Week 1 Top 25 and Playoff Picture: Illinois Becomes West Canaan

I started doing this about halfway through last season, and enjoyed doing it and felt it provided a decent way to keep up with the current landscape of college football.  Going into this season, I wanted to do the same thing week-by-week acting as a selection committee of one, because apparently I am both a narcissist and a massive power monger, but that’s neither here nor there.

Before we get started, let’s clarify a few things.  First, this is how I would rank the teams and pick the bowl games if the season ended today.  I am not taking any future games or preseason rankings into account (well in week one my “strength of schedule” component is based partially on preseason rankings but that’s it I promise!).  Second, this is not meant to indicate how I think things will look as the season progresses, however there are some reasonably good predictive factors that go into my ranking formula, which should get stronger as the season progresses.  Lastly, I feel it my duty to make it absolutely clear that if I underrate your team it is because I have a personal vendetta against them, I’ve always hated them, and that I am either #secbias or #justansechater.  Anyway, enough rambling.  I now present the week one 4 Down Territory top 25 and New Year’s Six bowl picture.

Cotton Bowl (#1 vs. #4): Alabama vs. West Virginia

Alabama RB Derrick Henry (Photo Courtesy of Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)
Alabama RB Derrick Henry (Photo Courtesy of Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)

Alabama’s appearance in this first “playoff” of the season should not be particularly surprising for anybody, considering that they handily won the highest profile game of the week.  Now, obviously, I don’t really put any stock directly on winning the “game of the week”, but they, Northwestern, and Texas A&M hold the unique distinction of having a top-25 win on their resume after week one.  Once again, expect these rankings to be extremely volatile for the first five weeks of the season, or so.  Think of this more of a weekly snapshot than a predictor, but I did want to set the precedent of rewarding what has actually been done on the field.

That brings us to West Virginia.  Sure, the Mountaineers did play “lowly” Georgia Southern, but is Georgia Southern really that low?  The Eagles were thought by many to be a Sun Belt favorite, and in a week where a large number of teams are playing mid-tier bottom feeders or FCS teams, this is a step up from the competition level that many teams are playing.  It didn’t hurt that the Mountaineers also shut out Southern en route to a 44-0 victory that was highlighted by Karl Joseph’s three interceptions, all of which occurred in the third quarter.

Orange Bowl (#2 vs. #3): Notre Dame vs. USC

ND QB Malik Zaire (Photo Courtesy of Jon Durr/Getty Images)
ND QB Malik Zaire (Photo Courtesy of Jon Durr/Getty Images)

A rivalry matchup in a playoff game?  What could be better!  While this would be a rematch, which based on the television ratings from the 2011 BCS National Championship isn’t as desirable as a fresh matchup, but I would imagine that a rematch of two classic programs on the highest stage would still manage to get an audience.  The last question that I would have is if the winner would get another jeweled shillelagh to go along with their glass bowl of oranges and championship berth.

Notre Dame was exceptionally impressive in their dismantling of Texas, but it wasn’t without negatives.  Last season’s leading rusher Tarean Folston tore his ACL on Saturday night and will miss the remainder of the season.  As for USC, they, like West Virginia, beat up on a more highly regarded Group of Five team in Arkansas State.  USC was favored by four touchdowns and nearly doubled it.  In the process, Cody Kessler kicked off his Heisman campaign in style by throwing for 236 yards and four touchdowns.

Rose Bowl: Illinois vs. UCLA

Illinois QB Wes
Illinois QB Wes “Mox” Lunt (Photo Courtesy of Mike Granse/USA TODAY Sports)

I doubt many of you are surprised to find UCLA in this spot after they won fairly handily against ACC foe Virginia on Saturday.  Josh “Chosen” Rosen began his college football career as well as anybody could have expected.  He is a quarterback savant with all of the physical tools and intelligence necessary to be an elite quarterback, even at the next level, but even his most ardent supporters couldn’t have expected him to look this polished from day one.

As for Illinois, many people expected chaos this season after Tim Beckman was fired less than a month before the season started amid allegations of Bud Kilmer-esque behavior.  Props to Ross Agee for being the first to come up with the Beckman-Kilmer analogy.  For anyone who hasn’t seen “Varsity Blues”, stop what you are doing right now and go watch it.  If you are a normal American, continue reading.  Illinois will henceforth be referred to as the West Canaan Coyotes on this website, which means that “4 Down” is officially on the Illini bandwagon.  All hail Wes Lunt a.k.a. Jonathan Moxon!

Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Oklahoma

UF QB Will Grier (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/John Raoux)
UF QB Will Grier (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/John Raoux)

Florida?!  Really?  I know I thought the same thing, but here is the reality for all of these “surprise” teams.  One of a few things is going to happen: they will either keep winning and validate the current ranking or they will lose and fall.  A third alternative would include other teams simply surpassing them by virtue of accruing more valuable wins in the weeks to come.  But for now, the Gators thrashing of New Mexico State is enough to get them into the Sugar Bowl.

Oklahoma also benefits now from trouncing a bad team, and they will get a much earlier chance to prove themselves then most of the teams listed here.  If the Sooners can manage a win in Knoxville next Saturday, then it’s likely that they will find themselves in next week’s “playoff”.  Baker Mayfield also showed the Sooner faithful why he deserved the starting nod on Saturday throwing for 388 yards and three touchdowns in the blowout win.

