We’re back baby! Four weeks into college football and it’s the latest edition of the JP Top 25. A friendly reminder that these are not the rankings of who I think the best 25 teams are in college football, but more of a ranking of resumes. Wherever your team falls in this ranking, that’s what they’ve earned to this point. Strength of schedule, quality wins, quality losses, margin of victory…it’s all factored in. It’s essentially what I imagine the Playoff Committee would do if they had to come out with rankings from the start of the season. Throw the preseason rankings out the window and just watch football.
Here are the 25 teams who have impressed me the most so far this season.
STOP. DOUBTING. ‘BAMA.
I tried to warn you guys that Vanderbilt was in for a beating on Saturday, and BAH GAWD what a beating it was. Alabama was up 21-0 less than a quarter into the game and never looked back. When the road team takes over 90% of your stadium in your biggest home game of the last decade, you should just drop football. What an embarrassing day for Vanderbilt. ESPN’s Booger McFarland said it best: Alabama won this game in February on National Signing Day. Vandy never had a chance. It’s early, and the SEC is weak, but this…this might be Alabama’s best team ever.
The Tigers screwed around for three quarters against Boston College before lighting them up late for a 34-7 win that wasn’t nearly as convincing as the score indicates. I can’t hold it against them; it was coming off a two-week stretch against Auburn and Louisville, and a week before a massive road trip to Blacksburg. The Tigers have two wins as good as anyone in the country.
The ‘Dawgs are for real, y’all. Jake Fromm is the future at quarterback. He’s now competed 62% of his passes with seven touchdowns and one interception in four games (three starts) this season. He’s beaten two ranked teams, one on the road. If Kirby Smart puts Jacob Eason back in the lineup now, he’s a moron. Georgia is a national title contender.
Gary Patterson has the kryptonite for Mike Gundy’s offense. The Horned Frogs have historically slowed down Oklahoma State, and they were at it again on Saturday in a 44-31 win. This is starting to feel a lot like 2014, when TCU upset Oklahoma early in the season and didn’t look back on its way to a (co-) Big 12 title. I think this was just the tip of the iceberg in the Big 12 however. I think the conference champion will have two losses.
There are a lot of great defenses in college football. I think Michigan’s might be the best. Purdue’s offense had been humming, and the Wolverines held the Boilermakers to 10. Ten could mean points, or ten could mean YARDS IN THE SECOND HALF. Defensive Coordinator Don Brown has this young but talented Wovlerines’ defense firing on all cylinders. They lead the nation in total defense (203 yards per game). If Michigan can just be average on offense, they are going to contend for the Big 10 championship and a playoff bid.
They haven’t looked all that great doing it, but the Trojans have three quality wins already, which is more than most teams can say. The Stanford win in week 2 was their best performance, and beating a dangerous Cal team on the road while battling a ton of injuries is impressive. USC does not have a bye week all season long, which is going to catch up to them sooner or later. This road trip to Pullman on Friday night is awfully, awfully tricky.
- Penn State
Saquon Barkley did what Saquon Barkley does, racking up 211 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards on 11 receptions against Iowa. In his last two nationally televised games (Saturday and last year’s Rose Bowl), Barkley has rushed for 405 yards and three touchdowns, plus 149 receiving yards and a touchdown. He’s front and center in the Heisman race right now.
I’m dropping the Sooners from third to eighth because they had no business keeping Baylor around in that game. Oklahoma ultimately held on to win 49-41, but Baylor has been awful this season. Even if the Bears are improving, I can’t keep the Sooners at the top of the rankings when the teams above them on this list don’t screw around with 0-4 teams.
- Virginia Tech
Alright Hokies, playtime’s over. It’s time for the big show. Clemson comes to town this weekend. I’ll have a much, much longer piece on that game later this week. The last three weeks have been basically byes for the Hokies. A win this week would make the Hokies bona fide Playoff contenders and nationally relevant for the first time in nearly a decade. Other than that, it’s just another game!
