Column: A Gamecock Embarrassment

I’ve followed South Carolina football closely since moving to the state in 2009.

In that time, the Gamecocks have certainly had their share of ups and downs, but I can’t recall any game as embarrassing for the Gamecocks program as Saturday’s rivalry-game loss to Clemson.

I’m not talking about the score. Sure, the 34-10 score wasn’t the result what the Gamecocks and their fans were looking for, but we all knew going into the game that Clemson was the better team, and Gamecock fans were hoping their team would play a strong game and have a chance to shock the world. That didn’t happen, and the Tigers dominated, so the Gamecocks will move on to the next one.

But in the process of watching their team lose a fourth straight game in the Palmetto Bowl series, some of the Gamecock fans showed a complete lack of class and respect.

After a bad call against the Gamecocks in the middle stages of the second quarter, some fans threw trash on the field in protest. They continued throwing trash — some of it aimed at Clemson players — after additional penalties, or any time Clemson did something good for the duration of the half. Furthermore, it was reported that things had been thrown at Clemson personnel before the game even started, during pregame warmups.

“That’s an embarrassment,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told ESPN at halftime. “These people are better than that. And it’s just a few people here — that’s not a majority of these South Carolina people. That’s an embarrassing situation right there. That’s how somebody gets hurt.”

I agree with Swinney — the lack of character shown by this faction of Gamecock fans is appalling. There is no excuse for this behavior, plain and simple. It is classless, disrespectful, and most importantly, it’s dangerous.

I have been to my share of live sporting events as a fan. I’ve seen my team of choice be dominated, and occasionally disagreed with calls by the officials. I’m don’t always react perfectly calmly — but the thought of showing my displeasure by throwing something on the field has never even remotely crossed my mind.

Yet the Gamecock fans not only did this, but did it multiple times, even after being asked not to by the stadium’s public address announcer — an announcement which was reportedly booed.

The result is an embarrassment for the rest of the fan base, on top of the disappointment for the team playing their worst game of the season in its biggest.

This was more embarrassing for the Gamecock program than losing 56-10 in the program’s only SEC Championship Game appearance. It was more embarrassing than consistently being unable to beat Kentucky.

This was even more embarrassing than losing to The Citadel during the 3-9 debacle of 2015.

In each of those circumstances, the on-field result was objectively bad for the Gamecocks. But Saturday night, it was the unacceptable behavior of a few fans that was objectively bad, and put a blemish on the reputation of a loyal, enthusiastic fan base.

As a result, this embarrassment is worse than it would be for any on-field result, and will last longer than the disappointment of the blowout loss, too.


College Football Power Rankings for Week 10

The college football season typically begins reaching its peak as the calendar turns to November. Sure enough, this past weekend–on the first Saturday of November–several big games wrecked the Playoff hopes of some big-name teams, while others solidified their status, or at least survived to stay in contention another week.

This week should be even more consequential, as eight of the top 10 face a ranked opponent, with four of those on the road, and six of the top 10 facing each other.

With three weeks left in the regular season, here are how the teams stack up in this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Alabama (9-0, Last Week: 1st, CFP Ranking: 2nd)
Although the Crimson Tide are second in the Playoff rankings, they remain first in both polls. Their 24-10 win over LSU was convincing on the scoreboard, although the Tide and the Tigers were quite even statistically. This week the Tide meet arguably their biggest test yet when they travel to #16 Mississippi State.

2. Georgia (9-0, LW: 2nd, CFP: 1st)
Georgia dispatched South Carolina, 24-10, behind one of quarterback Jacob Fromm’s best performances of the season (16-22, 196 yards, two touchdowns), as the Bulldogs held the Gamecocks to 43 rushing yards. Georgia will play in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2–they clinched the SEC East on Saturday–but the biggest threat ahead of that game to their Playoff status is this weekend when they head to the plains to face #10 Auburn.

3. Notre Dame (8-1, LW: 4th, CFP: 3rd)
The Irish beat Wake Forest 48-37, although they led 48-23 early in the fourth before a pair of late Demon Deacon touchdowns. The Irish totaled 710 yards offensively, but those defensive lapses are something the Irish need to fix; if they allow 587 yards again this week, the odds of leaving with a win over #7 Miami would be slim.

4. Clemson (8-1, LW: 5th, CFP: 4th)
NC State is a tough place to play, but the Tigers were able to survive their trip to Raleigh with a 38-31 win. Although the Wolfpack outgained the Tigers 491-415, the Tigers used 224 rushing yards–including 88 from quarterback Kelly Bryant–and two Wolfpack turnovers to seal the win. The Tigers host Florida State this week in a game that, given Florida State’s 3-5 record, is much more pedestrian than it would have appeared before the season.

5. Oklahoma (8-1, LW: 6th, CFP: 5th)
The Sooners’ “Bedlam” game with rival Oklahoma State was just that: a 62-52 shootout with 1,446 combined yards of offense and 62 first downs. Quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 598 yards and five touchdowns, throwing himself right into the middle of the Heisman discussion. Saturday the Sooners will host #6 TCU; it’s a potential preview of the Big 12 title game, although the winner will greatly enhance their chances of getting there.

6. Miami (8-0, LW: 9th, CFP: 7th)
The biggest knock on Miami has been their schedule, but that is changing. The Hurricanes beat Virginia Tech on Saturday, 28-10, on the strength of 210 rushing yards and four Hokies turnovers, and will now host #3 Notre Dame on Saturday
#3 Notre Dame

7. Wisconsin (9-0, LW: 8th, CFP: 8th)
Wisconsin, who beat Indiana 45-17 on Saturday, is another team who has been hurt some by their schedule. However, they do now at least have one win over a ranked team, as Northwestern, who they beat Sept. 30, is now a top 25 team, and they will have a chance at another this weekend due to the emergence of #20 Iowa.

