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SI's Top 10: Georgia, Iowa Power Through Opponents

The Ducks' win on the road came without their best player, while the Crimson Tide's Week 1 victory over Miami lost some luster and Clemson records its first win.
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So, you hated how predictable college football had become. You hated how the usual suspects kept dominating everything, barging their way through the regular season and into the College Football Playoff. You hated, specifically, the presence of Alabama-Clemson-Ohio State, over and over.

Well, have we got a season for you. It’s not even the middle of September, and two of those three already have lost games. Last week it was Clemson; this week (in a much bigger shocker) it was Ohio State being upset at home by Oregon. There is change in the air.

Neither of those teams are out of the playoff race, of course. In fact, they’re not even out of the Sports Illustrated Top 10. But they both lost their margin for error, and perhaps their bulletproof aura within their respective leagues. Anyone up for taking a run at the Buckeyes and Tigers in the Big Ten and ACC, respectively?

Ohio State’s loss to Oregon wasn’t the only shocking part of Week 2, though. Far from it. On the field, there was a Jacksonville State Hail Mary against a comically bad Florida State defense that might have provided rock bottom in the Seminoles’ multi-year slide. There was Notre Dame being pushed to the brink in a game only viewable in the stadium or on Peacock streaming service by Toledo of the Mid-American Conference. There was Stanford absolutely pummeling No. 14 USC as a 17-point underdog, re-igniting the fire under Clay Helton; and BYU taking care of No. 24 Utah as a seven-point ‘dog.

But forget about ‘dogs. Let’s talk about cat. The cat, which stole the entire silly Week 2 show. The feline that somehow dangled from the upper deck during the Miami-Appalachian State game, then dropped to the level below and was rather heroically caught by fans using an American flag as a safety net. The cat was triumphantly held aloft by the fans who saved it, whereupon it did what came naturally—it sprayed urine in whatever direction it could.

This is both the best and dumbest of all sports, and the fact that there can be both a Jacksonville State Hail Mary and a falling stadium cat in the same state on the same night underscores it. On to the Top 10:

1. Georgia (2–0)

Last game: beat UAB, 56–7.

Next game: South Carolina at home Saturday.

Two games in, the Bulldogs still have not allowed an offensive touchdown. The Blazers’ only score Saturday was an interception return with five minutes left in a game Georgia utterly dominated from the start, despite injuries and COVID-19 issues. Backup quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, a piñata for Georgia fans last year, filled in for injured starter JT Daniels and threw five touchdown passes in the first half. Bennett’s efficiency rating for the game: an absurd 422.43. The explosive plays that were absent against Clemson last week were present against UAB, with completions of 89, 73 and 61 yards. Georgia has 10 sacks in two games.

2. Iowa (2–0)

Last game: beat Iowa State, 27–17.

Next game: Kent State at home Saturday.

The Hawkeyes have dominated two straight ranked opponents, blowing out Indiana in Week 1 and then easily handling Iowa State in what was the biggest meeting in the history of the Cy-Hawk rivalry. Iowa’s formula has been Ferentzian perfection: we will play great defense; we will force you into mistakes and capitalize immediately; we will make very few mistakes of our own; we will play field-position football and punt when prudent and win in the trenches. Iowa has forced seven turnovers in two games and scored three defensive touchdowns. The Hawkeyes’ passing game has been pedestrian at best, but if they keep playing from ahead that may not matter for several more weeks.

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3. Oregon (2–0)

Last game: beat Ohio State, 35–28.

Next game: Stony Brook at home Saturday.

An absolutely brilliant victory for the Ducks, who were playing on the road without their best player and potential No. 1 overall draft pick, Kayvon Thibodeaux. This was the program’s biggest win in seven years, the Pac-12’s biggest win in seven years, and head coach Mario Cristobal’s biggest win ever. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead called a masterful game, with C.J. Verdell supplying many of the big plays and quarterback Anthony Brown continuing to show why the Oregon coaching staff had such confidence in him. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter did a fine job wallpapering over the absence of two stars (Justin Flowe, who had 14 tackles in the opener, also missed the game). This game is a potential season maker.

4. Alabama (2–0)

Last game: beat Mercer, 48–14.

Next game: at Florida Saturday.