- Notre Dame
Notre Dame at 10?! Crazy right? Well, they lost by one point in a home game (that was basically a neutral site game when you looked at the crowd) against Georgia, and I think the Bulldogs are a top-three team. The Irish have dominated their other three opponents by a combined score of 136-54. They have playmakers all over the offense, and maybe the best offensive line in the country. Brian Kelly may not be able to get out of his own way when he talks to the media, but if you play close attention to Notre Dame you’ll see a pretty damn good football team.
Still waiting on the Huskies to play someone who challenges them. Colorado was their stiffest test yet, but it’s hard to find a game that they should even think about losing until November. Ultimately, I think the Huskies will make the College Football Playoff.
If the Hawkeyes came within one play of beating my number seven team, how much lower should they really be? I was very impressed with Iowa’s ability to keep Penn State out of the end zone, despite Saquon Barkley running all over the field like he was Reggie Bush reincarnated. This is why the JP Top 25 is better than the AP Top 25. I’ll reward you for a loss if that loss deserves rewarding. Hell of a game, Hawkeyes.
- Oklahoma State
Well that was a fun few weeks. Oklahoma State gets to join the likes of 2012 West Virginia and Baylor…well basically Baylor every year from 2011-2015 as Big 12 teams to light the world on fire in early September only to see it all come crashing down once the going got tough. Credit TCU for halting Mason Rudolph’s Heisman campaign dead in its tracks. The Cowboys can still climb back into the Playoff race if they win out, but like I said earlier…I think the Big 12 race is going to get messy. Real messy.
- Ohio State
Everyone turned their back on the Buckeyes after the Oklahoma game, but look at the past few national champions. Clemson lost to Pittsburgh, Alabama lost to Ole Miss, Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech. Wouldn’t losing to Oklahoma this year be the best loss out of all of them? The Buckeyes are just fine.
We’re at the point in the rankings where I have no idea what to make of the rest of these teams. Louisville has a decent win against Purdue, but the blowout loss to Clemson is neither good nor all that bad. I think the Cardinals are pretty good, but how can we be sure? They go to NC State in two weeks, that will be the next time we can find out.
- West Virginia
The Mountaineers jumped all over Kansas early, hit the snooze button for a couple quarters before pulling away late for a blowout win. The Mountaineers are the fourth Big 12 team I have in the top 16. Did I mention I think that conference is going to get wild?
Our first Group of Five sighting! The Tigers have the best Group of Five win yet, beating UCLA at home…okay okay, UCLA maybe sorta kinda sucks…but no one else has a better win yet! I’m excited for Memphis-UCF this weekend. Should be fun.
Just like Washington…when can we see the Badgers against a real team? They might be one of the ten best teams in college football, there’s just no way to tell yet.
- Mississippi State
The Bulldogs came back to earth in a hard way in Athens. I don’t think Dan Mullen’s team is as good as they looked against LSU, but they aren’t as bad as they looked against Georgia. This is probably an eight or nine-win team, which in Starkville, is still pretty good.
- Washington State
Did you know that Mike Leach has won 10 or more games once in 14 seasons? There’s a longer discussion to be had about perception vs reality, as Leach’s won-loss record indicates he’s a very good, but not great coach. I do think this Washington State team has the potential to make some noise in the Pac-12, as early as Friday night against USC.
Utah slid past Arizona on Friday night. The Utes have their most explosive offense in years. They are the second-best team in the Pac-12 South.
Auburn throttled a Missouri team that has completely quit on its coach. The best thing going for Gus Malzahn right now is all of the chaos around him in the SEC. Compared to Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Kentucky…I could go on…Malzahn doesn’t seem so bad!
Uh…so Duke’s kind of good. I mean, they beat Baylor by more than Oklahoma did, and with three double-digit wins over Power Five teams, that’s enough to earn my respect. Let’s see how they fare at home against Miami this weekend.
Respect to Cal for holding its own against USC. Justin Wilcox deserves more credit for turning it around immediately in Berkley. Some people thought Cal might not win three games all season. They’re 3-1 and playing inspired football for their new coach.
Keep an eye on this team. The Golden Knights have a huge, huge game against Memphis this week. The winner of that game should be in the driver’s seat (for now) for the Group of Five’s slot among the New Year’s Six Bowls. Oh, and it might add a few dollars to the paycheck Nebraska is going to offer Scott Frost in a couple months.