Ohio State climbs to No. 2 in PFF Top 25
With several huge matchups on the Week 3 slate, there were always going to be changes in these too-early rankings. However, while we still don’t know just how good many teams are, some of them have earned results that will stand them in great stead when the College Football Playoff selection committee get around to weighing them up.
Alabama got a scare in Oxford, as they found themselves 21 points down with a little over two minutes left in the first half. The Crimson Tide rallied to score 45 of the next 51 points in the game, led by several standout defensive performers. None stood out more than linebacker Reuben Foster, who forced eight defensive stops to earn an 85.9 grade, the highest in the game. Defensive end Jonathan Allen wasn’t far behind, with seven QB pressures and a pick-six helping him to a 85.3 grade.
2. Ohio State
The trip to Norman was the first real test for this 2016 Ohio State team, and they didn’t just rise to the occasion, they owned it. The Buckeyes’ “basic” defense held yet another productive offense in check, while their offense dominated possession. Corner Marshon Lattimore had his best game yet, with his third interception and second pass breakup of the season. QBs targeting his coverage this season have a passer rating of just 27.5.
After an almighty beatdown of Florida State and another scintillating performance from quarterback Lamar Jackson, Louisville are firmly in the playoff picture. Jackson did his best work on the ground, gaining 145 yards and four touchdowns on 14 designed runs — that’s an eye-popping 10.3 average against a vaunted defensive front. That earned Jackson a 91.8 rushing grade. It wasn’t all about the offense, either, as the Cardinals defense made life extremely difficult for the Seminoles’ freshman quarterback, Deondre Francois.
Houston outlasted Cincinnati to open conference play with a win, it didn’t have the fireworks of their last meeting, but they had too much for the Bearcats. This was a result that owed more to the defense than the Cougars’ vaunted offense. Corner Howard Wilson had two interceptions, one of which he took to the house, helping him to an outstanding 93.3 coverage grade on the day. Linebacker Steven Taylor had three sacks, six total pressures and five defensive stops.
Michigan finally faced a Power-5 opponent and found the going a little tougher than they had through the first two weeks. Colorado jumped out to a 21-7 first quarter lead in the Big House, only for Michigan to dig in, the Wolverines outscored the Buffaloes by 38-7 for the remainder of the game. Linebacker/safety hybrid Jabrill Peppers starred, with a lightning-quick sack, seven defensive stops and a punt return touchdown, while true freshman defensive end Rashan Gary earned an 81.1 overall grade.
Stanford bludgeoned USC out of the way in classic Stanford style, for a 27-10 victory. The Trojans knew exactly what was coming — a large dose of running back Christian McCaffrey — but they couldn’t stop it. McCaffrey averaged 3.2 yards after contact as a runner, and 14.0 yards after the catch as a receiver. It helped that Stanford won the battle on the line, as four Cardinal offensive linemen earned grades of 70 or better against an inexperienced USC defensive line.
The Clemson offense has finally started to look like its old self, with the caveat that it came against overmatched opposition. Even so, teams can only beat the opposition in front of them and the Tigers did that with great efficiency. Quarterback Deshaun Watson checked out early after an efficient performance helped him to a 72.3 passing grade, but before then he had a 100 percent accuracy percentage on deep passes (those that travel 20+ yards downfield prior to the catch). A 3-0 Georgia Tech team will offer a truer measuring stick for the Tigers this week.
8. Michigan State
As ever, write off Michigan State off at your peril. The loss of most of their stars and an underwhelming opening performance against Furman gave 2016 the appearance of a transition season for the Spartans, but transitioning teams don’t generally win in South Bend. Defensive tackle Malik McDowell gave the Irish plenty of problems, with five total pressures and forcing five defensive stops.
Washington were methodical in victory over FCS Portland State, stifling the Vikings offense for a comfortable 41-3 victory. The Huskies starting defensive line of Greg Gaines (81.8 overall), Vita Vea (79.8) and Elijah Qualls (76.4) continues to look formidable. Only so much can be read into this performance and the opening of conference play this week will be where we really find out what the 2016 Huskies have to offer.
