They released them the other night I think. Me and the wife have been watching “Stranger Things” recently so we aren’t super up to date on the World Series or this playoff show. The whole goal of these weekly rankings is to amp up the anticipation and talk around the sport and maintain the entertainment value that the weekly top 25 used to have. So in other words it’s pretty meaningless except that it captures the subjective valuations of college football that make the sport kind of unique and fun.
We just started season one of Stranger Things so don’t tell me anything about it, btw. Been pretty good so far, kind of like a cross between “DreamCatcher”, “Super8”, and maybe “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Except that it’s already better than “Super8,” and much closer to “stand by me” in terms of effectively nailing the emotions and stories of young kids and teenagers experiencing the world from within their tight knit but totally naive relationships.
Anyways, here’s what the committee spat out and what I think of things so far:
I initially misdiagnosed the nature of the 2017 Georgia run game but then figured it out by the time that Sonny Michel was running all over Jim McElwain’s prone body in Jacksonville. They’re running power without pulling a lineman, blasting people with double teams up front and lead inserts from three and four receiver sets while adding run or pass options for Jake Fromm to keep teams from outnumbering them in the box.
They’re essentially a unique and brilliant smashmouth spread team, so that’s kind of fun for me to observe, and they are rolling. Their defense is also pretty fun, it’s design is lifted from Alabama with an aim to force you to run the ball up the middle on their DL. Their secondary is very strong but also somewhat lower rated. They’re a testament to what you can do when you have experience in the defensive backfield over being loaded with bluechip players and their best DB is a walk-on, not a normal SEC team here.
Whether they are better than Alabama or not is harder for me to suss out, but the issue should resolve itself in the SEC title game. The key is the play of Fromm in the dropback passing game and none of Georgia’s competitors have really been able to stop their run well enough to test the mettle of that dimension.
I’m not super impressed with this year’s Alabama team but I haven’t watched them just a ton. What I’ve noticed from a few viewings is that their defense is really good but not quite as good as a year ago (though improving and getting closer) and their offense is actually a bit weaker.
Their run game is brilliant, the OL is very good and they have a dozen great backs, but they’ve pared down the option elements to a few iterations of zone-read. Jalen Hurts’ carries in 2017 tend to come on scrambles when he doesn’t know what to do in OC Brian Daboll’s dropback game (which is well designed, btw but these occurrences are frequent) and the whole offense is easier to scheme than a year ago.
In the past Alabama always had QBs that would take a sack before risking a throw or move that might result in a turnover. With Jalen Hurts instead of taking that sack, he’ll scramble and often do real damage. The only problem is that he doesn’t bring as much to the passing game as an A.J. McCarron or Jake Coker. He’s like a more athletic but less developed Blake Sims right now. That’s not terrifying but it might be enough if there isn’t a more complete team out there that can beat them.
#3 Notre Dame
Notre Dame is similar to 2016 Alabama but perhaps even better on offense and then obviously not as good on defense. Brandon Wimbush and the run game is elite and they are off and running (sorry) in Chip Long’s run game. Wimbush is effective enough in play-action and he’s throwing to Equanimeous St. Brown in those settings, which makes life easier. The blocking enjoys multiple future pro blockers, good efforts from the non-pros, and then two guys in Wimbush and RB Josh Adams that are about as good as it gets in terms of ballcarriers in this kind of system.
The defense isn’t dominant but they’re pretty hard to move the ball against. They have a big and physical DL and then a really good and experienced LB corps that’s been taking their lumps for the last several years in order to arrive at this point. I don’t think this team has quite enough overall to take down one of the other elite teams in college football but they’re close enough that they should probably get their chance.
I haven’t seen a ton from Clemson this year. They have that elite DL that makes them pretty scary to all of the other top teams, none of whom necessarily have offensive designs that can allow them to thrive if the other team is fielding an NFL front. Their weakness is probably from passing teams (like Syracuse) with elite QB play and those teams just aren’t front and center this season in college ball with one or two notable exceptions.
