When all is said and done in deciding the College Football Playoff field and bowl bids in December, this past Saturday may be looked at as a big turning point for a lot of teams. Three of my top six (and three of the Playoff committee’s top eight) lost on Saturday. While LSU losing to Alabama wasn’t necessarily a surprise, Michigan State being upset by a Nebraska team that entered the game 3-6 certainly was.
But to me, the most surprising game at all was TCU’s loss to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys winning wasn’t the surprise, as they are an excellent football team, and their big win is reflected in the below rankings. The stunning part of that game was that TCU was utterly dominated by the Cowboys after being #1 in my rankings for the last five weeks. The committee’s impressions of the Horned Frogs were a little more accurate than mine, as they had TCU at #8 last week, and after the loss dropped them seven spots to 15th. As a result of my erroneous understanding of TCU’s abilities, and the fact I now realize I’ve been overrating them, I have dropped them further in this week’s rankings than I normally would drop a team after a loss to a very quality Oklahoma State team.
And TCU’s loss allows there to be a new top-ranked team, and with this selection I’m thinking half my home state will pat me on the back, and the other half (which I more often identify with, I might add) will wonder what in the world I’m thinking.
1. Clemson (9-0, Last Week: 2nd, CFP Rankings: 1st)
The Tigers played their first game as a top-ranked team (according to the committee’s rankings) this past week, facing a formidable opponent in Florida State (7-2), and passing the test with a 23-13 victory, clinching the ACC Atlantic Division. Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 297 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another 107 yards, as his Heisman stock continues to rise. I’ve known all year that this team had a shot at a College Football Playoff run, as I had them fifth in my preseason rankings (while the AP had them at 12th), but they continue to show they are real contenders, not only to reach the Playoff, but to win it, as the Tigers are now first in both the Playoff rankings and the AP Poll. To get there they must take care of business, as this week they will travel to Syracuse (3-6), the easiest matchup they’ve had in a month.
2. Ohio State (9-0, LW: 3rd, CFP: 3rd)
The Buckeyes went back to on-again, off-again quarterback Cardale Jones on Saturday due to the one-game suspension of J.T. Barrett, and Jones didn’t have his best night, but the Buckeyes did enough for their 22nd straight win, beating Minnesota (4-5), 28-14. A big key in that win was Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 114 yards and a touchdown in his 14th consecutive game of 100 yards or more on the ground. The Buckeyes look for their 30th straight Big Ten win on Saturday when they travel to play Illinois (5-4), who hasn’t beaten a top 10 opponent since their last win over the Buckeyes in 2007.
3. Alabama (8-1, LW: 7th, CFP: 2nd)
The Crimson Tide entered their biggest game of the year against #2 LSU (7-1) hearing a lot of conversation about Tigers running back Leonard Fournette, but it was the Tide’s Derrick Henry who stole the show. Henry ran for 210 yards and three touchdowns, as the Tide rolled to a 30-16 win to knock their rivals from the ranks of the unbeaten. Some analysts say that Henry’s performance has made him the new Heisman frontrunner, although the back will certainly still have to earn the reward as the Tide play out their schedule, controlling their destiny in the SEC West. That stretch run begins Saturday, as Alabama travels for a formidable test at Mississippi State (7-2).
4. Baylor (8-0, LW: 5th, CFP: 6th)
While the score of Baylor’s win over Kansas State (3-5) may have been closer than the Bears wanted against a team that is winless in conference play, there was no shortage of positives to take away from the victory in hostile Manhattan. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham was nearly perfect, throwing for 419 yards and three touchdowns in his first collegiate start in place of the injured Seth Russell. Wide receiver Corey Coleman caught two of those touchdowns, totaling 216 receiving yards in the contest, propelling the junior to 1,178 yards and 20 touchdowns for the season. While Stidham had a nice debut, he’ll face a much stiffer test this week, as the Bears host Oklahoma (8-1).
5. Oklahoma State (9-0, LW: 12th, CFP: 8th)
The Cowboys entered the weekend as the second-lowest ranked undefeated team, and the lowest from a Power Five league, after several staying undefeated in a few near misses. Their respect level took a big leap forward, however, in a 49-29 domination of TCU (8-1). Quarterback Mason Rudolph (out of Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, SC, I might add) threw for 352 yards and five touchdowns, as the Cowboys intercepted TCU’s Trevone Boykin four times. The game was even more of a one-sided affair than the score would indicate, as the Cowboys jumped out to a 35-9 lead before leading 42-16 after the third quarter. Oklahoma State’s game this week at Iowa State (3-6) seems easy enough, but remember, the Cyclones were just as bad the last time they beat Oklahoma State, when they ended the Cowboys shot at a national title in 2011.