The Gators path to 3-0 hasn’t exactly been strenuous, but UMass, Kentucky and North Texas are all FBS teams, and the Gators dispatched them with ease. The Gators defense has been excellent, regardless of the strength of opponent – against North Texas 10 defensive players earned grades of 75 or higher. The trip to Knoxville to face 3-0 Tennessee was setting up well, until the Gators lost starting QB Luke Del Rio to a knee injury. He’s expected to be out this week, which puts a lot of pressure on former Purdue QB Austin Appleby.
11. Texas A&M
Another week, another star turn from defensive end Myles Garrett. Garrett had two sacks and five total pressures against Auburn, which helped him to an 80.6 overall grade. Quarterback Trevor Knight offers a threat as a runner, but needs to play better as a passer to take advantage of the Aggies talented group of receivers.
This was precisely the sort of game that Nebraska managed to lose in 2015, a tight game with an opponent driving late, however, Oregon couldn’t complete the comeback and the Cornhuskers get a notable win on their resume. They may also have found the answer at running back in the form of Devine Ozigbo, who forced six missed tackles on his way to a 77.4 rushing grade.
Arkansas may lack experience on offense, but quarterback Austin Allen and running back Rawleigh Williams III are looking increasingly comfortable behind an offensive like led by junior center Frank Ragnow. That comfort will be put to the test when they host Texas A&M this week.
Just like last year, the Utes are off to an undefeated start ahead of conference play. Edge rusher Hunter Dimick (88.7 overall) had himself a day against San Jose State, with three sacks and 14 total pressures. They came unstuck against USC in 2015 and will be hoping to avoid a repeat of that this week.
This was more like it from quarterback Seth Russell, who earned a 79.2 grade against Rice in his performance of the season so far. Russell found particular success when targeting KD Cannon — that connection had a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Kannon finished the game with nine receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns, earning a game-high 87.0 grade.
16. Florida State
Positives were few and far between for the Seminoles after their emphatic loss to Louisville. However, lost among the negativity was another solid performance from defensive tackle DeMarcus Walker, who now has 12 total pressures and nine defensive stops on the season.
Georgia followed up their close Week 2 win over Nicholls with a 28-27 victory over Missouri. It was something of a coming-out party for wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie who had been the Bulldogs highest-graded offensive player through the first two weeks of the season. McKenzie had 10 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and added another touchdown on the ground.
Wisconsin’s perfect start to the season was under threat when they fell four points down to visiting Georgia State in the fourth quarter. However, backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook helped bring them back for the win, and earned himself the starters job in the process. The Badgers will need to be much improved for this week’s trip to East Lansing.
The Tennessee offense has yet to convince. They are running the ball just fine, but unless the passing attack continues to improve, it’s going to be difficult to keep winning. Fortunately for the Volunteers, their star on the other side of the ball is rounding into form. Defensive end Derek Barnett had 12 total pressures against Ohio, on his way to a terrific 90.4 overall grade.
20. Arizona State
The Sun Devils have found themselves a budding star in freshman wide receiver N’Keal Harry. The team’s leading receiver, Harry has earned grades of 77.2, 71.5 and most recently, 84.6, so far this season. The Sun Devils could find themselves in another shootout this week when they host Cal.
21. Miami (FL)
Miami has been taking care of business, and did so on the road against Appalachian State when many expected them to find it tough going. Freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards earned a staggering 9.47 yards per route run against the Mountaineers, while tight end David Njoku earned an impressive 88.1 grade.
22. San Diego State
San Diego State moved to 3-0 with a 42-28 victory over Northern Illinois. They may not garner much national attention, but they are one of the very best teams outside of the Power-5 conferences.
South Florida has started the season well, going 3-0, including a Week 3 win against Syracuse. They face a much stiffer test this week with the visit of Florida State, but will look to use their own mobile quarterback, Quinton Flowers, to hurt them.
While impressive sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen garners much of the attention, defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes has been the true star for UCLA so far this season. Vanderdoes has racked up 14 total pressures and seven defensive stops, earning grades of 78 or higher in all three games so far.
25. Western Michigan
Western Michigan have gone under the radar so far this season despite twice taking down Big Ten teams on the road. While neither Northwestern nor Illinois look like contenders for the Big Ten title this year, few teams can boast of two wins over Power-5 opponents at this point in the season, and in Corey Davis they have one of the nation’s top wide receivers.