Outside Looking In:
This weekend was far less dramatic than the week prior. Every team in the top 10 got a win. Apart from Notre Dame, each team did so in convincing fashion. Thus there will likely be little to no movement among the top teams in the rankings. The week before rivalry week is usually decidedly less crazy than others, as teams worry about getting healthy, and preparing for rivalry week matchups and the conference championships ahead. As a result, major programs generally schedule cupcake opponents, leading to far less marquee matchups.
The game of the weekend, #5 Wisconsin vs #24 Michigan, for the most part played out as the defensive battle that many predicted. Neither team’s offense was particularly impressive, although Heisman candidate, Jonathan Taylor posted another 100+ rushing yard game. Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters left the game with a head injury in the third quarter. Peters’ departure signaled the beginning of the end for the Badgers. Whether or not this changed the complexion of the game is up for debate, but a 14-10 deficit quickly became a 24-10 after John O’Korn took over at quarterback. Badgers fans will be hoping that their ranked win over the Wolverines will be enough to propel them into the top 4. But with Alabama, Clemson, Miami, and Oklahoma all winning decisively, the number 5 spot is where they will stay for the week. Wisconsin will have to rely on winning the Big Ten Championship to boost their resume. However, they will play an Ohio State team who will likely be favored.
The other game this weekend that everyone was looking forward to pitted top quarterback prospects, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, against each other as # 11 USC took on UCLA. While USC emerged victorious, it was Rosen who looked like the better NFL prospect. Despite leading his team to a 28-23 win, Darnold struggled throwing 0 touchdowns and an interception. Meanwhile Rosen posted an impressive stat line with 421 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interceptions. Darnold can take comfort in having beaten his crosstown rival. However, a better individual performance would likely be more important to the USC quarterback, since USC is all but eliminated from the playoff picture at number 11 anyway.
The only team in the top 15 that lost was #13 Oklahoma State, with a subpar performance at home against Kansas State. Despite trailing by more than 2 touchdowns for the majority of the day, Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys mounted a late comeback attempt to bring the final score to 45-40. Yet Rudolph’s 425 passing yards and 3 touchdowns were not enough to salvage the game for Oklahoma State. The loss eliminates Mike Gundy’s team from Big 12 championship contention, in what has been a disappointing season for a team once ranked number 6. If it’s any consolation to the fans in Stillwater, the cowboys will likely not fall further than 18, and certainly maintain a place in the top 25.
One team that will fall out of the rankings with a loss this past week, is NC State. The Wolfpack drop out of the top 25 after a 30-24 loss at Wake Forest. While this isn’t necessarily a horrible loss, NC State has essentially lost to every good team they’ve played this season (including Notre Dame, Clemson, South Carolina, and now Wake Forest). Wins earlier in the season over hyped teams like Florida State and Louisville seemed to elevate the pundit’s opinion of the Wolfpack. However, both of these teams have not lived up to expectations. I have personally never understood why the committee has been so high on NC State. Almost beating Clemson while the Tigers were slumping seems to be this team’s only claim to fame. Regardless, the Wolfpack will likely finish the season 8-4 and have a chance to creep back into the rankings next week.
Newcomers to this week’s top 25 include South Florida and Virginia Tech. South Florida as only one loss at this point in the season. I don’t generally push for support for non power 5 teams. But its very difficult for me to ignore that the Bulls are 9-1 in the AAC. The AAC is no power 5, but it is clearly the next best thing. The conference currently has 2 other teams ranked in the top 25 in UCF and Memphis, in addition to a number of other respectable programs like Houston, Navy, and SMU. The strength of the AAC is significant in comparison with all over non-power 5 conferences. Moreover, if Boise State is ranked with a 9-2 record in the Mountain West, I cannot understand why the Bull wouldn’t be ranked at 9-1 in the AAC.
Virginia Tech also will hop back into the top 25 after a week of absence. A 17-14 victory against Pitt was not exactly convincing. There is a lot to like about their offense with quarterback Josh Jackson, and wide receiver Cam Phillips. Though I have no other rationale for including them over other 8-3 and 7-4 teams, other than that I believe the committee likes them over others in contention. South Carolina has the best case in my opinion. But the committee seems reluctant to give them credit. Similarly, the committee has not been high on Michigan all season. After losing in the #24 spot, I cannot believe they will stay ranked despite an 8-3 record. In my opinion, a much more likely scenario would be Iowa State returning to the rankings. The cyclones hold wins over #4 Oklahoma and #12 TCU. The only reason they fell out of the rankings last week was a shootout loss to #13 Oklahoma State.
Besides these 3, no one else in country really has a legitimate argument to make the top 25. Then again this committee is insane. There seems to be no formula or uniform logic dictating how teams will be evaluated. The fact the Boise State was ranked last week still blows my min (people forget they lost 42-23 at home to Virginia). Never mind the fact that Penn State jumped 4 spots by beating Rutgers…