I started doing these True Top Ten rankings last year … for most of the season they looked nothing like the coaches’ or writers’ Top 10, and they made certain fanbases furious, so I feel like they succeeded on two counts. The purpose of the True Top Ten is to skip all the meaningless preseason guessing and rate teams on performance. If you play good teams and beat them, especially on the road, you’ll make the TTT. If you don’t, you won’t. (Looking at you, Louisville.)
There’s a natural fudge factor in all this — we’re basing good wins, at least early in the season, on some of that preseason guessing. Washington over Boise State looked like a strong win to me. But it could be that Boise is terrible this year. That’ll sort itself out in the TTT — faster, I think, than it does in the AP or USA Today polls.
What I’m reaching for is something simple: Which teams have achieved the most through a given point in the season? Seems to me that should matter more than predicting how they’re going to finish, or rewarding a team for tradition or TV contracts.
So here we go. Debate, discussion and disbelief encouraged as always.
1. Clemson (1-0)
Beat Georgia 38-35.
The big game of the weekend didn’t disappoint, unless you’re a Georgia fan and … well, yeah. That one hurt. But Lord, was it entertaining.
It was clear early on that the first team that could bow up even a little on defense would win. Clemson stopped Georgia on six straight drives over the second and third quarters while they took a lead they never gave back. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Roderick McDowell are enough for Clemson to beat just about anybody. But the defense is going to have to make a stand or two if Clemson is serious about a national title. I can’t imagine what the Esso Club will be like if that happens. Next up: S.C. State.
2. LSU (1-0)
Beat TCU 37-27 (at Arlington, Texas).
LSU sent half of Baton Rouge to the NFL, especially on defense, and first-string RB Jeremy Hill sat out the game on an unofficial suspension. But they still beat a good team in what was basically a road game (Cowboys Stadium is less than 20 miles from the TCU campus). The game wasn’t as close as the score — LSU outgained TCU by nearly 200 yards, and only a kickoff return TD kept the Horned Frogs close. Les Miles even pulled a Les Miles at the end of the first half, totally botching the clock but somehow coming out of it with a field goal. The man could fall down a flight of stairs and land in a pile of money. And his team is going to be hell to beat again. Next up: UAB.
3. North Dakota State (1-0)
Beat Kansas State 24-21.
Some schools make way too fast a leap from the FCS to the FBS (for old-schoolers, Division I-AA to Division I). I’m not sure what North Dakota State is waiting on. They’re ready. They’ve won the last two FCS titles, they’ve beaten FBS schools four years in a row, and on Friday they beat K-State, in Manhattan, on the day the school unveiled a statue to coach Bill Snyder. And they did it by going 80 yards in 18 plays for the win, eating up 8:30 and leaving 28 seconds on the clock. That’s a MAN-SIZED drive.
And, yes, QB Collin Klein isn’t around anymore at K-State, but still: Last year they went 11-2 and were in the mix for the national title until November. It’s not like the whole team disappeared. It’s more like Brock Jensen and the Bison ran them over. One more delicious detail: This was one of those “we’ll pay you to take a beating” games. K-State paid North Dakota State $350,000 to play. It turned out to be an investment somewhere on the level of a stack of subprime mortgage bonds. Goldman Sachs feels your pain, Bill Snyder.
Until Friday night, I hadn’t fully appreciated the North Dakota State helmets. They get the True Top Ten LID OF THE WEEK.
The puff of steam from the nostrils is what makes it. The only thing it’s missing is Bugs Bunny. Do kids still watch Warner Bros. cartoons? God, I hope so. Next up: Ferris State.
4. Alabama (1-0)
Beat Virginia Tech 35-10 (in Atlanta).
Three quick points:
1) The true test of great teams is when they play like crap and still win.
2) Alabama played like crap, Virginia Tech is pretty good (especially on defense), and the Tide still won by almost four touchdowns.
3) Alabama fans are FURIOUS about a game where the Tide beat a pretty good team by almost four touchdowns.
