Ohio State tumbles out of top four in updated PFF Top 25
Kev Connaghan updates PFF's ranking of the best teams in the country following eight weeks of play.
Ohio State tumbles out of top four in updated PFF Top 25
The surprise of the week was undoubtedly Ohio State falling to defeat at the hands of Penn State, a result which sees the Buckeyes tumble out of the top, but doesn’t drop them out of contention. Rather, the Buckeyes find themselves part of a tight group vying for supremacy just outside of that top four group.
Here’s your updated Top 25 following Week 8:
Alabama’s run of three difficult games didn’t quite live up to the “difficult” moniker, but this 33-14 win over Texas A&M was certainly the most testing of them. The Crimson Tide were able to slow down the Aggies rushing attack, but weren’t able to put them away until defensive end Jonathan Allen scooped up a fumble and ran it into the end zone. That helped Allen to a 94.7 overall grade, and his 99.9 pass rushing grade was literally as good as it gets. The highlight of Allen’s performance wasn’t the touchdown, rather it was this play where he cleanly beats two defenders for a sack. Alabama now has a week off, followed by a trip to Baton Rouge to face a rejuvenated LSU team.
The 2015 runners-up remain on course for a return to the playoff, but cannot afford to play too many more close games — if they’d lost to North Carolina State their situation would be precarious. While much of the focus has fallen on the form of QB Deshaun Watson and the play of the defensive line, cornerback Cordrea Tankersly has also been playing at a high level. Tankersly’s coverage has been targeted 26 times, with 13 completions allowed for 106 yards, while the turnovers haven’t been there this year (he had five picks in 2015), he has broken up four and has earned an 85.8 coverage grade. Next up for Clemson is a trip to Tallahassee.
It was business as usual for the Wolverines after their bye week, with a comprehensive 41-8 win over Illinois. Quarterback Wilton Speight clearly had a productive bye-week, producing the best game of his Michigan career against the Illini, and earning a 79.7 overall grade. Corner Channing Stribling was also on song, allowing zero completions on three targets, QBs throwing into his coverage now have a miserly 4.7 passer rating for the season. Michigan must now travel to East Lansing to take on their rivals Michigan State for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. While the Spartans are at a low ebb, they have had the Wolverines number in recent years, winning seven of the last eight encounters.
Washington’s 41-17 win over Oregon State featured some big plays from the Huskies offense, with wide receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis averaging 28.8 and 28.0 yards per reception, respectively. That translates to 5.23 yards per route run for Ross, and 4.15 for Pettis, both excellent numbers, with Pettis earning the higher receiving grade at 83.3 (Ross was at 79.7). Washington now faces a pivotal road game against Utah. While the Huskies have looked great thus far, the collapse of Stanford and Oregon leaves them without a notable win on their resume, but a trip to Salt Lake City gives them the chance to rectify that.
Having been run close by Duke the previous week, Louisville made sure that NC State had little to motivate them in this game, rushing out to a 44-0 halftime lead. As usual, it was the Lamar Jackson show, with the Cardinals star quarterback opening the scoring with a rushing touchdown, then passing for three more before the half. This performance earned Jackson an 85.6 overall grade. The problem for Louisville is that the demise of Houston as a contender robs them of their sole remaining marquee matchup, and leaves them needing others to lose and a selection committee inclined to include reward a team with a great quarterback.
6. Ohio State
Losing 24-21 on the road against an admittedly improved Penn State team, is not what playoff resumes are typically built on. The Nittany Lions were able to generate pressure throughout, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett was pressured on 52.8 percent of his dropbacks, with six of those pressures becoming sacks. Barrett actually coped well with that, with a 70.6 adjusted accuracy percentage when under pressure, but it limited the downfield passing game. The Buckeyes win in Norman remains one of the best results of the season so far, and for that reason the Buckeyes fall was limited, but short of wide-spread chaos, only a win over an undefeated Michigan is enough to ensure that the Buckeyes climb back into the playoff picture.
