10 best offenses in college football
Using PFF data, we break down the best offenses through six weeks of play.
10 best offenses in college football
If we’d written up the top 10 offenses in college football heading into the 2015 season, there would be no question that Oregon would make the cut. But while the Ducks’ running game is still one of the nation’s best, their passing game issues kept them out of our top 10.
Here is our ranking of the 10 best offenses in college football heading into Week 6.
1. Baylor Bears
This one comes with both sample-size and strength of competition caveats, as Baylor has played just four games this year against the following teams: SMU, Lamar, Rice and Texas Tech. None of those are exactly the Legion of Boom.
But the Bears are absolutely annihilating teams with both their running and passing games. Everyone usually thinks of quarterbacks and wide receivers when it comes to Baylor, and QB Seth Russell (No. 5 in PFF’s QB grades) is having an excellent start to the season with a very productive receiving corps around him, led by Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, who might be the best deep-ball pass-catching duo in the nation. They have combined to catch 9 of the 18 throws of 20-plus yards thrown their way, for 353 yards and 10 TDs.
But the running game has been even more impressive so far. Every starter on the offensive line has earned a very good grade, with even better results at run-blocking than in pass protection, led by Spencer Drango, our seventh-ranked left tackle. And the Bears are absolutely stacked at running back. Shock Linwood is our No. 1-graded RB in rushing grade (this sounds like heresy, but he’s out-graded Leonard Fournette as a runner in 64 fewer snaps), and ranks second in yards after contact per attempt, but in addition, the three players backing him up – Terence Williams, Johnny Jefferson and Devin Chafin – are all in the green. (That’s PFF-speak for above-average grades.)
2. Stanford Cardinal
Stanford and high-powered offense are hardly synonymous terms, but the Cardinal have been on a roll since their season-opening loss to Northwestern (which, as has been written in nearly every mention of this weekend’s Northwestern-Michigan game this week, is a better team than we all thought coming into the season).
They are currently our second-ranked offense in overall grade, and No. 1 in run blocking, led by guard Joshua Garnett, owner of the highest run-blocking grade among Power 5 players. Fullback Daniel Marx is absolutely destroying people as a blocker, tight end Austin Hooper has been good in both the running and passing games, and running back Christian McCaffrey has been productive as both a runner and receiver, and is backed up by a pair of effective runners in Bryce Love and Barry Sanders.
Lastly, Kevin Hogan has been awesome since the debacle versus Northwestern. If you remove that one contest, in which he graded terribly, he’d be our seventh-ranked QB. He’s been great on deep balls since that game, completing 8 of 17 attempts of 20-plus yards for 300 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs.
3. TCU Horned Frogs
Quarterback Trevone Boykin struggled a bit in the opener versus Minnesota but has been great since, earning the second-highest passing grade in the country behind Cal’s Jared Goff. He’s been excellent on throws of 10-plus yards since that game, going 52 of 82 for 1,150 yards, 15 touchdowns and just one interception and posting an outstanding grade. One element to his game that’s been missing so far this season is his running ability – he ranks just 60th among QBs in rushing grade after ranking ninth last year – but we could see more of that as TCU gets further into Big 12 play.
Boykin has good weapons around him, with WR Josh Doctson emerging as one of the nation’s best deep threats (he’s caught 8 of 9 catchable passes of 20-plus yards, for four touchdowns), WR KaVontae Turpin leading the nation in TD catches from the slot and RB Aaron Green forcing 17 missed tackles on just 87 rushing attempts.
If there’s an area of concern it’s the offensive line, with three of five starters earning negative grades so far. That’s something to watch out for moving forward.
4. California Golden Bears
The Bears were a difficult team to place here, because they have some big issues at offensive line – three of five starters have earned negative grades, and as a unit they rank in the bottom half of the nation in run blocking. They also don’t have much in the way of production from the skill positions outside of WR Kenny Lawler, who ranks 36th nationally at his position in our grades and has caught 8 touchdowns this season with just two drops.
But when your quarterback is by far the top-graded passer in college football, that can make up for a lot of other failings. Jared Goff has been on fire to start the season, completing a ridiculous 73 percent of 20-plus-yard throws with 5 touchdowns and just 1 interception, and posting a higher passer rating when pressured than when given a clean pocket (something that is extremely rare). He’ll be tested this week on the road against a stout Utah defense, but so far this year, he’s been the best QB in the country.
5. USC Trojans
Quarterback Cody Kessler hasn’t been as good this season as he was last year, when he ranked behind only Heisman winner Marcus Mariota in our passing grades, but he remains one of the best players in the country at his position. His accuracy percentage of 84.1 ranks No. 1 in the nation, and if he can perform better on deep throws, one of his strengths last year, he should again finish the season near the top of our QB rankings.
