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 such few 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.
It’s not the Bulldogs’ fault that they have a schedule that’s soft as Charmin. They were supposed to play Oklahoma this year, so at least there would have been one opponent with a pulse if all had gone according to plan. But conference realignment shuttled plans for that home-and-home series, and here we are. So, we take what we can and try to learn about these Dawgs in blowouts such as Saturday’s 45-3 win over Ball State.
Again, Georgia started out a bit slow, held scoreless in the first quarter. But 31 points in the second quarter, a scoring outburst sparked by a Mekhi Mews 69-yard punt return TD, essentially put the game away. The Dawgs’ defense looked great, but — again — it’s hard to know how this team would perform under stress until it’s actually playing a better opponent. But until there’s a reason to drop Georgia from the top spot, I’ll give the Bulldogs the benefit of the doubt. They’ll stay here.
The Wolverines are two-thirds of their way through the school’s self-imposed three-game suspension for Jim Harbaugh, and the most interesting part of the day on Saturday was the discovery that Harbaugh spent his Saturday serving as part of the chain gang for his 10-year-old son’s football game. There were very few sweeping judgments to be made about his college-aged roster in yet another blowout win. Michigan took care of business against UNLV with a 35-7 win, as quarterback J.J. McCarthy operated so smoothly again it looked like he was on cruise control. He’s completed more than 87 percent of his passes so far this season (albeit against weak competition) and continued to develop his terrific chemistry with wide receiver Roman Wilson, who caught another two touchdown passes on Saturday.
The one concern I have about Michigan right now is the uncertain role of Donovan Edwards. The rushing attack hasn’t exactly been the electrifying duo like it was last year through two games. Blake Corum continues to work his way back from injury, with 15 carries for 80 yards and three scores, but Edwards was barely involved in the game. One week after he had 12 carries for just 37 yards, he finished with six carries for nine yards. And he’s supposed to be the lightning part of the thunder and lightning!
3. Texas (2-0)
Is Texas back? It’s a complicated question and an easy one to mock, which is why so many fans of other teams do it constantly. Texas players and coaches are careful about making proclamations when things go well for similar reasons. You don’t want to immediately face-plant and earn even more ridicule.
But … what if Texas is as back as one can be without winning the league or a making the College Football Playoff? Isn’t the idea of being “back” the same as being the type of team that can go into Bryant-Denny Stadium and leave with a double-digit win? Methinks so. What the Longhorns did on Saturday night isn’t only difficult — it’s something that literally hadn’t happened previously in the Nick Saban tenure. It was his first double-digit home loss as the Alabama head coach.
Steve Sarkisian got it done with a terrific game plan and a masterful game called. Quinn Ewers was spectacular, finishing the day 24-of-38 for 349 yards and three touchdowns — none bigger than the ones thrown to AD Mitchell in the fourth quarter. Texas took every punch Alabama threw and hit hard right back until the Longhorns got the KO. Texas was the better and more consistent team on both sides of the ball, a team as good in action as it looks on paper.
Alabama, on the other hand, has serious deficiencies that can’t be easily fixed. The offense deserves the scrutiny it received all offseason and all that it will receive moving forward. Jalen Milroe had some good moments but also made some absolutely awful decisions. There were 10 consequential penalties that cost the Crimson Tide 90 yards. The defense gave up monster play after monster play with the game on the line late. This does not appear to be a national championship-caliber Alabama roster, and the jury’s still out on whether it’s good enough to contend in the SEC. I’ve dropped the Tide out of my Top 10 entirely after such a disappointing and frustrating performance.
Wasserman: It’s time for everyone to finally take this Texas team seriously
One week after their statement win over LSU, the Seminoles handled business against Southern Miss, beating the Eagles 66-13. Heisman hopeful Jordan Travis threw two touchdown passes and tallied 195 total yards of offense that included a spectacular fourth-down scramble in the first quarter. Travis and Trey Benson carried the offense to where it needed to go to pull away. Plus, wide receiver Keon Coleman hurdled a defender. Like, really hurdled him — and actually easily cleared the dude. Coleman remains one of the best athletes and one of the best players in the country through two games.
The most important part of the Buckeyes’ 35–7 win over Youngstown State was that Marvin Harrison Jr. was the focal point. He’s supposed to be, and in last Saturday’s underwhelming win over Indiana, he finished with just two catches for 18 yards. That should never happen, even if an opponent decides to try to take him out of the game. Against the Penguins, Harrison had seven receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns. That’s more like it.
