SI's Top 10: It's Clemson, Alabama and the Rest

 si.com  10/18/2020 05:21:00   Pat Forde

Alabama now has blown out the second-best and third-best teams in the Southeastern Conference, beating Georgia by 17 and Texas A&M by 28. Clemson has laid waste to four Atlantic Coast Conference opponents by an average margin of 34.3 points.

That’s your landslide 1–2, in whatever order you prefer. After that, it gets interesting.

Georgia earns the third spot in the SI Top 10 as much out of default as anything else. The Bulldogs were good before going to Tuscaloosa, and were good for a half once they got there. In the current barren landscape—where we are not ranking anyone who hasn’t yet played—that’s enough.

North Carolina coughed up a giant hairball against Florida State and Notre Dame was unimpressive enough against Louisville that it seems fair to start a nationwide search for the fourth-best team. Why not BYU? The Cougars passed their biggest test of the season to date Friday night, roaring back to beat Houston.

The latter half of the Top 10 is similarly indistinguishable. A couple of one-loss SEC teams, a couple of undefeated Group of Five teams. And, wow, look what the cat dragged in: the only unbeaten Big 12 team, Oklahoma State, which hasn’t played since Oct. 3.

Long story short, the Big Ten’s arrival this week is perfectly timed. There are plenty of high rankings available.

1. Clemson (5–0)

Last game: Beat Georgia Tech, 73–7
Next game: Syracuse Saturday

The Tigers' offense dropped 52 points on Georgia Tech in the first half, the most in a half in school history against an ACC opponent—and that’s despite committing two turnovers. Trevor Lawrence had five touchdown passes before intermission, though he did throw his first interception since Oct. 19, 2019. Most ridiculous stat from this ridiculous Clemson offensive onslaught: 17 Tigers caught passes, including both of Dabo Swinney’s sons. We are once again left wondering whether anyone in the ACC can even mildly stress Clemson. (Notre Dame or bust on Nov. 7?)

2. Alabama (4–0)

Last game: Beat Georgia, 41–24
Next game: At Tennessee Saturday

Trailing the Bulldogs at halftime, the Crimson Tide opened a can of beatdown in the third and fourth quarters. Huge plays by their peerless wide receivers on some nice deep balls from Mac Jones; the usual all-around efficiency from Najee Harris; and some big stops from a defense that had been taking a beating on the field and in the press. Maybe it would have been closer if Nick Saban had to stay home, but ‘Bama still looked like the better team once it tightened up defensively and got after Stetson Bennett IV. A Joe Burrow supernova aside, the SEC continues to run through Tuscaloosa.

3. Georgia (3–1)

Last game: Lost to Alabama, 41–24
Next game: At Kentucky Oct. 31

The Bulldogs’ touted defense was shredded by Alabama’s passing game, giving up 417 yards and four touchdowns through the air. That’s the most passing yards Georgia has allowed since 2000, when Hal Mumme was the coach at Kentucky and Jared Lorenzen was throwing it every down. The other glaring issue for Georgia: Stetson Bennett IV isn’t good enough to win a shootout. The former walk-on has been a success story thus far, but he was exposed by Alabama—completing just 18 of 40 passes for 269 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. It might be time for Kirby Smart to turn to USC transfer JT Daniels.

4. BYU (5–0)

Last game: Beat Houston Friday, 43–26
Next game: Texas State Saturday

BYU had it easy through its first four games, and then Houston made the Cougars work for this one. Trailing 26–14 late in the third quarter, BYU exploded for 29 unanswered points to win going away. It was yet another showcase performance for quarterback Zach Wilson (25 for 35 for 400 yards and four touchdowns, plus 40 yards rushing), and a defense that had trouble stopping Houston much of the night rose up to make some big plays in the final quarter. The Cougars will be heavily favored in their next two games (Texas State and Western Kentucky) before facing Boise State Nov. 6. If the Cougars run the table, they will likely be the most argued-over team from a College Football Playoff perspective.

5. Notre Dame (4–0)

Last game: Beat Louisville, 12–7
Next game: At Pittsburgh Saturday

The Fighting Irish struggled unexpectedly against the 1–4 Cardinals. Louisville came into the game surrendering 34.3 points per game, but didn’t give up a touchdown until late in the third quarter. Notre Dame failed to finish drives in the Red Zone, and its passing game produced just 106 yards. There were zero plays of 20 yards or longer through the air. This is the second straight game the Irish have trailed in the second half, however briefly. After four straight at home, it’s now time for Notre Dame to go on the road.

6. Texas A&M (3–1)

Last game: Beat Mississippi State, 28–14
Next game: Arkansas Oct. 31

The Aggies have still been outscored on the season, thanks to a lopsided loss to Alabama. But this was a second straight impressive performance—offensively explosive against Florida last week, and defensively tough against the Bulldogs this week. A week after losing receiver Caleb Chapman for the season, A&M showed some playmaking depth at that position with a 51-yard touchdown reception by freshman Chase Lane. But the offensive anchor continues to be running back Isaiah Spiller, who turned in his third 100-yard rushing game of the season against the Bulldogs.

7. Florida (2–1)

Last game: Lost to Texas A&M on Oct. 10
Next game: Missouri Oct. 31

The only place where the Gators didn’t suffer any embarrassment this week was on the field, since their game was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak. That followed coach Dan Mullen’s absurd stance that he wanted to “Pack The Swamp” with 90,000 fans after the loss last Saturday to Texas A&M. The week ended with Mullen publicly acknowledging that he, too, has the virus. Florida is such a mess from a numbers standpoint that its scheduled game for next week already has been pushed back to Halloween.

8. Cincinnati (3–0)

Last game: Beat USC 28–7 on Oct. 3
Next game: at SMU Saturday

The Bearcats’ own COVID-19 outbreak forced postponement of their game against Tulsa, which means they will be 21 days between games when they visit undefeated SMU Saturday (assuming that game remains on the schedule). That’s a big one for the American Athletic Conference. Cincinnati’s offense has been pedestrian thus far this season, with quarterback Desmond Ridder not as dynamic as he’d been the previous two seasons. But Luke Fickell’s team remains the best defensive unit in the AAC, and that still likely makes them the team to beat in the league.

9. Oklahoma State (3–0)

Last game: Beat Kansas 47–7 on Oct. 3
Next game: Iowa State Saturday

The Cowboys’ game against Baylor was postponed by the Bears’ ongoing COVID-19 issues, so they are on the same schedule as Cincinnati—three weeks between games. The next one is one that will weigh heavily in the Big 12 race, with the Cyclones also unbeaten in conference play. Oklahoma State’s defense leads the conference in fewest points allowed per game (9.0) and fewest yards allowed per play (4.05).

10. Marshall (4–0)

Last game: Beat Louisiana Tech, 35-17
Next game: Florida Atlantic Saturday

Time to show some love to the Thundering Herd, which has yet to trail in a game this season. Marshall has a top-10 defense nationally, and freshman quarterback Ben Wells continues to impress—he was 19 of 24 for 227 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score Saturday against Tech. The Herd figure to be heavily favored in each of their remaining regular-season games.

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