6. Notre Dame (8-1, LW: 9th, CFP: 4th)
The Irish were in control Saturday, on the road at Pittsburgh (6-3), on their way to a 42-30 win, which was only that close because of two late Panther touchdowns. Quarterback DeShone Kizer accounted for six touchdowns, including five in the air, as the Irish never trailed, and led for 58:49 of the 60-minute contest. Now the Irish will get a lighter two-week stretch ahead of a potentially season-defining game at Stanford (8-1) on November 28, with Wake Forest (3-6) coming to South Bend this week.
7. Stanford (8-1, LW: 8th, CFP: 7th)
Speaking of the Cardinal, they also asserted their dominance Saturday, as they defeated Colorado (4-6), 42-10, in Boulder. While running back Christian McCaffrey did not score any of the Cardinal’s six touchdowns, he was the driving force behind Stanford’s ball movement as he ran for 147 yards, as Stanford outgained Colorado, 472-231. McCaffrey is now over 1,500 yards of total offense on the season, totaling 1,532, including 1,208 rushing yards. This week Stanford hosts Oregon (6-3) in a game that isn’t as glamorous as was expected before the season, but is still a decent test for the Cardinal as the Ducks have won four out of five (with the loss in overtime) since falling out of the top 25.
8. LSU (7-1, LW: 4th, CFP: 9th)
The Tigers were trying to beat Alabama (8-1) on Saturday for the first time since a 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa in 2011, but instead they were overtaken by the Crimson Tide, 30-16. LSU was held to just 182 yards of total offense, and just 54 rushing yards, while Alabama gained 434, including 250 on the ground. Running back Leonard Fournette entered the game with 1,352 rushing yards for the year, and was the consensus Heisman Trophy favorite, but was held to just 31 yards on 19 carries, although he did score one touchdown. While LSU now needs help to win the SEC West, even if they win out, they still have a lot to play for, as they remain in the Playoff race as they host Arkansas (5-4), who just upset Ole Miss, on Saturday.
9. Iowa (9-0, LW: 10th, CFP: 5th)
Iowa struggled against a mediocre Indiana (4-5) team on Saturday, eventually beating the Hoosiers 35-27, yet they moved up four spots in the CFP rankings this week (for reference on how big a jump that is, Oklahoma State throttled TCU and jumped six spots). While the Hawkeyes do have a pretty decent resume, including road wins against Wisconsin and Northwestern, they shouldn’t make such a jump after such an even game with Indiana. Here’s how level it was: Iowa only outgained Indiana 467-407, and first downs were equal at 26. Iowa can be complimented on a balanced offensive attack, as they gained 233 yards passing and 234 yards rushing. Saturday the Hawkeyes host Minnesota (4-5), who has given both Ohio State and Michigan good games this year.
10. Florida (8-1, LW: 11th, CFP: 11th)
To say the Gators game against Vanderbilt (3-6) Saturday wasn’t pretty would be an understatement, as Florida scored just seven points, turned the ball over four times, and only gained 258 yards and 12 first downs, but won 9-7 over the Commodores to clinch the SEC East. The Gators won the game by holding Vanderbilt to just 175 total yards, including only 30 through the air, as Commodores quarterback Johnny McCrary completed just 3 of his 14 passes. This week’s game isn’t necessarily meaningful in the SEC East race, but if the Gators win out they have a shot at the College Football Playoff, making their contest at South Carolina (3-6) all the more important in a series that historically produces close games, even when one team is a large favorite.
11. Michigan State (8-1, LW: 6th, CFP: 13th)
12. Michigan (7-2, LW: 13th, CFP: 14th)
13. Oklahoma (8-1, LW: 14th, CFP: 12th)
14. TCU (8-1, LW: 1st, CFP: 15th)
15. Utah (8-1, LW: 18th, CFP: 10th)
16. Houston (9-0, LW: 20th, CFP: 24th)
17. Temple (8-1, LW: 21st, CFP: 22nd)
18. North Carolina (8-1, LW: 25th, CFP: 23rd)
19. UCLA (7-2, LW: 23rd, CFP: 19th)
20. Mississippi State (7-2, LW: 24th, CFP: 17th)
21. Florida State (7-2, LW: 17th, CFP: 16th)
22. Navy (7-1, LW: unranked, CFP: 20th)
23. Northwestern (7-2, LW: unranked, CFP: 18th)
24. Memphis (8-1, LW: 15th, CFP: 21st)
25. Wisconsin (8-2, LW: unranked, CFP: 25th)
Fell from Rankings: Ole Miss (7-3, LW: 16th), Toledo (7-1, LW: 19th), Duke (6-3, LW: 22nd)