7. West Virginia
The Mountaineers are taking a novel approach to the Big 12, trying to win with defense, and so far it’s working. Wins over Texas Tech and this seasons TCU team aren’t going to resonate nationally, but holding them to a combined 27 points should. They don’t generate huge amounts of pressure; against Texas Tech and TCU they’ve had pressure on just 25.2 percent of dropbacks, but they’ve made it difficult for opposing offenses to complete passes downfield. Against TCU corners Antonio Crawford (91.9 overall grade) and Rasul Douglas (81.7) combined to allow five completions from 10, for 33 yards and one touchdown, with one pick and two passes broken up.
8. Texas A&M
A 33-14 defeat in Tuscaloosa certainly hurt Texas A&M’s chances of making the playoff, but it didn’t end them. If they can win out, then there remains a chance that the Aggies could profit from a little chaos and squeeze into the playoff picture, but losing is not an option. With just the one QB hurry to his name, defensive end Myles Garrett had his least productive game of the season as a pass-rusher, however, he was a force against the run, leading the team with five run stops and an 87.2 run defense grade.
Another win for the Cornhuskers, and another performance that raises questions about how good they truly are. The defense continues to play well. Against Purdue, linebacker Dedrick Young II earned a 90.6 overall grade after leading the team with nine tackles, seven of which were defensive stops (tackles that are regarded as wins for the defense). This week’s game on the road against Wisconsin may be the moment of truth for Nebraska — are they merely a solid team who have benefited from their schedule, or are they for real?
Coming off their second bye week at 6-0, Baylor’s season is finally ready to begin, or at least that’s how it feels, though that’s doubly disingenuous. Firstly, the win Oklahoma State is a notable one. Secondly, the upcoming games against Texas and TCU may not be the tests they looked prior to the season. Texas certainly seem to be a team in turmoil, and both games are winnable for the Bears. What is clear however, is that Baylor need to win out if they are to challenge for a playoff berth.
The transformation of Auburn’s season is almost complete. Three weeks into the season they had lost twice and the head coach was on the hot seat, four games later they are 5-2, with the defeats coming against a pair of top-10 teams and with a win over LSU (who seem resurgent) and having just walloped a respectable Arkansas team by 56 points to three. That was a victory built on stellar defense, and none were more stellar than outside linebacker Carl Lawson, who had one sack and nine total pressures on his way to an 88.2 overall grade.
Oklahoma’s 66-59 win over Texas Tech was a shootout for the ages, with a frankly ridiculous 1,708 yards of combined offense. Unsurprisingly the Sooners skill position players graded well, with QB Baker Mayfield (99.9 overall), RB Joe Mixon (99.9) and WR Dede Westbrook (95.8) all off the charts. However, the defense is clearly an issue — no team can allow 854 yards of offense and be happy with it. The Sooners get games against Kansas and Iowa state to correct that, before a run that will test their defensive resilience. Fail to improve, and the playoff will remain out of reach.
With the Michigan and Ohio State games behind them, it was time for Wisconsin to make waves in the Big Ten West, and that’s exactly what they did with a 17-9 road win over Iowa. It was classic Big Ten fare — unpretty but effective, but the Badgers deserved their victory thanks to solid defense. Linebacker Jack Cichy earned an 82.0 grade after leading the team with 11 tackles and six defensive stops.
14. Florida State
Florida State likely has just one remaining opportunity to influence the playoff race this season, and that comes this week when they can play the spoiler role against Clemson. This may not be a vintage Seminole team, but they still have plenty of talent. They have one of the most in-form players in the nation in running back Dalvin Cook (83.9 overall), and two excellent defensive linemen in DeMarcus Walker 84.2 overall and Derrick Nnadi 83.6.
15. Boise State
Boise State remained undefeated after an entertaining, and at times baffling 28-27 win over a solid BYU team. Wins over Washington State and BYU are likely to look even better by the end of the season, but Boise State can’t look too far ahead, next up is a road game against 5-2 Wyoming that is absolutely pivotal to their chances to winning the Mountain West.
