in the top spot, and while that wasn’t a surprise, it also was different from these rankings, and the AP and Coaches Polls. Other teams were surprisingly high, and others were surprisingly low (like you’re about to read about TCU).
1. TCU (8-0, Last Week: 1st, College Football Playoff Ranking: 8th)
The Horned Frogs took care of business against West Virginia (3-4) on Saturday, winning 40-10, with quarterback Trevone Boykin throwing for 388 yards and three touchdowns. And yet, when the College Football Playoff’s inaugural rankings came out Tuesday night, the Horned Frogs were unexpectedly low at eighth. Committee chairman made a comment about several teams (not just TCU) being one-sided, showing their overwhelming strength as their offense thus far, and that that was part of the committee’s reasoning, along with strength of schedule. I understand the strength of schedule argument, as TCU has only beaten one team over .500 and has no wins over currently ranked teams, although many of their wins have been impressive nonetheless. But the one-sided assertion is not correct about the Horned Frogs. The offense has certainly been strong, scoring 48.9 points per game, and scoring less than 40 only once (and that was way back on September 3). Yes, if you look at three specific games, the defense has allowed 37, 45, and 52. But in the other five games, the Frogs have allowed 7, 7, 10, 17, and 21, showing their strong, but streaky, capability on defense. Allowing 24.8 points per game, especially in the Big 12, isn’t bad, and doesn’t constitute a one-sided team. There is no way there are seven teams better than this one. Luckily for TCU, they will get a chance to improve their ranking in November, as they begin an absolutely brutal stretch on Saturday at fellow undefeated Oklahoma State (8-0).
2. Clemson (8-0, LW: 3rd, CFP: 1st)
The Tigers of the South Carolina variety avoided upset at NC State (6-2), winning 56-41, with quarterback Deshaun Watson throwing for 383 yards and five touchdowns in a game the Wolfpack led 20-19 late in the first half. When the Playoff committee’s rankings were released Tuesday, it was the Tigers who were in the top spot, marking their first #1 ranking in any poll since January 1982 (when the won the 1981 national title). The claim the Tigers are the best team in the nation is a valid one, as the Tigers have scored 40.6 points per game while allowing 20.1 per contest (and just 14.3 before the NC State game), while playing a schedule that isn’t necessarily the nation’s toughest, but does include a 24-22 win over Notre Dame and three conference road wins over teams at or above .500, including a 58-0 win over Miami. This week should be the last big test the Tigers will have to face before a probable trip to the ACC Championship Game, as they host Florida State (7-1).
3. Ohio State (8-0, LW: 2nd, CFP: 3rd)
The Buckeyes had a bye on Saturday, and were put third by the CFP committee in their initial rankings. While I had the Buckeyes third last week, after reassessing their season thus far, putting them third behind Clemson seems like the right spot. The team seems to play better each week, and although their best win is over a decent but unranked Penn State (7-2) team, the gap between them and the competition has gotten more comfortable as the season has gone on. Quarterback J.T. Barrett made his first start October 24 against Rutgers, seeming to make a difference in the team’s offensive production. However, after being cited for operating a vehicle under the influence over the weekend, Barrett is suspended one game this weekend, as the Buckeyes host Minnesota (4-4), who nearly upset Michigan last week in Minneapolis.
4. LSU (7-0, LW: 5th, CFP: 2nd)
The Tigers of the Baton Rouge variety enjoyed an open weekend, as they prepared for a trip to Alabama (7-1) on Saturday. Les Miles and company were ranked second in the CFP’s opening rankings, a testament to close wins over currently ranked teams Mississippi State (6-2) and Florida (7-1), to go along with domination elsewhere. By all accounts, running back Leonard Fournette is the (in my opinion still-too-early but I’ll mention it anyway) Heisman favorite with a month left in the regular season, as he has averaged 7.7 yards per carry while running for 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns. In each game except one, Fournette’s long run has been 25 yards or longer, including a four-game stretch earlier this season with each game featuring a run of 62 yards or longer. The Tigers rivalry game with the Crimson Tide on Saturday is the beginning of a tough November stretch, which includes three games against ranked opponents, with only one of them at home.
5. Baylor (7-0, LW: 4th, CFP: 6th)
Baylor was idle over Halloween weekend, and the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time, after the Bears lost starting quarterback Seth Russell to a neck injury in their October 24 win over Iowa State. True freshman Jarrett Stidham is preparing for his first career start, and while the loss of Russell may scare some Bears fans, Stidham’s numbers so far this year in garbage time duty have been solid, completing 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. Still, playing in the fourth quarter of blowouts is different from starting for a team with playoff aspirations, although Stidham’s first start, against a Kansas State (3-4) team that is surprisingly winless in Big 12 play, is an easier test, before the schedule really ramps up with three straight top 15 opponents, something that can really help a Playoff ranking that was hurt by a weak strength of schedule thus far.
6. Michigan State (8-0, LW: 6th, CFP: 7th)
The Spartans also enjoyed a bye over the weekend, ahead of a November stretch that includes three games they should win, including this week against Nebraska (3-6), but has a huge game lurking on November 21 when Sparty travels to Ohio State (8-0). Despite the Spartans’ unbeaten record, which includes a win at Michigan, they are currently behind a pair of one-loss teams after the first CFP rankings, as the committee put the Spartans seventh. One would have to believe, however, that with the game left with Ohio State, and other games between highly ranked teams that one team will have to lose, the Spartans would still make the Playoff if they win out.