8. TCU (8-1, LW: 10th, CFP: 6th)
The Horned Frogs responded to their Oct. 28 loss to Iowa State with a 24-7 win over Texas, outrushing the Longhorns 177-9 in the win. This week, TCU faces their biggest test so far this season, when they travel to #5 Oklahoma, a team they could potentially have to beat twice to make the College Football Playoff.

9. Washington (8-1, LW: 13th, CFP: 9th)
The Huskies are quietly hanging around in the top 10, and defeated Oregon 38-3 on Saturday, holding the Ducks to just 31 passing yards. The Huskies are the favorites to win the Pac-12, but to return to the College Football Playoff they’ll need a ton of help. First though, they must win out, starting Saturday at Stanford.

10. Auburn (7-2, LW: 14th, CFP: 10th)
The Tigers beat Texas A&M 42-27 on Saturday, and are still lurking in the SEC race. They still control their fate in the SEC West, although it won’t be easy–they would have to beat the top two teams in the nation to reach the title game, then beat one of them again to win it–but Auburn has been in a similar situation before; remember 2013? The gauntlet stretch run begins Saturday, when the Tigers host #1 Georgia.

Worth a Mention: Iowa (6-3)
What is it about Iowa pulling off huge upsets at home? The Hawkeyes have now won four of their last five home games against top-five competition. Last year’s win over Michigan cost the Wolverines a Playoff berth, and Saturday’s 55-24 drubbing of Ohio State will likely do the same to the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes had scored a combined 27 points their previous two games entering Saturday–and more than doubled that in their upset win, with the help of the defense’s four interceptions of Buckeyes signal-caller J.T. Barrett.

11. Ohio State (7-2, LW: 3rd, CFP: 13th)
12. USC (8-2, LW: 17th, CFP: 11th)
13. Michigan State (7-2, LW: unranked, CFP: 12th)
14. Penn State (7-2, LW: 7th, CFP: 14th)
15. Oklahoma State (7-2, LW: 12th, CFP: 15th)

16. UCF (8-0, LW: 16th, CFP: 18th)
17. Virginia Tech (7-2, LW: 11th, CFP: 17th)
18. Mississippi State (7-2, LW: 19th, CFP: 16th)
19. Washington State (8-2, LW: 25th, CFP: 19th)
20. Michigan (7-2, LW: 24th, CFP: unranked)

21. South Florida (9-1, LW: 22nd, CFP: unranked)
22. Memphis (8-1, LW: 23rd, CFP: 22nd)
23. Iowa (6-3, LW: unranked, CFP: 20th)
24. Iowa State (6-3, LW: 15th, CFP: 21st)
25. NC State (6-3, LW: 20th, CFP: 23rd)

Fell from Rankings: Stanford (6-3, LW: 18th), LSU (6-3, LW: 21st)

Also ranked in CFP Rankings: LSU (6-3, 24th), Northwestern (6-3, 25th)

College Football Power Rankings for Week Eight

1. Alabama (8-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 1st)
The Tide dominated Tennessee as expected on Saturday, winning 45-7, outgaining the Volunteers 604-108, and remain the unanimous number-one team in the AP and Coaches Polls.  The Tide will be idle this weekend ahead of hosting LSU next week, with their two toughest games still remaining (LSU, at Auburn).

2. Penn State (8-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 2nd)
For Penn State, it’s one down and two to go after a 42-13 win over Michigan to start a very difficult three-week stretch of games.  The Nittany Lions finished Saturday’s game with 28 unanswered points, led by the dynamic duo of quarterback Trace McSorley (17-26 passing, 282 yards, one passing touchdown, 11 carries, 76 yards, three rushing touchdowns) and running back Saquon Barkley (15 carries, 108 yards, two touchdowns).  The toughest of this three-game gauntlet comes this week, as the Nittany Lions travel to Columbus to face Ohio State in a game that will go a long way towards deciding the Big Ten East, and will have sizable College Football Playoff ramifications as well.

3. Georgia (7-0, LW: 3rd, AP: 3rd)
The Bulldogs had a bye on Saturday, and will play Florida in Jacksonville on Saturday in the rivalry game known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”

4. TCU (7-0, LW: 4th, AP: 4th)
Consensus is that Kansas is the worst Power Five football program, but TCU’s showing against the Jayhawks was still impressive, especially defensively.  The Jayhawks gained just 21 yards–and lost 25 yards rushing–as the Horned Frogs held them to four first downs in a 43-0 drubbing.  Quarterback Kenny Hill also threw for five touchdowns, matching a career high.  This week’s game against Iowa State didn’t look particularly big in August, but the Cyclones are an upstart team having a solid year, have already shown their big-game meddle, and will have the crowd behind them in arguably their biggest home game in years.

5. Wisconsin (7-0, LW: 5th, AP: 5th)
The Badgers defeated Maryland comfortably on Saturday, 38-13, to stay perfect.  Running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the season, as the Badgers executed a very balanced offensive attack with 225 passing yards and 215 rushing yards.  The Badgers begin a two-game Big Ten road trip at Illinois on Saturday.

6. Clemson (6-1, LW: 6th, AP: 7th)
The Tigers had a much-needed bye, coming off their stunning loss to Syracuse.  Georgia Tech visits Death Valley on Saturday night, a week ahead of a potential division-determiner at NC State.

7. Ohio State (6-1, LW: 7th, AP: 6th)
The Buckeyes also enjoyed a bye week ahead of this week’s showdown with Penn State.  That scheduling could be an advantage, as the Buckeyes should be rested while the Nittany Lions are coming off a physical game with Michigan.

