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Carson: Rethinking the top-10 college football teams

| Monday, September 12, 2016

I do not have a vote in the AP Top 25. Though it would be pretty neat if I did, given I probably put more time and effort into ranking teams in my head than many pollsters actually do.

But despite not having a vote, I’m going to rank the 10 teams that have impressed me more than any other so far this season. When I rank teams, there’s one rule: You have to have played, and beaten, someone half-decent to be there.

No. 1: Alabama

It’s pretty clear cut who the best team in college football is through two weeks of play. After trouncing USC on the opening weekend, the Crimson Tide took care of business this week against Western Kentucky. Most years, I’m against the often-lazy “Alabama at No. 1” vote, but this time, it’s deserved.

No. 2: Houston

I’m going non sequitur from the No. 2 slot here and picking the Cougars, who have college football’s best win this year. It’s not merely the fact that they beat Oklahoma that slots them here, but the nature in which they did it, too, looking like the better team by a decent margin. Houston’s matchup with Louisville on Nov. 17 could be one of the games of the season.

No. 3: Florida State

We have one real data point on the Seminoles, but it’s a good one: their 45-34 come-from-behind win over Mississippi. If Florida State had controlled that game throughout, I’d be inclined to sit the Seminoles at No. 2, like the AP poll actually does. They can change that this week, though, with a win at Louisville.

No. 4: Texas

The Longhorns are here, not just because of their double-overtime win over Notre Dame, but also because of the way in which they did it, going toe-to-toe with a playoff contender from a year ago, while running a new-look offense. Malik Jefferson is going to be the best defensive player in the Big 12, and it’s not like you need defense in that conference, anyway.

No. 5: Wisconsin

We’re quickly running out of great data points here, so I’ll go with the Badgers at No. 5. Truth be told, their opening-weekend win over LSU wasn’t all that shocking, given Wisconsin is the type of team that should be able to pull an upset against a team like the Tigers. Back-to-back-to-back games against Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State will define their season, though.

No. 6: Louisville

I’ve mentioned the Cardinals twice already, but I’ve been extremely impressed with Lamar Jackson, who’s been the best quarterback in college football so far. Beating Syracuse isn’t anything special, but routing the much-improved Orange is noteworthy. The Cardinals can beat one of Florida State, Clemson or Houston. Can they beat them all?

No. 7: Stanford

The Cardinal have the best skill position player in college football, Christian McCaffrey, so we’ll slot them here. A Sept. 30 trip to Seattle — note that’s a Friday night — to face Washington could be the defining game of Stanford’s season.

No. 8: Clemson

Alright, I’m gonna cave and put the Tigers in here. A road win at Auburn, no matter how messy, shouldn’t be scoffed at, but Clemson fans should have some concerns after just squeaking by Troy in Death Valley.

No. 9: Washington

Okay, I’m definitely violating one of my rules by calling Rutgers a “half-decent” team, but I’m doing it anyway because I think Washington is a pretty good football team. Plus, the Huskies’ Pac-12 slate is favorable: they have Stanford at home, while avoiding UCLA in cross-division games.

No. 10: Texas A&M

I’m going to feel pretty terrible about whoever I put here anyway, so let’s make it the team that’s bound to get embarrassed in a 40-point loss when it plays Alabama in October. A&M always starts impressively, then always fades.

But fear not, Ohio State and Michigan: You both finally play a Power Five opponent this week, so I will gladly welcome you here next week. Well, presuming you win.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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