Every Monday I compile my college football rankings based on team resume. As usual, I’ll point out this isn’t an estimation of which teams would beat each other, but rather which teams have accomplished the most this year.
1. Mississippi State Bulldogs (9-0)
Last weekend: defeated UT-Martin 45-16
The Bulldogs didn’t have a bye, but they might as well have, as UT-Martin posed no threat to MSU’s unblemished record. They’ve beaten Auburn, LSU, and A&M, and only twice have won by a single score. The offense remains outstanding, averaging 7.0 yards per play. QB Dak Prescott (3036 yards, 30 TD, 7 INT) remains the Heisman frontrunner, but his biggest games remain in front of him.
Next: at Alabama
2. Florida State Seminoles (9-0)
Last weekend: defeated Virginia 34-20
Don’t let the relative closeness of the game fool you – Virginia didn’t really threaten the Noles, and FSU took a knee deep in UVA territory to end the game. It could have easily been 41-20. It seems a new controversy surrounds FSU each week, and they just ignore it like no others. That said, they should avoid distractions this week – according to F/+, Miami is the best opponent the Noles have faced all season. It’s a rivalry game on the road. The Noles are officially on upset alert.
Next: at Miami
3. TCU Horned Frogs (8-1)
Last weekend: defeated Kansas State 41-20
As much as I’ve been beating the drum for Marshall, I’m most surprised by the lack of excitement in the polls over TCU. They’re consistently mentioned as a contender, but we’re overdue to put them in the top 4. They have been played within 20 points just three times this year – a 4 point win over Oklahoma, a 1 point win at West Virginia, and the 3 point road loss to Baylor. Trevone Boykin (3247 yards, 30 TD, 4 INT) has played his way into the Heisman ceremony, I think, and TCU has more than played their way into playoff position, thanks to decisive wins over Minnesota and Kansas State. From here on, it will take a major upset by Kansas, Texas, or Iowa State to derail TCU from an 11-1 finish.
Next: at Kansas
4. Marshall Thundering Herd (9-0)
Last weekend: defeated Southern Miss 63-17
Southern Miss has faced Mississippi State and Alabama, and neither dropped more points on the Eagle defense than Marshall’s 63. In fact, for the FBS teams on Marshall’s schedule, here is each’s worst loss (Marshall score in parentheses):
– Miami OH (42-27) – 41-10 to Western Michigan
– Ohio (44-14) – 44-14 to Marshall
– Akron (48-17) – 48-17 to Marshall
– Old Dominion (56-14) – 56-14 to Marshall
– Middle Tennessee (49-24) – 49-24 to Marshall
– FIU (45-13) – 45-13 to Marshall
– Florida Atlantic (35-16) – 55-7 to Nebraska
– Southern Miss (63-17) – 49-0 to Mississippi State
So for 5 of the 8 FBS teams they’ve faced, they’ve been THE toughest game on the schedule. For another, Southern Miss, Marshall’s output against them was reminiscent of what Alabama and Mississippi State managed to do. This team’s schedule is bad, but a bad schedule should not exclusively eliminate a team from playoff discussion. If Mississippi State played this schedule, we have reason to believe they’d have similar results. Marshall is really, really good, and it’s time to take notice. The final stretch won’t be gimmes – Rice is pretty good and Western Kentucky is capable of stunning them the day after Thanksgiving – but Marshall has an excellent chance to go 13-0. The most incredible statistic regarding Marshall has to be that they’re averaging 3.6 yards more than their opponents per play. Most really good teams are between 1.5-2.0 or so.
Next up: vs. Rice
The Rest of the Top 25
5. Oregon Ducks (9-1)
Last weekend: defeated Utah 51-27
Oregon is knocking on the door of the top 4, very close to Marshall. They’ll need to whip Colorado and Oregon State and win the Pac-12 title, but if they manage to do all that, I see them overtaking the Herd for the 4th spot in my rankings. QB Marcus Mariota (3330 yards, 38 TD, 2 INT) should be the Heisman frontrunner. He’s the most productive and important offensive player in the country this year.