Fiesta Bowl: Northwestern vs. Temple

NW RB Justin Jackson and teammates celebrate a win over Stanford (Photo Courtesy of Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)
NW RB Justin Jackson and teammates celebrate a win over Stanford (Photo Courtesy of Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

For this week, we can change the name of this game to “The Fiesta Bowl presented by Gambler’s Anonymous”, because I’m pretty sure both of these team’s contributed to a nationwide increase in attendance at “GA” meetings.  Northwestern made Stanford look pretty awful in a 16-6 game that felt much worse than the scoreboard indicated.  Kevin Hogan showed signs of being a really good quarterback down the stretch last season, but looked pretty poor on Saturday.  Another surprise from that game is how effectively the Wildcats wore down the Cardinal defense with the legs of Justin Jackson, who rushed for 134 yards on 28 carries.  Jackson showed an ability to break tackles and run for yards after contact last season, but Stanford has come to be known for its stout defense and that was certainly not on display Saturday.

If Hogan looked bad, then there might not even be a word to describe Christian Hackenberg’s performance.  I predicted Penn State to go 10-2 heading into the season, and I can pretty much already tell that was a huge mistake.  That being said, this could also be the start of a special year for Temple.  Matt Rhule’s team looked really good and did return a ton of starters this season, especially on defense.  Last season, Temple kicked off its season by annihilating Vanderbilt, and this year starts in an even more impressive fashion.

Peach Bowl: Florida State vs. Georgia

Photo Courtesy of Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press
Photo Courtesy of Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

Florida State overachieved last season.  Sure, they were the preseason favorite to win it all and the only team to go undefeated in the regular season, but they did not play like a number one team in the country.  As a matter of fact, in plenty of weeks they didn’t play like a playoff team, but they just kept finding ways to win.  They definitely deserved to be in the playoff, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t overachieve either.  However, the ‘Noles got off to a good start in 2015 after yet another turbulent offseason.  Once again, yes they beat an FBS cellar dweller, but Dalvin Cook and Everett Golson, two of the biggest names from Florida State’s offseason, look like they will be a difficult backfield for any defense to contain.

My alma mater also gets a New Year’s Six nod for now.  The Dawgs looked solid for the most part, and both quarterbacks Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey seem to have a decent grasp of the offense.  Personally, I thought Ramsey looked slightly better, but would feel comfortable with either.  It’s also pretty easy to feel comfortable with any quarterback considering the running backs behind him, namely Nick Chubb.  Chubb reached his ninth consecutive 100-yard rushing game on Saturday and had two touchdowns.  Sony Michel and Keith Marshall also looked good after both missed the majority of 2014 with various injuries.  If there is a cause for concern right now it’s the offensive line, which is shocking.  The line was pretty good, but they did not live up to their billing as the — or one of the — best in the conference on Saturday.

That concludes this week’s playoff picture.  Here is the week’s Top 25.  I feel very confident that none of you will agree with any of this, but bear in mind that we have a long way to go.

1. Alabama (1-0) (LW: Beat Wisconsin 35-17)

2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1-0) (LW: Beat Texas 38-3)

3. USC Trojans (1-0) (LW: Beat Arkansas State 55-6)

4. West Virginia Mountaineers (1-0) (LW: Beat Georgia Southern 44-0)

5. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-0) (LW: Beat Kent State 52-3)

6. Northwestern Wildcats (1-0) (LW: Beat Stanford 16-6)

7. Florida State Seminoles (1-0) (LW: Beat Texas State 59-16)

8. Florida Gators (1-0) (LW: Beat New Mexico State 61-13)

9. Oklahoma Sooners (1-0) (LW: Beat Akron 41-3)

10. Georgia Bulldogs (1-0) (LW: Beat UL-Monroe 51-14)

11. Duke Blue Devils (1-0) (LW: Beat Tulane 37-7)

12. Arkansas Razorbacks (1-0) (LW: Beat UTEP 48-13)

13. Temple Owls (1-0) (LW: Beat Penn State 27-10)

14. Texas A&M Aggies (1-0) (LW: Beat Arizona State 38-17)

15. UCLA Bruins (1-0) (LW: Beat Virginia 34-16)

16. Baylor Bears (1-0) (LW: Beat SMU 56-21)

17. N.C. State Wolfpack (1-0) (LW: Beat Troy 49-21)

18. Ohio State Buckeyes (1-0) (LW: Beat Virginia Tech 42-24)

19. Tennessee Volunteers (1-0) (LW: Beat Bowling Green 59-30)

20. Mississippi State Bulldogs (1-0) (LW: Beat Southern Miss 34-16)

21. Oklahoma State Cowboys (1-0) (LW: Beat Central Michigan 24-13)

22. Michigan State Spartans (1-0) (LW: Beat Western Michigan 37-24)

23. Ohio Bobcats (1-0) (LW: Beat Idaho 45-28)

24. Utah Utes (1-0) (LW: Beat Michigan 24-17)

25. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (1-0) (LW: Beat Colorado 28-20)

First Five Out: TCU Horned Frogs, Auburn Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Arizona Wildcats, South Carolina Gamecocks

*This post has been updated to include Texas A&M among the teams with a top-25 win after week one.

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