The first College Football Playoff Poll for 2016 debuts Tuesday night on the “Mothership.” But, this is the poll you should pay attention too. As you can see from last week’s rankings, it is fluid. It is absent the hype. It rewards teams and conferences that play defense. It is also not afraid to rank teams from “lesser” conferences when they deserve it.
1. Alabama @AlabamaFTBL (1)
Is this the best Tide team of all time? Maybe. They face a big test when they kickoff versus a hot LSU team Saturday night in Baton Rouge. Alabama is a 7-point favorite. LSU is also in my Top 15. It will be a major litmus test for both teams.
2. Clemson @ClemsonFB (3)
Their win over Florida State in Tallahassee last Saturday was an instant classic. With Deshaun Watson under center, the underrated Wayne Gallman carrying the rock, and NFL pass rushers like Austin Bryant chasing opposing QBs, this Tigers team is going to likely make the CFB Playoff for a second-straight season.
3. Washington @UW_Football (5)
This team is for real. They have a Heisman Trophy candidate at QB in Jake Browning. Myles Gaskin churns out yards and TDs on the ground, while WR John Ross has 12 TDs from scrimmage through 8 games. Their defense is ranked 17th overall and is number one in turnover margin at +13.
4. Michigan @UMichFootball (2)
The Wolverines drop two spots this week because they let a abysmal MSU team hang around and climb back into their game last Saturday. They allowed the Spartans to rush for 217 yards and collect 401 yards overall, giving up 13 fourth quarter points in the process. There not going to win in Columbus on November 26 playing that way.
5. Louisville @UofLFootball (4)
The Cardinals drop a spot this week after their come from behind win over a bad Virginia team. QB Lamar Jackson is the Heisman front runner by most accounts. He should be with 2,522 yards passing (22 TDs) and 996 yards rushing (16 TDs) through 8 games. With games versus Boston College and Wake Forest the next two weeks, the Cards’ big tests will come in the final two weeks: at Houston on November 17 and versus in-state, arch-enemy Kentucky on November 26.
6. Texas A&M @AggieFootball (6)
This team is loaded with talent and could arguably be ranked higher with wins over Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee already under their belts. They led Alabama in the 3rd quarter two weeks ago before the Tide rolled with 20-straight points to seal a 33-14 win. They face both SEC Mississippi teams in the next two weeks and wrap the regular season hosting LSU. This team will likely destroy their opponent in a bowl game to take out their frustrations if they miss the CFB Playoff.
7. Wisconsin @BadgerFootball (8)
I saw the Badgers first hand in East Lansing back on September 24 when they mauled MSU, 30-6. They gave #4 Michigan and #8 Ohio State everything they could handle and survived an overtime slugfest with #11 Nebraska last Saturday. They have an interesting game – as 5 1/2 point favorites – in Evanston this Saturday against an improving Northwestern squad. Will their hellish October schedule finally catch up with the Badgers in a Wildcats upset?
8. Ohio State @OhioStateFB (7)
The Buckeyes were pushed to the limit by Northwestern last weekend in Columbus. The Wildcats when 8-16 on 3rd down and collected 406 total yards in the near upset. Urban Meyer’s squad has issues they need to work out. With games versus Nebraska, MSU and Michigan all in November, they may earn another loss or two in the process.
9. Auburn @FootballAU (12)
Keep an eye on this team. Since losses to Clemson and Texas A&M in the first three weeks of the season, they have rolled off 5-straight wins. Their last three wins (Mississippi State, Arkansas and Ole Miss) have been by a combined score of 134-46. They rank 3rd in FBS in rushing, averaging 303.4 yards a game. If they survive Vanderbilt and Georgia, and a scrimmage with Alabama A&M, they could play spoiler to Nick Saban’s troops in the Iron Bowl on November 26.
10. Florida State @FSU_Football (10)
QB Deondre Francois and RB Dalvin Cook might be the most exciting backfield in college football. The Seminole defense has 28 sacks (tied for 5th nationally) and can wreak havoc on opposing backfields. But, they have given up 34 or more points in 5 games this season. With road games coming at NC State and Syracuse, the Seminoles could be upset and collect their fourth loss before their November 26th showdown with the #14 Gators in Tallahassee.
11. Nebraska @HuskerFBNation (9)
This Saturday’s showdown in Columbus versus the #8 Buckeyes is a must win for both teams, because another loss would put the loser of the game out of CFB Playoff contention. Tommy Armstrong has become the player and leader the Cornhuskers had hoped he would be. Meanwhile, their defense ranks 20th overall and leads the FBS in interceptions (15). If they can upset the Buckeyes Saturday, Big Ten West games versus Minnesota in Lincoln on November 12 and at Iowa City on November 25, are all that stand in the way of a possible West championship and a Top 10 ranking nationally.