Next up: BYE
6. Alabama Crimson Tide (8-1)
Last weekend: defeated LSU 20-13
Blake Sims isn’t getting much Heisman hype but he has been one of the country’s most efficient QBs this season. If there’s a Heisman contender, it’s Amari Cooper, arguably the country’s best offensive player. He has been a one-man wrecking crew, an impressive feat for a WR, totaling 1229 yards and 10 TD on 83 touches. Alabama has a quality you look for in a champion, similar to Marshall – a net yards per play advantage over 2 yards, +2.3 in Bama’s case. A win this weekend could vault the Tide into the top 4.
Next up: vs. Mississippi State
7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-1)
Last weekend: BYE
I have little doubt the Big Ten team getting the most attention this week will be Ohio State. The Buckeyes handed Michigan State their second loss, did it emphatically, and did it in prime time in front of a national audience. Nebraska, on the other hand, was taking a week off. Nebraska hasn’t really faced a tough schedule, with a win over 3-loss Miami as their crowning achievement. But Miami is better than most people realize, and so is Nebraska. Other than their bizarre early September close match against McNeese State (a 31-24 win), Nebraska’s other 7 wins have come by multiple scores.
Next up: at Wisconsin
8. Baylor Bears (8-1)
Last weekend: defeated Oklahoma 48-14
While TCU has had the more impressive season, Baylor controls their own destiny in the Big XII race thanks to their head-to-head win. They’re lower because of the nature of their loss – by 14 points – and their lack of a non-conference win on par with TCU’s victory over Minnesota. Baylor is +2.0 in yards per play differential, so there’s all-around dominance that could really help them down the stretch. Bryce Petty (2524 yards, 24 TD, 3 INT) is one of many contenders in a wide open Heisman race.
Next up: BYE
9. Arizona State Sun Devils (8-1)
Last weekend: defeated Notre Dame 55-31
QBs Taylor Kelly (1482 yds, 15 TD) and Mike Bercovici (1352 yds, 10 TD) have been virtually identical in production (both average 8.1 y/a and have traditional QB ratings within 5 points of one another), which is a convincing case that RB D.J. Foster is the real driving force of the offense, picking up 1283 yards and 8 TD on 180 plays this season. I think Saturday’s win over Notre Dame told us more about the Irish than it really did about Arizona State. The Sun Devils seemed to benefit from an abnormal amount of lucky bounces and ND mistakes, but credit the Sun Devils for capitalizing on those mistakes and bounces. They’re in prime position to win the Pac-12 South, setting the stage for the best Pac-12 Championship Game yet.
Next up: at Oregon State
10. Auburn Tigers (7-2)
Last weekend: lost to Texas A&M 41-38
When you watch sports, you know there’s no magic at play. No team have some source of luck, no team has a magic well they can just tap into over and over again. You know these teams, but every now and then that knowledge is severely tested. In college football, no team seems to test that more frequently than the Auburn Tigers. Last year’s team wasn’t a particularly good one, but their extreme luckiness led to an SEC title and national title game appearance. It was enough to make you really wonder if God had a favorite team, and if that team were Auburn (or, if at the very least, Auburn paid God’s dad $250,000 to tell him to root for Auburn). That’s why Saturday was so cathartic for college football fans – in a game where everyone expected Auburn to just come back and fall into points because that’s what they do, they didn’t. They lost, at home, to an obviously inferior opponent. The script wasn’t re-written; it was burned and then buried. Auburn has no voodoo. They just had an improbable run of luck, and probability won out like it always does.
Next up: at Georgia
11. Ole Miss Rebels (8-2)
Last weekend: defeated Presbyterian 48-0
Like MSU, the Rebs scheduled an FCS patsy for last week. It gave us no information of value.
