Fox’s Top Ten: Upsets Abound as Playoff Picture Becomes Clearer
College football has reached the time of year when top teams fall to overmatched foes with alarming frequency (And also the time of year when we have the shitty CFP rankings show every week! Hours of meaningless debate over a set of rankings; it’s still almost identical to the BCS era!) Nine teams entered Saturday unbeaten, and the seven who played all were on the road. After the dust settled, only five undefeated teams remained. Boise State wasn’t in these rankings, but fell to Wyoming in a game that featured the best* safety dance of all time (*non-Men Without Hats Division):
West Virginia and Baylor suffered their first losses to Oklahoma State and Texas, respectively–effectively eliminating the Big 12 from playoff contention. Nebraska put up a spirited effort but fell to Wisconsin in overtime. All three teams depart the rankings this week, replaced by Texas A&M and the debuts of Auburn and Florida.
10. Florida (Last Week: Not Ranked)
Florida debuts this week almost solely on the strength of its defense. The Gators’ defense allows only 11.7 points per game (2nd in the country), but that’s not always truly indicative of a great defense. What does prove how good it is the advanced stats. S&P+ has Florida’s defense third (behind only Michigan and Alabama). The Gators excel at limiting explosive plays, and are one of the best teams in the country at forcing teams into second/third and long situations. That defense will get tested this week when Florida travels to take on BERT and Arkansas.
9. Auburn (Last Week: Not Ranked)
There is not a hotter team in America than the Auburn Tigers. We knew the defense was elite (11th according to S&P+), but Auburn’s offense has turned the corner (now 11th according to S&P+ as well). Only Oklahoma is better on passing downs than Auburn (defined as second down with 8 or more yards to go/third or fourth down with 5 or more yards to go). In retrospect, Auburn’s offense was never really that bad. Sure, it struggled at times, but those struggles happened in games against Clemson, Texas A&M, and LSU–all great defenses. Now, Auburn and its 303.4 rushing yards per game is simply running teams over. The Tigers should breeze by Vanderbilt this week.
8. Texas A&M (Last Week: Not Ranked)
A&M clocked in at 4th in the initial CFP rankings for some reason, but I’m not going to rant about it because that’s what ESPN wants everyone to do (#EmbraceDebate #content). Christian Kirk had two punt return touchdowns in last week’s blowout win over New Mexico State, and this week Mississippi State should also offer little resistance.
7. Wisconsin (Last Week: 8)
With its win over then-#7 Nebraska, the Badgers have three wins over top-10 teams for the first time in program history. Two Wisconsin quarterbacks combined for 114 yards passing, placing a huge burden on the defense and rushing attack. Fortunately, the two-headed monster of Dare Ogunbowale and Corey Clement combined for 202 yards on 30 carries and the Badger defense was dominant once again. Wisconsin’s remaining schedule still includes Purdue and Illinois, and gives the Badgers a pretty clear path to the Big Ten West title. The toughest remaing game comes this week at Northwestern.
6. Ohio State (Last Week: 6)
Ohio State under Urban Meyer has typically responded in a huge way following a loss. That didn’t happen on Saturday (though the Buckeyes still held off Northwestern 24-20) and Ohio State does not look like the same team that started the season in dominating fashion. Now Nebraska comes to Columbus in a game that looks a lot more challenging than it did before the season.
5. Louisville (Last Week: 5)
Louisville struggled with and nearly lost to Virginia, before Lamar Jackson lofted a 29 yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left to give the Cardinals the win. Though the game was close, Jackson still dominated with 449 yards and four touchdowns. Louisville is right on the edge of the playoff but can’t afford to have more close calls against inferior teams. Jackson could use a big performance this week at Boston College.
4. Michigan (Last Week: 4)
I’m almost a little disappointed that Jim Harbaugh didn’t run up the score on Michigan State. After scoring on every single possession of the first half, the Wolverines let the Spartans make it respectable before winning 32-23. This was a game that Michigan should have won by at least 20, but the game ended much closer to a statistical draw. Next up for Michigan is Maryland’s historically bad run defense. The Wolverines could easily run for 500+ yards on the Terps.
3. Washington (Last Week: 3)
Washington passed its toughest remaining test by knocking off Utah on the road 31-24. The Huskies blew a 14-0 lead before Dante Pettis bailed them out late with a decisive 58 yard punt return. It’s possible that the season-ending Washington-Washington State game could feature two undefeated teams in conference play, which was a bananas sentence for me to just type. Washington’s defense will be put to the test this week at Cal.
2. Clemson (Last Week: 2)
It wasn’t easy, but Clemson exorcised its demons by finally winning at Florida State 37-34. Dalvin Cook abused the Tigers’ defense for 169 yards and four touchdowns and forced Clemson to win yet another one-score game. The Tigers are 18-2 in such games since 2011. Now that it has defeated the Seminoles, Clemson has the easiest remaining slate of the playoff contenders. The closing stretch of Syracuse/Pittsburgh/@ Wake Forest/South Carolina is far from intimidating, and Clemson should make the playoff if it doesn’t beat itself.
1. Alabama (Last Week: 1)
The Tide had the week off to prepare for Coach O’s LSU Tigers. LSU has won three games by an average of 29 points per game since Les Miles was fired, and look like a completely different team on offense. Saturday’s clash will be featured on College Gameday and should be an excellent game.