Georgia is the only given.
When you get down to it, with a nation of face-painters and pom-pom-wavers awaiting Tuesday’s initial College Football Playoff Rankings for 2021 with bated breath, the Kirby Smart’s latest edition of Bulldogs are the only FBS team in the country that checks off every box.
From record to name value to strength of schedule to play worthy of style points.
They have the best defense in the country, as confirmed by every measurable available. They’ve beaten four ranked teams. Frankly, they’ve physically dominated every squad they’ve faced in starting 8-0.
OK, so they don’t have a Heisman candidate at quarterback. But reality has proven that Stetson Bennett is more the equal, if not the better, of uber-hyped USC transfer JT Daniels with running Georgia’s offense who brings a valuable athletic element to the equation – i.e., he can run, Daniels cannot.
In short, the Bulldogs will – and should – top the CFP poll when it comes out in a couple days.
After that, it’s a crapshoot.
Especially when it comes to the next three spots as the rankings really set the parameters of which teams have a legit shot to reach the national semifinals – the College Football Playoff.
The other three unbeatens in the Associated Press poll’s top 10 – Cincinnati, Oklahoma and Michigan State – all have flaws. Most notably with each are play NOT worthy of style points. Even in Saturday’s scintillating, 37-33 win against archrival Michigan in a matchup of top-10 teams, the Spartans pretty much played rope-a-dope, getting pounded for about 70 percent of the contest before landing a few shots and hanging there before the visiting Wolverines punched themselves out.
Sparty got outgained by 157 yards and was likely looking at a three-point loss if not for picking off an on-target toss by Michigan QB Cade McNamara on the Wolverines’ final possession.
Alabama? Ohio State? Oregon? All have a loss.
That the Buckeyes have been ranked in the AP and coaches polls ahead of Oregon – the team that beat them, in Columbus, Ohio, no less – for weeks has been an eyebrow raiser already.
Wake Forest, which has proven to be the class of the ACC this fall, is unbeaten, too, but hadn’t even cracked the top 12 in either the AP or coaches poll prior to Saturday.
So, what gives?
If you ask me, it’s pretty clear-cut which are the best four teams in the sport, and, frankly, the next two after that.
In order: Georgia, Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Cincinnati and Michigan State.
With yet another loss to a ranked team, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is America’s favorite punching bag again. Not joining that fray here. His Wolverines lost Saturday to what seems to be this season’s chosen team to be blessed. Seriously. Not only was Sparty outperformed by Michigan, and still won, but it pulled the same act against Nebraska and Indiana earlier this fall. To me, no point in even killing him about the two-QB system he employed at Michigan State. Why? Because he had done that all season and arrived in East Lansing at 7-0.
No, to me the guy whose steering his program into the drink is Florida’s Dan Mullen. Take away Kyle Trask, a complete unknown who rose to Heisman finalist, salvaging the 2019 and 2020 seasons, all Mullen has done since a strong 10-3 campaign to start his reign in Gainesville is show a growing propensity for dumb comments and even dumber decisions. The Gators are 4-7 in their last 11 games, with two of those wins coming against non-Power 5 schools.
Oh, and Scott Frost is gone at Nebraska, which is now 3-6 following another lackluster loss, bringing the alum’s homecoming mark to 15-26.
Manny Diaz? He might not be in Miami, not after the Hurricanes’ inspiring 38-34 victory at Pittsburgh against the high-flying Panthers and QB Kenny Pickett, who had become a, if not THE, Heisman favorite coming into the contest.
Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III. The Wake Forest transfer has been good all season. Saturday’s 197-yard, five-TD performance, though, took him into another stratosphere. Right now, with Pickett and Pitt losing, he seems the Heisman favorite.
Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman. Arguably the most underrated player in college football. He’s accounted for 15 TDs and almost 1,300 total yards in the last three games, capped by Saturday’s 463-yard, five-TD effort in a 45-7 win against Duke.
Minnesota. Not for nothing, but the Golden Gophers sit atop the Big Ten West standings at 4-1 (6-2) and control their own destiny with securing a spot in the conference title game after winning their fourth straight. Perhaps coach P.J. Fleck isn’t just a sideshow after all.
Ole Miss QB Matt Corral. We can chill out on all the bromance stories between the kid and his coach, Lane Kiffin, now after the Rebels lost at Auburn to fall to third place in the SEC West and Corral was outplayed by oft-maligned (and oft-unfairly so) Bo Nix.
Penn State. The Lions were ranked fourth and dominating No. 3 Iowa midway through the second quarter in Iowa City on Oct. 9 … and then QB Sean Clifford went down – and PSU hasn’t been able to get completely up off the canvas since, even with Clifford’s return. Saturday’s loss was their third straight.
Texas. Only USC ranks in the same stratosphere of overhype as this program. Like PSU, has lost three in a row following a defeat at the hands of overlooked Baylor. The Longhorns are fifth in the Big 12 now.
Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams. The freshman has been special for the Sooners, but hyping him for the Heisman? C’mon, he’s played three and half games thus far. Get real.
Virginia QB Brennan Armstrong. The Cavaliers’ hard-charging lefty slinger had his second straight six-TD (four by air, two by land) effort – this time in a loss (66-49 at BYU) – and maintained his better than 400 yards of total offense average with 337 passing and 94 running.