Next up: BYE
12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-2)
Last weekend: lost to Arizona State 55-31
Boy, that was ugly. Brian Kelly has since thrown his QB under the bus, blaming Everett Golson for fumbling or throwing away their playoff chances, but the loss was on Notre Dame’s early deficit, which took away the running game and put Golson into permanent passing downs. Tarean Folston’s longest run was 8 yards, and that was over 25% of his total output. Brian Van Gorder’s defense deserves plenty of blame as well, as does the rest of Kelly’s offense. It was a team loss, although Golson was pretty bad early on.
Next up: vs. Northwestern
13. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1)
Last weekend: defeated Michigan State 49-37
No team is more haunted by a single loss in my rankings than Ohio State’s multi-score loss to Virginia Tech, a team that has gone on to lose 5 games. They’re getting over it, bit by bit, but it’s still hurting them drastically in the rankings. A win this weekend would help considerably.
Next up: at Minnesota
14. Michigan State Spartans (7-2)
Last weekend: lost to Ohio State 49-37
Unfortunately for the Spartans, Saturday was their best chance at a playoff berth, and with their 12 point loss, that’s likely gone. It’s a shame. Mark Dantonio is easy to root for, as is Michigan State, a program that seems to be doing things the right way.
Next up: at Maryland
15. Duke Blue Devils (8-1)
Last weekend: defeated Syracuse 27-10
Chuck Oliver, a local Atlanta sports radio host, pointed out today an incredible fact. Since the start of the 2012 season, Duke has more wins than Texas, Michigan, USC, and numerous other historically dominant programs. It’s a pretty impressive testament to the job David Cutcliffe has done. Here’s a list of notable teams with fewer wins since the start of the 2012 season than Duke’s 24:
Ole Miss – 23
USC – 23
Oklahoma State – 23
Auburn – 22
Texas – 22
Miami – 22
Georgia Tech – 22
Florida – 20
Michigan – 20
Penn State – 20
Virginia Tech – 19
Tennessee – 14
The Blue Devils aren’t really winning in impressive fashion against great opponents, but they’re winning nonetheless.
Next up: vs. Virginia Tech
16. Clemson Tigers (7-2)
Last weekend: defeated Wake Forest 34-20
DeShaun Watson is considered questionable for this weekend’s game against Georgia Tech, but Clemson badly needs their best QB to be active. The Tigers, quietly owners of one of the country’s best defenses, could finish with a flourish if Watson gets back into the lineup. He’s a difference-maker.
Next up: at Georgia Tech
17. LSU Tigers (7-3)
Last weekend: lost to Alabama 20-13
The Tigers took the Tide to overtime, but that loss isn’t really the one hurting LSU as much as the severe beating they took at the hands of Auburn, who have lost two other games. The Bayou Bengals have big wins over Wisconsin and Ole Miss and are the best 3-loss team in the country.
Next up: at Arkansas
18. Kansas State Wildcats (7-2)
Last weekend: lost to TCU 41-20
Even despite their 1-point win in Norman, we still weren’t quite sure what to make of Kansas State. I think now it’s clear they’re a step behind the real elite of the conference, more on par with the Sooners than Baylor or TCU. K-State has a couple of tough games remaining, and at this point 9-3 is looking likely. While their loss ended their own playoff argument, it also dealt a bit of a blow to Auburn’s.
Next up: BYE
19. UCLA Bruins (8-2)
Last weekend: defeated Washington 44-30
UCLA blew out Arizona State, beat Arizona, and beat Memphis as well. They lost a close game to Utah and lost by 2 scores to Oregon. They’ve played an inordinate number of close games, and just when we were ready to give up and call UCLA a disappointment, they’re suddenly looking stronger. Their last two wins were relatively comfortable, and UCLA is suddenly looking like the team we expected in the preseason. There’s a reasonable chance they could win the Pac-12 South, and if they can, and they get a shot at Oregon, they’re probably back in the conversation again, although at this point that’s all a longshot.
