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College football and lakes: 2 things Nick Saban can drive over without even looking

This is The Top Whatever, Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of only the college football teams that deserve to be ranked at this time.


Nick Saban, after beating USC 52-6, said, "We need to get more players that can play winning football." This came after limiting JuJu Smith-Schuster to one catch, breaking in two new quarterbacks gently with only 18 passes, and handing USC its worst season-opening loss ever.

Saban, otherwise, drives a boat without even looking where the boat is going.

My man is barely keeping a hand on the wheel while he talks about deep motivational things with Marty Smith and Tim Tebow. He’s not even trying to steer that boat. Either this is a metaphor for the ease with which Saban is driving a death machine incapable of meaningful error over the rest of college football, or Saban has had all interlopers removed from his private lake in order to avoid hitting anyone. Both are probably accurate.

Again, did you see how many times Alabama had to pass to beat USC by that immense margin? EIGHTEEN TIMES. Alabama can play football like it’s 1982, and it might not matter. But I have concerns about their quarterback situation. Why? Saban probably has 17 unlisted assistants escorting Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts around campus like handlers, making sure they get to class, snack properly, and understand the complexities of the 4-3 over front they’ll face next week.

You think Steve Sarkisian’s going there to coach? HE’S GOING TO TUSCALOOSA TO PARK LANE KIFFIN’S CAR FOR HIM. Lane’s never had a driver’s license; please don’t tell anyone, it’s one of the reasons USC left him at the airport. That was before Uber, and you can catch a cab easily there. See? So nice, and Lane still didn’t pull up until he put 50 on his former employer.

(Alabama has a lot of coaches, is the point, and even the unpaid volunteers might be better than yours.)


Quarterback Deondre Francois played so brilliantly against Ole Miss that you might have dismissed it as a fluke. You should not do this. The Rebels defensive line would be enough to reduce most freshmen to tears, and that’s before you remember that the FSU offensive line spent most of the first half sliding backwards into Francois’ legs. (Not an exaggeration.)

He passed for more yards than Jameis Winston passed for in his debut, against a much better defense and after spending an entire half getting thrown by bears. Francois did this without a great effort from Dalvin Cook, his best offensive player, and dropped passes into windows with touch and accuracy. Touch and accuracy are legal in, like, 28 states where college football is played.

And I understand you not wanting to give Florida State credit for anything. I do, believe me, I do, on a molecular level deeper than you imagine. If it’s possible to dismiss all the repellent features of the FSU fanbase, their ongoing nightmare of football often dwarfing the institution itself, and your refusal to take an adult named "Jimbo" seriously, then please do this: at least admit that Florida State, more than any team in college football right now, identifies offensive talent and develops it. Fisher recruits well, yes — so well, in fact, that any other team in Florida and the region operates at a deficit from the start — but putting players in a position to succeed is easily half the job, and they do that, too. Last night, Florida State managed to do it during a halftime.



They got bigger? Or Oklahoma got smaller? Maybe it’s just the mind fitting form to scoreboard, but Houston didn’t look like the obviously smaller, obviously more motivated, but still underdoggish team they looked like against Florida State in their upset Peach Bowl win.

QB Greg Ward looks like a starter for anyone in this list, running back Duke Catalon looks just as big and bad as anyone in Oklahoma’s vaunted backfield, and the Cougars defensive line hauled the Sooners’ OL around like so much reclaimed luggage. This team still does the hustle-y underdog things, like returning a short field goal attempt 109.999999999 yards for a TD, but that whole "undermanned but overcoached" thing is over for Houston.

Enjoy stretch-fit living, Houston. The scale doesn’t lie: this is your weight class, and these are the comfortable, fat-boy pants you earned by handing a 33-23 loss to the Sooners.

Oh, and keep playing teams that only give their star running backs six carries each for the entire game.