8. Miami (6-0, LW: 8th, AP: 8th)
The Hurricanes were able to do something their ACC counterparts at Clemson were unable to do the week before:  they put away Syracuse in the fourth quarter.  The Orange had another upset chance at Miami, but the Hurricanes scored on a 33-yard Travis Horner run with 2:48 to go to extend the lead to the eventual final score of 27-19.  The Hurricanes did allow 264 Syracuse rushing yards, but also forced four Orange turnovers.  In a scheduling quirk, the Hurricanes will head to North Carolina this week for their final road game until after Thanksgiving.

9. Oklahoma (6-1, LW: 9th, AP: 10th)
The Sooners survived a trip to Kansas State, a tough place to win on the road, by scoring a go-ahead touchdown with seven seconds left.  Rodney Anderson, who totaled 147 rushing yards in the game, ran it in from 22 yards to give the Sooners a 42-35 victory, as quarterback Baker Mayfield had another strong game, completing 32 of his 41 passes for 410 yards and two touchdowns.  Texas Tech visits the Sooners on Saturday, ahead of a September in which they will play the three other four ranked teams in the Big 12 (at Oklahoma State, TCU, West Virginia).

10. Notre Dame (6-1, LW: 22nd, AP: 9th)
All season, I’ve thought the Irish were only ranked because of the name on the front of their jersey, and I didn’t bye the hype around their rebound from last year’s 4-8 record.  But after Saturday’s 49-14 win over USC, I have much more faith in the Irish and their abilities.  The team rushed for 377 yards, led by 191 from running back Josh Adams and 106 from quarterback Brandon Wimbush, while holding the Trojans to 76 rushing yards and forcing three Trojan turnovers.  The Irish have only lost once all season, by a single point to #3 Georgia.  This week, the Irish will be tested again as NC State comes to South Bend, in a rematch of last year’s 10-3 slobber-knocker in Raleigh in the rain from Hurricane Matthew.

Worth a Mention: Bye Weeks
An unusually high number of programs were idle on Saturday, as six of the current top 25 had their bye week for the season, along with several other notable unranked teams.  This was part of the reason for a fairly bland Saturday of college football, with the only ranked teams to lose doing so against other ranked teams and the two big games being played in prime time, and made it the rare Saturday in the fall that was actually perfect for catching up on yardwork or homework, or attending a wedding like I did (congrats, Jackson and Natalie).  This week, four ranked teams including Alabama have byes, but we’ll make up for it with a slew of ranked matchups.

11. Virginia Tech (6-1, LW: 14th, AP: 13th)
12. Oklahoma State (6-1, LW: 11th, AP: 11th)
13. Washington (6-1, LW: 12th, AP: 12th)
14. Washington State (7-1, LW: 15th, AP: 15th)
15. Auburn (6-2, LW: 16th, AP: 19th)

16. South Florida (8-0, LW: 17th, AP: 17th)
17. NC State (6-1, LW: 18th, AP: 14th)
18. UCF (6-0, LW: 19th, AP: 18th)
19. USC (6-2, LW: 10th, AP: 21st)
20. Stanford (5-2, LW: 20th, AP: 20th)

21. Michigan State (6-1, LW: 21st, AP: 16th)
22. Michigan (5-2, LW: 13th, AP: unranked)
23. West Virginia (5-2, LW: 23rd, AP: 22nd)
24. LSU (6-2, LW: 24th, AP: 23rd)
25. Memphis (6-1, LW: 25th, AP: 24th)

Also ranked in AP Poll: Iowa State (5-2, 25th)

College Football Power Rankings for Week Six

1. Clemson (6-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 2nd)
The Tigers beat Wake Forest 28-14 Saturday, but led the Demon Deacons 28-0 in the fourth before allowing two late scores. Clemson won this game doing what they’ve done all year: dominate on defense, and supplement that with a more-than-sufficient offense. The offense isn’t without questions, however, heading into this week’s game at Syracuse, as quarterback Kelly Bryant is questionable with a sprained ankle. The Tigers biggest remaining regular season game isn’t Florida State, as everyone would have predicted, but a trip to NC State on Nov. 4.

2. Alabama (6-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 1st)
The Crimson Tide didn’t dismantle Texas A&M quite like they did Ole Miss and Vanderbilt the previous two weeks, but the Tide outrushed the Aggies 232-71, including 124 yards from Damien Harris, and forced three turnovers to win in College Station, 27-19. The SEC isn’t as strong this year, and it shows in the Tide’s schedule: they have yet to play a team that is currently ranked (that win over Florida State hasn’t aged well), and only have one ranked team on the regular-season agenda the rest of the way, as they travel to Auburn on Nov. 25.

3. Penn State (6-0, LW: 4th, AP: 3rd)
Both teams struggled on the ground–it wasn’t a traditional Big Ten ground-and-pound affair–but despite only rushing for 95 yards, the Nittany Lions used their running game in the right spots to beat Northwestern 31-7 in Evanston. Three of Penn State’s touchdowns came on the ground, including the game’s biggest play: a 53-yard Saquon Barkley run that gave the Nittany Lions some third-quarter breathing room. The Nittany Lions have a bye this weekend, which comes at a good place in the schedule–the next three games are against ranked opponents (Oct. 21 vs. Michigan, Oct. 28 at Ohio State, Nov. 4 at Michigan State)

4. Georgia (6-0, LW: 5th, AP: 4th)
After a 45-14 win over Vanderbilt, it’s safe to say the state of Tennessee doesn’t like the Georgia Bulldogs; the last two weeks, they’ve beaten the state’s two SEC teams by a combined 86-14 margin. The rushing duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb dominated in the win, with Michel gaining 150 yards and a touchdown, and Chubb rushing for 138 yards and two scores. The Dawgs host struggling Missouri this weekend, before a bye week ahead of their rivalry game with Florida.