Yeah, the bar’s pretty high. And look what’s next. Next up: at Texas A&M (Sept. 14).
5. Washington (1-0)
Beat Boise St. 38-6.
This is the most surprising score of the weekend — not that Washington won, but that they pounded Boise into bronco scraps. (Bronco Scraps, next to Milk-Bones in the pet food aisle.) Keith Price, one of the blessed bounty of great college QBs across this great land of ours, went 23-for-31 for 324 yards and two touchdowns. If he’s consistently that good, Washington will be banging the door on the Pac-12 penthouse where Oregon and Stanford reside. In this metaphor, Lane Kiffin is the valet parking guy, and he wrecks your car. Next up: at Illinois (Sept. 14).
6. Ole Miss (1-0)
Beat Vanderbilt 39-35.
Ever had an appetizer so good you forgot what the entrée was? This game was like the best dozen oysters you ever split. Before you start laughing at the phrase “big win at Vanderbilt,” remember: Vandy won nine games last year. They had Ole Miss beat, too, until Jeff Scott broke off a 75-yard run with 1:07 left to win. The Rebels got a lot of buzz in the offseason for their recruiting class, including no. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemidche. He was good Thursday, but fellow freshman Laquon Treadwell was even better, catching 9 passes and a key two-point conversion. If Ole Miss is seriously good, the SEC is going to be heaven’s buffet this year. More oysters! Next up: Southeast Missouri State.
7. Eastern Washington (1-0)
Beat Oregon State 49-46.
Where is Eastern Washington located? If you said “eastern Washington,” slap yourself in the back of the head for me. If you said “Cheney, Wash., a thriving community with a population of 10,820 located just 17 miles southwest of Spokane,” you Googled them like I did. The Eagles (yeah, Googled that, too) put up 625 yards on the road against a team that was sneaky-great at times last year and ended up with nine wins. QB Vernon Adams basically wrecked the Beavers by himself. His stat line: 411 yards and four TDs passing, 107 yards and two TDs rushing — including the winning 2-yard TD run with 18 seconds left. He took three Oregon State cheerleaders and half the band back to Cheney with him.
Eastern Washington is an FBS team like North Dakota State — the Eagles made the national semis last year and were top-5 in the preseason FBS rankings. Based on this game, they might be top-5 in the Pac-12, too. Next up: Western Oregon.
8. South Carolina (1-0)
Beat North Carolina 27-10.
9. Texas A&M (1-0)
Beat Rice 52-31.
Two teams who won without getting much from their best player. South Carolina was never in any danger against North Carolina, even though Jadeveon Clowney was gassed for most of the game. Then again, so was everyone else, considering that it was 90-plus in Columbia at kickoff. It ain’t a dry heat in Columbia, either. Steve Spurrier was so dismissive of the Tar Heels that he threw a bomb from his own 2 at the end of the game so a receiver he recruited from North Carolina would get a chance to make a catch. That’s a classic Spurrier bully move, and is the same reason you love him if he’s your coach and hate him like an impacted tooth if he’s on the other sideline. Hey, he’s playing my team next! Total coincidence. Next up: at Georgia.
Was it just me, or did Rice look pretty good against A&M? I know Johnny Football led the Aggies to three scores, but he also got sacked a few times, and Rice didn’t appear to be skeered of him or Kyle Field or pretty much anything. I’m not sure if that says good things about Rice or bad things about A&M. I love Johnny Football. But I have a feeling the whole thing is going to implode, starting in two weeks against Alabama. Next up: Sam Houston State.
10. Oklahoma State (1-0)
Beat Mississippi State 21-3 (at Houston).
This was impressive not so much for the who as the how. The Cowboys won (and lost) a bunch of shootouts last year — if they were ever up 21-3 on anybody, it was in the first quarter. Mississippi State isn’t exactly a point machine, but nobody (not even Bama) held them to less than a touchdown last year. Somebody ought to try playing defense in the Big 12, just to be different. Who knows, you could win the whole conference that way. Unless they let in North Dakota State. And they totally should. Next up: at UT-San Antonio.