The 25 best teams in college football right now
Every now and again there is a week in college football where chaos reigns supreme, and this was one such week. The ACC imploded, five of the top 10 lost, and only one undefeated team with playoff potential remains (sorry, Western Michigan). And yet, despite all that upheaval, the top six teams remain the same, they’ve just shuffled around a little.
Here’s a look at the top 25 teams in the country following Week 11:
Oblivious to the chaos that would arrive later in the day, Alabama romped to a 51-3 win over Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide are now confirmed as the winners of the SEC West, and will face whichever team emerges in the East for the SEC title. This week it was the turn of Dalvin Tomlinson and Da’Ron Payne to shine on the defensive line. Tomlinson had one QB hit and four total pressures on his way to an 81.9 overall grade, Payne led the team with five defensive stops, earning an 80.2 grade.
- Ohio State
Ohio State have absolutely hit form at the right end of the season, as their 62-3 victory over Maryland shows. However, that excellent form may not matter, as Michigan’s unexpected loss brings Penn State into play in the Big Ten East, and the Nittany Lions have the head-to-head advantage over the Buckeyes. All they can do now is lay down a marker on the field, and make the strongest case possible that they are indeed one of college football’s four best teams. Corner Marshon Lattimore earned a game-high 86.8 grade against the Terrapins, and now has four interceptions and eight pass breakups for the season.
Clemson fell to a 43-42 defeat to Pitt, in what was a hugely entertaining game. The Tigers had their way with the Panthers defense through the air, QB Deshaun Watson threw for 580 yards and three touchdowns, while WR Mike Williams caught 15 of them for 202 yards and one touchdown. That Watson-to-Williams connection saw Williams earn an excellent 86.4 grade, but three costly picks cost Clemson, and held Watson to a 72.0 passing grade. This defeat doesn’t knock Clemson out of playoff contention, but it leaves them with zero margin for error.
With those above them losing, Louisville has moved into the top 4 — the difficult part will be staying there. There are teams below them with more impressive wins on their resume, and that is tough to overcome. Their non-conference slate took a hit with Houston falling to two defeats, and their two ACC Coastal opponents are the worst teams in that division. The one thing that might work in Louisville’s favor is the eye test — they have the most exciting quarterback in football, and a number of other standout players. Against Wake Forest, defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown recorded two sacks, four total pressures and six defensive stops, earning him a team-high 83.2 overall grade.
With a 14-13 road defeat against Iowa, a hugely promising season for the Wolverines is in danger of spiralling out of control, it’s now win-or-bust in the The Game. The good news for Michigan is that their defense continues to play at a very high level, they held Iowa to just 66 yards through the air, with an interception and pass breakup helping corner Channing Stribling to an 80.6 overall grade. The bad news is that the Hawkeyes defense was even more effective against the Wolverines offense.
By falling to a 26-13 defeat against USC in Seattle, the Huskies have taken their destiny out of their own hands. The Playoff Selection Committee have consistently favoured teams with strong schedules, a team with Washington’s weak non-conference schedule would need to approach perfection. It isn’t all bleak for the Huskies — they could still win the Pac-12, and in wide receiver John Ross, have one of the form players in the nation. In the past four games, Ross has averaged 4.55 yards per route run, second-best in the nation over that span.
Wisconsin won 48-3 over Illinois rolling up 363 rushing yards at 5.7 yards per attempt. That’s in large part thanks to the performance of the offensive line, with left guard Micah Kapoi earning an 82.1 run block grade, center Michael Deiter an 80.1 run block grade, and left tackle Ryan Ramczyk a 78.8 run block grade. Wisconsin’s path to playoff contention is easy enough to plot, beat Purdue and Minnesota, then whoever wins the Big Ten East.
The Big 12 have a lifeline of sorts, and Oklahoma remain the team best placed to seize it. They need yet more chaos, and that home loss to Ohio State could yet be a stumbling block if the Buckeyes are competing for that fourth spot as a non-champion. Against Baylor, linebacker Jordan Evans stole the show, with two sacks, one QB hit, two interceptions and a further pass breakup, all of which earned him a terrific 90.8 overall grade.
Would the playoff selection committee consider a three-loss USC team? Almost certainly not, which is bad news for the Pac-12 as the Trojans are one of the form teams in the nation, and outside contenders to win the conference. USC was able to put Washington QB Jake Browning under pressure on 53.5 percent of his dropbacks, with outside linebackers Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu combining for 15 total pressures.
- Penn State
Penn State’s rise continues on pace, with a 45-31 win over Indiana. Defensive end Garrett Sickels had another good game, with two sacks and four total pressures helping him to an 84.5 pass rush grade. That takes Sickels to nine sacks and 36 total pressures for the season. The Nittany Lions outlook got considerably better with Michigan’s defeat, if the Wolverines should lose to Ohio State, then Penn State would have the edge over the Buckeyes, provided they win out themselves.
- Washington State
Washington State isn’t viewed so high nationally, but their offense is among the best in the nation, and they are unbeaten in Pac-12 play with two games (or three, should they win both) against ranked opponents to come. Much as with USC, the Cougars early losses likely make them unattractive to the playoff committee, but they are legitimate contenders for the Pac-12. Against Cal, wide receivers River Cracraft (82.9 overall grade) and Gabe Marks (78.0) impressed, as did running backs James Morrow (86.3) and Gerard Wicks (79.6).
- Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State outlasted Texas Tech to win their shootout 45-44, though they rode their luck — the Red Raiders could have tied the game but missed their final extra point attempt. The Cowboys may well have two more shootouts to finish the season, with games against TCU and Oklahoma to go, and the thing with shootouts is that you won’t always be lucky.
Auburn stumbled but won against Vanderbilt one week ago, but against Georgia they fell flat on their faces, ending their SEC challenge and playoff hopes in one. The efficiency that had served QB Sean White so well this season deserted him. White entered the game with a 76.3 adjusted accuracy percentage (which accounts for drops and various other things that prevent targeted passes), against Georgia he had a 5.6 adjusted accuracy percentage.
Utah returned from their bye with a 49-26 win over Arizona State, which featured another big game from defensive end Hunter Dimick. Dimick had five sacks, 12 total pressures and 10 defensive stops, on his way to an 81.0 pass rush grade. That takes Dimick to 13 sacks and 64 total pressures for the season, an impressive tally. The Utes are very much still in contention for the Pac-12, but must win on the road against Colorado in two weeks.
LSU rebounded from last week’s loss with an impressive 38-10 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville. They came close to shutting down the Razorbacks on the ground, and had an unstoppable ground game of their own, led by sophomore back Derrius Grice. Grice rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, he averaged 5.6 yards after contact, a performance that earned him an 89.1 overall grade.
This was more like it, after struggling to wins against Stanford and UCLA, the Buffaloes earned a convincing 49-24 win over Arizona, which keeps them atop the Pac-12 South. This game saw the return to form of Colorado QB Sefo Liufau, who earned a 77.2 overall grade. Liufau had a 153.6 passer rating when throwing under pressure, and a 143.8 passer rating on deep passes (those that travel 20+ yards downfield in the air).
- West Virginia
West Virginia kept themselves in the race for the Big 12 with a 24-20 victory over Texas. Corner Rasul Douglas had a busy day, earning an 83.1 overall grade. His coverage was targeted 11 times, with four completions for 24 yards and zero touchdowns, one interception and two pass breakups. QBs targeting Douglas this season have a combined 33.3 passer rating.
- Western Michigan
Now 10-0, the Broncos are inching closer to an undefeated season, and a New Year’s Six bowl berth. The remaining hurdles are home games against Buffalo and a dangerous Toledo team, and if they win those, a game against the best team that the MAC East can offer. Against Kent State it was a pair of corner backs who earned the highest grades, with Darius Phillips and Asantay Brown finishing with 81.6 and 80.7 overall grades. Between them they were targeted seven times, allowing zero completions.
- Boise State
Like the majority, Boise State had a good time on their trip to Hawai’i, blowing out the Warriors in a 52-16 victory. The best news for the Broncos was the fall of Wyoming, now they are in a three-way tie for Mountain Conference, and with a head-to-head advantage over the Lobo’s, and a tough run in for the Cowboys, Boise State may yet meet San Diego State for the conference title.
- Texas A&M
Texas A&M fell to a second-straight defeat, this time a 29-28 loss to Ole Miss. They were clearly missing quarterback Trevor Knight in the run game. The mobile Knight has averaged 9.8 yards on designed carries this season, in his absence the Aggies could only average 3.8 yards per attempt. In truth, the Aggies run blocking hadn’t been great all season, but having a dynamic runner at quarterback evened things up, without that threat the run game suffered.
- Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech had no answer for the Georgia Tech rushing attack, allowing the Yellow Jackets to rush for 309 yards in a 30-20 defeat in Blacksburg. In real terms, it doesn’t hurt the Hokies all that much, North Carolina’s loss saw to that, and it still leaves them as the favorite to win the ACC Coastal, and face Clemson in the ACC title game. There weren’t too many positives to take from this game for the Hokies, but QB Jerod Evans continues to be a dangerous runner, averaging 5.9 yards on designed carries.
Nebraska got the Ohio State loss out of their system with a 24-17 victory over Minnesota, that leaves them keeping pace with Wisconsin in the Big Ten West. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong made a welcome return for the Cornhuskers and was the difference in this game, passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns, and running for 61 more and another touchdown, earning a 71.4 overall grade.
- San Diego State
San Diego State enjoyed a comprehensive 46-16 victory over Nevada, racking up 620 yards of total offense, 474 of them on the ground. They almost had two 200 yard rushers, Rashaad Penny ran for 208 yards and two touchdowns, Donnel Pumphrey for 198 and another score. The 16 points posted by Nevada is the highest figure that the Aztecs have conceded in Mountain West play. They now face a challenging trip to Wyoming.
Tennessee righted the ship somewhat with a 49-36 victory over Kentucky, the further confuse matters in the SEC East. The Volunteers hold a victory over a ranked opponent (Virginia Tech), and claimed wins over Florida and Georgia that were of importance to the program, and yet have unquestionably underachieved this season. This win owed much to QB Joshua Dobbs, who averaged 15.1 yards per carry on 12 designed runs, earning a 92.7 rushing grade.
Stanford made it three Pac-12 wins on the bounce, and hauled themselves back towards a respectable season, with a 52-27 victory over Oregon. It featured the kind of performance that had been expected from RB Christian McCaffrey all season, as he ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns, compiling 218 all-purpose yards, and earning an 81.9 overall grade.