The 25 best teams in college football right now
While the majority of the top 10 used this week to solidify their positions, the race for the playoff is looking increasingly about the Power-5’s undefeated teams — Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Washington. If they remain unbeaten then that will be the final four, though not necessarily in that order. However, a number of dangerous teams are lurking, safe in the knowledge that if they beat a top-four team, then they will be right in the mix.
Alabama overcame LSU by 10 points to nil in Baton Rouge, but the game wasn’t really as close as the score line suggests. The Crimson Tide’s streak of non-offensive touchdowns may be over, but their streak of playing elite defense is very much alive. as they held LSU to 125 yards of offense. The defense as a whole deserve the plaudits, but outside linebackers Tim Williams (84.7 overall) and Ryan Anderson (84.2) were among the standouts. Williams recorded one sack and five total pressures as a pass-rusher, while also proving stout in run defense. Anderson led the team with two sacks and seven total pressures.
Clemson cruised past Syracuse in a 54-0 victory, but that win is somewhat overshadowed by the reported shoulder injury that knocked quarterback Deshaun Watson out of the game at halftime. It’s not believed to be serious, and the Tigers do have a manageable slate of games in November, but it’s certainly not ideal. It was also a shame for Watson, as he was well on his way to a terrific game, and earned a game-high 89.6 overall grade for what he did do.
It was another straightforward game for Michigan at the Big House, as they crushed Maryland 59-3. Quarterback Wilton Speight continued his recent upward trajectory, throwing for a career-high 362 passing yards and earning an 84.1 passing grade. Accounting for drops, Speight was accurate on 87.5 percent of his passes. On the other side of the ball Maryland decided to test Michigan corner Jourdan Lewis more than any other defender, to no avail. Lewis has now had 24 passes thrown into his coverage this season, just four of which have been completed, while QBs targeting him have a combined passer rating of 4.9.
The score line was close until well into the second quarter, before Washington went through the gears to dispatch Cal in a 66-27 victory. The Huskies were only the second team this season to hold Cal QB Davis Webb below 300 yards passing, and did so with some fine play from cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King. Between them, Jones and King were targeted 22 times, allowing just eight completions, zero touchdowns and making two picks and three further pass breakups. Jones finished with a game-high 91.0 overall grade and an outstanding 91.9 coverage grade. Next up for the Huskies is a visit from a dangerous USC team.
5. Ohio State
Ohio State finally found their groove on offense, overcoming Nebraska 62-3 in a one-sided encounter. It’s certainly true that the injury to QB Tommy Armstrong hurt the Cornhuskers, but they were already 24-3 down at that point. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was on song, with a 79.1 overall grade. While his favorite target, running back/receiver Curtis Samuel, earned a terrific 97.4 receiving grade. The Buckeyes now face back-to-back road games, against Maryland and Michigan State, before a potentially pivotal edition of The Game.
Perhaps spurred on by criticism of some recent performances, Louisville left little room for doubt against Boston College, with an emphatic 52-7 victory. Quarterback Lamar Jackson dazzled once again with his legs, rushing for 176 yards and three touchdowns on just nine designed runs. Defensively, linebackers Stacy Thomas and Keith Kelsey were the standouts, notching up four defensive stops apiece, and earning overall grades of 94.0 and 85.5, respectively. Louisville’s playoff chances are wholly reliant on teams above them faltering, which is a distinct possibility, until then they just need to keep winning, and winning well.
It wasn’t the emphatic victory that they might have hoped for, but Auburn did get a win, overcoming Vanderbilt 23-16. Linebacker Darrell Williams led the team with nine tackles, four of which were defensive stops (wins for the defense), earning an 84.3 overall grade. Results elsewhere fell out perfectly for the Tigers, should they win out they would find be in the playoff, but they will need to play better than this if they are to take full advantage.
Wisconsin took another step towards winning the Big Ten West and probably a rematch against either Ohio State or Michigan, the two teams to have beaten them this season, narrowly. As has become the norm, this victory was built on playing excellent defense, and then simply outlasting the opponent. The Badgers’ two-quarterback rotation has yet to pay dividends, with neither Alex Hornibrook (63.4 overall grade for the season) nor Bart Houston (67.4) emerging as a true starter.
Could the Big 12 still produce a playoff contender? Probably not, but Oklahoma represents their best chance of doing so, not least because in quarterback Baker Mayfield they have the player with the highest-overall grade in the nation at 93.9. The ideal scenario for the conference would have the Sooners winning the next two (against Baylor and West Virginia) and Oklahoma State doing the same, which would make the Bedlam game a de facto championship game, and a clash between two highly-rated teams. There are a lot of if’s in that scenario, and even if it comes to pass, they would need teams from at least two other conferences to stumble.
10. Texas A&M
Texas A&M fell to a shocking 35-28 defeat in Starkville, a result that will not be easily forgotten by Aggies fans as it likely leaves them on the outside looking in at the end of the season. It would be disingenuous to blame this defeat entirely on the loss of quarterback Trevor Knight to injury, as the Aggies were already behind when Knight was injured, however, it was definitely a significant factor. Backup QB Jake Hubenak lacks Knight’s threat as a runner, and in his absence, the Aggies run game ground to a halt. With Knight in the game, Texas A&M averaged 5.7 yards per carry, without Knight they averaged 2.1 yards per carry, and Knight himself accounted for the Aggies three longest runs.