Unsurprisingly, the Ohio State offense looked significantly better this Saturday, with Kyle McCord finishing 14-of-20 for 258 yards and three touchdowns. It was the kind of performance the Buckeyes are supposed to have against an inferior opponent. And it should give them some confidence after a sluggish, frustrating-at-times opener.
Last week was all about Drew Allar’s debut as the Penn State starting quarterback. This week, I wanted to learn more about the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack — and I sure got what I asked for. Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton combined for 25 carries and four rushing touchdowns … all in the first half. By game’s end, Allen went over 100 yards, and Singleton tallied three touchdown runs of five yards or fewer. Yes, it was a blowout — a 63-7 win over Delaware, an FCS opponent — but it also showed that this team can run the ball efficiently and effectively when it wants to run the ball. Neither of the sophomore running backs has broken a long run yet this season, but that will come. With only two games under its belt, this offense feels really balanced and complete.
7. USC (3-0)
The Trojans wasted no time on Saturday night vs. Stanford, jumping out to a 14-point lead in the game’s first six minutes, finding the end zone seven times by halftime, and winning 56-10. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who played the first half, finished 19-of-22 for 281 yards and three touchdowns, yet another phenomenal performance for the sport’s most exciting quarterback. Of course, we all know how good the USC offense can be at its best, and we know that it isn’t the limiting factor for the Trojans down the road. That would be Alex Grinch’s defense, which has looked better at times through three games but still hasn’t been tested in a significant way. Arizona State may apply some pressure next week, but the first real, big test will be Shedeur Sanders and this surging Colorado team, which hosts USC on Sept. 30.
Oh, and here’s a free piece of advice for future USC opponents: Stop kicking the ball to Zachariah Branch. He’s got a punt return TD and a kick return TD already this year. Better to just avoid him than risk it.
8. LSU (1-1)
The Tigers bounced back from a tough season-opening loss to Florida State with an easy 72-10 win over Grambling State on Saturday. Jayden Daniels threw five touchdowns and averaged better than a first down per passing attempt. Logan Diggs averaged 7.7 yards per carry, and four different receivers caught touchdown passes. Frankly, there’s not much to take away from a game like this, but it’s got to feel nice for the Tigers after their beatdown in Orlando.
Already one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, Michael Penix Jr. continues to dazzle whenever he gets the chance. In Saturday’s 43-10 win over Tulsa, Penix was 28-of-38 for 409 yards and three touchdowns. He completed passes to 10 different receivers, though Jalen McMillan seemed to be his favorite, tallying eight receptions for 120 yards (82 yards after the catch) and a score. Yes, there were dropped passes and Penix did throw his first interception of the season. But I’m not worried about these Huskies, not after what I saw last weekend against Boise State. And I’m not too worried about next week’s game against Michigan State, either.
The fans streamed out of the stands and onto the field, as Washington State head coach Jake Dickert made his plea on national television: “This moment, it’s everything,” a hoarse Dickert told ESPN. “We belong in the Power 5. These kids have worked their asses off. We’re all we’ve got. We’re all we need.”
It was hard to watch that — and the Cougs’ 31-22 win over Wisconsin — and not feel awful for this football program and the people who make it what it is.
Jake Dickert after WSU’s win over No. 19 Wisconsin: “We belong in a Power Five.” pic.twitter.com/laDjoJv7Mt
— Seattle Times Sports (@SeaTimesSports) September 10, 2023
They and Oregon State have been left behind, abandoned by their peers in the Pac-12 and unwanted by other power-conference leagues, in the latest round of conference realignment. Just this week, Washington State and Oregon State felt they had to sue the Pac-12 conference and its commissioner just to retain control of the assets they believe to be theirs as well as their ability to make decisions regarding their futures without input from the Pac-12’s outgoing members.
It’s been a nightmare of a year for this school and its athletic department. All Dickert and his players can do is play the games on the schedule, not knowing what the 2024 season holds. All the Cougs can do is show that they can compete at this level and explain why it matters to the people of Pullman that they stay here. Everyone involved in this understands the reality of the road ahead, and that these two schools are going to have to take a step down, regardless of whether it’s to the Mountain West directly or whatever sort of reverse merger they end up exploring.
But, for one glorious moment, the eyes of the nation fell upon Pullman and saw winners. They saw Dickert, who had already lost his voice. They saw Cam Ward, who remains oh-so-underrated nationally. They saw an aggressive and opportunistic defense. But most of all, they saw a fierce group of football players and football coaches fighting for one another in a sport that isn’t fighting for them.
(Top photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)