This weekly college football series ranks the teams most likely to make it to the big bowl games of the New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff. Here are how the teams shape up after the first week of the 2018 season:
Notables Not on the List
Michigan I don’t normally like berating teams and players for how they play in this incredibly difficult game, but my goodness was the Wolverines’ offense pathetic against Notre Dame. Forget all the playoff predictions I may have made, Jim Harbaugh might struggle to win 8 games if he doesn’t burn it all to the ground and start over with QB Shea Patterson and Co.
Notre Dame The Fighting Irish failed to generate anything on offense in the second half after a fast start against a stout Michigan defense. QB Brandon Wimbush’s legs remain a key asset, and he looked much better as a passer in that first half, but I’ll need to see him put it together for a full game to push the Irish into the list
Washington The loss to Auburn won’t completely damage their New Year’s Six chances, but it does put them behind the 8-ball. A general fourth-quarter meltdown from QB Jake Browning makes the Huskies third in the Pac-12 for right now.
Auburn The Tiger defense was fast and furious in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, and QB Jarrett Stidham was solid as usual, but if War Eagle takes advantage with a fast start and blows Washington out, I’d put them on the list in a heartbeat. For now, it’s only one game with sloppy moments that just barely keep them off the list.
West Virginia Another team that just missed the list after a complete thrashing of Tennessee. Will Grier was actually a little sloppy early but rounded into form, and Tony Gibson’s defense looked like it make take big steps forward in 2018 with the addition of transfers like enormous nose tackle Kenny Bigelow.
LSU The Tigers are not good enough to challenge Alabama or Auburn in the SEC West, and Sunday’s win had much more to do with how poorly Miami played. However, I’m willing to keep them on the radar for now after the emergence of running back Nick Brossette.
Virginia Tech Head coach Justin Fuente’s team is extremely young, but that did not seem to phase them at all on the way to pasting Florida State. It’s just not quite enough to surpass even a few other teams in this group that were just on the outside looking in.
The Terrific 12
12. Boise State While this opening weekend provided a reminder that UCF is still absolutely going to be a strong contender to claim the Group of 5 slot in the NY6, the Broncos certainly made an impressive statement by steamrolling on the road past a really good Troy defense 56-20. Brett Rypien seems to have found some new stars amongst a fresh-face corps of receivers like Sean Modster, who torched the Trojans for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns.
11. Miami (FL) Normally, a loss like the one the Hurricanes suffered to LSU would get you booted waaaaay off this list. But here’s the thing; outside of Virginia Tech’s young pups looking really good at FSU on Labor Day night, the rest of the ACC’s Coastal division doesn’t appear to have made enough strides that the ‘Canes will be knocked off a 10-win perch. Unless the Hokies win the Coastal, Miami is going to face Clemson for the ACC championship and win enough games in the process to earn a NY6 slot. But this could absolutely turn into VaTech in the coming weeks.
10. USC The Trojans went with true freshman J.T. Daniels at quarterback but looked deeply unimpressive in beating UNLV. Washington probably should occupy this spot, since the Huskies certainly didn’t lose to a bad opponent in Auburn, but I’ll reserve judgment until after this week’s showdown with the Cardinal to say if the Pac-12 is only going to have one NY6 team.
9. Michigan State A big argument to made that either Washington or Auburn should be on this list again comes from an unimpressive showing by the Spartans on their way to edging out Utah State. But Sparty and head coach Mark Dantonio just win games, so as long as they stay on track to win 10 or more games, I like their chances of ending up in a NY6 game.
8. Wisconsin No problems for the Badgers against Western Kentucky, and while quarterback Alex Hornibrook doesn’t quite look an X-factor just yet, his 257 yards and 2 TDs agains the Hilltoppers was solid enough that duplicating that performance 11 more times is going to get the Badgers to a third straight NY6 bowl.
7. Ohio State The defense has some serious work to do before Week Three’s showdown in Arlington with TCU, but scoring 77 points and getting 313 yards and 5 passing TDs from new QB Dwayne Haskins means the Buckeyes are going to be electric in their own right.
6. Oklahoma Kyler Murray’s debut was spectacular, and the Sooners took it to a good Florida Atlantic team in every phase in what was arguably Saturday’s most impressive win.
5. Georgia Keep an eye on electrifying sophomore Demetris Roberston, who won an appeals battle in the offseason with the NCAA to become unexpectedly eligible. Although listed as a wide receiver, Robertson could join Mecole Hardemen as weapons that provide depth to the running game, as evidenced by his first career touch as a Bulldog being a 72-yard TD run versus Austin Peay.
4. TCU New QB Shawn Robinson’s 3-touchdown debut makes it seem like the Horned Frogs are now stable and stocked at every position, making them slight Big 12 and playoff favorites over Oklahoma.
3. Stanford Sure, they’ll be able to run the ball at will and play stingy defense, but big and burly wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s 226 yards and 3 TDs against San Diego State might mean that David Shaw has added another dimension to his team, making them early Pac-12 favorites.
2. Alabama Tua Tagovailoa might have a future at this quarterbacking thing. 227 yards and just 4 incompletions on 16 attempts is what he did in part-time duty versus Louisville, meaning the Tide are going to be terrifying on offense in big games.
1. Clemson The Tigers are so loaded that heading to College Station for a night game against a coach that’s extremely familiar with them doesn’t seem the least bit intimidating. The big development was how highly-touted freshman QB Trevor Lawrence looked in part-time work, throwing for 137 yards and 3 TDs against Furman and giving a glimpse of why many, including yours truly, think he makes the Tigers unstoppable if he takes over as the starter for veteran Kelly Bryant.