College Football Playoff Rankings Outlook: Week 4
With a quarter of the college football season already completed, we’ve already learned a lot about the real contenders across the country. Since the first official College Football Playoff rankings don’t come out until Oct. 31, the rankings the college football world goes by are given by the AP Poll.
The Alabama Crimson Tide remain atop the nation at No. 1 after defeating Colorado State out of the Mountain West Conference 41-23. This wasn’t the typical Alabama out-of-conference beat down. The Rams had nearly 400 yards against a defense expected to be the best in the nation. Jalen Hurts lead the charge both on the ground and through the air with 103 rushing yards and 248 passing yards. Add in Hurts’ three combined touchdowns, and it’s clear the success of the Alabama offense lies in his hands.
Although this win wasn’t as dominant as Alabama head coach Nick Saban would’ve liked, it’s hard to see the Tide moving away from the No. 1 spot as long as they stay perfect. Alabama heads to Nashville next week to take on a relatively dangerous Vanderbilt team coming off an upset victory over No. 22 Kansas State.
The Clemson Tigers jump one spot to No.2 after convincingly beating the then-No. 14 Louisville Cardinals led by 2016 Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson. The Tigers won 47-21 with a standout performance from Kelly Bryant, who threw for 316 yards and had three combined touchdowns. The Clemson defense was able to limit the damage from the explosive threat of Lamar Jackson by holding him to a 50 percent completion percentage and less than four yards per rush.
After last year’s historic National Championship year, this game proved that Clemson is once again the real deal. It also proved that Bryant is capable of filling the two-time Heisman nominee-sized shoes of Desean Watson. Up next, Clemson has what should be an easy victory at home against Boston College. On the other side of this game, however, looms a matchup vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech without the advantage of Death Valley.
Falling one spot to No. 3 this week are the Oklahoma Sooners, coming off a 56-14 win over Tulane. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo continued to look like one of the top defensive players in the nation with nine total tackles, two for loss, and one a sack. On the other side of the ball, Heisman front-runner Baker Mayfield threw for 331 yards and four touchdowns in a flawless performance. The Sooners are on fire and may be facing their weakest opponent of the year in the sanction-crippled Baylor Bears. Expect the Sooners to roll with ease until Bedlam.
After flip-flopping with USC again, the Penn State Nittany Lions round out the top four this week. The Nittany Lions rolled to an easy 56-0 shutout of Georgia State last week as Trace McSorley had quite a day for himself with 309 yards through the air and four touchdowns. His backfield mate Saquon Barkley only rushed for 47 yards, but managed 142 receiving yards with a touchdown. On the other side of the ball, the Nittany Lions were dominant no matter who their 11 were. The Nittany Lions will look to keep their momentum going this week in a tough Big Ten opener on the road against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Coach James Franklin has undoubtedly warned his team this week about what happened to Michigan’s playoff campaign last year when they walked into Kinnick Stadium.
Far and away the most mercurial team in this outlook, the USC Trojans dropped a spot this week to close out the top five. After a shaky opener and a strong second week nobody was quite sure which USC team would show up in a historically significant rematch with the Texas Longhorns. Jekyll was nowhere to be found as the Trojans let a drastically inferior Texas team hang around until they eventually escaped in overtime by a score of 27-24. Quarterback Sam Darnold continued to flash brilliance and impotence as he threw for 397 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions that could have been costly. The Trojans should at least take solace in the fact that Deontay Burnett appears to be the best receiver in America at the moment. The Trojans will once again look for some form of consistency as they get back into conference play at California this week.
In addition to these five, the No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers and the No. 13 Virginia Tech Hokies are in good position for a playoff run as well. The Badgers have looked solid and should have a very favorable schedule going forward. Of the three other top 10 teams in their conference they only have to play Michigan. Until then, they should be unbeaten. The Hokies have a more difficult road. They have two ranked opponents on the schedule with one being the No. 2 Clemson Tigers. With freshman quarterback Josh Jackson and their defense playing as well as they have, this game could pose a much bigger threat to Clemson’s ACC stranglehold than the Louisville game did.
There were some teams that really helped their cause and some teams that dropped much further then some expected heading into week three.
No. 17 Mississippi State
The previously unranked bulldogs had a statement win against conference rival LSU. Not only did they come out on top, they did so in convincing fashion with a 37-7 victory. For what many thought would be a very close game, Mississippi State surprised everyone and ran the then-No.12 LSU right out of Davis Wade Stadium.
Mississippi State dominated every aspect of the game, totaling 465 total yards and limiting LSU to only 13 first downs.
LSU dropped 13 spots in the rankings and now sits at No. 25 overall.
No. 6 Oklahoma State
Heading into this past weekend, the Cowboys were ranked No. 9. With a dominating 59-21 win over Pitt, Oklahoma State remained on cruise control.
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph finished with 497 pass yards on 23-32 passing. He also added five passing touchdowns which was really the difference maker in this game that propelled the Cowboys early on.
Oklahoma State is quietly emerging as a very talented team with blowout wins over every opponent they have faced this year.
No. 5 USC
The Trojans had an unexpected stumble when they squared off against Texas on Saturday. While they were able to come out with a 27-24 overtime win, this performance was subpar for USC, a team that many said was the favorite to take home the national championship before the season started.
By no means is Texas a bad team; they are simply not a team that should be taking USC into overtime.
The Trojans dropped from No. 4 to No. 5, swapping spots with Penn State.
Previously ranked No. 23 Tennessee went down in devastating fashion by virtue of a 63-yard hail mary pass from Florida’s Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired to secure a 26-20 victory.
With all the hype surrounding the Vols this year, this loss really sets them back. They struggled against Georgia Tech in their season opener, blew out Indiana State 42-7 and dropped this past weekend game against then-No. 24 Florida.
Tennessee had the edge in total yards, first downs and time of possession. This was, however, not enough to take down Florida. Some attribute this to bad luck. But if Tennessee wants to reach the status of a perennial SEC power they once were, they can’t put themselves in a position for this to happen.
Christian Katt is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Patrick Murphy is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.