The SEC is easily the most polarizing conference in college football and is typically the most well-represented in the AP and Coaches’ polls. However, this week, in this poll, it’s the ACC that takes the cake as the conference with the most teams, alongside the Big XII. The ACC gets the nod though with the top two teams and three of the twelve New Year’s Six spots. It may not last, but for now the SEC will have to take a back seat, at least in terms of the top spots.
Orange Bowl (#1 vs. #4)- Florida State vs. Ole Miss
There’s a major reason why I do not use the eye test to rank teams, and that’s because I simply don’t have the means, time or energy to watch every single team on every single week. Another reason though is that utilizing a formula is a way to be both consistent and unbiased, however that doesn’t mean I will always necessarily agree even with my own rankings. Admittedly, I thought Ole Miss would be one or two after holding on to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last weekend. “Swag” Kelly is the real deal and so are the Rebels, however they temporarily drop a spot to four, but a playoff spot is a playoff spot as any Buckeye will tell you.
Florida State hasn’t gotten much love from the media so far this season, probably due to fatigue, a desire to punish them for a perceived lack of program control and discipline, and the fact that their schedule-to-date has nothing that remotely resembles a “marquee” matchup. Some would even argue that they haven’t looked that great against the competition they have played, and that is where my opinion differs from others. The offense hasn’t been stellar, with the exception of the season opener, but the Seminoles have been in control of every game they’ve played so far. The Seminoles are still the team to beat in the ACC until proven otherwise. Oh, and before you bash Florida State you might want to try stopping Dalvin Cook first.
Cotton Bowl (#2 vs. #3)- N.C. State vs. Northwestern
Let’s face it. If this were actually a playoff matchup, then everyone would lose their freaking mind. Northwestern’s exploits are more well-known, so let’s start there. The Wildcats opened the season with a win against a Stanford team that just knocked off USC. This seems like an appropriate time to remind everyone that THE TRANSITIVE PROPERTY DOES NOT APPLY TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL. However, for any “league”, for lack of a better term, with 128 teams and each team only playing a 12-15 game schedule comparing teams’ performance against similar competition is one of the only useable, albeit bad, metrics. Anyway let’s not go into full diatribe mode here, the Wildcats responded to skeptics saying week one was a fluke or that Stanford was obviously vastly overrated by shutting out Eastern Illinois the following week and taking down Duke this week. Even if Northwestern tapers out over the next two months, they are already the 2015 Smart School Champion!!
N.C. State has beaten up on three smaller schools, but as someone who is a proponent of rewarding playing well against the schedule at hand it would be foolish not to reward the Wolfpack for what they have done through three weeks. N.C. State has an average margin of victory of nearly thirty right now, which is pretty good even against weaker competition. Former Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been very efficient under center for the Pack, and Matt Dayes is a threat in the running and passing game with 440 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns through three games. For those of you who are still skeptical, so am I! The beauty of this is if they don’t continue to earn it then they will drop. It really is that simple.
Sugar Bowl- Georgia vs. Oklahoma State
The Dawgs looked fantastic on Saturday, especially on offense. Greyson Lambert put up one of the greatest single games ever and gave the HBC fits all afternoon. This was a very encouraging sign after an uninspiring win against Vanderbilt the previous week. Georgia has a major advantage though, and that is already having two conference wins under their belt. LSU is the only other SEC team to currently have that. Obviously that doesn’t necessarily mean that these two teams are going to win their respective divisions, but it does mean that they now have fewer opportunities than their counterparts to lose a conference game, and thus fewer opportunities to relinquish the division lead. As long as Georgia has a healthy Chubb and his compliment backs, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall, the Dawgs have as good a chance of anybody of winning the conference and making the playoff.
Oklahoma State beat UTSA like a drum on Saturday, and if the offense looks like that against the rest of the Texas teams then this team is a dark horse to win the Big XII. Calling them a “dark horse” when they are in the top 25 might be taking too much liberty with the term, but it’s also fair to point out that TCU and Baylor were prohibitive favorites in this conference coming into the season. The Cowboys will need to continue throwing the ball and preventing other teams from scoring as successfully as they have been as they enter conference play this weekend if they are to continue to validate their “contender status”.
Rose Bowl- Ohio State vs. UCLA
This week’s fake Rose Bowl matchup is brought to you by Olay, because both of these teams need liberal amounts of cosmetics to make last weekend’s wins more appealing. Ohio State battled through turnovers and the benching of a quarterback to beat Northern Illinois by a touchdown. Now there is a full-on quarterback controversy in Columbus again, and mum’s the word on who Urban Meyer will start. As Levi provided his take on the quarterback situation already this week, I won’t expound on it any further here. Ezekiel Elliott, the line, and the defense are still good enough to carry this team to a solid season and probably even a spot here in the Rose Bowl, but if the Buckeyes want to repeat as champions they need to find the right guy sooner, rather than later.