5. Washington (6-0, LW: 7th, AP: 5th)
Saturday, the Huskies defeated California 38-7, doing so with an exceptional defensive performance. Cal only gained 93 yards in the game, and the Golden Bears actually lost 40 yards rushing against the Washington defense. The Huskies are ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency as they try to return to the College Football Playoff. Washington travels to Arizona State this weekend before a bye, and while coaches don’t like to look ahead, I will:  the “Apple Bowl” rivalry game against Washington State on Nov. 25 looks bigger and bigger every week.

6. TCU (5-0, LW: 10th, AP: 6th)
The Horned Frogs were outdone by West Virginia in nearly every stat category on Saturday, but TCU won the most important one–points–by a 31-24 margin after quarterback Kenny Hill’s go-ahead rushing touchdown with 2:53 to go. Hill became the just second player with passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns in the same Big 12 conference game. This week the Horned Frogs head to Kansas State; the Wildcats are unranked, but Manhattan is always a hard place to play.

7. Washington State (6-0, LW: 9th, AP: 8th)
A week after beating USC, the Cougars went on the road and dominated Oregon 33-10 for another impressive win. People focus on the Cougars offense, but their defense contained Oregon to 277 yards and held the Ducks scoreless after the first quarter. The Cougs play their second Friday game in three weeks tonight, when they travel to Cal.

8. Wisconsin (5-0, LW: 8th, AP: 7th)
Jonathan Taylor ran for 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries Saturday in a 38-17 win at Nebraska, as the Badgers further cemented their status as the heavy favorites in the Big Ten West. Taylor’s performance was his second 200-plus-yard game this season, after gaining 223 on Sept. 9 against Florida Atlantic, and the freshman is averaging 153 rushing yards per game. The Badgers host Purdue this weekend.

9. Miami (4-0, LW: 13th, AP: 11th)
Even in a rivalry with an abundance of classic games, Miami’s win over Florida State on Saturday is one that will be remembered for a long time by Hurricanes fans. The win, which snapped the team’s X-game losing streak to their rivals, came after Darrell Langham barely crossed the goal line (if he even did at all–the play was the subject of a very tough replay review) after a 23-yard pass from Malik Rozier with 0:06 to play, giving the Hurricanes the 24-20 triumph after a back-and-forth thriller. The Hurricanes return home Saturday to face Georgia Tech.

10. Auburn (5-1, LW: 12th, AP: 10th)
The Tigers dominated Ole Miss even more than the 44-23 final score sounds; Auburn led 41-10 after three quarters, to the tune of a 561-yard offensive explosion. Auburn outrushed the Rebels 326-83, with 204 yards coming from Kerryon Johnson, who scored three touchdowns on his 28 rushes. The Tigers have an interesting schedule the rest of the way, as they have three straight road games, starting Saturday at LSU, before finishing with three straight home games.

Worth a Mention: Iowa State (3-2)
Iowa State is not one of the more prominent Power Five-conference programs, as they haven’t had a winning season since 2009, and have combined for an 11-37 record the last three years. Yet once every three or four years, the Cyclones program has a knack for sneaking up on a big-name team and pulling off an upset. It most notably happened to Oklahoma State in 2011, costing the Cowboys a BCS Championship Game berth, but it happened again on Saturday when the Cyclones traveled to Norman and upset #3 Oklahoma, 38-31. With a win on Saturday against Kansas (the worst team in the Power Five by far), Iowa State would win their fourth game, a mark they haven’t reached since a 6-7 season in 2012. Don’t look now, but second-year coach Matt Campbell, who came to Iowa State after a successful stint at Toledo, has vastly improved this program.

11. Oklahoma (4-1, LW: 3rd, AP: 12th)
12. Ohio State (5-1, LW: 11th, AP: 9th)
13. USC (5-1, LW: 14th, AP: 13th)
14. Oklahoma State (4-1, LW: 15th, AP: 14th)
15. Michigan (4-1, LW: 6th, AP: 17th)

16. Virginia Tech (5-1, LW: 17th, AP: 15th)
17. South Florida (6-0, LW: 19th, AP: 18th)
18. San Diego State (6-0, LW: 20th, AP: 19th)
19. NC State (5-1, LW: 23rd, AP: 20th)
20. UCF (4-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 22nd)

21. Stanford (4-2, LW: unranked, AP: 23rd)
22. Michigan State (4-1, LW: unranked, AP: 21st)
23. Notre Dame (5-1, LW: unranked, AP: 16th)
24. Utah (4-1, LW: 18th, AP: unranked)
25. Navy (5-0, LW: unranked, AP: 25th)

Also ranked in AP Poll:  Texas Tech (4-1, AP: 24th)

Fell from Rankings:  Florida (3-2, LW: 16th), Louisville (4-2, LW: 21st), Florida State (1-3, LW: 24th), West Virginia (3-1, LW: 25th)

College Football Power Rankings for Week Five

1. Clemson (5-0, Last Week: 3rd, AP Poll: 2nd)
After the Tigers’ 31-17 win at Virginia Tech, they clearly have the best resume of anyone. Clemson has three wins against the current AP Top 25 (Virginia Tech, Louisville, Auburn)–no one else has more than one–with two on the road. They are playing better than anyone, including Alabama, and have only been kept from the top spot because the Tide, who were the top-ranked team in the preseason, hasn’t struggled with anyone (more on that below). It’s the Tigers, not the Tide, with the best resume right now.

2. Alabama (5-0, LW: 1st, AP: 1st)
Pushing Alabama down to the second spot is in no way a knock to their early-season success. In fact, it’s almost unfair to knock the Tide down a spot, given their 125-3 advantage over the last two weeks, and a majority of the AP Poll voters decided not to punish Alabama for Clemson’s success, which is out of the Tide’s control. But while Alabama has simply been dominant, they don’t have the resume to match Clemson, at least not right now.