11. Washington State
The Cougars season continues to be haunted by their poor start, but they have been playing well with their offense as dangerous as usual, and are now 6-0 in Pac-12 play, and hurtling towards a rather interesting final two games, on the road against Colorado before taking on the Huskies for the Apple Cup. Quarterback Luke Falk had a terrific game against Arizona, earning an 85.2 passing grade. He was only truly inaccurate on one of his 35 targeted passes, in addition to the 32 completions, one other was dropped and one was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
12. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State followed up their victory over ranked West Virginia, with a 43-37 road win against a solid Kansas State team. It certainly wasn’t easy, the Cowboys were behind for much of the game, and could not stop the Wildcats rushing attack, giving up 345 yards and four touchdowns on the ground at 6.2 yards per carry. The Cowboys are very much in the thick of the Big 12 title race, which could well come down to the Bedlam game. They cannot afford to look ahead to that however, as their next two opponents, Texas Tech and TCU, are dangerous teams.
Utah enjoyed a well-timed bye week, giving them a chance to get healthier, and to get over their loss to Washington. The season is still set up well for the Utes, they already have a win over resurgent USC, so if they win out (which would include victory over Colorado), they would win the Pac-12 South, and play one of the Washington schools in the championship game.
14. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech moved a little closer to winning the ACC Coastal with a 24-21 victory at Duke. They hold a head-to-head advantage over North Carolina, so as long as they can beat Georgia Tech and Virginia, both in Blacksburg, they’ll get their shot at Clemson for the ACC crown. This wasn’t a pretty win, a touchdown return from a blocked field goal was effectively the difference between winning and losing, but they all count the same.
15. Penn State
The Nittany Lions continued their recent run with a comfortable 41-14 victory over Iowa. Nowhere was the difference between the teams more pronounced than on the ground. Iowa totalled 30 rushing yards, Penn State 359. Naturally Penn State RB Saquon Barkley had a good game, rushing for 167 yards and a touchdown, while averaging 4.6 yards after contact. The offensive line also deserves some praise, with left guard Ryan Bates, and center Brian Gaia earning run block grades of 84.1 and 81.1 respectively.
16. West Virginia
West Virginia got the Oklahoma State loss out of their system with a 48-21 victory over Kansas. Despite losing last week, the Mountaineers still have everything to play for, they host both Oklahoma and Baylor and could still put themselves firmly in contention for the Big 12 title.
17. North Carolina
North Carolina kept their ACC Coastal challenge alive with a 48-20 victory over Georgia Tech. They could yet return to the ACC Championship game to face off against Clemson, just like last season, but they need Virginia Tech to slip up first. The Tar Heels cannot afford to pay too much attention to the Hokies however, their final two ACC games come against rival teams, Duke and NC State, either of whom would enjoy playing spoiler.
18. Western Michigan
The 9-0 Broncos continue to set the pace among the teams outside the Power-5. This week’s 52-20 victory over Ball State featured an outstanding performance from star receiver Corey Davis. Davis had 12 receptions for 272 yards and three touchdowns, he also forced four missed tackles and averaged 8.0 yards per route run. Such production helped him to a 91.9 overall grade.
A 45-20 win over Oregon moves USC to 6-3, and 5-2 in Pac-12 play, the resurgence continues apace. If teams were ranked on their form right now, the Trojans would be considerably higher, but that form is about to get a severe test, with a trip to Seattle to face undefeated Washington. As a dual-sport athlete, and playing in all three phases of the game, corner Adoree’ Jackson hasn’t had the ideal amount of time to focus on simply playing corner, but that didn’t show here as he earned a 91.2 grade. Jackson was targeted six times, allowing three completions for 14 yards, on two of which he made tackles regarded as defensive stops, and braking up one pass.
20. Boise State
Boise State got their season back on track with a 45-31 win over San Jose State, thanks in part to another big game from running back Jeremy McNichols. McNichols earned a 79.8 overall grade after rushing for 158 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. He averaged 4.0 yards after contact, and forced a ridiculous 12 missed tackles on 29 total touches.
Colorado scrapped out a win for the second straight game, this one a 20-10 victory over UCLA in Boulder. They say winning ugly is the hallmark of good teams, but the Buffaloes need to get back to their best and fast. This week’s game against 2-7 Arizona gives them a chance to work things out, but they finish the season against Washington State and Utah, nothing but their best will do then.
The Razorbacks found life difficult against the leading lights of the SEC East, but had no such problem with the frontrunner in the SEC East, dispatching Florida 31-10. Arkansas center Frank Ragnow was again prominent, earning an 89.8 overall grade, and 90.1 in the run game. That raises Ragnow’s grade to 89.2 for the season, the best mark among centers in the nation.
The dream is over for LSU. Whatever hope there was that a win over Alabama could propel Ed Orgeron’s Tigers team toward the playoff, has been completely extinguished. The offense simply couldn’t move the ball against a great defense. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, the Tigers defense was excellent, and linebacker Dwayne Thomas had himself a game, earning a 90.2 overall grade. While their playoff hopes are dashed, the season need not be a write-off for LSU, they have a home game against Florida, and trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M to come, giving coach Orgeron ample opportunity to prove he deserves the job on a permanent basis.
Nebraska entered this weekend knowing that a big game would keep them as the frontrunners in the Big Ten West, and put them a Big Ten Championship win away from a playoff place, that was before disaster stuck. One QB injury and a 62-3 defeat later, and the Cornhuskers season is dangling by a thread. The only real positive that Nebraska can take from that game is that Tommy Armstrong’s injury isn’t as bad as it looked.
25. San Diego State
The Aztecs must desperately rue their 42-24 defeat at the hands of South Alabama. Without that they’d be challenging Western Michigan to be the highest-ranked team from outside of the Power-5, and looking at landing a New Year’s Six bowl invite. As it is they are 5-0 in the Mountain West and coming off a 55-0 win over Hawaii. While running back Donnel Pumphrey has been the star this season, against Hawaii it was Aztecs corner Damontae Kazee who deserved the plaudits. Kazee had two interceptions (one of which he took to the house) and a further pass breakup, which helped him to a game-high 90.4 overall grade.