1. LSU. 22-21 over Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium. A warning, first: Take very little away from this, a random outcome between two teams so closely matched in talent that S&P+ had them within a half-point of each other coming in. It will almost always be this, almost always decided by a field goal or some tragic mistake.
Spare us the idea that anyone has anything figured out that they didn’t have figured out coming in. LSU looked the same against Auburn as against Miami, their other test so far. Quarterback Joe Burrow completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, but somehow made the ones he completed count at crucial times. The defense gave up yardage, but forced stall-outs and field goals in the red zone. LSU special teams will generally make their kicks and keep the hidden yardage to a minimum.
I’d call LSU a good marginal team. They know they need small margins, and play accordingly and without panic. The 2018 version of LSU won’t blow many people out — even the initial landslide of Miami leveled into something that, by the box score, didn’t look like a mismatch — but that’s fine. A team that plays close games in tight conditions needs a few things to go their way. So far, they have.
Don’t let this sound like damning with faint praise. LSU is dangerous as hell. They are clearly this year’s best grappler, the one totally fine going to the mat and fighting on its back.
There are more dazzling teams, sure. LSU’s score cards are ugly, but wins by submission don’t need numbers. LSU might be capable of putting anyone in the country in a triangle choke and watching that dazzle drain away.
P.S. LSU please don’t make all of this sound very silly by losing by 30 to Mississippi State like you did last season. Thanks.
P.P.S. Hey, you say, this sounds a lot like Notre Dame’s M.O. and resume so far. We’re so glad you noticed that, but it’s getting late and I really have to get to the [mumbles incoherently], gotta go—
2. North Texas. The Mean Green: Undefeated so far in 2018, but now legendary, too.
There’s a whole story behind how they did that, of course. But so far, the Mean Green have staged a free wrasslin’ match featuring Hacksaw Jim Duggan after a football game, beaten the daylights out of everyone they’ve played, and done that. The person who doesn’t list them in their top 10 has no understanding of greatness.
3. Ohio State. Finished off a stubborn TCU 40-28 in the JerryDome. Fine, fine. FINE. It’s early for sincerity, but Week 3 means ranking the team that actually went on the road, actually played a tenacious opponent, and actually had to play four quarters.
Ohio State couldn’t get anything better than in-store credit for beating Oregon State and Rutgers. In-store credit sucks, and is the scourge of every broke American’s dreams of trading in terrible Christmas gifts. However, Ohio State should consider itself lucky to even get that for the Rutgers win. Rutgers lost to Kansas by 41 points and is approaching Truly Legendary Trash Status. (If a relative gives you Rutgers for Christmas, this relative hates you and is trying to send you a message!)
But the Horned Frogs consistently pull recruiting classes a full 20 spots or so lower than Ohio State does. When they face top-five competition, they generally play at a marginal size disadvantage. They do not pull five-star quarterbacks. They will field a 155-pound football player like KaVontae Turpin in the 21st century, mostly because they have to, in order to put as much speed on the field as they can, height and weight be damned. They somehow manage to play excellent defense in a conference where teams all but spot each other 20 points to start the game.
TCU does a lot of confusing, well-executed things on offense and defense, punches above its weight in every way possible, and is a potentially disastrous pull early on in the schedule.
They were almost a disaster for Ohio State — until a 20 point third quarter marked by TCU mistakes changed the dynamic completely. Dwayne Haskins didn’t get rattled at QB, the Buckeye defense finally managed to pin down TCU’s wiry, lightning-bug skill players, and the Ohio State offensive line really started moving some ass in the wrong direction for TCU.
Side note: Watching Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell get the ball in the right situation just once in a game and still seeing him break a defense’s back? Cruel majesty. When he was even with the defender, it was still obvious how badly that defender was about to get scorched. Ohio State doesn’t always seem to know exactly what to do with him, but when Campbell is in the right spot at the right time? The rest is howling obscenities and burning cleat marks.
A team that can deliver knockout third quarters is my favorite kind of team, while a team that can lean hard on another with the run game in the fourth is the most bankable. This is a great combination for Ohio State, and they did it against one of football’s most consistent overachievers.
Some worries: Ohio State’s defense giving up some baffling yardage on blown assignments up front, and the injury to Nick Bosa.
4. Oklahoma State. 44-21 over Boise State in Stillwater. The most shocking result of the weekend, not because of the score — either team could have gotten on a roll and pulled away laughing — but because of the way it happened.
The Cowboys usually torch people, sure. What made this so surprising was how the defense beat up Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien so badly, tagging him for seven sacks. DE Jordan Brailford had three all by himself. By the third quarter, Rypien was clearly flailing and had no run support whatsoever. Oklahoma kept Boise to just 34 yards on the ground, just a week after the Broncos put up a whopping 400 against UConn.
All we do is underestimate Mike Gundy’s people, is what we’re saying, and all they do is keep putting up wins a team in Stillwater, Oklahoma has no obvious right to claim.
But let him drink his smoothie while you keep doubting the Pokes.