The offensive line has been great, performing particularly well in pass protection (No. 6 nationally), and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and RB/WR Adoree Jackson have been two of the most dynamic pass-catchers in the nation. Smith-Schuster ranks No. 1 in wide receiver rating with a perfect 158.3, and Jackson has been awesome after the catch in limited work, forcing eight missed tackles on just seven catches.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
This is something of a potential pick, as the Sooners have gotten off to a little bit of a slow start this season, earning a good but not great grade in overall offense. However, things seem to be pointing in the right direction here, particularly for QB Baker Mayfield.
He earned a negative grade in his first start for the Sooners, versus Akron, but has posted green grades in every game since. He’s received the fourth-best pass protection in the country so far this season, but when he has been pressured, like Goff, he’s earned a higher QB rating than when given a clean pocket. He’s also been good on deep throws – 14 of 25 on 20-plus-yard passes with four TDs and no picks – and the majority of his negative grade has come from his randomly awful performance on middle throws of nine yards or less, where he’s completed just 16 of 28 including three interceptions.
In other words, if he can avoid mistakes on the more routine throws, he’s already shown a penchant for executing more difficult passes – deep shots down the field and when pressured.
The running game is more of a concern, with four of the five offensive line starters earning negative run-blocking grades, but there’s upside here, too. Running back Samaje Perine has earned a negative grade through four games, surprising given that last year he was one of the best runners in the country, ranking in the top 5 in forced missed tackles and yards after contact per attempt. If he returns to last year’s form during Big 12 play, that should help fix the running game.
7. LSU Tigers
The Tigers don’t rank near the top of our overall offense grades, but they have one of the top rushing attacks in the country thanks to Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette.
Not only is Fournette No. 1 in our running back grades, but he is also first in our elusive rating, which measures how good a back is at generating yards independent of his blocking, and he is averaging a nation-leading 4.9 yards per attempts AFTER contact. That’s just silly. His favorite play has been running behind center William Clapp, LSU’s top-graded offensive lineman through four games.
There aren’t many standouts on this unit other than Fournette, but it’s worth noting that Brandon Harris has earned a slightly above-average grade as a passer so far, avoiding big mistakes by throwing zero interceptions and holding up well against pressure, and has been very effective as a runner.
8. Michigan State Spartans
There might not be an offensive line in the country playing better than Michigan State’s right now. All five starters on the O-line have earned very good grades this season, although star left tackle Jack Conklin is out an undetermined amount of time with an injury. They are supported by TE Jamal Lyles and Trevon Pendleton, both of whom are good blockers at their positions.
Quarterback Connor Cook has been good but not great to start the season, suggesting some of the NFL hype surrounding him might be a little unwarranted, but he’s still one of the better passers in the country and has been largely mistake-free thus far, throwing 10 touchdowns and just one interception. Cook also has playmakers at running back in Madre London and LJ Scott, and Aaron Burbridge currently ranks No. 2 in our wide receiver grades.
We’ll see how much the Conklin injury hurts this team, and how much time he misses. But this is a strong unit overall that should be able to sustain his loss for a few weeks.
9. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Like their Big 12 counterparts Baylor and TCU on this list, Oklahoma State has inflated its numbers a bit with some soft spots on its schedule. But so far the Cowboys’ passing attack has been one of the best in the country.
He ranks fifth in PFF passing grades and third in deep-passing accuracy, connecting on 21 of his 34 attempts of 20-plus yards for five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Like Goff and Mayfield on this list, Rudolph has earned a higher passer rating on plays under pressure than when given a clean pocket, which is very rare and a sign of his ability to execute difficult throws. In fact, only one of his interceptions came when he was under pressure, while three have come when he wasn’t
Rudolph has a very good receiving corps, led by David Glidden and Marcell Ateman, who is tied for the national lead in catch percentage on deep balls. And while his pass protection hasn’t been exceptional, it’s been solid.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes
In some ways, it’s a stretch to include the Buckeyes here, as Cardale Jones currently ranks as one of the worst quarterbacks in our grades. He hasn’t been able to produce at the same level on deep passes as he did during last season’s magical three-game run that resulted in an Ohio State national title, nor has he been nearly as effective as a runner.
However, Ohio State still has one of the more difficult offenses to stop in college football because of its running game. Only Stanford has a higher run-blocking grade than Ohio State, and all five starters on the offensive line have earned good grades individually. Ezekiel Elliott ranks behind only Leonard Fournette in our running back grades, and yards after contact per attempt, and once again looks like one of the best backs in all of college football.
Where the Buckeyes have been surprisingly disappointing so far is at their skill positions. WR Michael Thomas has played well, but fellow pass-catchers/utility weapons Jalin Marshall, Braxton Miller and Dontre Wilson have all earned negative grades in the passing game. We all know how talented that trio is, so if they can put together a string of good performances in the coming weeks, it could do a lot for Jones’ productivity. If not, they won’t last much longer on this list.
Jeff Dooley | Editor-in-Chief
Jeff is the Editor-in-Chief of PFF, and a regular contributor to The Washington Post's NFL coverage. He previously worked as the editor for ESPN Insider's NFL, Fantasy, and College Football coverage.