Michigan rises to No. 4 in PFF Top 25
The arrival of conference play often provides a rude awakening for some, and this week did just that, with Michigan State and Arkansas finding their playoff chances in jeopardy after falling to home defeats.
There was little challenge for the Crimson tide this week as they swept aside Kent State in a 48-0 victory. Perhaps the biggest take away from the game were the injury concerns at running back, but Alabama has the depth to cope if Damien Harris should miss some games. Linebacker Reuben Foster continues to star; his 89.6 overall grade makes him our current top-ranked linebacker.
2. Ohio State
The Buckeyes had a week off to recover from their exploits in Norman. Conference play opens with Rutgers and Indiana visiting Columbus, before a potentially pivotal trip to Camp Randall. The Buckeyes have a plethora of options on offense, but none has had a greater impact than dynamic running back Curtis Samuel, his 89.1 receiving grade tops all backs.
Coming off their sensational win over Florida State, and with a trip to Clemson to look forward to in Week 5, there was some suggestion that Louisville might come unstuck against Marshall. However, that was soon put to rest as the Cardinals ruthlessly took care of business, going 52-7 up while the starters were still on the field in the third quarter. This game belonged to the Cardinals defense, with linebacker Keith Kelsey (89.2 overall game grade), edge rusher James Hearns (80.4) and corners Jaire Alexander (85.7) and Zykiesis Cannon (80.7) all having big games.
Michigan continue to impress, this week with a one-sided victory over Penn State in which the Wolverines simply dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That defensive dominance meant that Saquon Barkley, Penn State’s star running back, had no room to run. On offense, right tackle Erik Magnuson earned an 80.4 overall grade, and a 79.2 run blocking grade, which is about as good a performance as we’ve seen from him. Next up for Michigan is the visit of an impressive Wisconsin team — things are about to get real for the Wolverines.
Stanford emerged from the Rose Bowl with a 22-13 victory over UCLA, and further strengthening their claim to a top-five spot. It was the defensive line that made the biggest difference for the Cardinal, with nose tackle Harrison Phillips (81.1 overall game grade) and defensive ends Solomon Thomas (81.2) and Dylan Jackson (80.6), winning the battle on the line of scrimmage. Thomas had six QB pressures and made five defensive stops.
Houston brushed aside Texas State with ease this week, but are now in the stretch of their schedule where they’ll get little credit for an impressive performance, as the teams around them are taking on the brand names of college football. The Cougars do still control their playoff destiny, they host Louisville in November and have trips to Navy and Memphis on the schedule, win out and they’ll be tough to keep out.
Wisconsin followed up an unconvincing win over Georgia State at home with a thoroughly convincing win in East Lansing. This is such an unpredictable sport. This victory owed much to the play of edge rushers Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt who recorded two sacks and an impressive 20 total QB pressures between them.
8. Texas A&M
In this week’s Myles Garrett watch, the Aggies star defensive end had two QB hits and seven total pressures on his way to a game-high 86.4 grade, helping his team slow down the Razorbacks for an impressive victory. On the other side of the ball, Texas A&M found joy on the ground, as freshman running back Trayveon Williams forced six missed tackles and averaged 7.7 yards after contact on his way to an 83.2 grade.
A bravura performance from the Clemson defense saw the Tigers to a comfortable 26-7 win over Georgia Tech, with the Yellow Jackets held to a measly 124 yards of offense. True freshman Dexter Lawrence continues to be a disruptive run defender, his 83.8 overall grade through the opening four weeks puts him among the best defensive tackles in the college game.
Washington won in Tuscon, a place that has proven treacherous for Pac-12 championship hopefuls in recent years. No player had a bigger impact than Huskies defensive tackle Elijah Qualls, who earned an 86.8 overall grade and a 90.0 run defense grade. Qualls made seven tackles in the game, each of them a defensive stop, which means they were all wins for the defense.
After struggling through the first three and half games of the 2016 season, the Volunteers looked anything but a contender in the SEC. However, they outscored Florida by 35-7 in the second half, ending their losing streak against the Gators and reigniting their season, finally looking like the much-hyped team. Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs was again impressive on the ground, but it was his work as a passer (71.4 passing grade) that offers the biggest reason for optimism.