7. Alabama (7-1, LW: 7th, CFP: 4th)
Like so many of the highly ranked teams on this list, the Crimson Tide were idle over the weekend, giving them extra time to prepare for a crucial matchup against LSU (7-0) on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The Tide were, even as a one-loss team, ranked fourth in the CFP rankings, which doesn’t completely make sense. They should absolutely be in contention, but only one team the Tide has beaten is currently in the committee’s top 25 (and, for what it’s worth, that team isn’t in mine). Also, their one loss, a close one to Ole Miss, looks worse now than it did at the time. Lastly, because of that loss to Ole Miss, Alabama doesn’t even control their own fate in the SEC West divisional race, so, by the committee’s own criteria, they shouldn’t control their destiny to make the Playoff as one of the current top four.
8. Stanford (7-1, LW: 8th, CFP: 11th)
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but Stanford survived an upset bid by Washington State (5-3), winning 30-28 late Saturday night in Spokane. Washington State kicker Erik Powell was 5-for-6 in the game, but the one miss was as time expired and ended the Cougars’ dream at an upset, and at controlling their destiny in the Pac-12 North. That scenario now belongs to the Cardinal, who have one of the nation’s best all-purpose offensive players in Christian McCaffrey, who ran for 107 yards against the Cougars. McCaffrey didn’t score, however, but quarterback Kevin Hogan did score on the ground, running for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Stanford is ranked 11th by the Playoff committee, which was surprisingly low to many experts. The Cardinal haven’t lost since their season opener on September 5, and while they only have one win over a currently-ranked team, they have been dominant against a pretty decent schedule, with their only close win coming just this past weekend against the Cougars. However, should the Cardinal win out, starting this Saturday at Colorado (4-5), their November 28 game against Notre Dame (7-1) could potentially be a Playoff elimination/play-in game.
9. Notre Dame (7-1, LW: 9th, CFP: 5th)
Who knew the Irish’s game against Temple (7-1) would be between two ranked teams, and have Playoff implications for both sides? It did, and the Irish were able to give the Owls their first loss, winning 24-20 after a late touchdown pass from DeShone Kizer to Will Fuller. Although he threw two interceptions, Kizer had a strong performance, throwing for 299 yards, and running for 143, totaling three touchdowns, and leading the Irish to outgain the Owls, 467-295. Kizer’s rushing efficiency was important, as the Owls defense held running back C.J. Prosise to just 25 yards on the night. The Playoff committee rankings put the Irish in fifth, which seems a little high, even considering their only loss is to the committee’s top-ranked team, Clemson, by just two points. The win over Temple is the Irish’s only win over a currently-ranked team, and some pundits still have a bad taste from a couple of early season games (most notably Virginia) that were closer than they should have been. This Saturday, the Irish travel to Pittsburgh (6-2).
10. Iowa (8-0, LW: 10th, CFP: 9th)
The Hawkeyes are an interesting case. They don’t overpower anyone with an explosive offense, but have found ways to win mostly low-scoring games all year, as they are perfect thus far. They only have one win over a current top 25 team (per the committee’s rankings, not mine), when they beat Northwestern, dominating the Wildcats 40-10. Wins at home against Pittsburgh and at Wisconsin are by a combined total of seven points, but while they are close and aren’t against ranked opposition, they are of some quality nonetheless. Saturday, the Hawkeyes beat Maryland, 31-15, in a game in which the defense allowed only one touchdown (the other was a kick return), although Iowa only outgained the Terrapins 293-241. Saturday, the Hawkeyes travel to Indiana (4-4), who has already given Ohio State and Michigan State strong upset bids but fallen short.
11. Florida (7-1, LW: 11th, CFP: 10th)
12. Oklahoma State (8-0, LW: 12th, CFP: 14th)
13. Michigan (6-2, LW: 13th, CFP: 17th)
14. Oklahoma (7-1, LW: 14th, CFP: 15th)
15. Memphis (8-0, LW: 15th, CFP: 13th)
16. Ole Miss (7-2, LW: 16th, CFP: 18th)
17. Florida State (7-1, LW: 17th, CFP: 16th)
18. Utah (7-1, LW: 18th, CFP: 12th)
19. Toledo* (7-0, LW: 19th, CFP: 24th)
20. Houston (8-0, LW: 21st, CFP: 25th)
21. Temple (7-1, LW: 20th, CFP: 22nd)
22. Duke** (6-2, LW: 22nd, CFP: unranked)
23. UCLA (6-2, LW: 23rd, CFP: 23rd)
24. Mississippi State (6-2, LW: 24th, CFP: 20th)
25. North Carolina (7-1, LW: 25th, CFP: unranked)
Also ranked in CFP Rankings: Texas A&M (6-2, 19th), Northwestern (6-2, 21st)
*These rankings are through Week 9, which does not include Tuesday’s Toledo game, which they lost to Northern Illinois. That loss will be reflected in next week’s rankings.
**I have chosen not to drop Duke, even after a loss, because of my opinion on the controversial finish against Miami. I will not punish them in the rankings for a game I believe they should not have lost.