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The Top Whatever: Notre Dame’s really good *and* pretty lucky

The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall’s weekly ranking of only the college football teams that really must be ranked at this time.

Notre Dame v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

1. Georgia Tech. 66-31 over Louisville. The entire idea of the Top Whatever is that I can throw off the shackles of polling, actually move teams around based on their accomplishments that week, and salute teams that actually lived this week, man.

And because living well is the best revenge, I’d be derelict in my duties if I didn’t put Georgia Tech No. 1 this week, their 3-3 record be damned. For Paul Johnson, revenge is best put into a barrel for 12 years and aged to perfection.

In short: Louisville defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and Paul Johnson have a long beef about Johnson’s triple option and whether it works in the 21st century or not. Read the whole saga here, but it revolves around Johnson, then coach at Navy, trying to schedule Georgia Southern because “I want to beat the hell out of Brian VanGorder.”

Something like 4,380 days passed. Johnson left Navy, and VanGorder has had seven different jobs since then. Since 2006, there have been three different presidents, babies have become middle schoolers, and people stopped using MySpace. (In retrospect, we should all probably still be on MySpace.)

Most people probably would have let that slide, or even forgotten about it. Twelve years after getting pissed at VanGorder for saying some pretty standard stuff about the triple option, Johnson reminded everyone that he is not most people.

ESPN

The funniest part of this: when most teams get a lead, they slow the game down by running the ball and letting the clock run. This would have been fine here for Louisville, except for one thing: ALL GEORGIA TECH DOES IS RUN THE BALL ANYWAY. Even if they were trying to end the game, they still scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Georgia Tech is the best team in the nation this week, and Johnson will be waiting in the parking lot with a tire iron for you. When? Sometime in the next 12 years. You’ll never know exactly when, though. Good luck!

2. UCF. 48-20 over SMU. Our defending national champs stay champs, and I’m ashamed my national colleagues continue to ignore them.

3. This play.

That is an Aussie rules move, punching the ball ahead so a teammate can catch it and continue forward. Cal punched it to the wrong team, but that will happen when you’re learning a new game. It would explain so much about the history of Cal football if it turns out they’ve been trying to field an Aussie rules team on a college football field for the past hundred or so years.

4. Notre Dame. 45-23 over Virginia Tech. The Irish are very good, but getting lucky is a large part of having any successful season, and, my goodness, Notre Dame is catching every ace in the deck so far.

  • Caught Michigan in a one-score win before the Wolverines figured out a few things about their offense
  • Switched QBs midstream and got ... better?
  • Stacked simple wins against Vandy, Wake Forest, and Ball State
  • Got Stanford in South Bend with a gimpy Bryce Love

They eventually blew Virginia Tech off the field in Blacksburg, but again caught VT in about as good a spot as imaginable: depleted defensively, and playing backup Ryan Willis at QB for only his second start of the year.

The rest of the schedule reeks of fantastic timing, too. Pitt, Syracuse, the worst FSU team in recent memory, an inconsistent USC with a freshman starting QB, a seemingly down Navy ... in collegiate terms, Notre Dame is acing a senior year slate of ballroom dancing, water aerobics, and Growing Fruit for Fun and Profit. <— actual class at Florida when I was there.

This is all to say two things:

  1. I know Notre Dame is really good and really lucky, and that’s a great combination for a team looking to make a College Football Playoff.
  2. I also know that because of their unique scheduling arrangement as an independent, it is entirely possible that Notre Dame could get a playoff slot and then get absolutely smoked by a grizzled team that’s dragged its way through the gutter to get there.

That sound familiar? It should. It’s basically the script for the 2012 Notre Dame season, or how Notre Dame gets to live as an independent completely at the mercy of its schedule. The Irish don’t get assumed value off conference strength alone and have to hope rivals like Stanford, Michigan, and USC all come through with strong resumes.

When they don’t, a superior team like the 2018 Notre Dame Irish get to coast for a while through an easy semester. Then they get invited to grad school and run face-first into exams they might not be able to pass.