That feels weird, but we’re here after a 50-47 OT win over Notre Dame. We’re here looking at a Texas team that combines a Baylor-style, spread-power run game with a Charlie Strong defense and Texas-grade personnel. We’re here looking at them going toe-to-toe with a stout Notre Dame and eventually overpowering it. We’re here looking at the Longhorns overpowering Notre Dame in the red zone with the second half of a two-QB system, Tyrone Swoopes, the driver behind the wheel of an offensive package with a name so Texas it makes us want to freebase brisket on the back of a bucking bull:

"I said to Sterlin just pound them, pound them, pound them, and I just wanted to see if we could wear them down," Strong said of the drive. "Even at the end with the last touchdown with (QB Tyrone) Swoopes I said, ‘Listen, we're not throwing the ball. We're going to line up and we're going to let 18-wheeler just run over people.’"


Texas is starting eight underclassmen on defense. It will likely lose some games based strictly on that inexperience alone. The two-QB system will have some bad games. These things are inevitable. What is also inevitable: If the Longhorns can play that kind of offense to go with that defense and avoid serious injury, they can win 10 games, beat Oklahoma, and create something truly monstrous in Austin. We’re here, looking at that, and it’s kind of beautiful.


Beat Auburn 19-13. Looked harried and sluggish and bothered that they had to chase around every single Wing-T fake Gus Malzahn and the Auburn offense threw at them. Looked annoyed? Looked real annoyed, which is appropriate because even playing a misfiring Auburn offense is bothersome. Maybe more bothersome, because they tried so many things and accomplished so little?

Clemson and the rest of us watching you, Auburn, were rightfully annoyed. It’s one thing to suck on offense, but to try and dress up a burnt steak like that with garnish and all that truffle butter is just a waste of good football garnish. If anyone would understand the quiet dignity of three simple runs followed by a punt, it’s Auburn. (They might like that better at this point, frankly.)

Deshaun Watson didn’t even have a good game, and Clemson still won. They’re up here until that stops happening, or receiver Mike Williams stops being supernaturally good at his job (174 yards receiving on nine catches, fwiw, against a nasty Auburn defense). Clemson might deserve to be higher, but having seen what Auburn rolled out on offense, it’s hard to consider how much of a test that might have been at all.


J.T. Barrett had six TDs in a 77-10 scrimmage against Bowling Green.

Don’t tell me Bowling Green is secretly pretty good, Ohio State fans — you’re taking the joy out of a preseason stampede staged exclusively for the purpose of watching your much better football players annihilate a MAC team left hapless in the wake of your athleticism. Enjoy that. ASK MISSISSIPPI STATE OR ARKANSAS OR SOME OTHER POINTS-POOR SEC WEST TEAM THAT DIDN’T DO THAT THIS WEEKEND. THEY’LL TELL YOU TO ENJOY THAT, SIRS, WHILE YOU CAN.

Speaking of that.


The exact margin a team will lose by if it has to fly from Australia to Hawaii to Ann Arbor, Mich.? It’s 63-3, with that lone data point being established by our brave test subjects, the Hawaii Warriors.

Michigan is probably a very good football team and did not suffer any major injuries in this game. Hawaii is probably a very fatigued football team with a robust Frequent Flyer mileage portfolio. Saying anything other than that after this game would be silly.


They saw a few good things, they saw a few bad, but overall the coaches were pleased with the effort. Lot of work to go, though, and a lot of improvement to be made if they want to go where they want to get going. Hope to have a good week of practice, and to take this season one game at a time. Good opponent next week. Gonna be a real challenge for everyone, especially with what they do offensively. Or defensively. One of those.

Stanford could go here, if only as thanks for playing an efficient and quiet opener in a forgettable and dignified 26-13 win over Kansas State. Thank you, Stanford, for your courtesy.


No one, really, it’s Week 1, and we’re blind guessing.

Maybe Georgia, which would really just be voting for Nick Chubb? Sure, put Nick Chubb by himself at an imaginary nine-spot if it makes you feel better. He’s great. The rest of his team is TBD.