Warts are for everyone this season in college football. Nobody is airbrushed perfection. Alabama 2020 was so last year.
That lesson continues to hit home as the season unfolds—we simply may not have a super team. Alabama certainly appeared the closest thing to it, but then the Crimson Tide went into The Swamp and barely escaped with a victory. It was the closest they’ve come to defeat since being beaten in the 2019 Iron Bowl.
But Alabama still appears more bulletproof than usual suspects. Clemson scored 14 and barely avoided a late collapse against Georgia Tech. Ohio State was in a tussle late against Tulsa, which lost to FCS UC Davis in its opener. Oklahoma was fortunate to escape a Nebraska team that might get Scott Frost fired. It’s not even the last week of September, and it feels like we’re scrounging to find more than five quality College Football Playoff contenders.
Let’s go to the constantly shifting top 10:
1. Georgia (3–0)
Last game: beat South Carolina 40–13
Next game: at Vanderbilt
In their 12th quarter of the season, the Bulldogs finally surrendered an offensive touchdown. By then it was far too late to matter, with Georgia pummeling South Carolina 40-6. Backed by that killer defense, the Bulldogs had a second straight productive passing game—this time starter JT Daniels was back after missing last week with an injury, throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman Adonai Mitchell had career highs of four catches and 77 yards, as Georgia continues to distribute the ball to a number of receivers.
2. Oregon (3–0)
Last game: beat Stony Brook 48–7
Next game: home against Arizona
Beating FCS Stony Brook didn’t do anything for the Ducks’ resume, but Fresno State’s performance at UCLA did. Oregon now has an increasingly strong victory over the Bulldogs plus that brilliant performance against Ohio State in Columbus on the resume. As the rest of the Pac-12 collapses, the Ducks are the conference’s alpha and omega of College Football Playoff hopes.
3. Penn State (3–0)
Last game: beat Auburn 28–20
Next game: home against Villanova
The Nittany Lions now have two high-quality wins, over Wisconsin on the road and Saturday in their annual whiteout game against Auburn. They were pushed to the brink again, but a productive passing game and another stellar Red Zone defensive effort allowed James Franklin’s team to prevail over another quality opponent. Receiver Jahan Dotson (10 catches for 76 yards) is having an All-American start to the season, and tight ends Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson combined for five catches and 108 yards—not to mention some wildcat quarterback cameos.
4. Alabama (3–0)
Last game: beat Florida 31–29
Next game: home against Southern Mississippi
Alabama is probably held to an unfair standard of excellence, when a road win over a ranked Florida doesn’t move the Crimson Tide up in the SI Top 10. But that opening victory over Miami continued to lose currency with the Hurricanes’ 21-point home loss to Michigan State, and beating Mercer means nothing. So a lot hangs on the performance against the Gators, and it was pretty shaky at times. Pretty shocking to see a Nick Saban team outrushed 245–91.
5. Iowa (3–0)
Last game: beat Kent State 30–7
Next game: home against Colorado State
The Hawkeyes remain unchallenged, but how good is 1–2 Indiana? How good is 2–1 Iowa State? The defense is unquestionable. Tyler Goodson is an elite running back. But can Iowa complete passes—especially downfield—when it absolutely has to? Still, a great start to the season for the Big Ten West favorite.
6. Florida (2–1)
Last game: lost to Alabama 31–29
Next game: home against Tennessee
The Gators showed a lot in defeat, pushing the Crimson Tide to the brink. Nobody has come that close to beating ‘Bama since Auburn beat 'Bama in November 2019. Florida’s running game was overpowering, and that’s even without the services of explosive dual-threat backup quarterback Anthony Richardson. Dan Mullen knows what he’s doing.
7. BYU (3–0)
Last game: beat Arizona State 27–17
Next game: at home against South Florida
Who is 3–0 against Power 5 competition? These guys. The Cougars got one of the great individual plays of the year to help hold off the Sun Devils, when running back Tyson Allgeier ran down an Arizona State defensive player who was on the way to the end zone with a fumble. Allgeier leaped over the top and punched the ball loose, BYU recovered, and it maintained the advantage the rest of the game. It may be a while before these guys lose. If they do lose.
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8. Fresno State (3–1)
Last game: beat UCLA 40–37
Next game: home against UNLV
What a performance by the Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl. They had the Bruins beaten in the fourth quarter, then squandered their lead, then got it back, then lost it again, then won it in the final seconds. Quarterback Jake Haener, limping as he chucked the ball all over the field and tore the UCLA secondary to ribbons, had the guttiest performance of the season to date. Think about it: this team played Oregon closer than Ohio State did . . . and the Ducks are really good. The intrigue out West goes far beyond the struggling Pac-12.
Last game: beat Tulane 61–21
Next game: at Alabama Oct. 2
The Rebels keep upping the dose. They scored 43 in their opener against Louisville, 54 last week against Austin Peay, and now 61 in three quarters against a Green Wave team that pushed Oklahoma two weeks ago. Best offense in the country? Whose to argue at this point?
Last game: beat Indiana 38–24
Next game: at Notre Dame Oct. 2
The Bearcats responded impressively to a 14–0 deficit on the road in front of Indiana’s largest home crowd for a non-conference game in 34 years. Cincinnati stopped the Hoosiers three times inside the 10-yard line, and quarterback Desmond Ridder overcame a shaky start with a multitude of big plays in the second half.
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