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. 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.
These Dawgs look damn good these days. They picked up their third consecutive win over a top-20 opponent on Saturday, this time laying waste to Tennessee 38-10 in Neyland Stadium. Carson Beck has emerged as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, throwing for 298 yards and three touchdowns while leading an efficient offense that converted 9 of 12 third downs.
If Georgia plays like it played the last three weeks, it sure looks like it’s going to play for a third consecutive national championship. This is the type of dominance we expected to see from the Bulldogs from Week 1 onward. It took a while to get this version firing on all cylinders, but it’s here, a fact that must be terrifying for everyone else in college football.
Emerson: Georgia, where fans no longer expect the bad thing to happen
Saturday’s 31-24 win at Maryland got dicey late for the Wolverines, who relied once again on their defense to secure the win in hostile territory. Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa directly accounted for 11 of the Wolverines’ points — the epitome of “Terps beating Terps” — and the Wolverines did enough offensively to get the job done. Star receiver Roman Wilson left the game after being shaken up on a big hit, and his status will be critical as Michigan officially begins Ohio State week.
Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore will again be the Wolverines’ acting head coach against the Buckeyes in what should be a top-three matchup with everything on the line: a probable College Football Playoff bid, a potential Big Ten title, ultimate bragging rights. Soon, we will know all we need to know about Michigan.
3. Ohio State (11-0)
I say it every week, but TreVeyon Henderson is such a difference-maker for these Buckeyes, and we saw that added dimension in action again on Saturday. Henderson rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State’s 37-3 win over Minnesota, a nice tune-up for the trip to Ann Arbor next week. Quarterback Kyle McCord continues to grow and gain confidence as the season progresses.
If we’re looking for areas to nitpick, I will say I remain a bit concerned about Ohio State’s red zone offense, an occasional issue throughout the season that reemerged on Saturday when the Buckeyes stalled out twice inside the 15-yard line. Could that be a bigger issue against Michigan? Otherwise, Ohio State fans have got to feel great heading into The Game with the way this team is playing on both sides of the ball.
The Ducks bounced back from an uneven nine-point win against USC, their slimmest margin of victory in Pac-12 play, with a 49-13 statement against Arizona State. Oregon quarterback Bo Nix had more touchdowns (6) than incomplete passes (5) by halftime, as the Ducks led 42-0 at the break. At this point, is Nix the Heisman Trophy frontrunner? The oddsmakers may have it that way, but I’ve long felt Michael Penix Jr. should be leading the pack — in part because he had the head-to-head advantage over Nix — and The Athletic’s Heisman straw poll agrees. I do wonder whether that may change this week. If not, Nix may get a revenge opportunity in the Pac-12 championship that could force our staff to make the swap.
After easy win at ASU, it’s reasonable to ask: Is anyone playing better than Bo Nix and Oregon?
The Huskies survived a November trip to Corvallis, which is a difficult thing to do. I don’t mean to diminish the win because it was a hard-fought and impressive performance over a top-15 opponent on the road in constant rain. But Penix did not have a banner day — he was just 13 of 28 for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the 22-20 win — and that could ultimately hurt the perception of this team (as well as his Heisman hopes). I will say, his third-and-3 pass to Rome Odunze for 19 yards to seal the win was spectacular and should be included as part of his Heisman reel.
But I don’t trust this defense to win a CFP semifinal.
The Seminoles entered the day giddy with the prospect of an ACC championship and a return to the CFP within reach, but its hopes at accomplishing both took a major hit with the devastating leg injury quarterback Jordan Travis suffered near the end of the first quarter. The season isn’t over yet, as Florida State recovered from an early hole to cruise past FCS outfit North Alabama 58-13, but it’s hard to overstate what a loss this is.
No one player epitomized his team more than Travis, who began his career in Tallahassee at the lowest of FSU’s lows and helped lift the entire program as he grew as a quarterback. Even though the Seminoles responded quite well after Travis left the game and was transported to a local hospital, I can’t help but drop FSU a few spots considering the impact Travis has had on this season. His replacement Tate Rodemaker finished his day with 217 yards and two touchdowns, but Rodemaker is not Travis. I think the CFP selection committee will need to see what this team looks like against a quality opponent in Florida next week before making a judgment on what this team can be without its primary on-field leader.
How will FSU, and the Playoff committee, respond after Jordan Travis’ injury?
The Crimson Tide cruised through their annual FCS game, a 66-10 win over Chattanooga that was so lopsided so quickly that quarterback Jalen Milroe got to sit out the entire second half. He finished with 197 yards and three touchdowns, a light but lovely day of work for one of the most improved players in the country this year. Milroe connected with wideout Jermaine Burton twice for big plays (of 56 and 44 yards) and generally did just what we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him over the past two months.
Texas is one win (or one loss by Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, or a win by Kansas State) away from a spot in the Big 12 championship game, which would be a fitting destination considering the amount of talent on this roster. I said all offseason that the Longhorns should make the Big 12 title game if all goes according to plan, and they stayed on schedule on Saturday despite two penalties that two touchdowns off the board against Iowa State. A hard-earned 26-16 win in Ames removed the biggest remaining roadblock to Arlington.
The Cardinals clinched a spot in the ACC championship game with a whirlwind 38-31 win over Miami on Saturday. It’ll be the first time they play for an ACC title since joining the conference a decade ago, and it’s fitting that the moment has arrived during hometown hero Jeff Brohm’s first season as head coach. Kevin Coleman’s 58-yard catch-and-run TD put Louisville ahead for good in a game that also featured a touchdown pass to an offensive lineman, because that’s how this offense rolls.
I’m not sure you could dream up a better Year 1 for Brohm, except of course the Cards playing spoiler to FSU and winning the ACC title. We’ll see what happens in two weeks.
Saturday Takeaways: Michigan, Louisville survive scares to stay on track
What a week for the Wildcats! First, the school took the interim tag off of David Braun, making him the program’s full-time head coach. Then the Northwestern players added to the celebrations with a 23-15 win over Purdue that made them bowl eligible. It’s a remarkable moment for a program that kicked off this season in disarray, just weeks after a hazing scandal cost longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald his job and thrust Braun into the spotlight without any FBS coaching experience. Braun did more than just steady the ship, as the Wildcats played hard all year and battled through injuries to get to this point. Quarterback Ben Bryant threw for 230 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown pass to Cam Johnson that helped Northwestern pull away.
Considering where this program was in August, the Wildcats may be the biggest pleasant surprise of the season.
(Photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)