Each Saturday night throughout the season, I’ll rank the 10 best teams in the country. The order will fluctuate week to week based on new results, player availability and whatever else impacts this chaotic sport. This is obviously a subjective process, and I look forward to the arguments, especially when we have limited data points early in the year. The final spot each week will go to a team that may not actually be the 10th best team in the country but still deserves a little shine.
(Note: I’ll adjust these rankings if needed after Sunday and Monday’s games, with likely Top 10 honorees Florida State, LSU and Clemson still to play.)
If a 41-point win can be equal parts ho-hum and sluggish, then that’s what Georgia’s 48-7 win over UT Martin was. New starting quarterback Carson Beck’s day looked fine on paper (21 of 31 for 294 yards and a touchdown), but we’ll need to see a lot more from Beck and the vertical passing game before we know just how likely a three-peat is. The good news is that the Bulldogs have another warmup game against Ball State before their first real test this season, the SEC opener against South Carolina. That’s plenty of time to shore up the offensive line play and get a bit healthier.
Also: I drafted Brock Bowers in our preseason Heisman draft, and I continue to believe that he is one of the best non-QB players in the country. It’s wonderful to have him in our lives each Saturday again.
No. 1 Georgia wasn’t perfect, but it just needed to play a game after offseason turmoil
No Jim Harbaugh, no problem for the Wolverines. Michigan cruised to a 30-3 season-opening win over East Carolina without its head coach and offensive coordinator due to school-imposed suspensions, putting up 402 total yards of offense anyway. J.J. McCarthy may have found a new favorite target in Roman Wilson, who caught touchdowns in each of the first three quarters. The rushing attack took a while to get going, and Blake Corum is still working back from a season-ending injury. But the defense looked great, and the Wolverines took care of business the way they wanted. This is what a good team is supposed to do with a nonconference schedule like this.
Michigan cruises without Harbaugh: The good, the bad and what’s next
Slow starts were a theme for a number of top teams on Saturday, and Ohio State’s 23-3 win over Indiana was Exhibit A. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day called it “clunkiness,” a good word for what was at times a frustrating opener. The Buckeyes led the Hoosiers by just seven at the half after an unimpressive start by new starting quarterback Kyle McCord, who characterized his performance as just “all right.” McCord finished 20 of 33 for 239 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. Day should be able to find several things to improve, starting with the Buckeyes’ red zone offense and third down futility (2-of-12). But the Ohio State running game looked good — it was especially great to see a healthy TreVeyon Henderson back in the rotation — and the defense was solid. The Buckeyes only allowed 153 yards of total offense and were particularly stout against the run. Indiana averaged 2.2 yards per carry.
Day said after the game he had initially planned to work backup quarterback Devin Brown in for more series but worried after Brown’s first three-and-out that the offense couldn’t get into a rhythm with him. The lopsided workloads between McCord and Brown were surprising after a quarterback competition Day had characterized as neck-and-neck. It seems like we have to assume that this is McCord’s job, which means his ability (or inability) to throw the deep ball may determine how good Ohio State can be. Star receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka combined for just five catches, which seems not ideal whatsoever.
4. LSU (0-0)
The Tigers looked ahead of schedule in Year 1 for Brian Kelly, and as defending SEC West champions they get the edge for now over divisional rival Alabama ahead of Sunday night’s opener against FSU. Quarterback Jayden Daniels could be a Heisman Trophy contender if this team reaches its potential.
5. Alabama (1-0)
New starter Jalen Milroe accounted for five total touchdowns in a 56-7 win over Middle Tennessee, and his backup, Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner, was also effective in limited action. This is what Alabama is supposed to do to a Conference USA team, but the quarterback production offered an encouraging start to the post-Bryce Young era. The Crimson Tide defense looked great, especially up front, which is promising with Texas on deck in Week 2. It’s time to turn the page to the Longhorns, which will be a much stiffer test and a much better set of answers to all the questions we had about Alabama this offseason.
The Drew Allar era has begun, and it looks like it’ll be as fun as expected. (And Penn State’s special teams might make some games that shouldn’t be entertaining perhaps a bit too entertaining … but that’s a different story.) Allar finished his first start with 325 yards and three touchdowns through the air, throwing short, medium and deep balls with confidence and zip in a 38-15 win over West Virginia. Penn State’s rushing attack left something to be desired, especially after what Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton proved they were capable of last season. Neither had a run of 15 yards or longer.
Penn State only pulled away in the fourth quarter, with two missed field goals in the first half by Sander Sahaydak helping keep the Mountaineers within striking distance. Still, there was a lot to like about the Penn State offensive output on Saturday. KeAndre Lambert-Smith looked like the team’s No. 1 receiver, to match his jersey number. He and Allar connected four times for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Week 1 Saturday Takeaways: CFB’s star power shows up in full force
7. USC (2-0)
I do not envy defensive coordinators and defensive players who have to go up against Caleb Williams. No quarterback in the country extends plays quite like him. Two games in, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner looks as good as ever. But offense has never really been a problem for Lincoln Riley-coached teams, and the Trojans’ defense looked a lot better against Nevada than it did in Week 0 against San Jose State, especially against the run. Alex Grinch’s unit allowed just 49 rushing yards to the Wolf Pack in Saturday’s 66-14 win.
8. Florida State (0-0)
It’s been about a decade since expectations were this high for the Seminoles. Mike Norvell has built up this program without skipping steps, and the next one to take is competing for an ACC championship. If Florida State does that, it should also be in College Football Playoff contention. We’ll learn a lot about this team when it takes on LSU on Sunday night, but there’s a lot to like in Jordan Travis, an improving offensive line and what should be a stout defense led by All-American Jared Verse.
9. Clemson (0-0)
Because of all the offseason hype for Florida State and the fact that the Tigers have gone two years without a College Football Playoff appearance, it almost feels like Clemson could sneak up on people this fall. Monday night’s opener at Duke is no walk in the park, and it should offer a great read on what quarterback Cade Klubnik and do-everything running back Will Shipley look like under the direction of new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley — whose presence TCU desperately missed on Saturday. The Blue Devils will be a good measuring-stick game out of the gate.
The Buffs shocked the college football world on Saturday with a 45-42 win at TCU, backing up an offseason of hype-stoking talk from head coach Deion Sanders. Two legitimate stars were born in Shedeur Sanders, who set a Colorado record with 510 passing yards, and Travis Hunter, who dazzled on both sides of the ball while playing an astounding 129 snaps, per PFF. Now, TCU may not be anywhere near a national championship contender this season, but that’s still an impressive performance. Deion Sanders (and Shedeur) answered questions about the jump up in competition from Jackson State and whether the pieces of this overhauled roster could actually fit together.
Mandel: Deion Sanders has the receipts. He is That Guy. And I believe
I’m not ready to say I believe this is a team capable of contending for anything significant just yet, but that performance changes the floor for this team and probably raises the ceiling, too. If Colorado stays healthy and proves it can play that way against more physical defenses, this is a team that could be looking at a bowl game — which is not something I would have said a week ago. And at the very least, these Buffs are going to remain must-see TV.
Just like they want to be.
(Photo of J.J. McCarthy: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)