Through three weeks of the college football season, a lot has already happened. Traditional powers Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and Ole Miss have been eliminated from playoff contention, Lamar Jackson has separated himself from the Heisman field with a phenomenal Vince Young impression, and North Dakota State defeated its sixth straight FBS opponent.
I’m going to be doing power rankings every week of the college football and basketball seasons (I missed a few weeks, I know), so let’s take a look at how everything is shaping up right now.
This might be putting Wisconsin a bit too high (the season-opening win over LSU really was more about how bad LSU is than how good Wisconsin is), but I’m comfortable throwing the Badgers here until they lose. Alex Hornibrook had to come in for Bart Houston just to rally Wisconsin past winless Georgia State last week, and may have reopened a quarterback competition. The bigger concern is the health of star RB Corey Clement, who missed the Georgia State game with an ankle injury after missing most of last year with a sports hernia. We’ll find out a lot more about Wisconsin after this week’s game at Michigan State, which looks to be a defensive struggle.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched a second of Washington’s games live this year. But between Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State, there haven’t been any intriguing matchups on the Huskies’ schedule. To its credit Washington has taken care of business, blowing out its opponents by a combined score of 148-30. Jake Browning is living up to the hype that accompanied him when he stepped on to campus last season, and his 12/1 TD/INT ratio is a big part of why he’s leading the nation in passing efficiency. Next up for Washington is a #Pac12AfterDark trip to Arizona.
8. Michigan State
I know the Spartans ended up only winning by eight in South Bend, but the game was effectively over when Michigan State went up 36-7 late in the third quarter. Coming into the season a lot of people, myself included, wrote off MSU in the Big Ten East. After a lackluster opening win over FCS Furman, the Spartans moved the ball at will against the Irish and forced ND’s offense to make mistake after mistake until the game was out of reach. Tyler O’Connor will face a much bigger test against Wisconsin’s rugged defense this week, but he should be up for the challenge.
Christian McCaffrey now has eight straight games with over 200 all-purpose yards after Stanford dominated USC, putting up 260 yards against the Trojans. While it’s easy to marvel at McCaffrey, a lot of credit has to go to the Cardinal O-Line. 107 of McCaffrey’s 165 rushing yards came before contact. For comparison’s sake, USC rushed for 117 yards total. Stanford’s dominance in the trenches is a big part of why it has legitimate playoff aspirations. The brutal stretch in Stanford’s schedule continues with a trip to face Josh Rosen and UCLA.
Houston blew out Cincinnati 40-16 (piling on to a city already reeling from the loss of beloved ape Harambe) on Thursday to open AAC play with a win. Steven Taylor, who leads the nation with 5.5 sacks, anchors a Cougar defense that’s allowing just 13 points per game. A couple significant things happened for Houston on Saturday. Some of the shine from Houston’s season-opening win over Oklahoma was wiped away, as Ohio State dominated the Sooners. But perhaps more importantly, Louisville’s domination of Florida State could help make Louisville/Houston a top-5 matchup on 11/17. If Houston can run the table (obviously a huge assumption at this point), the biggest thing standing between the Cougars and the CFP would presumably be strength of schedule. If Houston can get a win over Lousiville on its resume (provided the Cardinals continue beating every other team on the schedule), it would be hard to keep Houston out. Of course, these are all just hypotheticals and there is a lot of football still to be played. Houston next travels to face Texas State.
If Sefo Liufau doesn’t get hurt, Colorado walks out of The Big House with a huge win. Liufau easily picked Don Brown’s defense apart for just over two quarters. After throwing his third touchdown of the game–a 70-yarder to Shay Fields–to put Colorado up 28-24 just after halftime, Liufau left with an ankle injury sustained on that very play. Colorado’s offense was never the same and Michigan pulled away.
The good news for Michigan is that the Wolverine running game and special teams look as strong as ever. Michigan scored touchdowns on a blocked punt and a Jabril Peppers punt return, and controlled tempo with its backs. Next week Penn State will pay a visit to Ann Arbor.
Clemson is another one of those teams that we don’t have a full grasp on. Six-point wins over Auburn and Troy and a blowout win over South Carolina State don’t say much about how good Clemson is. Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman have both had fairly slow starts to the season. While the defense has looked stout, the offense is going to have to score plenty of points to compete with the likes of Louisville and Florida State. The Tigers have a short week before facing Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Thursday.
Lamar Jackson’s performances against Charlotte and Syracuse were electric, but Florida State was supposed to be the test that proved whether or not the sophomore quarterback was for real. With 362 total yards of offense and five touchdowns in a 63-20 victory, it’s safe to say Jackson passed that test. On the season, Jackson has 1,387 yards of offense and 18 touchdowns. The only player with more total rushing yards than Jackson is San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, but Jackson’s 9.5 yards per carry is the best in the country (of players with at least 30 carries). Jackson’s 10 rushing touchdowns also lead the nation. It’s an easy comparison to make, but Jackson is as dominant a running quarterback as college football has seen since Vince Young. As I said on Twitter during the Louisvile/FSU game, I haven’t seen anyone win the Heisman this early in the season since Geno Smith. The Cardinals visit Marshall next week.
2. Ohio State
There were a lot of questions heading into Ohio State’s tilt in Norman about the youth of the Buckeyes. After an emphatic 45-24 thumping of Oklahoma, there’s no denying that OSU is a title contender. JT Barrett had the Buckeye offense humming, connecting with Noah Brown for four touchdowns–including the early leader for catch of the year. The X-factor for the Buckeye offense looks like it’ll be Curtis Samuel–who is being used as creatively as Urban Meyer used Percy Harvin back at Florida. Ohio State gets a week off to prepare for mighty Rutgers.
At this point, you just can never count Alabama out of any game until it’s over. Nick Saban’s sole purpose in life is to suck all joy out of the world, and he certainly deflated each Ole Miss fan on Saturday. Ole Miss made history in the 48-43 loss: after blowing a 24-3 lead to the Crimson Tide, the Rebels became the first Power 5 team in the last ten years to blow multiple 21-point leads in the same season. Chad Kelly’s confidence has been erratic all season, and was a big part of why Ole Miss blew huge leads to both Florida State and Alabama. There’s a lesson here, kids: if you’re going to slide into a pornstar’s DMs (and subsequently get publicly rejected), better to do so after you’ve won a title than before the season even starts. Alabama gets Kent State next week.