This is the point in the season where you can somewhat start throwing together a ranking of sorts. There are different ways to approach the top 25, and none can really be successfully married with the other. If you’re basing it just off who would win head to head, that’s one thing. If it’s based on which one has played the best football, that’s another way to go. The AP & Coaches Polls don’t seem to have a methodology other than taking the previous rankings and just moving a team up a few spots if they won, and dropping those who lost a few spots. That’s the laziest and worst way, but it’s not really all that less objective than the other ways. I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way. I’m just going to do it my way.
Here are the 25 teams that have accomplished the most so far this season, in my estimation.
1. Ole Miss Rebels (5-0) – Yes, Saturday gave them THE signature win among all unbeaten teams. Nobody has a better scalp on the resume than Ole Miss’ 23-17 win over the Tide (which, with competent officiating, would have been a 23-10 win). But they’ve got other wins to like as well. They’re one of only two teams to beat Boise State, whipping the Broncos soundly in Atlanta on opening weekend. They’re one of two teams to beat the surprisingly good Memphis Tigers. The best part about their 4 non-Bama wins? All are by at least 21 points. That’s the kind of dominance you want to see from a #1.
2. Auburn Tigers (5-0) – The only team to beat Kansas State, and one of two to beat LSU. And unlike the #3 team on this countdown, they whipped LSU and didn’t let the Bayou Bengals nearly come back for a win. One of two teams to beat Arkansas, and Auburn blew them out. 4 wins already by at least 21 points is impressive. Auburn’s D has been especially strong, not surrendering more than 21 in a game, and three times holding opponents to 2 TD or less. I really have them in a three way tie for 1st with the Rebels and #3, but I chose to subjectively break the ties rather than list the tie.
3. Mississippi State Bulldogs (5-0) – The only team to beat Texas A&M, and one of 2 to beat UAB, South Alabama, and LSU. Only LSU played the Bulldogs closely, and the scoring juggernaut hasn’t been held under 34 points yet.
4. TCU Horned Frogs (4-0) – Yes, they’re aided by two bye weeks and two very easy games – Samford and the surprisingly awful SMU Mustangs – but the two wins have been unique so far. Nobody else has beaten Minnesota (which TCU did handily, 30-7), and they handed Oklahoma their only loss on Saturday. It was a close one, but Oklahoma has been really good so far, making the win an impressive one. TCU might benefit a bit from having played fewer games, but if that’s the case, their future schedule will correct things. For now, they’re an easy #4 for me.
5. Florida State Seminoles (5-0) – Many would find it unacceptable that an undefeated, defending champion is not in my top 4. They got a trophy for the title, which they earned. Special treatment today because of things current Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers did 9 months ago is undeserved. That said, the Noles have been really good so far. They’re the only team to beat Oklahoma State and one of two to beat Clemson. Yes, Clemson took them to overtime, and they required a big comeback against NC State, and the Wake Forest game was all second half. Sure… But they beat Clemson in OT, they executed the comeback, and games are 60 minutes, not 30. The Noles are good again, and they’re well coached – with the Winston distraction looming every week, Jimbo Fisher has the Noles focused every time they take the field.
6. Alabama Crimson Tide (4-1) – The first small surprise of the list, I guess. The things working for Alabama in my rankings seem very temporary, but they’re there: they lost a close game on the road to an unbeaten team, they’re the only team to beat Florida (so far), and one of only two to beat West Virginia (again, so far). I don’t expect Florida or West Virginia to remain 1 and 2 loss teams, but I won’t treat them as anything but until that time comes. Alabama has 3 blowout wins, the WVU victory wasn’t too close for comfort, and no one has a more respectable loss. IF Ole Miss is indeed the best team in the country, it’s logically possible that Alabama is maybe even the 2nd best team in the country. In fact, they’ve probably accomplished more than FSU so far, except for one thing – avoiding a loss.
7. Arizona Wildcats (5-0) – Their win over Oregon might be, after Ole Miss’ victory over Bama, the 2nd best signature win of the year so far. And doing it at Autzen? Oregon hasn’t lost in regulation at home since 2011 against USC. That’s the only such loss for Oregon in the last 5 years. It’s a rarity. The Cats are also the only team to beat California, but that doesn’t seem likely to last long. One of only two to beat Nevada, they have the quality wins. So why aren’t they higher? They’re living pretty dangerously, with the Oregon, Cal, and Nevada wins all coming by a single score. Another red flag – they beat UT-San Antonio 26-23 in week 2. It’s not an egregious game – a win’s a win, and I have them ranked respectably – but it’s a scare that teams ranked higher haven’t subjected themselves to.
8. Marshall Thundering Herd (5-0) – Akron is something of a quality win, and they won’t really have the opportunity for any more until bowl season, so they’re doing all they can; they’re torching opposing teams. Their closest game was a 15 point week one win on the road in Miami, Ohio. That 42-27 win also marked both the fewest points they’ve scored AND the most they’ve allowed. Doc Holliday’s team has been for real so far, and nobody has an easier path to 13-0.
9. Oregon Ducks (4-1) – The Arizona loss looms large, but they’re still the only team to beat Michigan State, and one of two to top Wyoming. The Wyoming win won’t be mentioned 3 weeks from now, but by then they could replace it with wins over UCLA, Washington, and Cal. Also, no good team should ever play on Thursday. Bad things happen on Thursday.
10. Baylor Bears (5-0) – Their “beaten” list is less exclusive than Marshall’s. They haven’t beaten any team that hasn’t lost two other games on its schedule. But man, the way they’re beating them. 45-0, 70-6, 63-21, 49-28, 28-7. Five games, five wins by at least 21 points. That is ruthlessly efficient.