Why is mighty Alabama No. 4? Because the Week 1 victory over Miami lost some luster when the Hurricanes barely beat Appalachian State, and beating Mercer counts for exactly nothing. Beat Florida next week and the Crimson Tide could easily return to the top spot. The only newsworthy thing to happen in this game was a knee injury to star linebacker Will Anderson—and why Anderson was in a 31–0 game in the third quarter against an FCS opponent is the big question. The only things that can happen at that point are bad, and they did. The injury is not believed to be major, but why even invite the possibility heading into a big game against the Gators?

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5. Penn State (2–0)

Last game: beat Ball State, 44–13.

Next game: Auburn at home Saturday.

The Nittany Lions’ ranking is mostly due to the how-did-they-win-that opener at Wisconsin, but following that up with an authoritative beating of the defending MAC champions is pretty good as well. (Sometimes those MAC teams can be pesky; as Notre Dame knows.) Penn State is surrendering just 3.98 yards per play through two games, and has allowed just six first-half points. Sean Clifford had a solid passing game against Ball State and has yet to throw an interception.

6. UCLA (2–0)

Last game: beat LSU, 38–27, on Sept. 4.

Next game: Fresno State at home Saturday.

It remains to be seen how much weight to accurately give the Bruins’ victory over LSU —not to mention the week zero rout of Hawaii—but there is little arguing that Chip Kelly’s team has performed at a high level so far. They have clicked off five plays from scrimmage of 40-plus yards, with running back Zach Charbonnet having two of those and a third one over 30. This looks like the Kelly offense that was advertised when he arrived in Westwood in 2018. But don’t sleep on the challenge presented by Fresno State, which had Oregon on the ropes Sept. 4.

7. Clemson (1–1)

Last game: beat South Carolina State, 49–3.

Next game: Georgia Tech at home Saturday.

A week after being held without a touchdown by Georgia, the Tigers used an FCS opponent to make themselves feel better about their offense. Clemson led 28–0 in the first quarter and 35–0 at halftime before putting it in park. The passing game still hasn’t torn the top off a defense, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt against South Carolina State, but Clemson did hit a couple of throws for longer than 35 yards. Still, Clemson can take some solace in knowing that its three points against Georgia remain the only offensive points the Bulldogs have allowed thus far.

8. Ohio State (1–1)

Last game: lost to Oregon, 35–28.

Next game: Tulsa at home Saturday.

You want a pregame omen of doom? The Ohio State marching band’s drum major delivered it with this face-first entry to the field.

That was an embarrassing way to begin the home opener, and frankly it never got any better for the football team. The Buckeyes were outplayed all day by Oregon and looked especially soft and bewildered on defense. Coordinator Kerry Coombs didn’t win over too many admirers in his first year in that position in 2020, and let’s just say that the critics are further aggrieved thus far this year. Ohio State points allowed the last three games: 52, 31, 35. Last time the Buckeyes gave up 118 points in three games: 1891, when the opponents were Otterbein, Western Reserve and Kenyon. That was the school’s second year of organized football. Two games in, Ohio State is operating far below expectations so far.

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9. Central Florida (2–0)

Last game: beat Bethune-Cookman, 63–14.

Next game: at Louisville Friday.

The big news of the week for the Knights: they were accepted as a future member of the Big 12, potentially alleviating much of the angst the program endured during its undefeated 2017 season. But in the here and now, this ranking here hinges on beating Boise State in an exciting season opener, not on anything that transpired Saturday. The Knights get another credibility opportunity this week against Louisville on the road, and still have games against Cincinnati and Memphis in October. That said, it still will be difficult to maintain this ranking as other schedules ramp up. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel had his second straight 350-plus yard game of total offense in Gus Malzahn’s offense.

10. BYU (2–0)

Last game: Beat Utah, 26–17.

Next game: Arizona State at home Saturday.

This was probably the best week the program has had since it won the 1984 national title. The Cougars officially became a future member of the Big 12 on Friday, then upset their hated rival Saturday, ending a nine-game losing streak to the Utes. BYU now is 2–0 against the Pac-12, having beaten Arizona in its opener, with Arizona State on deck this week. The Conference of Champions, which opted against expansion not long ago, might wish it had invited the Cougars after all.