The first official College Football Playoff rankings of the season come out on Tuesday, so I thought I’d do something a little different. I’m going to discuss each team that I think belongs in the initial top 4 below. I probably won’t agree with the CFP committee (I almost never do), but that’s too bad. We’ll examine why each of these teams belongs where they are and what makes them the best teams in the nation. Of course, we’ll end with one of our weekly draft nuggets. Enjoy my week 9 takeaways!
1. Georgia Bulldogs
I’m seeing a lot of people suggest that Ohio State should be ranked ahead of Georgia. Why? These are the defending champions, and they’re undefeated while playing in the SEC. The Bulldogs are #1 until they’re not. Despite a major loss of talent to the NFL, this defense has still mostly been the same shutdown unit it was last season. No team has scored more than 22 against Georgia, and 5 opponents have failed to exceed even 10 points. Kirby Smart’s team also has perhaps the best win of the year, a 49-3 demolition of Oregon.
The offense definitely has a weakness: their 25-year old QB, Stetson Bennett IV. He was doubted last year as well, but played well enough for the defense to carry the team to a national championship. The biggest issue is that he’s running a bit less this season, as he’s surprisingly fleet of foot. As a pocket passer, he doesn’t always make the best decisions and puts the ball in harm’s way. That nearly allowed Florida to come back from 28-3 this weekend. However, Georgia has not faltered in spite of this flaw; in fact, they beat the Gators 42-20 even after two Bennett INTS allowed Florida to score 17 unanswered points.
We’ll learn a lot more about the 2022 Bulldogs next week against (3) Tennessee. Until then, no change should be made to their ranking. No team has beaten them, and no team has played at so great a level as to wrest the #1 ranking away from them.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State is simply cruising right now. The Big 10 has underperformed a bit, so they’ve only played 1 ranked team thus far (then-No. 5 Notre Dame, who we know was WILDLY overrated, in week 1). I’m not penalizing them for this, as they’ve won every one of these games by 11 points or more. I’m simply refusing to leap them over Georgia. Their only true test will come in the final week of the regular season against Michigan (the Big 10 West isn’t very imposing in a potential title game matchup). We might have to just trust our eyes with this team, as they won’t be able to prove a whole lot until then.
The key for the Buckeyes is that what we do see is quite excellent. Aside from their first game, the offense has topped 40 points in each and every game. QB CJ Stroud is the current Heisman frontrunner, and he’s put up prolific numbers: 2377 yards, 29 TDs, and just 4 INTs. His supporting cast is great, with RB TreVeyon Henderson, WR Marvin Harrison Jr., and LT Paris Johnson. That doesn’t even include star WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who has barely played this season due to injury.
I also like the improvement I’ve seen from the defense, albeit against some poor offenses. Ohio State is no longer being forced to win shootouts; they can comfortably blow out lesser opponents because the defense is limiting big plays and forcing turnovers. They forced Penn State QB Sean Clifford into 4 turnovers just this week. I would expect the same for the next few weeks. Northwestern and Indiana pose no threat, and Maryland isn’t quite on their level either. As long as they keep beating these opponents, they’ll remain comfortably in the top 4.
3. Tennessee Volunteers
This ranking is guaranteed to change next week one way or another. Either they’ll drop out of the top 4 as a result of a loss to Georgia (though it would be a small drop in all likelihood), or they’ll leap over Georgia following a win in that matchup. What we know right now is that Tennessee’s schedule provides the most impressive resume among all teams in the FBS. Wins over then-No. 17 Pittsburgh, then-No. 20 Florida, then-No. 25 (currently #18) LSU, then-No. 3 Alabama (their signature win), and (19) Kentucky give Tennessee a fantastic case for making the CFP.
The Volunteers owe much of their success to QB Hendon Hooker. He was a decent player earlier in his career at Virginia Tech, but he really took off once he got to Tennessee. Last season, he threw for 2945 yards, 31 TDs, and 3 INTs. This year, he’s actually been even better, completing over 70% of his passes for 2338 yards, 21 TDs, and just 1 INT so far. Hooker is perhaps the only player that can swipe the Heisman trophy from CJ Stroud at this point, and if he plays well in a win over Georgia, he’ll instantly become the new frontrunner.
The defense is this team’s weakest unit, but they’ve stepped up when required, most notably against LSU and Kentucky. Statistically, they’re considered the worst pass defense in the SEC, but that might no longer be true. They held supposed top QB prospect Will Levis to 16/27 for 98 yards and 3 INTS in their 44-6 blowout over Kentucky. I’m pretty sure that no team has a more difficult schedule than the Volunteers, so if they hold onto their ranking in the weeks to come, they’ll have earned it.