A road win over Northwestern keeps the Cornhuskers season on track, with the secondary standing out. Corner Chris Jones (87.2 coverage grade) and safeties Nate Gerry (89.8) and Aaron Williams (77.5) were all impressive. Nebraska’s next big game is against Wisconsin in Week 9, but they must make sure they don’t stumble before that if they want to remain a contender.
The visit of the Cowboys presented Baylor with their stiffest test of the season, and it was one that they passed, maintaining their status as frontrunners for the Big 12. Wide receiver Ishmael Zamora had an excellent game, hauling in all eight catchable passes thrown his way, earning an 81.5 overall grade and averaging 6.48 yards per route run.
It was tight, but Utah were able to rally for a late win over the Trojans, thanks in part to the increasingly influential play of QB Troy Williams — he now has a 76.3 passing grade for the season. Both starting safeties, Chase Hansen (81.4 overall) and Marcus Williams (78.8) had good games against USC.
15. Florida State
Florida State bounced back from the Louisville loss with a 55-35 win on the road over a good USF team. Running backs Dalvin Cook and Jacques Patrick impressed, combining for 271 yards after contact and forcing 14 missed tackles.
16. Arizona State
The Sun Devils took down Cal to go 4-0, and had a couple of standout performaers on the defensive side of the ball. Safety Laiu Moeakiola was targeted six times when in primary coverage, with just one completion for nine yards, while also recording a pick and a pass breakup, earning a 93.6 coverage grade. Edge rusher Koren Crump had three sacks and eight total pressures, for an 87.9 pass rush grade.
17. Miami (FL)
The Hurricanes enjoyed a week off but go on the road to face a wounded Georgia Tech this week, before a showdown with the Seminoles. Left guard KC McDermott has been one of the best guards in the nation, earning an 85.8 run blocking grade and giving up just one QB pressure.
18. Michigan State
The Spartans offensive line had a torrid time against Wisconsin, and as a result they struggled to generate much in the way of offense. On the other side of the ball the Spartans continue to impress however, with defensive tackle Malik McDowell (82.9 overall for the game), corner Darian Hicks (80.3) and linebackers Chris Frey (82.6) and Jon Reschke (80.1) all playing well.
While Arkansas lost their unbeaten record to Texas A&M this week, they can take solace from the continued development of quarterback Austin Allen, who earned an 80.1 overall grade in a losing effort. Allen’s 78.6 passing grade through the first four games makes him the highest-graded passer in the SEC.
20. Ole Miss
The only two-loss team to crack our Top 25 this week, the Rebels recovered from their loss to Alabama with an impressive victory over Georgia. Tight end Evan Engram had another big game, he has developed into one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the SEC, as illustrated by an 88.7 receiving grade.
21. West Virginia
The Mountaineers enter conference play this week with wins over Missouri and BYU to their credit. Corner Maurice Fleming earned a game-high 84.3 overall grade against the Cougars – his coverage has been targeted 17 times this season, with just six receptions allowed.
22. San Diego State
The Aztecs enjoyed a bye in Week 4, but return to action on the road against South Alabama before entering Mountain West Conference play next week.
It looked so good for the Gators at halftime in Neyland Stadium, they were poised to go 4-0 at the expense of rival Tennesssee, and then it all changed. Now the Gators have no room for error on a schedule that includes road games to face Arkansas and Florida State. Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley earned an 86.4 overall grade, but too many of the Gators defense struggled.
24. Western Michigan
Western Michigan added a good win over a decent Georgia Southern team to a pair of road wins over Big Ten teams. Their schedule is certainly navigable, which means they should be a fixture in this Top 25, so long as they keep winning.
25. Virginia Tech
The Hokies opened the season slowly, but have went through the gears over the past two weeks with 49-0 and 54-17 victories over Boston College and East Carolina respectively. Quarterback Jerod Evans earned an 83.8 overall grade against the Pirates.