The Volunteers have had a week off to lick their wounds, now they need to set about getting it right for the remainder of the season. The good news is that the five games left on the schedule are all very winnable, with Kentucky at home and Vanderbilt on the road looking the most challenging. The bad news is that winning all five may do nothing for the fortunes of Tennessee — they need Florida to slip up if they are to make the SEC championship game.
For once it was the offensive production that was the key for Utah in a 52-45 road win over UCLA, though generating five turnovers certainly didn’t hurt. Formerly retired running back Joe Williams rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries behind a terrific offensive line. All five members of that line earned run blocking grades of 82.5 or above. Football has ever been a copycat sport, so if it leads to 300+ yard performances perhaps we should expect to see a few more running backs enjoying a brief retirement. On the opposite side of the ball defensive end Hunter Dimick starred, with 12 total pressures and a team-high 87.6 overall grade.
18. North Carolina
Anything can happen in the ACC Coastal, but North Carolina moved to 6-2 with a comfortable 35-14 victory over Virginia, which keeps them firmly in contention. The problem for the Tar Heels is that the 34-3 reverse against Virginia Tech could yet come back to haunt them, as it gives the Hokies a head-to-head advantage should they tie for the division, which is what would happen should both win out.
19. Washington State
Washington State’s 37-32 triumph over Arizona State wasn’t the most convincing of victories, but a win is a win. One of the keys to the Cougars resurgence had been the discovery of a useful rushing attack, and a commitment to it, but that simply wasn’t on display here, instead they reverted to their pass-happy ways. Removing sacks, scrambles and kneel downs, Washington State had just seven designed carries for 23 total yards.
20. Western Michigan
The Broncos’ unbeaten run continued with a 45-31 win over Eastern Michigan. Upcoming games against Ball State, Kent State and Buffalo, teams with a combined 7-16 record, give Western Michigan every chance of remaining unbeaten through to the Toledo game, which should decide the division.
Florida return from their bye with a home game against Georgia, neither team has been entirely convincing, but the Gators have at least generally won, and that keeps them in the hunt for the SEC East, so long as they don’t drop an SEC game anyway. The rearranged LSU game, which is now a road game, is a future impediment, but first come Georgia and Arkansas (on the road), neither of which can be taken for granted.
22. Penn State
Few would have predicted it after their pasting in the Big House, but Penn State has put together a decent run, winning three straight in the Big Ten and downing Ohio State in Happy Valley. They key to that victory was pressure, seven different Penn State defenders recorded three or more pressures, with rotational defensive tackle Kevin Givens the most prolific. Givens produced one sack and seven total pressures on just 21 pass rush snaps, earning a 94.1 pass-rush grade and a gaudy 27.5 pass rush productivity score (which measures the per-snap pressure rate).
The Tigers have roared back to life, thanks to a 38-21 win over Ole Miss, and the return of Leonard Fournette. As good as Fournette’s stat line looked — 16 carries for 284 yards and three touchdowns — Fournette earned a good, but not great 74.5 overall grade, as the Rebels defense was complicit in his production. It’s difficult to imagine the Crimson Tide defense being so accommodating when they visit Baton Rouge in two weeks.
24. Oklahoma State
The loss to Central Michigan can be dismissed due to an officiating blunder (though the Chippewas were close enough to win with that play), and the loss on the road against Baylor is no embarrassment, but wins over Pitt and Texas are all that the Cowboys can offer in mitigation. However, Oklahoma State will finally have the chance to press their claim this week, with the visit of unbeaten West Virginia. Win this, and they must be taken seriously, fail to win and their Big 12 challenge is dead.
In any other year, a 6-2 Colorado team with wins over Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State could expect to be much higher up the rankings, but in a year when things have gone pear-shaped in the Pac-12, the Buffalos will have to settle for this. In truth, even as victors, Colorado don’t emerge with a great deal of credit from their 10-5 win over Stanford, but the defense played well, linebacker Kenneth Olugbode had nine tackles, eight of which were defensive stops, and earned a 85.4 overall grade.