Alabama, Florida State top PFF Top 25
It’s too early in the season to make any sweeping predictions about which teams are going to go to the playoff — there’s a reason why the College Football Playoff selection committee don’t show their hand until November.
But it’s never too early to begin ranking teams, based on who we think they are, who they’ve beaten and how good they’ve looked doing it. Here’s PFF selection for the top 25 teams in the country following Week 2:
While Nick Saban may have been left unimpressed by the Crimson Tide’s 38-10 victory over Western Kentucky, it’s still impossible to look past them as the best team in the nation. The 52-6 shellacking of USC set a standard that would be impossible to maintain all season long, and while they didn’t hit those heights against the Hilltoppers, there was still plenty to admire. True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts earned 77.9 overall grade, corner Marlon Humphrey was outstanding with an 88.3 grade and linebacker Reuben Foster continued to impress, earning an 85.1 grade to go with the 85.4 he posted in the opener.
2. Florida State
Head coach Jimbo Fisher appears to have found himself another star freshman quarterback in Deondre Francois, and Florida State opened the year with one of the best victories of the season so far, a 45-34 victory over Ole Miss. They are left sweating over the status of star safety Derwin James, who was forced out of the victory over Charleston Southern with an apparent knee injury. James followed carried his stellar freshman form into the game against Ole Miss, with an interception, two QB hurries and four defensive stops, earning him an 86.0 overall grade.
3. Ohio State
With the majority of the 2014 National Championship-winning team now making a living in the NFL, Ohio State was something of an unknown entity entering 2016. Two games in and a host of new stars have emerged. Bowling Green and Tulsa were amongst the very best offenses in football in 2015 but found little joy against the Buckeyes defense. Free safety Malik Hooker had two picks and earned an 88.6 grade against Bowling Green, the second-best grade posted by a safety in Week 1. There will be tougher tests to come, starting with a trip to Norman to face the Sooners this week.
It’s always going to be extremely difficult for a team from outside the Power-5 conferences to force its way into the playoff, but the Cougars have an opportunity to do just that after their terrific opening week win over Oklahoma. True freshman defensive lineman Ed Oliver was a wrecking ball against the Sooners, making a team-high five defensive stops and earning an 81.6 run defense grade. The Cougars are in the top four for now, but can they stay there when those below start racking up wins over Power-5 opponents?
No team has graded better than Michigan through the first two weeks, with the Wolverines easing to victory over Hawaii and Central Florida in Ann Arbor. The defense looks as imposing as it was last season, led by nose tackle Ryan Glasgow, who has posted 85.9 and 84.3 grades in the opening two games. The only reason they aren’t ranked higher is because they remain relatively untested — they’ve yet to play away from the Big House, and neither of the teams they’ve beaten has recorded a win over an FBS school this season, and combine for just two such wins since the start of the 2015 season.
A 2-0 start for the Tigers looks great on paper, particularly the opening win over Auburn, but the offense hasn’t dazzled as it did in a losing effort against Alabama in the National Championship game. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has yet to find his stride, as grades of 69.2 and 66.8 show. On the plus side, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley has been superb, and freshman defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence has been hugely disruptive against the run.
The proof will need to come in conference play, but through the opening two weeks of the season Washington has been the most impressive team in the Pac-12. Defensive tackle Vita Vea has impressed, notching up nine QB pressures through two games, already matching his 2015 total. Quarterback Jake Browning was underwhelming in the opener against Rutgers, but looked sharp against Idaho, earning an 82.3 passing grade.
Stanford opened the season with a workmanlike victory over Kansas State, a solid result but only a so-so performance. Even so, compared to last year’s Week 1 debacle in Evanston, they’ll take it. They struggled to get running back Christian McCaffrey going on the ground, but he still earned an 80.6 receiving grade, and was the difference between the teams. With a host of big name opponents to come, the Cardinal have the ability to shoot up the rankings fast, so long as they keep winning.
It could be an unpredictable ride in Austin with true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele pulling the strings for a big play offense. The early returns have been good, with an exciting 50-47 victory over Notre Dame, followed by a more routine 41-7 triumph over UTEP. Buechele looked terrific against UTEP, but it’s his 74.4 overall grade against the Irish on his debut that gives the Longhorns the greatest cause for optimism.
Wisconsin got off to the perfect start by defeating LSU, a popular preseason pick to make the playoff, at Lambeau Field. That result alone is enough to put the Badgers in the top 10, but the performance itself, particularly offensively, left something to be desired. Corner Derrick Tindal’s coverage was targeted four times against, he allowed one catch for 15 yards, with one interception and one pass defensed. A trip to East Lansing in Week 4 will give the Badgers a chance to back up that opening result.
