If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you know that I wrote an article on Monday detailing the four teams that I think will be in the top 4 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. If you read that post, you also know that I said towards the end of it that, while those are the four teams I think will be there at the end of the year, they aren’t necessarily who I think are the four best teams in college football right now. So who do I feel are the top 4 teams right now? Read on and find out!
#1 Ohio State: I really don’t think this is a selection that I should have to defend, and yet, here we are. They are the defending National Champions. They are currently undefeated. They have played in tough games and found a way to win them, which makes a team stronger, more battle-tested, which will serve a team well when it comes playoff time.
They have quite possibly the most talented quarterbacks in the nation with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. Their best quarterback, before a shoulder injury, is now a stand-out wide receiver for the squad, and they have a legitimate Heisman candidate in the backfield with Ezekiel Elliot. On paper, they are more than worthy of the #1 spot in the polls. So why aren’t they there?
A large part of it has to do with the devaluation of seemingly every other conference in favor of the “almighty” SEC. It seems like no one respects what any other conference does. If you aren’t in the SEC, you aren’t anything.
Perhaps the bigger obstacle keeping Ohio State from the top spot in the rankings is their schedule. The selection committee has made it abundantly clear that unless you’re in the SEC, you have to have a stellar non-conference schedule. Ohio State doesn’t have anyone impressive, in the eyes of the committee, on their non-conference schedule. They played Virginia Tech in the opener, but losing two quarterbacks in the course of the game severely devalued the quality of that win.
The only other strong team they faced was Northern Illinois, who nearly beat them. The problem with Northern Illinois is that they play in the MAC Conference, which is consistently overlooked by polls, the media, and the casual fan. Not very many people realize just how good the football is in the MAC conference. Personally, I think it would behoove my Cyclones to consider a move to the conference, but that’s a post for another time.
If you look at Ohio State for what they are and ignore what conference they are in, you will see a team that is on par, if not ahead of, every other team in the nation. They are in the top 15 nationally in both rushing yards and points allowed, and just outside the top 15 (a tie for 16th) in points scored. With them being the defending champs, I have to give them the respect they deserve until they lose.
#2 LSU: Leonard Fournette is unquestionably the biggest weapon in college football today. The running back for the LSU Tigers is on pace to break Herschel Walker’s SEC rushing records this season and, were it not for the 3-year rule from the NFL, would be poised to be a very high draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft. They play in the highly-touted (for better or worse…worse) SEC, and have a critical game coming up tomorrow against the currently 4th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
If it weren’t for the Buckeyes of Ohio State being the defending National Champions, I would probably have LSU in the top spot. Their rushing game is absolutely phenomenal (ranked 4th in the nation in yards per game), they have wins against three ranked opponents on their schedule so far, and if they run the table, they’ll add four more to that (including an SEC title game). It doesn’t get much easier for the Tigers if/when they get past Alabama, but I really like what I’ve seen from Fournette and the talent around him so far this season. If I had to root for an SEC team (please don’t make me), it would be these Tigers, hands down.
#3 Clemson: The most impressive team in the nation this season has to be the Clemson Tigers. I don’t think anyone would have realistically picked Clemson over Florida State in the ACC, but as of right now, they have a much better team than the Seminoles do.
For my money, Clemson is the best overall team in the nation right now. They are on a hot streak that, if they can beat the aforementioned Seminoles tomorrow, looks to carry them through the season and into an ACC championship game, likely against a rising, but still very beatable North Carolina team.
So why, then, don’t I have them in the number 1 slot? Because I’m honestly not convinced that this team can beat the Seminoles tomorrow. I love Clemson on paper, and I do think they have a better team overall, but I’m just not sure I trust the streaking Tigers yet. Clemson has played only two close games all season, one against the then 6th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The only major statistical category that Florida State has the (slight) advantage over Clemson in is points allowed per game. In every other category, Clemson has a very decisive edge. Florida State has already lost one game this season, whereas Clemson is undefeated.
On paper, there’s nothing to suggest that Florida State has the advantage in this match-up, and yet I can’t shake the feeling that this is the week that Clemson drops from the ranks of the unbeatens.
#4 Iowa: If I told you there was a team that ranked in the top 10 in the nation in all these categories: scoring defense, rushing defense, total defense, opponent plays of 40+, 30+, and 20+ yards, opponent red-zone conversion percentage, rushing touchdowns allowed, and opponent rushing plays of 10+ and 20+ yards, you’d think that I’d have to be talking about an SEC defense, right? After all, the so-called experts would have you believe they have the best talent and, therefore, the best teams. This team surely has to be in the top 4 of the polls, right?
You would be wrong. The team that I’m referring to is the Iowa Hawkeyes, and they are currently ranked 9th in the latest polls. So where is the discrepancy between the statistics and their rankings? It’s all about the strength of schedule. This might be the downfall of a Hawkeyes team that otherwise has a solid case for being in the College Football Playoff discussion.
Iowa has strong wins against both Northwestern and Wisconsin, but the selection committee has made it pretty clear that they don’t respect what Iowa had scheduled in the non-conference portion of their schedule. The group, for whatever reason, apparently does not see the win over Pittsburgh as a strong one, nor do they look very highly upon Iowa beating a very respectable FCS team in Illinois State. Iowa is also hurt by not playing Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State this season in their conference schedule, thus not giving them a chance to pile up quality wins like an Alabama or LSU does.
While I understand the committee’s decision to thumb their nose at Iowa’s non-conference schedule, it seems inconsistent when you compare it to the non-conference schedule of Alabama, the current 4th ranked (and last of the teams who would be in the College Football Playoff if the season ended today) Alabama Crimson Tide.
Both teams notched wins over Wisconsin (which is not a non-conference game for Iowa, but it is a common opponent, so for comparison I’m throwing it in there), so that’s a wash. They both scheduled games against FCS opponents, where Iowa booked the far tougher one, and they both scheduled weak Conference USA teams.
To downgrade Iowa because of their non-conference schedule while not doing the same for Alabama just goes to demonstrate further the bias this committee has towards SEC teams. Not to mention the fact that Alabama has a blemish on their schedule, whereas the Hawkeyes are still undefeated.
So there you have it, the four teams that I think are playing the best college football as of today. Several major games are coming up this Saturday, as well as every Saturday from here on out, so my rankings are sure to change between now and January, as will those of the selection committee. Stay tuned in the coming days for a post detailing who I think are the next up, should one of the top 4 go down in one of those big games.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.