PFF’s final ranking of the Top 25 teams in college football
Where did each top team finish the 2016 regular season? Kev Connaghan shares our final ranking of the year.
PFF’s final ranking of the Top 25 teams in college football
The outcomes were mostly as expected in the Conference Championship games, which meant that Penn State gave the selection committee a dilemma. Select the best team, or the conference champion that beat them. In the end the College Football Playoff selection committee opted for Ohio State, which means that their Top 4 teams match our own, though the order does not.
Alabama steamrolled their way to the SEC championship, beating Florida 54-16, and scoring two first quarter non-offensive touchdowns to get them on their way. Linebacker Reuben Foster capped off an exceptional season with eight defensive stops (wins for the defense), taking him to 54 stops for the season. His 92.5 overall grade for the season is the highest among Power-5 linebackers. Defensive end Jonathan Allen had two sacks and four total pressures against Florida, that’s 30 sacks and 134 total pressures over the past three seasons. Allen’s 91.7 overall grade ranks second among interior defensive linemen this season.
- Ohio State
Ohio State finished the season with an 11-1 record and a resume to match any other team. The one flaw in that resume is that they didn’t play for the Big Ten championship. It’s further complicated by the fact the Big Ten champion, Penn State, holds a head-to-head win over Ohio State, and for some that should trump any other argument. However, Penn State’s overall resume is slightly less impressive than the Buckeye’s, they lost one extra game, and one of those defeats was a 49-10 loss against Michigan, a team the Buckeyes beat. While some are uncomfortable elevating a non-champion above conference champions, Ohio State had a dominant road win over Oklahoma, who are a conference champion in their own right. The Buckeyes offense has been inconsistent, but running back Curtis Samuel has excelled, his 90.0 receiving grade leads all backs.
Clemson made no mistake in the ACC championship game, they took the lead on the opening drive and stayed ahead for the remainder of the game. Linebacker Ben Boulware earned a game-high 90.8 overall grade, but it was the performance of Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson that drew the eye. Watson passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns, while also leading the team with 85 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Watson finishes the season third among quarterbacks with a 90.8 overall grade, and no quarterback has graded out better since the start of November.
A win over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game seals Washington’s place in the playoff, and gives the Huskies their best win of the season. It was a fairly comprehensive win at that, with Washington holding Colorado to 163 yards of offense and 10 points. The play of the secondary was key, with all five featured defensive backs grading well in coverage. Corner Sidney Jones earned a game-high 83.7 coverage grade, fellow corner Kevin King earned an 81.1 coverage grade, and safeties Budda Baker, Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh had coverage grades of 81.2, 77.8 and 77.8, respectively.
Michigan came agonizingly close to clinching a top-four spot, but ultimately an off-day in Kinnick Stadium is what kept them out. Even so, a ten-win season, with victories over three top-15 teams is an impressive return in Jim Harbaugh’s second year in charge. They were particularly impressive on defense where defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow earned the highest overall grade with 86.4. Glasgow was one of eleven Michigan defenders to play at least 200 snaps and earn an 80+ overall grade.
- Penn State
Penn State’s resurgence is complete, as the Nittany Lions made it nine straight wins with a 38-31 victory over Wisconsin to win the Big Ten. It lifts them to sixth in our rankings, but isn’t quite enough to lift them into the top four, the loss to Pitt, and the scale of the defeat at Michigan have proven costly. It was the passing attack that won the game against Wisconsin, with quarterback Trace McSorley earning an 83.0 passing grade, and wide receivers Saeed Blacknall and DaeSean Hamilton earning receiving grades of 84.4 and 81.2, respectively.
Oklahoma saw off Oklahoma State with a 38-20 victory, successfully defending their Big 12 championship. It still leaves the Sooners on the outside looking in at the playoff spots, but they did all that they could to recover from a 1-2 start to the season, if the Big 12 had been stronger overall, then they would have stood more of a chance. The Sooners owe much to the play of quarterback Baker Mayfield, and his connection with wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Mayfield finished the season with a 93.6 overall grade, top among QBs, Westbrook finished with an 88.4 overall grade, second among WRs.
The Trojans ended the 2016 season with eight-straight victories, and if the playoff were comprised of the four hottest teams right now, they would be in, but it doesn’t. Even so, a 9-3 record in Clay Helton’s first full season as head coach, combined with the emergence of a star quarterback in Sam Darnold, gives USC a significant platform on which to build. Defensively, transfer defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu was an unmitigated success, earning an 88.6 run defense grade and accounting for 30 defensive stops without a single missed tackle.
- Western Michigan
Western Michigan wrapped up a perfect season with a 29-23 victory over Ohio to win the MAC, and sealed their place in the Cotton Bowl. While it is fair to question their strength of schedule, a win over Northwestern is their best result, as one of only two undefeated FBS teams, the Broncos deserve their place in the Cotton Bowl. Linebacker Robert Spillane earned a team-high 87.5 grade against Ohio. He made the game-sealing interception and led the team with seven tackles, six of which were defensive stops.
Losing their final two games deprived Louisville of any opportunity to sneak into the playoff. However, in sophomore Lamar Jackson, they have the most-dynamic quarterback in college football. Jackson finished the season with a 91.9 overall grade, second-highest among all quarterbacks, and a ridiculous 97.8 rushing grade, having rushed for 1793 yards (ignoring yardage lost to sacks) and 21 touchdowns.
- Florida State
Florida State finished with a 9-3 record, and have made a New Year’s Six bowl game ahead of Louisville, despite the Cardinals holding a head-to-head advantage over the Seminoles. Star running back Dalvin Cook ended the year with an 86.5 overall grade, averaged 3.9 yards after contact and forced 86 missed tackles, second-most in the nation. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker generated 15 sacks and 53 total pressures, earning an87.7 overall grade.