3. Oklahoma (4-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 3rd)
The Sooners are coming off a bye week, and face Iowa State on Saturday. As is the case with Alabama, Oklahoma dropping a spot is not a slight to them, but is simply because Clemson has earned the right to move up.

4. Penn State (5-0, LW: 4th, AP: 4th)
Penn State’s game against Indiana had the narrative of Nittany Lion domination from the opening kickoff, which was returned for a touchdown by Saquon Barkley, as they went on to beat Indiana 45-14, led by DaeSean Hamilton’s three receiving touchdowns. The Nittany Lions travel to Northwestern on Saturday before a bye next week, but have back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State lurking on Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.

5. Georgia (5-0, LW: 8th, AP: 5th)
A year after losing to Tennessee in a heartbreaking last-second Hail Mary, the Bulldogs found revenge and then some with a 41-0 drubbing in Knoxville, giving the Volunteers their worst home loss since 1905. While the Dawgs lack the resume of some of the teams above them–their best win is at Notre Dame–they have nonetheless looked more and more impressive each week.

6. Michigan (4-0, LW: 6th, AP: 7th)
The Wolverines are coming off a bye week as they face in-state rival Michigan State on Saturday night. While Michigan clearly has the better team on paper, history shows you should throw out the records and the stats as bragging rights are on the line in the Great Lake State.

7. Washington (5-0, LW: 7th, AP: 6th)
After leading by just seven at halftime, the Huskies scored 35 in the second half to pull away from Oregon State, 42-7. The Huskies schedule gets progressively tougher leading to a huge November against Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Washington State.

8. Wisconsin (4-0, LW: 9th, AP: 9th)
The Badgers held Northwestern to 25 rushing yards in a 33-24 win over the Wildcats, coming off a bye the previous week. Wisconsin will travel to Nebraska this week before back-to-back Big Ten home games with Purdue and Maryland.

9. Washington State (5-0, LW: 20th, AP: 11th)
While Washington gets a lot of the attention in the Pac-12 after reaching the College Football Playoff last year, the Cougars made their own statement on Friday night with a 30-27 win over USC. The win was the Cougars’ first over a top five opponent since 1992, and their first over USC since 2002, giving them a 5-0 record for the first time since 2001. Staying perfect won’t be easy, though, as the Cougs travel to Oregon on Saturday.

10. TCU (4-0, LW: 10th, AP: 8th)
The Horned Frogs enjoyed a bye, fresh off their big 44-31 win over Oklahoma State. TCU enters Saturday’s game against West Virginia with a 17-0 record at home as a top 10-ranked team under coach Gary Patterson.

Worth a Mention: Troy (4-1)
In 2008, Troy led LSU 31-3 before the Tigers pulled off their largest-ever comeback in a 40-31 win. Saturday, Troy was able to finish off the upset, winning 24-21 in Baton Rouge to hand the Tigers their first home non-conference loss since 2000, ending a 49-game streak. The Trojans, who were paid $985,000 to come play LSU, are now 4-1, and have steadily progressed since their season-opening loss to Boise State.

11. Ohio State (4-1, LW: 11th, AP: 10th)
12. Auburn (4-1, LW: 14th, AP: 12th)
13. Miami (3-0, LW: 13th, AP: 13th)
14. USC (4-1, LW: 5th, AP: 14th)
15. Oklahoma State (4-1, LW: 15th, AP: 15th)

16. Florida (3-1, LW: 16th, AP: 21st)
17. Virginia Tech (4-1, LW: 12th, AP: 16th)
18. Utah (4-0, LW: 17th, AP: 20th)
19. South Florida (5-0, LW: 19th, AP: 19th)
20. San Diego State (5-0, LW: 19th, AP: 19th)

21. Louisville (4-1, LW: 21st, AP: 17th)
22. UCF (3-0, LW: unranked, AP: 25th)
23. NC State (4-1, LW: 24th, AP: 24th)
24. Florida State (1-2, LW: 25th, AP: unranked)
25. West Virginia (3-1, LW: unranked, AP: 23rd)

Also ranked in AP Poll: Notre Dame (3-1, 21st)

Fell from rankings: Mississippi State (3-2, LW: 22nd), LSU (3-2, LW: 23rd)

College Football Power Rankings for Week Four

1. Alabama (4-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 1st)
In arguably Vanderbilt’s biggest home game in years–the Commodores entered undefeated–the Tide destroyed them, 59-0. Now they face old nemesis Ole Miss, although the Rebels are nowhere close to the team that beat the Tide in 2014-15.


2. Oklahoma (4-0, LW: 2nd, AP: 3rd)
The Sooners trailed winless Baylor 31-28 late in the third, but responded with a strong fourth quarter to survive. The Sooners enter a bye week with the  nation’s longest road winning streak at 13 games, and have also matched longest conference win streak in school history at 17.


3. Clemson (4-0, LW: 3rd, AP: 2nd)
After the Tigers, as five-touchdown favorites, entered the final quarter tied against Boston College, they outgained the Eagles 213-37 in the fourth on their way to 27 unanswered points and a 34-7 win. Now the Tigers will face a tough road test against Virginia Tech, though they aced the last such test at Louisville two weeks ago.


4. Penn State (4-0, LW: 4th, AP: 4th)
Night games in Iowa City tend to be dangerous for highly-ranked teams, and it took until the last play for the Nittany Lions to avoid such doom, scoring on a 7-yard pass from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson as time expired. The Lions now host Indiana, with a Happy Valley showdown against Michigan looming.


