SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg provides his opinion of the top three programs in the history of college football.
Time to shed some preconceived notions. We’re all susceptible, because college football, and it’s extremely hard to resist. But here’s a thought experiment: If you didn’t know which team won it all last year and brought back a quarterback who makes NFL scouts drool … well? Where would you have Clemson?
While we’re at it, let’s dump some other presuppositions, too – like the idea that any team is cemented into the bracket (just because of course they’re in). If we do that? The Football Four Playoff Projection suddenly looks odd. There’s an SEC West team atop the rankings – but not that SEC West team; that one … well, keep reading.
As the calendar turns to October, a supposed elite tier of two teams appears more like seven very legitimate contenders. Shuffle ‘em every week, as the bodies of work change and a fuller picture takes shape – but unfortunately, there’s only room for four. And the Football Four is nobody’s birthright.
WINNERS AND LOSERS: Highs and lows from Week 5 in college football
WEEK 5 OBSERVATIONS: Clemson is ranked No. 1 but it isn’t the best team
Which is only to say: You’re still in, ‘Bama, and you’ve been really good – but so have several other guys. As always, remember we pick the bracket as if the season was over today.*
1. Auburn – While we’re captivated by all of the offense in these weekly rankings, how about that defense? Fueled by a mean, aggressive D, Auburn might just be the best SEC West team. Or the best SEC team. Or the best team? If Bo Nix and the offense continues to develop, Auburn might turn preconceived notions about the league’s hierarchy upside down.
2. Ohio State – Justin Fields has been terrific – maybe even better than anybody could have hoped for the transfer from Georgia. Ohio State’s defense is fast and fierce. The Buckeyes look complete, built to compete with anybody, and to roll over almost everybody. Average margin of victory: 43.8 points. Seems good.
3. Alabama – The Crimson Tide have been very impressive – Tua to all of those receivers, y’all, is something else – and the offense has been more than good enough to offset defensive issues (injuries and youth). Pay no attention to the reality that so far, ‘Bama ain’t played nobody, Pawwwl. It’ll get tougher, and we suspect the Tide will be fine.
4. Oklahoma – Remember how people wondered what might happen if Oklahoma’s defense was even average? The offense is every bit as potent with Jalen Hurts as it was with those Heisman/No. 1 draft pick predecessors. But the defense appears much improved. The combo is formidable.
Four more **
5. LSU – The Tigers had the weekend off. But through four games, their total offensive makeover seems to have created the monster we always thought might exist. LSU has to get through the SEC West, yeah – but if you want to pencil in Nov. 9 at Alabama as a potentially big deal, feel free.
6. Clemson – Go ahead Tigers, exhale after surviving North Carolina. It’s very likely that Clemson will be fine – and not just because the ACC is, well, not fine (though yeah, that helps). But while the defense has been rebuilt, the Tigers’ offensive sputtering is officially a concern.
7. Georgia – After that win against Notre Dame, the Bulldogs took the weekend off. Given the unrugged SEC East, there might not be much difficulty ahead (we know, OK: Florida in Jacksonville) until a November visit to Auburn.
8. Wisconsin – The Badgers picked up the slack for a sluggish offense, scoring two touchdowns to beat Northwestern. Circle Oct. 26 at Ohio State, which might be the first of two meetings between Wisconsin and the Buckeyes.
A few more after that ***
Notre Dame – The Irish didn’t let the loss to Georgia beat them twice, handling a solid Virginia team. Brace yourself for questions a few weeks from now about whether or how a one-loss Notre Dame fits into the Playoff discussion.
Penn State – In all those preconceived notions about the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions were sort of an afterthought. Time to re-evaluate.
Texas – The banged-up Longhorns appreciated the weekend off. It’s tempting to fast-forward them into the annual showdown with Oklahoma at the Texas State Fair, but there’s a road trip to West Virginia first.
Oregon – After an open date, the Ducks get Cal this week. Every time Auburn dominates an opponent, it helps the Ducks’ faint Playoff hopes.
Futile Four ****
Virginia Tech – It isn’t just that the Hokies were beaten by 35 at home by Duke (their worst home loss since 1974). It’s not just that they’re 2-2 and 0-2 in ACC play. It’s … well, what has happened to Virginia Tech?
Nebraska – Look, no one expected the Huskers to beat Ohio State, right? But somehow, after going 4-8 last season (yeah, we know, 4-2 in the second half), the expectations were supersized. Or just outsized. There’s still a long build ahead for Nebraska to climb back to competitive with the elite powers.
Georgia Tech – When Geoff Collins took the job, the Yellow Jackets rebranded, but the rebuilding is going to take a little bit longer. Example: a 24-2 (not a typo) loss to Temple, which happens to be Collins’ former team.
Connecticut – Yeah, it’s too easy to joke about the “Civil ConFLiCT” rivalry trophy Bob Diaco tried to create (and UCF refused to acknowledge). But let’s do it anyway. If it had been a rivalry, it’d be pretty one-sided. But that doesn’t only describe UConn’s plight vs. UCF. The Knights led 42-0 at half and cruised to a 56-21 victory.
* The season is not over today.
** Don’t be worried that your team sits just outside the cut. This is a weekly snapshot. And what do we know, anyway?
*** See the previous note, but it’s OK to be slightly concerned or very angry. But what do we know, anyway?
**** No note necessary.