by Chad Peltier
So after three weeks of college football -- a quarter of the regular season, incredibly -- who are the top four teams in the country? The AP Poll believes they are Ohio State, Michigan State, Ole Miss, and TCU, which is fairly reasonable based on both Week 3 results and the F/+ rankings. But does that not discount Alabama, which was the top F/+-ranked team in the country prior to an improbable five-turnover performance that was still only a six-point loss? Sure, the Crimson Tide have issues in the secondary and at quarterback, but it's hard to imagine the Tide dropping far in the upcoming F/+ rankings despite the glut of new "end of a dynasty" articles that have popped up. Besides the Tide, the other top team with questions is TCU. Are we overrated the Horned Frogs relative to their statistical performances and F/+ projections (they sat at tenth before allowing 37 points to SMU)?
The controversy at the top is likely the least crazy discussion point following one of the best weekends of college football in recent memory. Notre Dame defied Vegas' expectations and instead followed F/+ projections in a dominating performance over Georgia Tech, despite all of their personnel losses. (The Irish are likely second only to TCU in terms of impact personnel losses this year.) #CollegeKickers struck again with a missed extra point near the end of regulation for Texas as Jerrod Heard led a valiant charge against Jared Goff and the efficient Cal offense. Missouri held on to an embarrassing win over UConn thanks to a failed fake field goal at the end of the game, preserving a 9-6 win despite a 29-point F/+-projected margin of victory and 21-point Vegas spread. The ACC is nearly offense-less after both Florida State and Clemson barely managed a few touchdowns in conference play. Stanford upset USC once again thanks to surprisingly efficient play from Kevin Hogan, who seems to have shaken off the Northwestern opening loss, and is still primed for a Pac-12 North run. Finally, the SEC trio of Heisman-caliber running backs Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry, and Nick Chubb dueled one another for the most impressive week running the ball (this week goes to Fournette, by the way).
One thing we should know is that very few teams have eliminated themselves from playoff contention at this point in the season. Jeremy Johnson and Auburn have drastically underwhelmed relative to preseason expectations and have a conference loss, but Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan State, Baylor, LSU, Stanford, TCU, Oregon, Georgia, UCLA, Ole Miss, and the rest of F/+'s top projected teams are all very much in the race. The key for many of these teams (minus many of these SEC teams that play one another in the next few weeks -- Georgia-Alabama is just a few weeks away) will be matching the F/+ statistical projections against overmatched opponents. The Big Ten and Big 12 teams should be dominating their opponents -- which didn't exactly happen for Ohio State or Michigan State last week. Especially for the Buckeyes, who sleepwalked through a Northern Illinois win and don't have a major out-of-conference win like Michigan State does, playing to their ability will be critical in the eyes of the playoff committee, but also when it comes to our ever-changing statistical projections of the major end-of-season games (like Ohio State-Michigan State in November).
- Ohio State turned in its worst offensive performance in a long time against Northern Illinois. Neither J.T. Barrett nor Cardale Jones (who was pulled after his second interception) looked comfortable as the Buckeyes had a -3 turnover margin, had three-and-outs on 36 percent of their possessions, and only won by a touchdown after F/+ projected a 31-point win. But there were hardly any negative plays -- a single tackle for loss and no sacks -- and the rushing efficiency was decent (44 percent success rate). So where were the problems? The main issue was a lack of explosive plays. The Buckeyes only had a single explosive play on the day, which was just their third in the last two weeks (and that's stretching the definition of an explosive pass play, as two of those were 24-yard receptions). Further, the passing game overall was inefficient, with an overall passing success rate of 35 percent (just 22 percent for Cardale). The Buckeyes had a similarly poor turnover margin against Oregon but redeemed themselves with an otherwise efficient performance and five explosive passes. Odd fronts -- and poor play-calling in response to these odd-front 3-4 defenses -- seems to be the main problem. In fact, left tackle Taylor Decker said after the game that the offense went to tempo for the one drive where the Huskies came out in their normal 4-3 defense so that they could prevent the Huskies from rotating back to a 3-4. That was the Buckeyes' sole offensive touchdown drive of the day. This is strange, since Ohio State has successfully countered this defense in the past with a different offensive strategy. It remains to be seen whether the Buckeyes will move back to the QB-counter base runs that have been so effective against the 3-4 odd front in the past.
- Ole Miss likely has the most impressive resume in college football so far after two 70-point offensive performances and a win over Alabama. A major reason why the Rebels upset the Tide was because of the five Alabama turnovers, which the Rebels turned in to 24 points. Then when you account for the fluke 66-yard touchdown reception on the Chad Kelly desperation heave-turned-tipped-reception, the Rebels win makes even more sense -- that's 31 of their 43 total points. The Rebels offense only had one touchdown drive against the Tide that wasn't following a turnover -- and that was an explosive 73-yard pass.
- Georgia Tech should never have to pass the ball more than 15 times per game. If they do, there has been a problem with the rushing offense and the offense's overall efficiency. Going back to the beginning of the Justin Thomas era at Tech, the Yellow Jackets have attempted more than 15 passes seven times. In the four games where Georgia Tech has lost since the beginning of last season, they attempted 26, 18, 14, and 24 passes, completing 46 percent of those throws. Correlation doesn't prove causation, but the Yellow Jackets failed to score points on the first four drives of each quarter and had four three-and-outs against Notre Dame.
- Greyson Lambert, QB, Georgia. This has to be the biggest surprise on the Honor Roll. A week after Georgia faithful called for backup Brice Ramsey to take over the starting position because Lambert didn't complete a single pass in the first half versus Vanderbilt, the Virginia graduate transfer set an NCAA record for completion percentage (96 percent) and a team record for consecutive completions (breaking former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's record). The offense as a whole had a 66 percent rushing success rate and a 92 percent passing success rate in their blowout win over South Carolina.
- Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. Fournette has opened his sophomore season with consecutively more impressive games. Averaging 12 yards per carry, 228 total rushing yards, and a 74 percent success rate, Fournette's actual runs were even more impressive than his numbers. See for yourself:
- Jerrod Heard, QB, Texas. Texas may not have won against California due to a missed extra point, but they've certainly found some life on offense with Heard taking over for incumbent Tyrone Swoopes. Heard broke a school record for total offense in a game with 527 total yards. Heard paced all Longhorns players on the ground with 163 yards, passed for 364 with only a single interception (surprisingly, no touchdowns, though), and distributed the ball to four different receivers with at least four receptions. Heard's 58 percent success rate, along with the firing of AD Steve Patterson, capped off an encouraging week for Texas football.
- Finally, while Chad Kelly was up-and-down for Ole Miss, his fluke touchdown -- the "Tip Six" -- deserves a mention:
College kickers. UConn had driven down to the Missouri 21-yard line to set up a fourth-down field goal attempt to tie the game with the Tigers. But the Huskies opted for a fake field goal pass, and the Tigers were ready after noting the tight end release. The pass was intercepted, ending the game and the Huskies' upset bid. Senior Texas kicker Nick Rose, who has kicked 80-yard field goals in practice videos, missed an extra point to lose to Cal.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M. You might as well give Garrett a permanent place on the Lowsman list. The sophomore racked up 3.5 sacks and four tackles for loss against Nevada. Nevada was actually 31st in adjusted sack rate last year, which only furthers Garrett's dominance. Obviously, Garrett and Texas A&M lead the country in sacks through three games.