5. USC (4-0, LW: 6th, AP: 5th)
Following the theme among several highly-ranked teams, USC’s win at Cal wasn’t convincing–they were tied 13-13 going to the fourth quarter–but it was enough, with a 17-point fourth leading to a 30-20 win, although they did force six turnovers in the game. The Trojans will be tested this week as they head to Washington State.


6. Michigan (4-0, LW: 7th, AP: 8th)
After trailing 10-7 at half, the Wolverines shut out Purdue in the second half, holding the Boilermakers to just 10 yards of offense in the second half on their way to a 28-10 win. Now the Wolverines get an off week to figure out the health of quarterback Wilton Speight, who left Saturday’s game in the first quarter and was relieved by John O’Korn, who helped lead the team’s second-half surge.


7. Washington (4-0, LW: 8th, AP: 6th)
In last year’s Pac-12 Championship Game, Washington beat Colorado 41-10; Saturday, they put on an encore performance, winning 37-10 on the road in Boulder. Myles Gaskin rushed for 202 yards in the win for the Huskies, who will travel to Oregon State this weekend, where they will likely be 30-plus point favorites.


8. Georgia (4-0, LW: 12th, AP: 7th)
A week after Mississippi State’s impressive blowout of LSU, it was the Bulldogs from Athens–not the ones from Starkville–that impressed on Saturday in a 31-3 rout. Running back Nick Chubb scored twice, giving him six touchdowns for the year, as the Dawgs collectively rushed for 203 yards. Georgia faces back-to-back SEC East road games at Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but then won’t play a true road game again until November 11.


9. Wisconsin (3-0, LW: 9th, AP: 10th)
Coming off a 40-6 road thrashing of BYU, the Badgers enjoyed a bye week Saturday and return to action this week as they host Northwestern. The Badgers have the easiest schedule of the top ten, as they won’t face a currently-ranked team until November 18 (Michigan).


10. TCU (4-0, LW: 20th, AP: 9th)
The Horned Frogs picked up one of the most impressive wins of anyone so far this season when they beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 44-31, leading my as many as 20 early in the fourth. Darius Anderson ran for a career-high 160 yards and three touchdowns, and the Horned Frogs forced four Cowboy turnovers in the game. TCU now has a bye ahead of next week’s home game against #23 West Virginia.


Worth a Mention: UCF (2-0)
After missing two games due to Hurricane Irma, the Knights of UCF showed some serious meddle–and no rust whatsoever–when they went to previously unbeaten Maryland and won 38-10. The Knights should contend in the American Athletic Conference, and may threaten to be the “Group of Five” representative in the New Years Six bowl games.


11. Ohio State (3-1, LW: 11th, AP: 11th)
12. Virginia Tech (4-0, LW: 13th, AP: 12th)
13. Miami (2-0, LW: 14th, AP: 14th)
14. Auburn (3-1, LW: 15th, AP: 13th)
15. Oklahoma State (3-1, LW: 5th, AP: 15th)


16. Florida (2-1, LW: 16th, AP: 21st)
17. Utah (4-0, LW: 18th, AP: 20th)
18. South Florida (4-0, LW: 19th, AP: 18th)
19. San Diego State (4-0, LW: 21st, AP: 19th)
20. Washington State (4-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 16th)


21. Louisville (3-1, LW: 25th, AP: 17th)
22. Mississippi State (3-1, LW: 17th, AP: 24th)
23. LSU (3-1, LW: 24th, AP: 25th)
24. NC State (3-1, LW: unranked, AP: unranked)
25. Florida State (0-2, LW: 10th, AP: unranked)


Also ranked in AP Poll: Notre Dame (3-1, 22nd), West Virginia (3-1, 23rd)


Fell from rankings: Colorado (3-1, LW: 23rd)

2017 College Football Preview

After the offseason, the “talking season” (as Steve Spurrier calls it), and about a month of practice, the college football season begins tonight (with the exception of the couple of games last weekend).

Everyone thinks they know what is going to happen this season, and I’ll take my own stab at it here, but there’s a reason they play the games–you know, to prove all the pundits wrong.

So yeah, don’t take these picks to the casino.  And if you need any further proof of that, here’s last year’s preseason rankings, from which two of the top 10 have had coaches fired since.

That said, here is my best guess on the 25 best teams entering the season, plus 25 games that will go a long way towards determining who ultimately makes the College Football Playoff and wins the national title, and my predicted order of finish in each conference.

25 Teams to Watch

(AP rank in parentheses)

1. Alabama (1st)
Last Year:  (14-1, 8-0 SEC, lost national championship game)
As well as Nick Saban churns out talent year after year, even after losing several players to graduation or the draft, it’s become wise to rank Alabama #1 at this time of year until someone else proves otherwise.  That said, the Crimson Tide have actually not won a championship under Saban in any year they’ve been ranked #1 in the preseason, something they’ll try to do this year.

2. USC (4th)
Last Year:  (10-3, 7-2 Pac-12, Rose Bowl champions)
The Trojans finished last season as one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning nine straight including a Rose Bowl thriller over Penn State.  Now, with one of the nation’s best players in QB Sam Darnold, they’ll try to avoid their recent preseason rankings curse:  the last three times the Trojans have started the season ranked in the top 10 (including 2012 as preseason #1), they have finished unranked twice and #22 in 2014.

3. Florida State (3rd)
Last Year:  (10-3, 5-3 ACC)
Last year’s Seminoles team was picked fourth by both myself and the AP Poll, but lost three times including two close games.  This year’s team returns 15 starters, and has the talent to contend for a national title.  But it won’t be easy; the ‘Noles open with Alabama in Atlanta, and meet both Clemson and Florida on the road.