12. Utah @Utah_Football (14)
Their 28-23 loss to California back on October 1 could haunt this team. Colorado currently leads Utah in the Pac-12 South by a game and hosts the Utes in Boulder on November 26. Unless they can get that road win, Utah would likely fall out of Top 16 contention.
13. LSU @LSUfootball (13)
With losses to #7 Wisconsin and #9 Auburn (under former head coach Les Miles) the Tigers 5-2 record can be misleading. Interm coach Ed Orgeron has given this program a jolt of energy. With a healthy Leonard Fournette back in the fold at RB, this Tigers’ squad could be everyone’s worst nightmare during the final month of the season. But, with home games versus #1 Alabama and #14 Florida, and road trips to Arkansas and #6 Texas A&M in the next four weeks, LSU’s nightmares could be just beginning.
14. Florida @GatorsFB (18)
The Gators have a lights-out defense, ranking 2nd nationally in total D behind #4 Michigan. But they only rank 75th in total offense and 66th in scoring offense. The latter number puts them ahead of only Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina in the entire SEC. With road games versus LSU and Florida State in the final two weeks of the season, the Gators may fall out of the Top 25 by December.
15. Oklahoma @OU_Football (19)
The Sooners have been one of the biggest dissapointments of the entire season. The AP has them at #12 this week. I wonder if having them here at #15 is too generous. They gave up 854 yards and 59 points to Texas Tech two weeks ago for Okies’ sake!
16. West Virginia @WVUfootball (11)
Another team from the Big XII who I wonder if I have ranked too high, especially after their 37-20 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday. At least they only gave up 379 total yards and 17 points to Texas Tech a week before the Sooners’ debacle.
17. Western Michigan @WMU_Football (17)
I’d like to rank the Broncos higher. Maybe I should have considering how I just bashed both teams ahead of them in this week’s poll. They are after all, 2-0 in the Big Ten (wins over Northwestern and Illinois) and have scored at least 41 points for 5-straight weeks. They will continue to climb in the polls as long as they keep winning. A New Year’s Six bowl birth is certainly not out of the question.
18. Virginia Tech @VT_Football (21)
The Hokies have moved up in the poll this week because four other teams from last week’s rankings have moved out (see below). This is a decent team with road wins over North Carolina and Pittsburgh on their resume. They are -11 versus Duke in Durham this Saturday. . . . I smell an upset.
19. North Carolina @GoHeels (24)
The Tar Heels have an impressive 37-35 road win over Florida State, another road W over Miami and they pulled out a one-point home win over Pitt back in September. But the 34-3 loss to Va Tech is a stinker. They are a hot and cold team who could end up with anywhere from 8 to 10 wins by season’s end.
20. Penn State @PennStateFball (23)
The upset of Ohio State was their biggest W in years. They are riding a 4-game win streak and are getting better every week. With home games against slumping Iowa and MSU and road games versus Indiana and Rutgers in the last month, the Nittany Lions could earn 10 wins for the first time since 2009.
21. Colorado @RunRalphieRun (25)
The Buffaloes hung tough with Michigan in Ann Arbor for a time back in September and have picked up road wins versus Pac 12 duds Oregon and Stanford. A 21-17 loss in the Coliseum to #22 USC hurts. But their final two games at home versus #24 Washington State and #12 Utah will tell just how good this team truly is.
22. USC @USC_Athletics (NR)
This team, much like their SEC counterpart LSU, has caught fire of late. The Trojans ride a four-game win streak into the final month. But with rivals UCLA and Notre Dame on the schedule, along with an unpredicatable Oregon and a red hot and undefeated Washington lurking, the prospects of head coach Todd Helton surviving into 2017 remain dicey.
23. Oklahoma State @CowboyFB (NR)
Mike Gundy and his self-described Mullett have led the Cowboys for over a decade. His team is also on a four-game win streak. But they play in the Big XII where defense is always optional. Can they hold Texas Tech to under 800 yards of total offense on November 12th unlike their arch-rival Sooners?
24. Washington State @wsucougfb (NR)
Mike Leach is college football’s Renaissance Man and his Air Raid offense is a work of art. They are 5-0 in the Pac 12 right now and if they can hold serve until they face Colorado and Washington in the final two weeks, Leach could paint his masterpiece in Pullman this season.
25. San Diego State @Aztec_Football (NR)
Go find this team on a TV and watch RB Donnel Pumphrey. He is the best player in college football you have probably never heard of and is currently 5th all-time on the FBS rushing yardage list. He stands at 5,741 yards and counting. He needs only 656 yards in his fnal four games to pass DeAngelo Williams, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne to become the all-time leader.
Falling out of last week’s Top 25: Tennessee, Boise State, Baylor, Navy