The most surprising part of this past weekend wasn’t that four top-10 teams lost. No, the most surprising thing was the way they lost – and who they lost to.
Clemson and Washington, which were ranked second and fifth, respectively, lost to two teams – Syracuse and Arizona State – that entered the game 2-3 (read: with a losing record). Meanwhile, Washington State, which was ranked eighth, couldn’t even muster a touchdown at Cal, losing 37-3, while Auburn, which was ranked tenth, squandered a 20-0 lead at Death Valley and lost 27-23 against LSU.
That’s not all.
The three teams right outside the top 10 – Miami, Oklahoma and USC – won by a combined seven points.
What does this tell us? It tells us what has been obvious since Week 2 or 3: This is not an elite year for college football. It doesn’t mean it’s not fun or exciting or compelling or competitive. It means that the top teams in America all are flawed, some more than others. That theme will be reinforced again and again the rest of the way, so don’t run from chaos; expect it.
With that being said, here are my top six teams in America entering Week 8:
1 (2) Alabama (7-0)
Alabama is a darn good team. In fact, Alabama could be a darn great team. We just don’t know. And why don’t we know? Because the rest of the SEC is just that bad.
Stat of the day: Alabama has allowed just six first-half points in four SEC games. Six. As in, six total. As in, an average of 1.5 points per first half per game. As in, why is the rest of this league so awful?
I’m still not sold on Alabama’s passing attack – outside of Calvin Ridley, Bama’s leading receiver is freshman Jerry Jeudy, with nine catches – but that won’t matter until after Thanksgiving. Until then, this is the team to beat – both in the SEC and nationally.
2 (3) Penn State (6-0)
Fresh off a bye, the meat of Penn State’s schedule begins now. The Nittany Lions should handle No. 19 Michigan (5-1) at home, but given the strength of Jim Harbaugh’s front seven – and the relative weakness of Penn State’s O-Line, anything is possible. It doesn’t get any easier for the Nittany Lions, either. With upcoming games against No. 6 Ohio State (6-1) and No. 18 Michigan State (5-1) – both on the road – Penn State’s talent, toughness, and stamina will be tested mightily over the next three weeks.
3 (4) Georgia (7-0)
Okay, okay, I didn’t mean to hate on the SEC too much in my Alabama blurb. The SEC is not Nick Saban and the Nobodies; it’s Nick Saban, a gap, Kirby Smart, the Grand Canyon, Auburn, and the Grand Canyon. And then it’s the Nobodies.
Did you follow? Yes? No? Okay, great.
But seriously, Georgia good. And that one-point win over then-No. 24, now-No. 13 Notre Dame (5-1) looks better by the week. Until Notre Dame loses to No. 11 USC (6-1), anyway.
4 (5) TCU (6-0)
The Big 12’s best team keeps rolling along. That won’t change this Saturday with Kansas riding a 43-game road losing streak. The spread is 38.5 points – and even that might be generous.
JUST MISSING THE CUT
5 (NR) Wisconsin (6-0)
You could put five or six different teams here – which, again, speaks to the lack of elite teams in college football this season – and I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I’ll go with the Badgers despite their weak schedule for two reasons: one, they’re undefeated (sabermetricians are losing their minds right now), and two, freshman Jonathan Taylor looks special. The freshman tailback has rushed for 200+ yards in three of his last five games and has 10 touchdowns on the season.
Harp on the schedule all you want. If this team goes 13-0, it’s in the playoff.
6 (1) Clemson (6-1)
The loss at Syracuse was ugly, but the Tigers’ 3-0 mark against ranked teams gives them the nod over Miami, Oklahoma, and Ohio State. The health of Kelly Bryant (concussion, sprained ankle), though, is worth monitoring. If he’s limited against Georgia Tech or No. 24 NC State, that’s a problem. Clemson can overcome one loss. It will not overcome two.
Tony Meale is a Chicago-based author, journalist, and content creator who uses words to inform, educate, entertain, and inspire. A Cincinnati native, he has a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Louis University and a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio University. He began his career as a high school sports reporter before writing and publishing 2012’s “The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron,” a behind-the-scenes look at the greatest sports story never told. He’s been creating written and spoken content ever since.