Kelly Bryant has predictably been inferior to Deshaun Watson as a passer so this is yet another team that has an intimidating run game but an iffy passing dimension to punish you with if they can’t make headway up front. That’s all four of our top teams, in case you didn’t notice.
I wrote about OU the other day. If they can nail down a base defense (it’s the 4-2-5 guys, it’s not that hard) that allows their talented DL to go out and control football games then they can run the table in the Big 12. Oklahoma State as a favorite this weekend is not passing my smell test, that Texas Tech game made OU’s defensive solutions all too obvious and Baker Mayfield is making a pretty strong weekly case for the Heisman at this point.
In a playoff scenario they’d be really interesting to watch simply because Mayfield is likely a trump card for the superior talent at some of the other schools at the top and OU’s play in the trenches this season is actually much closer (perhaps equal) to what you tend to find from elite teams in college football. Orlando Brown and Obo Okoronkwo are going to be close to the best OL and DL in every game they play, even against some of the teams listed above.
Gotta fix the defense though and get all that talent leveraged and playing together to whatever extent is possible at this point in the season. Undisciplined D of the sort OU has played for much of this season would give them ZERO chance against any team listed above.
#6 Ohio State
The Buckeyes are riding on a few key dimensions that can overwhelm much of their competition but wouldn’t fly in a rematch with Clemson or a contest with one of the SEC schools. Their OL is playing at a high level and their DL can take over football games with their relentless pass rush. The skill players are good enough to take advantage of the major advantages provided and J.K. Dobbins is legitimately elite as a ballcarrier (kills me to imagine him at Texas instead this season).
They’re kind of like Kansas State with a Collin Klein or Jesse Ertz but J.T. Barrett is arguably even worse as a passer than either of those two guys but surrounded by much better talent on OL and DL than K-State has had. Ohio State’s WRs and defensive backfield are strong but I don’t know if I’m all that impressed by them. It’s hard to tell when the D is trying to play man coverage on everyone which exposes weaknesses and when the O has a guy throwing them the ball who can’t hit two good bubble routes in a row.
I just can’t buy this team beating a great defense with Barrett at the helm and there are lots of those in the top ranks. I don’t really think they’ll reach the playoffs, I think Michigan and/or Wisconsin will take them down.
#7 Penn State
The Lions got exposed against Ohio State as being too weak in the trenches this season to win at the highest level. They should have whipped the Buckeyes but gave it up due to an inability to match the Buckeyes’ crossing patterns and an inability to match up with Ohio State’s OL and DL. Not a playoff contender.
Nah, hahaha. They may be well constructed to give it a solid go in the Big 12 this season but they lack the talent up front to beat one of the top teams. You put NFL DL and OL on the field and there’s no way this team holds up.
I think Texas is going to shut down this offense with their dime this Saturday (although they still may lose due to TCU’s defensive quality matched up against Texas’ unimpressive offense) and then OU will take them down and that will be that for Kenny Trill and the 2017 TCU playoff run.
I had the Badgers as a playoff team in the preseason and I still think that’s highly likely. I’d say that at least six if not seven of the teams ranked above are superior teams this season but that’s not going to matter if the Badgers win out and then beat Penn State or Ohio State in the Big 10 title game.
I haven’t taken in much from their defense this season so I’m not sure how close to greatness they are on that side of the ball but the offense is probably much closer to the top four teams on this list than most people realize. Their passing game has a dimension in TE Troy Fumagalli that makes a big difference and their run game is at least close to as mauling and difficult to match as Ohio State’s or Alabama’s.
They just keep chugging along down in South Florida. They haven’t been seriously tested yet…well I guess they have because they keep winning close games, but they haven’t had to prove it yet against a top team. It’s probable that their final stretch against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame will expose their weaknesses moreso than Wisconsin’s slate. This offense just isn’t there and the defense needs a little more time to develop depth.