4. Ohio State (2nd)
Last Year:  (11-2, 8-1 Big Ten, College Football Playoff semifinalist)
The last two times an Urban Meyer-coached team lost a bowl game, they won the national title the following season.  Guess what?  The Buckeyes lost their bowl game (31-0 to Clemson in a Playoff semifinal), and they have a team capable of repeating that history.  Senior QB J.T. Barrett has as much experience as any team leader in college football, although the first task is leading the team to a division title in a Big Ten East that includes Penn State and Michigan.

5. Penn State (6th)
Last Year:  (11-3, 8-1 Big Ten, Big Ten champions)
2016’s biggest surprise may have been Penn State’s run to the Big Ten title, narrowly missing the College Football Playoff.  With both QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley returning, complimented by a strong defense, the Nittany Lions are capable of repeating their conference title, though the biggest roadblock is an October 28 trip to Ohio State.

6. Oklahoma State (10th)
Last Year:  (10-3, 7-2 Big 12)
The Cowboys came within one win of a Big 12 title last year, and their fans will remind you they should 11-2 last season (an officiating error–later admitted by the Big 12–cost them a win against Central Michigan).  The 12 starters that return include QB Mason Rudolph and several other of their strongest players from last year, and their biggest game–“Bedlam” against Oklahoma–is at home, serving as a potential preview of the reborn Big 12 Championship Game.

7. Oklahoma (7th)
Last Year:  (11-2, 9-0 Big 12, Big 12 champions)
After winning their final 10 games last year, the Sooners have some momentum, but also a new head coach in Lincoln Riley after Bob Stoops’ abrupt departure.  QB Baker Mayfield is one of the nation’s best, and the team’s depth and talent won’t be a problem–but road games at Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State may be.

8. Auburn (12th)
Last Year:  (8-5, 5-3 SEC)
The Tigers got as high as ninth in these rankings last year, and two of their losses were to national finalists Alabama and Clemson.  Now they’re the most experienced team in the SEC and add Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham at QB, the best passer Gus Malzahn has had since Cam Newton.  They’ll be tested early, at Clemson on September 9, and late, against Alabama at home on November 25.

9. Clemson (5th)
Last Year:  (14-1, 7-1 ACC, national champions)
The Tigers won their first title since 1981 last season, but the key this year will be how quickly the Tigers rebound from losing key players, especially offensively, including QB Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman and three of their top four receivers.  Adapting will be easier with their toughest two games, Auburn and Florida State, at Death Valley, but don’t underestimate an early trip to Virginia Tech.

10. Florida (17th)
Last Year:  (9-4, 6-2 SEC, SEC East champions)
The recurring theme in Gainesville has been a strong defense with a struggling offense, first under Will Muschamp and now Jim McElwain, but the offense should be better this year, with strong units at RB and WR and choices at QB.  The Gators will be tested early, meeting Michigan this weekend in Arlington, Tex. with 10 players suspended, but the overall schedule is favorable for the Gators to win the SEC East for a third straight year.

11. Wisconsin (AP Rank: 9th; Last Year:  11-3, 7-2 Big Ten, Big Ten West champions)
12. Washington (8th; 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12, College Football Playoff semifinalist)
13. Michigan (11th; 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten)
14. Georgia (15th; 8-5, 4-4 SEC)
15. Miami (18th; 9-4, 5-3 ACC)

16. Stanford (14th; 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
17. LSU (13th; 8-4, 5-3 SEC)
18. Kansas State (20th; 9-4, 6-3 Big 12)
19. South Florida (19th; 11-2, 7-2 American)
20. Louisville (16th; 9-4, 7-1 ACC, Heisman winner Lamar Jackson returns)

21. Utah (unranked; 9-4, 5-4 Pac-12)
22. Virginia Tech (21st; 10-4, 6-2 ACC, ACC Coastal champions)
23. Northwestern (unranked; 7-6, 5-4 Big Ten)
24. Tennessee (25th; 9-4, 4-4 SEC)
25. West Virginia (22nd; 10-3, 7-2 Big 12)

Also considered:  NC State, Texas A&M, UCLA, Minnesota, Colorado, Iowa, Oregon, Texas, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, TCU, BYU, Appalachian State, Washington State, Pittsburgh

Also ranked in AP Poll:  Texas (23rd), Washington State (24th)

25 Games to Watch

September 2
Florida vs. Michigan (Arlington, Tex.), 3:30 p.m., ABC
Alabama vs. Florida State (Atlanta), 8:00 p.m., ABC

September 9
Auburn at Clemson, 7:00 p.m., ESPN
Oklahoma at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., ABC
Stanford at USC, 8:30 p.m., FOX

September 16
Clemson at Louisville, 3:30 p.m., ABC or ESPN
Miami at Florida State, 8:00 p.m., ABC

September 30
Northwestern at Wisconsin
Clemson at Virginia Tech

October 14
Utah at USC

October 21
Michigan at Penn State
Oklahoma at Kansas State
Louisville at Florida State

October 28
Penn State at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m., FOX
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.), 3:30 p.m., CBS

November 4
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
LSU at Alabama
Virginia Tech at Miami

November 10
Washington at Stanford, 10:30 p.m., FS1

November 11
Florida State at Clemson
Georgia State at Auburn

November 18
Michigan at Wisconsin

November 25
Ohio State at Michigan, 12:00 p.m., FOX
Florida State at Florida
Alabama at Auburn

Conference Predictions


Atlantic Division

At the top, the ACC Atlantic is as good as any division in football, putting a team in the College Football Playoff in its first three years of existence and the BCS Championship Game the year before that.

That streak could very well continue, with Florida State and Clemson’s November 11th meeting looming large.  Louisville returns Heisman winning QB Lamar Jackson, and NC State is a sleeper as one of the most experienced teams in the country.

