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Alabama is too perfect to enjoy, so let’s just watch thrilling teams like Iowa

The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall’s weekly ranking of a fluctuating number of college football teams.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports


Standard slaughter of Mississippi State, 51-3.

The fun part was turning it on, seeing it was 17-0, and turning it off the minute Alabama’s defensive line caved in Mississippi State’s offensive line on three straight plays. There’s a lot of interesting football to watch, and there’s no point in watching any Alabama this year, because I can just put on YouTube videos of buildings being demolished and seals being flipped in the air by killer whales whenever I want.

You’re not even playing the same game, Alabama, and it’s killing all possible interest I have in you. Watching you is like being force-fed foie gras and champagne. I grow to hate it and crave the taste of mediocre things. You’ve given me the best of everything, Alabama — the grandeur of Tim Williams, a freshman quarterback who can pass for 300 and run for 100 yards, the perfect monstrosity of Jonathan Allen — and I’m ungrateful, like a trash person would be, for not wanting this.

God, I’m the worst, Alabama. It’s my fault, not yours. What I want is Iowa — trash-heap Iowa, incapable of scoring or doing much of anything consistently, shelling out shovels of money to a good coach who doesn’t really deserve great money — beating Michigan. I want flawed Pitt, which got blown out by Miami, surging and beating Clemson with a transfer QB and a kicker named “Blewitt.” I crave uncertain greatness and great mediocrity, Alabama.

I’m saying: It’s not your fault, and if people go to sleep on you in 2016, it’s because we had too much of you, and are now grumpy with indigestion.


My god, Iowa. Could you have put up a more Iowa-ish masterpiece of an Iowa game? Counting up points to 14 from a safety, acting less as a football team and more of an 11-man spike strip to Michigan’s runaway 18-wheeler of a team, and getting crucial breaks because your punter fell ass over teakettle and drew a targeting foul, then later drew two other penalties?

That team beat you, Michigan, and you shouldn’t even feel bad about it. Kirk Ferentz is clearly worth every penny of that gigantic contract we all make fun of because ... well honestly, because I don’t know if there’s anyone else in the world who could have beaten Michigan 14-13 like that. There’s only one man who can make a giant trip over a stack of hoarded pennies.


Most people would have Ohio State here, and that’s fine. Louisville sputtered and rolled out a turnover-heavy clanker of a game before finding 34 points in the fourth quarter in a deceptive 44-12 dismissal of Wake Forest. They still have Lamar Jackson, and in a direct comparison of the two, that’s why Louisville is a notch ahead.


Pitt was so, so overdue for a game like this: three close losses on the season, a run game capable of dominating anyone, and the aching need for something like a statement game after a disastrous loss to Miami.

To do it with QB Nathan Peterman is even funnier, since prior to this game, Pitt had been bludgeoning their way through games with running back James Conner. Someday when Peterman is leaving the insurance firm after a long day of staring at spreadsheets, he’ll remind his co-workers about the time he beat South Carolina Governor Deshaun Watson at football.


Or call them 2c, or whatever. The point of the Top Whatever is to just get an adequate group of four or so, and this is more than adequate, Ohio State fans. This Maryland game was very similar to the MSU-Alabama game in that I might have watched about 10 minutes of it before going, “Oh look, yes, this sample size is large enough,” then turning to something with indefinite outcomes.

But do not accuse the Buckeyes of not filling out the paperwork with ferocity. Seeing Ohio State had 22 more first downs than Maryland makes my calves hurt, just thinking about how tired the Terps’ defensive line must be. THEY’RE BIG MEN, OHIO STATE. DON’T MAKE THEM RUN SO LONG FOR SO LITTLE. AT LEAST GIVE THEM A SNACK OR SOMETHING AFTER THE GAME. THEY GET SO HUNGRY.


Lost to Pitt 43-42 on a last-minute field goal because they could not get 1 yard on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 clock-running situations. Also, Watson threw the ball 70 times.

The problem with Clemson, besides vague, “This is a team on a season-long success hangover” type explanations, is in those sentences. The secondary, thought to be a concern before the season thanks to losses to the draft, is still a concern. The run game hasn’t been consistent enough to carry them through games, and when that happens, it’s hard to not max out Watson.

He can do that and win almost all of the time, because Watson is a marvel and a mutant and a special talent and everything you want your quarterback to be. He also can’t play DB, or take an endless amount of hits to diversify Clemson’s run game, especially after he left the Syracuse game with a shoulder injury.

Aaaaaand unless you want to believe players heal instantly and defy human physiology, this is that time of the year when everyone is kind of hurt. Watson probably isn’t too banged up in the sense of it affecting his passing, but in a conference game down the stretch, on two straight plays, Wayne Gallman got the ball. 2015’s Watson might have had a shot.


Lost to Iowa and still control their own destiny, despite finally meeting a team that could make them look one-dimensional on offense. That might not improve, with the reported loss of starting QB Wilton Speight to injury, but Michigan still has the obvious tiebreaker sitting there with Ohio State. They wouldn’t lose to anyone else on the schedule, would they, since there’s only ...

... oh no. I can’t say you’ll lose to Indiana, Michigan. But you know how Chaos Team works. Playing this team in football is a lot like drinking too much on a Tuesday: it’ll hurt, you might want to throw up at times while it’s happening, and you’ll feel it for the rest of the week even after surviving it.


The strength of schedule left UW little margin. After a 26-13 loss to USC, though, it hamstrings their Playoff chances in a serious way, and that’s before they finish out against the Pac-12’s only undefeated team in the Apple Cup.

Porter Gustin and Adoree’ Jackson destroyed a lot of what Washington tried to do offensively, so much so that Jackson could comfortably joke about getting smoked one-on-one by John Ross for a long TD.

If Washington State beats Washington and then beats, say, Colorado in the Pac-12 title game? The Pac-12 champion would have a loss to an FCS team and to Boise State, which would both be sort of perfect for a.) a Mike Leach team, and b.) a quirky conference whose superpowers all failed at once.


No, not without a championship game, which — barring some very weird upsets — could get us some solid one-loss teams clean into the Playoff.

This week was fun. It changed little about the basic barriers to entry presented by the Playoff committee. Winning in a 13th game still matters to them, and the Big 12 Championship doesn’t appear to be on the 2016 schedule, does it?

(West Virginia does still have just one loss, though.)


I will give them the 1998 Tulane Green Wave Trophy for the nobly undefeated and ignored mid-major champion.


Like I said, in a year when things feel so preordained for Alabama to win again, you have to find your joys in their shadow. Fortunately, Gundy’s hair is a magical forest plant that requires no sunlight.