Next up: BYE
20. Colorado State Rams (9-1)
Last weekend: defeated Hawaii 49-22
Former Alabama RB Dee Hart has 1052 yards and 12 TD, leading Jim McElwain’s best Rams team yet to a 9-1 record. The Rams get a bye this week, then get New Mexico at home. They should be 10-1 when they head to Air Force to finish, and will watch Boise State closely along the way – a BSU loss puts the Rams in the driver’s seat for the Mountain division, one of the best divisions in the FBS.
Next up: BYE
21. Arizona Wildcats (7-2)
Last weekend: defeated Colorado 38-20
The Wildcats seem like something of a mirage, barely outgaining opponents and playing many close games, but walking away with an impressive 7-2 record. They remain the only team to defeat Oregon and one of just three to beat Nevada. QB Anu Solomon has 3151 yards and 25 TD, meaning it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing ANUSTART license plates in the Tucson area.
Next up: vs. Washington
22. Georgia Bulldogs (7-2)
Last weekend: defeated Kentucky 63-31
Hutson Mason ranks in the top 20 in ESPN’s Total QBR rating, which will surprise the absolute hell out of Georgia fans who have watched him this year. Mason doesn’t always look great, but he just consistently pushes the ball forward, even when it’s in small doses. Georgia has wins over Clemson and Missouri, but are set back due to a pair of losses to ugly teams – South Carolina and Florida.
Next up: vs. Auburn
23. Oklahoma Sooners (6-3)
Last weekend: lost to Baylor 48-14
Oklahoma’s postseason hopes had survived 2 losses, mostly due to the fact both came by a total of 5 points. That point is no longer a valid one, as Baylor destroyed the Sooners Saturday in Norman. They have 3 losses, but those 3 teams have a combined 4 losses, so that’s why I still rank Oklahoma as one of the better teams in the country. They finish out with Texas Tech, Kansas, and Oklahoma State, but with Trevor Knight’s availability questionable going forward, it will be interesting to see how they fare.
Next up: at Texas Tech
24. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-2)
Last weekend: defeated NC State 56-23
Since their 48-43 loss to UNC on October 18, Tech has won 3 straight conference games, two on the road, by a cumulative score of 147-61. Yes, you could nitpick a bit and point out that 28 of those points were gifts from Pittsburgh in a game that was otherwise neck and neck, but let’s not get too caught up the details. Tech is red hot, and they’re carrying a lot of momentum into these final two games, their biggest of the year. While I’m not a big believer in momentum, I am a believer in an increased quality of play, and I think we’ve seen that lately from Tech. Clemson has a nasty defense, making the matchup when Tech has the ball one of the best of the weekend.
Next up: vs. Clemson
25. Boise State Broncos (7-2)
Last weekend: defeated New Mexico 60-49
Boise State just never goes away. Bryan Harsin’s first Broncos team looks better than Chris Petersen’s last. RB Jay Ajayi has 1580 yards and 17 TD on 269 plays, and he’s in the mix for MW player of the year honors. BSU should be favored in each game the rest of the way, and I expect them to win the Mountain division.
Next up: vs. San Diego State
26. Texas A&M Aggies (7-3)
27. Wisconsin Badgers (7-2)
28. Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-2)
29. Georgia Southern Eagles (8-2)
30. USC Trojans (6-3)
31. Nevada Wolf Pack (6-3)
32. Missouri Tigers (7-2)
33. Miami Hurricanes (6-3) – The Hurricanes are only 33rd in my rankings, but according to Football Outsiders’ F/+ rankings, they’re 12th. Miami has a net yards per play advantage of +2.6, which is an elite number higher than just about any I’ve seen outside of Marshall. Duke Johnson is probably the ACC’s best running back, and I expect the Canes to give #2 FSU fits this weekend. This is a good team, and good teams with 3 losses on the schedule are dangerous in November. They know they’re not going to a top-notch bowl. They know they’re not playing in the playoffs. They know they can ruin FSU’s year. It’s a dangerous mix.