11. Oklahoma Sooners (4-1) – The Sooners’ signature win so far is West Virginia, one of two teams to beat the Mountaineers. Their TCU loss was on the road, and TCU is unbeaten, so like Alabama and Oregon before them, the Sooners get a little forgiveness for their loss. They haven’t played anybody outside of those two games, but they did win the first three by 32, 45, and 24 points, so they did what they’re supposed to do.
12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-0) – The Irish just don’t seem to get any help from their schedule. Rice was supposed to be pretty good, but they aren’t. Michigan was supposed to be pretty good, but they’re losing to everyone. Even Stanford rolled into South Bend with a loss already on the schedule. Notre Dame would love some quality wins, if the opponents would just hold up their end of the bargain. This 5-0 looked much better in the preseason than it does now.
13. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-0) – I really wanted to rank Tech higher. Not because I like them, of course. I hate the Jackets, like any good UGA fan should. No, I’d love to have them higher just to enjoy their inevitable fall from grace more. But alas, I have them 13th so far. Their quality wins are a 3 point win over Virginia Tech and a 4 point win over Sun Belt newcomer Georgia Southern. I don’t expect the latter to keep its quality as the year goes on, but so far, beating GSU hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. Other games include meh victories over Wofford, Tulane, and Miami.
14. UCLA Bruins (4-1) – The Bruins are the only team to beat Arizona State, and they’re responsible for half Memphis’ and Virginia’s losses. Yes, Utah beat them, and Utah has the same record, but in this case, UCLA’s list of teams beaten pushes this back in their favor. UCLA plays too dangerously, though, with only one victory coming by more than a single score. That has to end or they won’t be long for this list.
15. Kansas State Wildcats (4-1) – Their only loss is by 6 points to an unbeaten team, so maybe this is selling the Wildcats a bit short. Unfortunately, that loss is their signature game. Blowouts against Stephen F. Austin, UTEP, and Texas Tech are nice, but a 32-28 win over Iowa State is entirely too close for comfort.
16. Oklahoma State Cowboys (4-1) – Similar to KSU, their only loss is by 6 points to an unbeaten non-conference opponent. And better than KSU, the Cowboys’ loss didn’t come with home field advantage. But there’s just nothing else to really like. They handled Iowa State better than K-State did but played Texas Tech closer. The only thing that puts them behind the Wildcats is that their wins weren’t quite as decisive. Kansas State’s wins come by an average of 26.25 points. The Cowboys’ have been by an average of 18.5. Otherwise, those two resumés are pretty identical.
17. Virginia Tech Hokies (4-2) – My top ranked two-loss team. First, let’s quickly look at the 3 games that no one really paid attention to: the Hokies blew out William & Mary, and won comfortable games against Western Michigan and North Carolina. They are still the only team to beat Ohio State, which carries some strong weight, and their two losses came by a combined 10 points to teams with a combined one loss. The Hokies are better than the 4-2 record suggests, and looking ahead, could very well finish the regular season 10-2.
18. Missouri Tigers (4-1) – One of two teams to beat UCF, one of two to beat Toledo, and having only lost a close game on the road against a 2-loss Indiana team. For now, that’s a pretty decent resumé. The Toledo and UCF wins were decisive blowouts. The Indiana loss stings, but don’t write off the Tigers just yet, at least until Saturday’s tilt with UGA is over.
19. Texas A&M Aggies (5-1) – The loss on Saturday was a bad one, coming by 17 points. In terms of points, it’s worse than any loss of any team ahead of them on the list, and if not for the manner of that loss, the Aggies would be higher. Unfortunately for them, South Carolina has caused that opening win to lose some luster, and their signature win at this point is an overtime neutral site victory over Arkansas. When you realize that, the first half of the A&M season isn’t as impressive as we thought a week ago.
20. California Golden Bears (4-1) – Ok, I had a tie here between several teams, including the aforementioned Aggies, so I broke the tie subjectively. In this case, maybe I don’t really like the Bears better than the next couple of teams, but I like the results more. Their only loss is to unbeaten Arizona, and they gave the Wildcats a closer game than Oregon did. The opening win at Northwestern is looking better each week, but the others are too close – 59-56 over Colorado and 60-59 over Washington State. To borrow a line from the great Waylon Jennings, you “ain’t living long like this”, Cal. But it’s fun while it lasts.
21. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-1) – 5-1, and who’s the signature win? Miami? Gross. The best thing on their resumé is playing Michigan State close in East Lansing.
22. Stanford Cardinal (3-2) – The two losses were by a combined 6 points, against one undefeated team and another 2-loss team. Two of the Cardinal’s wins were blowout shutouts, and the other was a 7 point road win at Washington, making Stanford the only team to beat the Huskies so far.
23. Michigan State Spartans (4-1) – Yes, they beat Nebraska, but they did it at home and nearly blew the game. Beating Wyoming is kinda neat, but that 19 point loss to Oregon is a nasty one, especially now that someone has actually beaten the Ducks at the Zoo.
24. Louisville Cardinals (5-1) – The only loss came at 2-loss Virginia and was by only 2 points. The wins have all been comfortable (10 points or more) against weak competition. The easy part of the schedule is done, and each of their final 6 opponents currently have 2 or fewer losses.
25. Air Force Falcons (4-1) – Oh, why not? They beat Boise State by 2 TD, the loss came on the road, by 4 points, at a 2-loss Wyoming. The 4 wins were all by at least two scores, which gets them the edge here.