Josh Rosen finally looked like a freshman this week, and boy did he do it all the way. His final stat line included three interceptions and only 106 passing yards. It wasn’t good, but it actually is a positive that the Bruins could find a way to win in spite of Rosen’s freshman moment (more like “freshman three hours” but you get the drift). Paul Perkins and Nate Starks provided a potent running duo that was able to put up just enough for the defense to come through and give the Bruins a victory. If you are a team like UCLA, whose schedule virtually guarantees you a playoff spot if you can manage to go undefeated, then survive and advance is the name of the game. UCLA embodied it this weekend, but if you play with fire too many times…I’ll spare you the rest of the cliche.
Fiesta Bowl- Texas A&M vs. West Virginia
Can I interest anybody in a Liberty Bowl rematch? You should be interested in this actually, because both of these teams look really good right now, and with the Aggies’ offense soaring and West Virginia’s defense looking legitimately good this would be a classic strength on strength battle that analysts love to shove down our throats. The Mountaineers took advantage of a bye last week and close out non-conference play with Maryland this week. Conference play opens with a bang though as West Virginia travels to Oklahoma in the first weekend of October for their conference opener. The winner may very well emerge as the top challenger to TCU and Baylor’s conference supremacy.
Texas A&M gets to open conference play this weekend with a game against an Arkansas team in desperate need of a win. These programs seem to be going in opposite directions and a win for the Aggies puts them atop the division with LSU and Ole Miss, while a loss relegates them to second tier. Arkansas, on the other hand, needs a win to salvage what looked like a promising season entering the year before injuries and a head coach who can’t keep his mouth shut threaten to wreck the Razorbacks conference hopes before they even play a conference game. One thing the Aggies have that will frighten anyone they play, except Leonard Fournette who could stare down Satan himself and not quiver, is the defensive line pair of Myles Garrett and Daylon Mack. These young guys already look like future NFL studs, and alone are enough to make John Chavis look like the top defensive coordinator hire of the season.
Peach Bowl- North Carolina vs. Navy
I know. I know. North Carolina?! The same team that lost to South Carolina in that sloppy opener? Yes, that North Carolina. If you find this dubious, then let me assure you that, as with their aforementioned in-state rival, I do too, but here are the facts of the matter. Illinois/West Canaan had played their way into my top 25 before getting smoked by the Tar Heels on Saturday, so for the time being I have to register that as a top 25 blowout win, but expect heavy regression if “Mox” and company don’t bounce back and that win looks less and less impressive as the season progresses. Also, it would not shock me at all if North Carolina loses their own way out of the spot. Marquise Williams leads an offense that is capable of big numbers on any given week, but I don’t believe in the coaching, defense or offensive consistency and therefore expect this to be a one-time thing, in all likelihood. I did project them to go 4-8 after all.
Navy, however, is a team that I could very easily see contending for this spot all season, especially given what they did to East Carolina on Saturday. The Pirates are, quite clearly, not as good as they were last year, but they are only a year removed from being one of the frontrunners to land the Group of Five automatic bid. The Midshipmen dispatched of them fairly easily. Keenan Reynolds will take the rest of the AAC by storm this season en route to a big season for him and the team as a whole. Anchors aweigh my boys, the ship to the AAC ‘ship has officially left the harbor and is on track to reach its destination! (That is, if my preseason pick of Memphis doesn’t get in the way).
1. Florida State Seminoles (3-0) (LW: Beat Boston College 14-0)
2. N.C. State Wolfpack (3-0) (LW: Beat Old Dominion 38-14)
3. Northwestern Wildcats (3-0) (LW: Beat Duke 19-10)
4. Ole Miss Rebels (3-0) (LW: Beat Alabama 43-37)
5. Georgia Bulldogs (3-0) (LW: Beat South Carolina 52-20)
6. North Carolina Tar Heels (2-1) (LW: Beat Illinois 48-14)
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-0) (LW: Beat UTSA 69-14)
8. Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0) (LW: Beat Northern Illinois 20-13)
9. West Virginia Mountaineers (2-0) (LW: BYE)
10. Texas A&M Aggies (3-0) (LW: Beat Nevada 44-27)
11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0) (LW: Beat Georgia Tech 30-22)
12. Florida Gators (3-0) (LW: Beat Kentucky 14-9)
13. Oklahoma Sooners (3-0) (LW: Beat Tulsa 52-38)
14. Clemson Tigers (3-0) (LW: Beat Louisville 20-17)
15. Michigan State Spartans (3-0) (LW: Beat Air Force 35-21)
16. Kansas State (3-0) (LW: Beat Louisiana Tech 39-33)
17. Navy Midshipmen (2-0) (LW: Beat ECU 45-21)
18. UCLA Bruins (3-0) (LW: Beat BYU 24-23)
19. TCU Horned Frogs (3-0) (LW: Beat SMU 56-37)
20. Arizona Wildcats (3-0) (LW: Beat Northern Arizona 77-13)
21. Baylor Bears (2-0) (LW: BYE)
22. Cal Golden Bears (3-0) (LW: Beat Texas 45-44)
23. Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-0) (LW: Beat Arkansas 35-24)
24. Syracuse Orange (3-0) (LW: Beat Central Michigan 30-27)
25. Miami Hurricanes (3-0) (LW: Beat Nebraska 36-33)
First Five Out: Missouri Tigers, LSU Tigers, Memphis Tigers, Ohio Bobcats, Utah Utes