Views from Sparrow's Nest: College Football Playoff
The College Football Playoff season is upon us. In what marked the most exciting Saturday of the college season to date, this past weekend’s major upsets and a classic rivalry game have shaken up the entire landscape. While the next set of rankings may reflect these changes, I have my own opinions on the best teams in the nation. These are my thoughts on the top four college football teams and two additional schools that have the best chance to make the College Football Playoff.
1. Louisiana State University (LSU) (9-0) There shouldn’t be too much controversy about this choice. Although Ohio State ranked number one in the initial playoff poll (despite falling third in the AP Poll), most experts agreed that the matchup between undefeated Southeastern Conference (SEC) foes Alabama and LSU would go a long way in determining the best team in the nation. Playing in a hostile Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers snapped their streak of eight consecutive losses to the Crimson Tide thanks to three touchdowns each from LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and running back Clyde Edwards Helaire. Burrow has taken the world by storm, transforming himself from an Ohio State backup to the Heisman Trophy favorite across two seasons and one transfer. Burrow, combined with a fierce defense led by future first-round pick and LSU safety Grant Delpit, gives the Tigers all the ingredients to win their first national championship since 2007.
2. Clemson University (10-0) Yes, I know that Clemson barely escaped University of North Carolina after a failed two-point conversion attempt. And I’m aware that quarterback Trevor Lawrence hasn’t quite lived up to his absurdly high expectations. But guess what? This team is now 10-0 and has won 25 games in a row, including last year’s 44-16 demolition of Alabama in the championship. Lawrence seems to have found his groove, throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions for three straight games. The team’s defense is as dominant as ever despite losing four of their best linemen to the draft last season. Clemson outscores teams by an average of 43.8 points as they pace in the top five nationwide in both points scored and points allowed. With coach Dabo Swinney at the helm, the Tigers are rounding into form at the perfect time.
3. Ohio State University (9-0) The Buckeyes appear to be welcoming back the possible return of the NCAA Football video game franchise by putting up video game numbers of their own. They haven’t won by fewer than 24 points this season, which includes six victories by more than 40 points. They boast the highest-scoring offense at 51 points per game and the lowest-scoring defense at just 8.6 points per game. Georgia transfer Justin Fields has been masterful behind the center, only having tossed one interception on the year while throwing for 27 touchdowns. Defensive end Chase Young is a potential first overall pick and leads the nation in sacks with 14, but he’ll likely be suspended a few games for violating an NCAA rule by accepting a loan to pay for school. Their schedule does get tougher with Penn State looming at home and, most importantly, a date with archrival Michigan at the Big House. These next few weeks will tell us if Ohio State is just a pretender or an actual contender.
4. The University of Alabama (8-1) Despite being first entry on the list that has already lost this season, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that Alabama is not one of the top four teams in college football. Its sole loss was to LSU, boasting the best team in the nation, and in that game, the Crimson Tide almost mounted a late comeback after trailing by 20 at the half. Head coach Nick Saban generally recruits the most talented players and this year is no different as Alabama’s top four wide receivers could probably start in the NFL right now. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa already holds the program record for most passing touchdowns in a career in less than two full seasons. Their defense consistently churns out first-round pick after first-round pick. When all is said and done, Alabama might very well miss out on the College Football Playoff. But on a good day, the Crimson Tide can beat anyone.
Two teams to keep an eye on: The University of Georgia (8-1) Their embarrassing loss to South Carolina aside, the Bulldogs have responded nicely by beating Kentucky, Florida and Missouri in quick succession. The dynamic duo of quarterback Jake Fromm and running back D’Andre Swift together, with the second-best defense in the NCAA, will keep them in any game. Plus, they basically control their own destiny. With LSU as the likely opponent in an SEC Championship game, the Bulldogs will be back in the Playoff if they win that matchup.
The University of Minnesota (9-0) One of these things is not like the others, and in a list otherwise full of traditional college powerhouses, the Golden Gophers stand out as different. Head coach PJ Fleck has turned around this program in a hurry, just as he did at Western Michigan. Minnesota still has two very tough games left against Iowa and Wisconsin before a potential Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State. However, if the Golden Gophers remain unscathed, those wins will surely clinch them a spot in the Playoff.