On performance alone the Cardinals should be higher on this list. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was sensational against Charlotte (75.6 overall grade) and Syracuse (81.0), repeat that against Florida State this week and Louisville will shoot up the rankings.
The Razorbacks looking anything but a ranked team when they scrapped home against Louisiana Tech, thanks in part to a strong performance from edge rusher Deatrich Wise Jr., who earned an 87.6 run defense grade. However, they followed that up with a terrific overtime victory over TCU in Fort Worth.
13. Texas A&M
After overcoming UCLA in the opener, the Aggies were in cruise control this week against FCS Prairie View A&M. Defensive end Myles Garrett had one sack and 11 total pressures on his way to an 89.6 overall grade against the Bruins, so long as he’s in that kind of form opposing offenses are going to have problems.
With new starters at quarterback and running back, the Utes offense has yet to find it’s groove, but the defense has excelled, with a number of players standing out. Against Southern Utah, safety Marcus Williams posted a sensational 91.6 overall grade, while edge rusher Hunter Dimick (84.8 overall) also impressed. Against BYU it was edge rusher Pita Taumoepenu (84.0) and corner Reginald Porter (81.9) who came to the fore.
Florida will face tougher tasks ahead, but you can only beat what’s in front of you, and they overcame UMass and Kentucky in comfortable fashion. That comfort has in large part been due to a stout defense, as the Gators have made life difficult for opponents in The Swamp. Edge rusher Jordan Sherit leads the team with two sacks and 10 total pressures.
It’s tough to know what to make of Nebraska as wins over Fresno State and Wyoming aren’t exactly what top 25 resumes should be built upon, and yet they have looked the part in those wins and have the grades to match. That is particularly true on the offensive line, where center Dylan Utter, tackle Nick Gates and guard Tanner Farmer have all stood out. Utter has earned grades of 77.1 and 84.3.
Georgia opened the season with an impressive win over North Carolina, before struggling to see off FCS opponent Nicholls in Week 2. However, while the team as a whole struggled against the Colonels, defensive tackle Trenton Thompson did not, finishing the game with seven defensive stops and a team-leading 80.2 overall grade.
What to make of the Sooners? They did well against the running threat of Greg Ward Jr. and yet still lost the opener against Houston. Linebacker Tay Evans earned an 84.2 grade in that game, defensive linemen Charles Walker and Matt Dimon also earned 81.1 and 77.9 grades respectively, and those weren’t the only good performances. They get a chance to set the record straight when Ohio State come to town this week — win that and that Houston result will no longer hold them back.
19. Michigan State
Michigan State is another school, like the Sooners, that’s artificially low in the rankings due to circumstance. In the Spartans case this is because their sole game has come against FCS opponent Furman, and they didn’t look great. This week’s trip to South Bend will tell us much more about the 2016 Spartans.
Another Big Ten team who are getting the benefit of the doubt because they’ve looked good in their two routine wins. They haven’t found the Iowa State game easy of late, but recorded a comprehensive 42-3 victory, with defensive tackles Nathan Bazata (81.8 overall) and Jaleel Johnson (79.9) dominant.
Despite their offseason troubles, the Baylor Bears have got off to their customary smooth start, though their offense has looked a little less electric, particularly against SMU in Week 2. No player epitomizes that more than QB Seth Russell who was outstanding against SMU in 2015, but could only earn a 62.7 overall grade this time around.
22. Ole Miss
Another team that is likely held a little low because they lost to an excellent opponent in Week 1, the Rebels bounced back from that Florida State loss with a comfortable win over FCS opponent Wofford. A win this week over top-ranked Alabama would catapult the Rebels up the rankings.
With transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop settling in nicely, the Ducks offense continues to look potent. Prukop has earned 77.7 and 79.0 grades in his two starts in Eugene. It helps a new QB if they have a running back like Royce Freeman beside them in the backfield. Freeman forced seven missed tackles and averaged 8.1 yards after contact against Virginia, earning an 86.1 overall grade.
A preseason favorite, the Volunteers had a real scare when they scrapped by Appalachian State in the opener. They took care of business against Virginia Tech at the Bristol Motor Speedway, but the passing game continues to be a concern, quarterback Joshua Dobbs earned a lowly 53.0 passing grade against Appalachian State.
25. San Diego State
The reigning Mountain West champions, San Diego State have had a good start to 2016, with a 31-0 win over FCS opponent New Hampshire, followed by a 45-40 victory over Cal, the one Power-5 opponent they’ll face this season. Running back Donnel Pumphrey rushed for 281 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards after contact and earning a 78.6 overall grade.