4. TCU Horned Frogs
I imagine that this will be my most controversial pick. Others will likely put Michigan, Clemson, or even Alabama above TCU. Remember: it’s just the first set of rankings. Things can and will change. For now, however, the undefeated Big XII leaders stake their claim to the 4th and final playoff spot in my personal list. They’re in first place in a Power 5 conference and they beat 4 straight ranked teams (Oklahoma, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State) before beating unranked West Virginia this weekend. If they beat Texas and Baylor a bit later in the season, their resume will be second only to that of Tennessee.
This is clearly an offense-first team. The Horned Frogs have scored 38 or more points in every game this season. Their defense is what detractors will point to when critiquing this selection. TCU has given up 30+ points on four separate occasions, and they’ve often dug themselves big early holes. The way they’ve responded to these situations is what makes them worthy of the #4 spot. After halftime, TCU becomes a different team and dominates opponents. This has happened now for 3 straight weeks. Credit coach Sonny Dykes for his adjustments, because they’re clearly working.
QB Max Duggan, who didn’t even win the starting job in camp but got it anyway due to an injury to Chandler Morris, has been a revelation. He has thrown for 2212 yards with 22 TDs and just 2 INTs, while adding 276 yards rushing and 4 TDs on the ground. He’s a fearless gunslinger who isn’t afraid to push the ball downfield on any play. Paired with my favorite WR (Quentin Johnston), the Horned Frogs are explosive and can score almost at will. TCU is going to have to win against some tough foes; no Big XII game is easy this year. That will only bolster their CFP case should they emerge unscathed.
Upsets Ravage Top 25
So much for a relatively tame period in college football. Ranked teams dropped like flies on Saturday. One game, (20) Cincinnati’s 25-21 loss to UCF, was a tight contest. However, most of these teams were crushed in shocking fashion. (9) Oklahoma State was embarrassed 48-0 by (22) Kansas State and Will Howard, their (extremely good) backup QB. (10) Wake Forest lost 48-21 to Louisville in a game where the Demon Deacons committed 8 turnovers. That hadn’t happened in over a decade, but now we’ve seen a team commit 8 turnovers twice in two weeks.
(16) Syracuse fell 41-24 to Notre Dame, one of the season’s most disappointing teams. This game was insult and injury, as Orange QB Garrett Shrader went just 5/14 for a paltry 35 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT before leaving the game on crutches. Finally, (25) South Carolina suffered a disappointing 23-10 home loss to Missouri. QB Spencer Rattler underwhelmed once again, posting his 4th game of the season without a passing TD. He threw an INT instead.
This is exactly what the Pac-12 needed. As the lone conference without an undefeated team remaining, the Pac-12 is on the outside looking in at the moment. They need chaotic results like these to happen for the remainder of the season so that the resumes of teams like Oregon and USC stack up better against their competitors in other conferences. Losses by teams like Tennessee and TCU with rough would help the Pac-12 greatly. Most importantly, the conference’s teams need to continue to avoid the upset bug themselves.
Could Myles Murphy Be Even Better than Will Anderson?
Like last season, we could have two premier DEs at the top of the 2023 draft. I think both of these players are better than Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson, who went #1 and #2 overall last season, respectively. The consensus is that Will Anderson is the clear-cut #1 prospect; not just at DE, but at any position. They say that the only way he doesn’t go #1 is if a team falls in love with a QB and picks for need. I want to be clear here: the question I posed in the headline is not a knock on Anderson. He’s a fantastic player that is worthy of being selected in the top 5.
Under Nick Saban’s tutelage, Alabama’s Anderson has been a force to be reckoned with. He was a Heisman finalist despite not being a QB because he put up 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in 2021, demonstrating his prowess against both the run and the pass. Anderson is putting up another fine season this year, with 6 sacks and 12 TFLs so far; he even has a pick six. His size and speed strike fear in the hearts of offensive coordinators, and many game plans revolve around stopping #31. There’s no doubt that he’s an elite prospect.
So why am I even bringing up the idea that Clemson’s Myles Murphy could be better (or even equal for that matter)? It’s simple: Murphy is the unquestioned alpha on a more dominant defense. Alabama has allowed teams to score points at a very high rate; Clemson’s defense is carrying a milquetoast offense that isn’t even sure about its QB. Murphy actually reminds me of a Travon Walker with better college production. His measurables are off the charts, and he should test extremely well at the combine. Unlike Walker though, he has produced for the Tigers, so he’s not merely a projection with risk.
Murphy had 8 sacks and 14.5 TFLs last year, and he has 5.5 sacks with 9 TFLs so far in 2022, showing that his previous level of play wasn’t a fluke. He’s a consistent offensive line wrecker, and his best football is almost assuredly in front of him. It will be important for him to be selected by a team with a good defensive line coach, as such a coach will be able to extract all of Murphy’s high-end talent. As great as Will Anderson is, Myles Murphy could end up as the best edge player in this draft.