34.Louisville Cardinals (7-3)
35. Florida Gators (5-3)
36. Utah Utes (6-3)
37. Memphis Tigers (6-3)
38. Maryland Terrapins (6-3)
39. Air Force Falcons (7-2)
40. Utah State Aggies (7-3)
41. Stanford Cardinal (5-4)
42. East Carolina Pirates (6-2)
43. Cincinnati Bearcats (5-3)
44. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5-4)
45. Northern Illinois Huskies (7-2)
46. Arkansas Razorbacks (4-5)
47. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (7-3)
48. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (6-3)
49. West Virginia Mountaineers (6-4)
50. Washington Huskies (6-4)
51. Rice Owls (6-3)
52. California Golden Bears (5-4)
53. Iowa Hawkeyes (6-3)
54. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-4)
55. Boston College Eagles (6-4)
56. UCF Knights (5-3)
57. Arkansas State Red Wolves (6-3)
58. Toledo Rockets (6-3)
59. South Alabama Jaguars (5-4)
60. Tennessee Volunteers (4-5)
61. Bowling Green Falcons (6-3)
62. Kentucky Wildcats (5-5)
63. Western Michigan Broncos (6-3)
64. BYU Cougars (5-4)
65. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (5-4)
66. Texas Longhorns (5-5)
67. Virginia Tech Hokies (4-5)
68. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-4)
69. Virginia Cavaliers (4-6)
70. South Carolina Gamecocks (4-5)
71. NC State Wolfpack (5-5)
72. Temple Owls (5-4)
73. Michigan Wolverines (5-5)
74. UTEP Miners (5-4)
75. Texas State Bobcats (5-4)
76. Northwestern Wildcats (3-6)
77. Houston Cougars (5-4)
78. North Carolina Tar Heels (4-5)
79. Pittsburgh Panthers (4-5)
80. Navy Midshipmen (4-5)
81. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-5)
82. San Diego State Aztecs (5-4)
83. Akron Zips (4-5)
84. Oregon State Beavers (4-5)
85. Central Michigan Chippewas (6-4)
86. Ohio Bobcats (5-5)
87. Indiana Hoosiers (3-6)
88. Syracuse Orange (3-7)
89. WKU Hilltoppers (4-5)
90. Appalachian State Mountaineers (4-5)
91. Purdue Boilermakers (3-7)
92. UAB Blazers (5-5)
93. Tulane Green Wave (3-6)
94. Ball State Cardinals (3-6)
95. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (3-7)
96. San Jose State Spartans (3-6)
97. Kansas Jayhawks (3-6)
98. Washington State Cougars (3-7)
99. New Mexico Lobos (3-6)
100. Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-6)
101. ULM Warhawks (3-6)
102. USF Bulls (3-6)
103. Wyoming Cowboys (4-6)
104. Fresno State Bulldogs (4-6)
105. Iowa State Cyclones (2-7)
106. Buffalo Bulls (3-6)
107. Colorado Buffaloes (2-8)
108. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2-7)
109. Army Black Knights (3-6)
110. FIU Golden Panthers (3-7)
111. Old Dominion Monarchs (4-6)
112. Vanderbilt Commodores (3-7)
113. Florida Atlantic Owls (3-7)
114. UTSA Roadrunners (2-7)
115. Miami (OH) Redhawks (2-8)
116. North Texas Mean Green (3-6)
117. Massachusetts Minutemen (2-7)
118. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2-7)
119. Connecticut Huskies (2-7)
120. SMU Mustangs (0-8) – Undoubtedly the country’s worst team, they fare pretty well in my rankings thanks to a pretty impressive schedule.
121. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (2-8)
122. Eastern Michigan Eagles (2-7)
123. Troy Trojans (2-8)
124. Idaho Vandals (1-9)
125. Kent State Golden Flashes (1-8)
126. UNLV Rebels (2-8)
127. New Mexico State Aggies (2-8)
128. Georgia State Panthers (1-9)