1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. Louisville
4. NC State
5. Wake Forest
6. Boston College
7. Syracuse


Coastal Division

The Coastal is typically one of the hardest divisions to pick, but this year it’s easier with a clear top two ahead of the pack.

Miami’s 15 returning starters in Mark Richt’s second season give them a slight edge over Virginia Tech, as big interdivision games–Miami at Florida State, Clemson at Virginia Tech–could play a role in who wins the Coastal, in addition to Miami and Virginia Tech’s game against each other on November 4.

1. Miami
2. Virginia
3. Pittsburgh
4. North Carolina
5. Georgia Tech
6. Duke
7. Virginia

Championship Game:  Florida State over Miami


Big Ten

East Division

The Big Ten East ranks among the best divisions in football, with three teams that contended for the College Football Playoff last year.

Those three are the three favorites again in for the division title, with the general consensus picking Ohio State by a nose over Penn State, with Michigan third.

With three contenders comes three defining games:  Michigan at Penn State on October 21, Penn State at Ohio State on October 28 and Ohio State at Michigan on November 25.  Two East teams play the primetime opener tonight, as Ohio State travels to Indiana.

1. Ohio State
2. Penn State
3. Michigan
4. Indiana
5. Michigan State
6. Maryland
7. Rutgers


West Division

While the West is overshadowed by their league’s other division, it could also have quite a race.  Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but five teams have a realistic chance.

Northwestern has 16 returning starters, Minnesota will be motivated with vocal new head coach P.J. Fleck, and Iowa and Nebraska can stay with anyone in their rugged Midwestern style of football.

Northwestern avoids the big three from the East, while Wisconsin and Minnesota only meet one of the three, and Iowa and Nebraska play two of them.

1. Wisconsin
2. Northwestern
3. Minnesota
4. Iowa
5. Nebraska
6. Purdue
7. Illinois

Championship Game:  Ohio State over Wisconsin


Big 12

The Big 12 discontinued its championship game in 2010 after the conference retracted from 12 teams to 10, but this year the title game returns, as the top two in the regular season standings will qualify for the December 2nd game in Arlington, Tex.

Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are the two favorites to reach that game, with the most talented teams and the most big-game experience in the league.

However, Kansas State and West Virginia may have something to say, and Texas has the talent to contend, depending on if Tom Herman’s turnaround can happen overnight.

1. Oklahoma State
2. Oklahoma
3. Kansas State
4. West Virginia
5. Texas
6. TCU
7. Baylor
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

Championship Game:  Oklahoma State over Oklahoma



South Division

National contender USC is the clear favorite in the Pac-12 South, and may be the best of any team in the division at each position on the field.

That said, UCLA should be a solid team if QB Josh Rosen can stay healthy (he didn’t last year), although they have a brutal schedule, while Utah is young but is promising on defense.  Colorado won this division last year, but lost a ton of experience from that team.

1. USC
3. Utah
4. Colorado
5. Arizona State
6. Arizona


North Division

Washington made the College Football Playoff last year as the Pac-12 champion, and returns solid experience from that team while avoiding USC from the South on their conference schedule.

Their game against Stanford may decide the division (November 10) as the Cardinal, who are one of the most consistent teams this decade, have lost key skill players but are experienced elsewhere and could threaten to take the Huskies’ crown.

Offensive juggernauts Oregon, with new coach Willie Taggart, and Washington State are both sleepers here.

1. Washington
2. Stanford
3. Oregon
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. California

Championship Game:  USC over Washington



West Division

With Alabama as the favorite to win it all, they’re naturally the favorites in the SEC West, although that won’t be a cakewalk.

Auburn boasts the league’s most experienced team and the best QB they’ve had in a while in transfer Jarrett Stidham, and while LSU isn’t as strong on the experience front they are talented, as always.  Beneath the top three chances lessen, although Mississippi State is a potential surprise contender.  Ole Miss is in dysfunction after Hugh Freeze’s ouster, and that is likely to show on the field this year.

1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. LSU
4. Texas A&M
5. Mississippi State
6. Arkansas
7. Ole Miss


East Division

While Florida and Georgia are the relatively easy top two picks in the SEC East, there are actually six teams with a realistic shot at winning it if the top two falter.

Tennessee can match Florida and Georgia on a talent level, and perhaps will surprise this year after being picked by everyone to win the East last year and falling short.  Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt would all need a best-case-scenario-type season and maybe some help, but all three are trending upward.

1. Florida
2. Georgia
3. Tennessee
4. Kentucky
5. South Carolina
6. Vanderbilt
7. Missouri

Championship Game:  Alabama over Florida


Best Teams From the “Group of Five” Conferences

The highest-ranked team among conference champions from the Group of Five conferences (the five FBS conferences that are not “Power Five” leagues) qualifies for a New Year’s Six bowl.

The leading candidate for this spot is South Florida, who is the favorite in the American Athletic Conference, the best league among the Group of Five.  The Bulls, led by former Texas coach Charlie Strong in his first season, are experienced and strong–no pun intended–at many positions, including Heisman dark horse QB Quinton Flowers.

Houston, who should be able to overcome a coaching change since Major Applewhite was promoted from within, is the biggest threat to South Florida in the American, while Appalachian State, who has won 27 of their last 32 games and opens the season at Georgia, may be the biggest threat to the Bulls regarding New Year’s Six status.

1. South Florida (American)
2. Appalachian State (Sun Belt)
3. Houston (American)
4. San Diego State (Mountain West)
5. Colorado State (Mountain West)

Group of Five Championship Games:

American:  South Florida over Houston
Conference-USA:  Western Kentucky over Louisiana Tech
Mid-American:  Toledo over Ohio
Mountain West:  San Diego State over Colorado State
Sun Belt:  Appalachian State wins regular season title over Arkansas State (no title game)