If Week 4 of the college football season taught us anything, it’s this: there are a lot of flawed teams ranked in the top 10.
Look, there’s a reason College GameDay was in New York City. It’s because the Week 4 slate, on paper, was garbage. Just about every Top 25 game featured a double-digit spread, and many were of the three- and four-score variety. Saturday, for all intents and purposes, should have been a snoozer.
Only it wasn’t.
Six of the top eight teams in the AP Poll – including five of the top six – found themselves in fourth-quarter slugfests Saturday. Oklahoma State was the only top 10 team to actually lose, but Clemson, Oklahoma, Penn State, USC, and Michigan looked far from elite.
Maybe that’s just the nature of college football. Domination one week does not preclude disaster the next. But this season feels more wide open than usual.
As it stands, here are my top teams in college football.
1 (1) Clemson (4-0)
One week after I proclaimed Clemson the best team in America, the Tigers found themselves in a 7-7 fourth-quarter nail-biter with one-win Boston College – in Death Valley, no less. Clemson ultimately won, 34-7, but was this lackluster performance cause for concern?
Maybe, but probably not.
Clemson had beaten a pair of top-15 teams – Auburn (3-1) and Louisville (3-1) – and plays at No. 12 Virginia Tech (4-0) this Saturday. It will be the Tigers’ third prime-time game against a ranked opponent in four weeks, so if it was difficult to get up for a day game against Boston College, I get it.
Still, Clemson mustered just 14 points against Auburn and had just seven against BC through three quarters. What does that mean? It means that while Clemson’s defense is championship-caliber, the offense may struggle with consistency. That might not matter against Boston College, but it could matter against Virginia Tech – either this weekend or in the ACC Championship.
I think Clemson beats Virginia Tech this weekend, but I expect the Hokies to keep it close.
2 (2) Alabama (4-0)
Alabama ran 66 times for 496 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and six touchdowns in a 59-0 win at Vanderbilt.
Have fun with that this Saturday, Ole Miss. This one is going to get ugly.
3 (4) Penn State (4-0)
This one is tough. If you control the ball for almost 40 minutes and rack up 579 yards, including 295 on the ground, you should roll to a three-score win. Instead, Penn State needed a walk-off touchdown throw from Trace McSorley to survive Iowa at Kinnick.
On the one hand, championship teams make plays when they have to. On the other hand, Penn State, in its first true test of the season, showed just how reliant it is on Saquon Barkley, who had 40 touches for 305 yards (211 rushing, 95 receiving) and a touchdown.
James Franklin isn’t just pointing to Barkley in the picture above; he’s pointing to the keys to Penn State’s season.
I still give the Nittany Lions the nod in the Big Ten, but the margin for error isn’t as great as I thought it was.
4 (3) Oklahoma (4-0)
I didn’t like Baker Mayfield’s Columbus flag-plant for two reasons. One, I thought – and still think – Oklahoma’s 31-16 win over the Buckeyes said more about Ohio State than it did about Oklahoma. And two, this wasn’t the national championship, which Oklahoma hasn’t won since Mayfield was in diapers (or kindergarten, whichever); this was Week 2.
In other words, there’s still a long, long way to go.
Mayfield’s teammates rally behind his moxie, and he is, without question, a Heisman Trophy candidate. But Oklahoma’s 49-41 win at 0-4 Baylor was the exact kind of no-defense nonsense that has rendered the Big 12 irrelevant for much of the last decade.
If the playoff were today, I’d include the Sooners. But don’t be surprised if Saturday was the first of several shootouts against subpar competition.
JUST MISSING THE CUT
5 (5) USC (4-0)
It was another high-wire win for Sam Darnold and the Trojans this past weekend. USC and Cal were tied 13-13 entering the fourth quarter, but the Trojans scored three times in just over three minutes to win, 30-20.
USC, with its big-play ability, remains the class of the Pac 12. It just needs to put games away sooner, especially against inferior teams.
6 (NR) Georgia (4-0)
The Bulldogs have beaten two ranked opponents – one on the road (Notre Dame), one at home (Mississippi State) – and have allowed just four touchdowns in four games. Throw in a steady diet of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and that’s enough to overtake Michigan (4-0) for the 6-spot.
Kirby Smart and Nick Saban could be on a collision course in Atlanta – and if that’s not must-see TV, I don’t know what is.
Tony Meale is a Chicago-based author, journalist, and content creator who uses words to inform, educate, entertain, and inspire. A Cincinnati native, he has a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Louis University and a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio University. He began his career as a high school sports reporter before writing and publishing 2012’s “The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron,” a behind-the-scenes look at the greatest sports story never told. He’s been creating written and spoken content ever since.