P.S. Irish RB Dexter Williams is absolutely ridiculous.

5. Texas. Won the Red River Shootout, 48-45. Texas was averaging about 28 points a game on offense coming into the Oklahoma game. The Longhorns then came out and put up 501 yards of offense while facing a superb Oklahoma offense, more than doubling the Horns’ average 2018 output and winning a huge rivalry game.

This is the correct way of saying this: against a superb Oklahoma offense.

Because if we’re being honest, all teams compete directly with the Oklahoma offense and bypass the defense completely. The Oklahoma defense is no longer necessary as a competitive factor in games. It is a speed bump. Mike Stoops molds each speed bump into a fresh lump every offseason and presents it proudly at the end of fall camp. I present my next lump. Please clap.

6. Florida. Beat LSU 27-19. I’m just as confused as you are, but evidently the Gators got first downs when they needed them, and then did not collapse down the stretch? And they’re 5-1 somehow, and just handed LSU their first loss of the year? I’m asking this like I didn’t watch the whole thing. I watched the whole thing and only have one answer: magnets. Ancient, powerful, and mysterious magnets are behind Florida being okay at football again.

7. Alabama. 65-31 over Arkansas. Tua Tagovailoa went 10 of 13 for 334 yards and four TDs. He did not play after the first drive of the second half. Tagovailoa has not passed in a fourth quarter all season. This opens the possibility of Tagovailoa doing two of the flossiest college football things ever: being a modern Heisman favorite while a.) never playing a full game and b.) not getting 3,000 yards passing in the regular season.

Alabama’s defense giving up 31 points and over 400 yards to Arkansas is a thing, but let’s be clear about what kind of thing it is. Chad Morris picked on Alabama with wheel routes, misdirection, and all kinds of evil little calls that every defense struggles with in the open field.

Inexperienced units especially struggle with those. Believe it or not, Alabama’s secondary is still one of those, and was Nick Saban’s biggest concern coming into the season. It would probably be more of a concern if Alabama wasn’t scoring 60 points in games, and that’s surely something Saban understa—

— and it turns out that no, no, Saban does not understand this, and never will.

8. Georgia. 41-13 over Vanderbilt in another installment of “Let’s Beat Up On A School With Better Test Scores.”

9. Ohio State. 49-26 over Indiana. See all that stuff up there about Alabama? That’s sort of all true for Ohio State, who continues to paper over lapses in the defense with a QB who can put up six TDs without breaking a sweat. The big difference: Ohio State gives up huge plays when they have those lapses. Indiana got four plays over 30 yards against the Buckeyes, continuing Ohio State’s streak of being one of the worst defenses for big plays in the nation.

10. Clemson. Demolished Wake Forest 63-3. The Tigers had three players rush for 100 yards each and ran up 471 yards on the ground alone. Clemson also played Wake Forest, a team that is not capable of hanging onto Clemson’s back bumper for longer than one quarter. Balance your enthusiasm over this accordingly, but this is still something most teams even don’t do against their fluffiest FCS competition.

TEAMS I AM NOT RANKING BECAUSE THAT WOULD INSTANTLY CAUSE THEM TO LOSE A GAME NEXT WEEK

  • NC State, who is 5-0 after beating Boston College, but usually ends up 8-4 anyway, so let’s not count that as meaning much.
  • Cincinnati, who defeated Tulane to go 6-0 but really hasn’t played anyone, but, hey, bowl eligible is bowl eligible.

TEAMS I AM NOT RANKING BECAUSE THEY PLAYED (AND WON) AGAINST KANSAS

  • West Virginia. Will Grier is brilliant because if you’re going to have a four-turnover game, be sure to have it against Kansas.

TEAMS THAT ARE PROBABLY THE BEST ONE-LOSS TEAMS BUT WERE ON A BYE AND STILL WONDERING WHAT THE HELL THEY DID AGAINST OHIO STATE ON THAT LAST PLAY

  • Penn State.