Wisconsin fell to their third defeat of the season, losing against Penn State in the Big Ten championship game. All three of the Badgers defeats have been against Top 10 teams, and all three have been one-score losses. As excellent as the Badgers defense has been all season, they were unable to contain an in-form Penn State offense, despite once holding a 28-7 lead. The 38 points they gave up to Penn State was the highest total they have allowed all season.
A 41-10 defeat to Washington means that Colorado end the season on a sour note, but that doesn’t change the fact that a 10-3 season represents an incredible turnaround for the Buffalos. That success was largely built on a stout defense, and an excellent secondary. Senior linebacker Kenneth Olugbode, led the team with 49 defensive stops, and earned an 87.3 grade for the season, seventh-best in the nation among linebackers.
- Oklahoma State
Just as it did last year, Oklahoma State’s final week loss to Oklahoma cost them the Big 12 championship, this time leaving them 9-3 for the season, with one of those losses debatable. It’s another good year for the Cowboys, but they must be wondering how to take the next step. Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor earned a team-high 84.4 overall grade against the Sooners, and finishes the season having made 31 defensive stops without being charged with a single missed tackle.
- West Virginia
A 24-21 win over Baylor took West Virginia to 10-2 for the season, and the Mountaineers celebrated by handing head coach Dana Holgorsen a new five-year deal. As was the case for much of the season, it was the Mountaineers defense that impressed against Baylor. Safety Marvin Gross Jr. had himself a day to remember, with two sacks, an interception and a further pass defensed all combining to give him a game-high 88.5 overall grade.
Stanford ended up 9-3 on the season, which would have seemed unlikely when they had lost three from four in the middle of the campaign. But a soft final five games and a return to form from running back Christian McCaffrey, allowed the Cardinal to turn their season around. Defensive tackle Solomon Thomas was the star on defense, recording nine sacks, 38 total pressures and 38 defensive stops, all of which led the team.
- South Florida
With quarterback Quinton Flowers in sparkling form, South Florida finished 10-2, narrowly missing out in the AAC, and catapulting head coach Willie Taggart into the spotlight, making him a contender for some open Power-5 jobs. Flowers finished the year with an 87.3 overall grade, and a 97.7 rushing grade, second only to Lamar Jackson.
Auburn finish the season as the second-ranked SEC team with an 8-4 record, which says a lot about the conference in 2016 – the gap from Alabama to the rest was significant. The Tigers did that through efficient offense and excellent defense, with outside linebacker Carl Lawson and defensive tackle Montravius Adams key to that. Lawson racked up nine sacks and 58 total pressures on his way to a 90.5 pass rush grade; Adams recorded 32 total pressures and 22 defensive stops, helping him to an 83.7 overall grade.
- Boise State
At several points this season, Boise State seemed set to play in a New Year’s Six bowl as the highest-ranked team outside of the Power-5, but defeats against Wyoming and Air Force meant they were denied. A 10-2 season with wins over Washington State and Oregon State is still a successful one, and running back Jeremy McNichols had an excellent year. McNichols totalled 2,113 offensive yards and 27 touchdowns, earning an 86.0 overall grade, tied for fourth-best among backs.
As expected, Florida were outclassed in the SEC championship game, losing 54-16 against Alabama, and being held to a net total of zero yards on the ground. That figure is misleading of course as yards lost in sacks are included, but even discounting sacks, the Gators could muster just 47 yards on the ground. That’s a second-straight trip to the SEC championship game for the Gators under Jim McElwain, and the onus will now be on him to get the offense clicking in his third season.
LSU finished the season with a 7-4 record (having only played 11 games yet again), and went 5-2 under the interim stewardship of Ed Orgeron, which was enough to earn him the head coach job for real. The Tigers played excellent defense throughout the season, with Jamal Adams finishing the season as the nation’s highest-graded safety, with an 88.9 overall grade. Adams tied for second on the team with 33 defensive stops.
- Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech made a game of it in the ACC championship, but ultimately couldn’t keep up with Clemson, falling to a 42-35 defeat. That is a fair reflection on the Hokies promising first season under head coach Justin Fuente, they looked terrific at times, never more so than when they handed North Carolina a 34-3 beat down, but couldn’t sustain that level of play. They also have reason to expect another title challenge in 2017, and will return one of the ACCs best quarterbacks in the dynamic Jerod Evans, who finished 2016 with an 82.2 overall grade.
Which loss has been the most hurtful for Houston, Navy, SMU or Tom Herman? Herman’s impact has been immense in his two years as head coach, so the Cougars athletic department needs to nail the succession. Whoever takes over will have talent to work with, particularly in the form of true freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Oliver finished second on the team with 40 defensive stops, and earned an 89.1 overall grade, tied for fourth-best among all interior defensive linemen.
24 – Pittsburgh
Pitt finished the season with an 8-4 record and the best win in the ACC, which they claimed on the road at Clemson. The Panthers offense benefited from outstanding pass protection all season, they were able to field the same five starters in each game, and that starting unit combined to concede just two sacks, three QB hits and 29 total pressures between them. Right tackle Brian O’Neill gave up just two of those pressures, and finished with the best overall grade at 83.6
A 34-10 win over Navy ensured that Temple went one step further than they managed in 2015, and won the American Athletic Conference title. The Owls lost three of their first six, but won their final seven, including wins over South Florida and now Navy, both good teams. Outside linebacker Praise Martin-Oguike recorded one QB hit, five total pressures and four defensive stops against Navy, taking him to 34 pressures and 34 stops for the season.