Everybody stinks! It's total chaos! It's another 2007 just waiting to happen!
We tell ourselves these things every year, in part because chaos is awesome, and college football pretty reliably produces it.
To be sure, we've got evidence on our side this time. In two weeks, one unbeaten team has remained that way despite the unlikeliest of "bad punt snap, fumble return TD" combinations, and another was knocked from the list of undefeateds by a blocked field goal return score as time expired. College football is a haunted house, and you never know when the lights are going off.
But while the "another 2007!" thing is probably wishful -- there are far too many unbeaten teams for us to be envisioning a sea of two-loss teams -- there's might be a point to the "everybody stinks!" thing. Everybody doesn't stink, but the lack of separation at the top of the computer ratings is stark.
Take a look at the top of this week's F/+ ratings and compare them to last year. Not only have this year's No. 2 and 3 teams (Michigan and Alabama) already combined for three losses, neither would have fit into last year's top four. No. 4 LSU wouldn't have been in last year's top eight.
Now, part of that is that teams have had only eight weeks to separate themselves. There are six more to go. I would be stunned if No. 1 Clemson were the only true elite at season's end. Somebody will rise.
Still, considering we are almost to November, the certainties are lacking and the two ratings that make up F/+ (my S&P+ and Brian Fremeau's FEI) agree on precious little. S&P+'s No. 2 team (Michigan) is FEI's No. 7. S&P+'s No. 3 (Baylor) is FEI's No. 13. FEI's No. 2 (Stanford) is S&P+'s No. 14.
Take a quick look at last year's S&P+ ratings. The top two teams (Ohio State and Alabama) were ranked in the top 11 in both offense and defense. Six teams ranked in the top 20 in both categories, and Oklahoma came very close. You had your single-unit teams -- Oregon was second in offense and 28th in defense, Ole Miss was 35th in offense and first in defense -- but a) the bad units typically weren't that bad (Georgia Tech's defense and Clemson's offense aside), and b) single-unit teams weren't the norm.
Now take a look at this year's S&P+ ratings. Clemson ranks 11th in offense and fourth in defense. Ohio State ranks 13th and 11th. Strangely enough, Oklahoma again ranks 14th and 21st. And that's the entire list of teams with two top-20 units.
Michigan's offense ranks 47th. Baylor's defense is rising but 56th, with TCU's behind. Alabama's offense is 41st, just behind Iowa's. LSU's defense is 34th, just ahead of Michigan State's, Notre Dame's and Stanford's. And some teams within range of two top-20 units, like Ole Miss, have multiple losses.
So many teams that are this year's elites have serious flaws, more than we're used to at this stage. But we've talked a lot about flaws, so let's gander at the two teams that are figuring things out on both sides of the ball.
Have you accepted "Clemson: Overlord" yet?
It's been a couple of weeks since I first wrote about Clemson as potentially the best team in America.
The Tigers have checked every box so far. They walloped a solid mid-major, Appalachian State. They survived a tricky Thursday night conference road game against a still-solid Louisville. They overcame rain and a relentless Notre Dame comeback attempt in Week 4's marquee battle.
Perhaps most impressively, they survived a hangover threat. Against a Georgia Tech better than its record (before Saturday, anyway), Clemson outgained the Yellow Jackets by a 537-230 margin, destroying the Tech option attack, jumping out to a 33-10 halftime lead, and cruising to 40-10 before a fumble recovery touchdown and garbage time drive.
Since, Dabo Swinney's Tigers became the first team to actually move the ball on Boston College, then handed Miami its worst loss ever, a 58-0 road pasting that left Hurricanes brass no choice but to fire Al Golden midseason.
The primary story emerging from that game was about Miami and Golden, but that might be unfair. Miami looked awful in part because Clemson made the Hurricanes look awful. Since moving to the top of my ratings, the Tigers have only gotten better.
Clemson still has a few red flags. The offense doesn't produce many big plays, though big rushes against Miami and big passes against BC suggest that might be less of a concern. And there are still interesting hurdles to clear. NC State (this coming week's opponent in Raleigh) is improving rapidly, and while Florida State has some issues, the Seminoles are strong and have still won four of five against CU.
Clemson is only third in the AP Poll, and the coaches poll has the Tigers sixth, which is frankly absurd. They have played at a more consistently high level than anybody else, and they scored a marquee win against Notre Dame in a South Carolina monsoon a few weeks ago. That Ole Miss was college football's best team through two months last year is a clear reminder things can change drastically, but to date, Clemson has quite easily been college football's realest deal.
Ohio State has begun to look the part
As recently as a couple of weeks ago, there was reason to be seriously concerned about an Ohio State hangover. The Buckeyes' offense was battling serious inconsistency, and while the defense was solid, there appeared to be diminishing returns.
Then the defending champion went out and beat Penn State and Rutgers by a combined 87-17. After languishing in the teens and 20s for a while, the Buckeyes are now up to fifth in S&P+ and eighth in F/+.
We somehow still have 12 undefeated teams, but Ohio State is now the third- or fourth-best of the bunch despite only recently deciding to look the part. The Buckeyes are further along in the rankings than they were at this time last year, and while that's not a perfect comparison -- this year's team is far more experienced -- it's still a reminder that the Buckeyes have plenty of time to find fifth gear and might have already done so.
That Urban Meyer's squad has now played (and repeated) top-level ball on both offense and defense puts it ahead of much of the field. The Buckeyes averaged 7.5 yards per play in Saturday's 49-7 win over Rutgers, scoring on seven of their first nine possessions (not including end-of-half kneeldowns) and were held under 50 points only by a lost fumble on the opening possession.
Old-new starting quarterback J.T. Barrett was 14-of-18 passing for 223 yards, three touchdowns and 101 rushing yards after replacing new-old starter Cardale Jones. And while Rutgers' offense is banged up and far from amazing, Ohio State still dominated. After opening with a 64-yard drive (which ended in a missed field goal), Rutgers punted on eight of the next nine possessions, a streak only broken by a Gareon Conley interception.
That Ohio State has only showed peak form a couple of times is a concern, as is an only decent run defense and the fact that we haven't seen Barrett dominate a solid defense with his arm this year. The Buckeyes rank only 39th in Rushing S&P+ on defense and 36th in Passing S&P+ on offense. But with the No. 15 run game (which is probably better than that with the mobile Barrett running the show) and the No. 2 pass defense, they're still a more complete team than most contenders.
The season-ending stretch -- Michigan State on Nov. 21, at Michigan on Nov. 28 -- will still be a massive challenge. Among other things, the Wolverines still rank ahead of the Buckeyes, and the game is in Ann Arbor. But this is what we'd been waiting to see from Meyer's squad.