5. Georgia. 49-7 over woefully mismatched Middle Tennessee State. I’m mentioning Georgia for two reasons.
- They run the ball and play defense. If no one stops them, they will do this until they are playing in another national title game they will probably lose to Alabama. Georgia is less a football team than a reliable system of physical behaviors and outcomes.
- Though he only passed for 138 yards in a 42-point loss in blazing Athens heat, Blue Raiders QB Brent Stockstill is still a winner this season. Stockstill is taking water aerobics and “Teaching Water Safety” to stay eligible in his fifth year on campus.
If anyone in Murfreesboro wants to talk to him about this, head on down to the campus pool around 10 a.m. He’ll be the only dude bouncing his ass off to “Please Don’t Stop the Music” before heading back to his apartment to play the new Spider-Man game for a few hours before practice.
6. Oklahoma. Beat Iowa State 37-27, which is better than OU did against the Cyclones last year. Also gave up 447 yards, which seems bad because Iowa State’s offense is not very good.
The solution is clear: Make Baker Mayfield the defensive coordinator.
Lincoln is the best coach in the country. But you’re ignorant if you think Kyler isn’t talented. Pure ignorance. Not your first take that shows your lack of actual knowledge.— Baker Mayfield (@bakermayfield) September 15, 2018
100 percent fire tweets > Mike Stoops’ defense. If you can disprove this statement, please do not email me. I will not answer it, as I am not accepting diverse viewpoints on this topic at this time.
7. Alabama. “Beat” Ole Miss 62-7. Listen: Alabama might have assembled the greatest football team of all time, and great football teams are supposed to beat mediocre ones like Ole Miss this badly. We are not even a month into the season yet, so let’s continue to treat Alabama like death. It’s coming, but that’s no reason not to enjoy everything else while we can. Sometimes, on rare occasions later sold as movie scripts, you manage to avoid it for a while.
They’re incredible, but let’s also not act like Alabama’s had a proper test yet. They have played three teams.
- The first, Louisville, barely beat Western Kentucky 20-17 this past weekend.
- The second, Arkansas State, just earned a not-overwhelming 29-20 win over Tulsa.
- The third, Ole Miss, recently surrendered 629 yards and 41 points to Southern Illinois University. It’s one thing to give up Big 12 yardage to a Big 12 team. It’s another to hand it over to an FCS school whose mascot is an aloof, purebred sight hound.
The good news for Alabama: If they only play half as well against the rest of their competition, they’ll still slaughter them by scores something like 30-3.
Let’s not even talk about them until they play LSU on November 3 if we don’t have to, and keep the discussion to GIFs of Tua Tagovailoa making pretty throws against iffy-to-okay coverage.
8. Clemson. 38-7 over Georgia Southern, which is fine. It’s not super impressive, though limiting Georgia Southern’s annoying triple option to 83 yards on the ground is commendable. QB Kelly Bryant suffered something called “a chest bruise” and did not play much in the second half. Reader: Imagine how bad a “chest bruise” feels, and now wonder why anyone sane plays football at all.
9. BYU. A 24-21 upset of Wisconsin in Camp Randall is the most powerful anti-alcohol PSA our nation has ever known.
This Cougars team lost 40-6 in Provo last year to the Badgers, and finished out the home slate by losing to UMass. Their first loss this season came with a 21-18 defeat by Cal, who might actually be pretty competent-approaching-good*. BYU might truly be good again, and at the end of the year, Wisconsin might feel no shame about this. Kalani Sitake has cleared the wreckage beautifully so far.
*No, I’m not ready to consider whether Cal is good, because the minute we consider it a real possibility, the Bears will lose by 40 to someone. That’s just how a team that plays its games standing astride an actual fault line rolls.
10. Notre Dame. Defeated Vandy 22-17. This might mean something if Vanderbilt is actually good, or might just be another red herring on the way toward an inflated ranking and slotting Notre Dame into a Playoff spot it will inevitably waste?
It can mean either, depending on your needs, really. Fulfill those first, and the rest will work itself out. (Probably with a baffling, slow loss to Stanford in a few weeks.)
Etc.? Syracuse? Boston College? The former beat Florida State 30-7, a score that doesn’t really represent how badly the Orangemen beat up on the Noles. The latter is leading the ACC in total yardage and points, winning shootouts with ease like it’s not Boston College.
Translation: The ACC is on something powerful right now. Don’t take it. The hallucinations are too much to take for the amateur-amateur pharmacology enthusiast.
Other good teams not ranked for reasons of underwhelming opposition: Penn State, Mississippi State, defending national champions UCF, Duke (see: more ACC hallucinations), and Cal/Colorado/Wazzu in one big lump of Pac-12 undefeated ambiguity.
Is Texas back? NO STOP USC IS JUST BAD THIS IS A JOKE TO ASK BUT IT IS SERIOUS, STOP SAYING THEY ARE BACK, TEXAS WILL BE BACK WHEN THEY WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AND NOT A SECOND BEFORE THE CLOCK EXPIRES BECAUSE I WANT TO BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN ABOUT IT.
An undefeated Indiana? LEAVE.
How bout 3-0 Kentuck— LEAVE NOW.