Like we always do early Sunday morning, it’s time to give you our Top 25 – or as we like to call it, a ranking of “What the AP poll should look like.”
Before you dive into these rankings, please understand one thing: We only rank teams based on what they have done on the field this season, which is why these rankings will look wildly different than what you’ll see in the AP Top-25 poll. We don’t care where you were ranked last week, where you ranked in the preseason, only what you have done this year.
Here is our list of the Top 25 teams in college football.
25) Texas Longhorns (last week: unranked)
Yes, I’m fully aware Texas is 1-2, but there isn’t a single person who could have watched the Longhorns’ near upset of USC and not thought to themselves, “that’s one of the 25 best teams in college football.” Texas is, and while the record isn’t pretty, it’s clear coach Tom Herman has this program trending in the right direction.
24) South Florida Bulls (last week: unranked)
South Florida is 3-0, with all three wins coming by at least 14 points. It hasn’t always been pretty for Charlie Strong’s club, but they’re exactly where we expected them to be after three games.
No. 23 Cal Golden Bears (last week: unranked)
Few clubs anywhere have had a better September than the Golden Bears, who opened the season with a win at UNC before topping Ole Miss late on Saturday. Sure neither team is that good, but how many clubs have two wins over Power 5 schools at this point in the season? Things will get much tougher next week for the Golden Bears, as they host the USC Trojans.
No. 22 San Diego State (unranked)
Who needs the Chargers when you’ve got the Aztecs, baby! Rocky Long’s team improved to 3-0 with a late-night victory over Stanford — in a game which didn’t end until right around 2:30 a.m. ET. Also, don’t sleep on running back Rashaad Penny in the Heisman race. The senior rushed for 175 yards against the Cardinal, the third straight game where he went for at least 175.
21) Kentucky Wildcats (last week: unranked)
Truthfully, you probably won’t see Kentucky in the polls – mostly because the voters are idiots. But after the Wildcats went on the road and beat a ranked South Carolina team, they deserve to be in our Top 25. Now the fun part: Kentucky hosts Florida next week, looking for their first win over the Gators since the mid 1980s. Based on the way the Gators looked Saturday (and the Wildcats, too), don’t rule it out.
20) Ohio State Buckeyes (last week: No. 20)
Sorry to the Buckeyes fans out there, but a 38-7 win over Army hasn’t convinced any of us that your offense is fixed. Even if it is, we won’t find out for a few weeks, as Ohio State faces UNLV and Rutgers – which should be another two easy wins – the next two weeks.
19) Memphis Tigers (last week: unranked)
Welcome to the Top 25, Memphis, after your wild win over UCLA. The Tigers probably don’t have the defense to stay here long-term, but after Riley Ferguson outdueled Josh Rosen on Saturday (tossing for 398 yards and six touchdowns) they deserve this ranking.
18) Washington State Cougars (last week: unranked)
The Cougs couldn’t crack our Top 25 after that wild win over Boise State last week, but did with a dominant Pac-12 opener over Oregon State on Saturday. Wazzu faces Nevada next, before hosting USC in what should be a wild game on Sept. 29.
17) Virginia Tech Hokies (last week: No. 19)
Things looked bad for the Hokies for a while there Saturday – then they ripped off 43 unanswered points in the second half to cruise past East Carolina. Virginia Tech now has a snoozer against Old Dominion before what could be a wild game Sept. 30 at home against Clemson.
16) Florida State Seminoles (last week: No. 20)
Like last week, we aren’t going to hold it against Florida State because they lost to Alabama on a neutral field, in what was a competitive game. Still, it will be interesting what they look like next week when they face a tough North Carolina State team, after two weeks off because of Hurricane Irma.
15) Vanderbilt Commodores (last week: unranked)
The Commodores are quietly one of the best stories in college football, as they are 3-0 and have given up just 13 points total all season. They also beat a really good Kansas State team at home on Saturday. So how good is Vandy? We think they’re really good, but will find out next week. They host some school called “Alabama” in a week.
14) TCU Horned Frogs (last week: No. 13)
Like so many teams in this poll, the Horned Frogs didn’t always look pretty Saturday, but still got a 56-36 win over SMU to improve to 3-0. Can they keep it up as they face a major Big 12 showdown next week, when they visit Oklahoma State in the conference opener for both clubs?
13) Washington Huskies (last week: No. 15)
The Huskies continue to quietly pile up wins, jumping to a 41-7 halftime lead against Fresno State, before cruising to a 48-16 victory. Like so many other teams, we’ll find out if the Dawgs are “for real” when they open conference play Saturday at Colorado in a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 title game.
12) Wisconsin Badgers (last week: No. 18)
Wisconsin didn’t exactly beat your grandfather’s BYU Cougars (the Cougars are now just 1-3 on the season) but any time you go to Provo and get a 40-6 win, it speaks volumes to where you are as a program. Wisconsin is now 3-0 as it gets set to open Big Ten play on Sept. 30 against Northwestern.
11) Oregon Ducks (last week: No. 10)
The shine quickly came off the Ducks’ win against Nebraska last week after the Cornhuskers laid an egg on Saturday in a loss to Northern Illinois. Still, back-to-back, easy wins over Nebraska and Wyoming on the road is a better two-game stretch than virtually anyone has in college football this season, which is why they maintain this ranking. The Ducks (who are averaging 53 points per game) should have no problem keeping the offense rolling next Saturday, when they open Pac-12 play against a lousy 1-2 Arizona State club.
10) Maryland Terrapins (last week: No. 14)
How do you move up four spots without playing a game? Well, considered that the Terps beat up Texas, and Texas nearly upset USC on Saturday, don’t the Terps deserve a little more credit than pretty much everyone (except me) has been giving them? MY Terps will continue on their march towards the national championship (yes, I’m being sarcastic) next Saturday when they face a dangerous Central Florida team.
9) Mississippi State Bulldogs (last week: unranked)
Yes, Mississippi State deserves this ranking after absolutely crushing LSU at home – their 37-7 victory was unquestionably one of the biggest surprises of the college football season so far. So what do the Bulldogs have in store for an encore? We’ll find out soon. They travel to Georgia next week.
8) Michigan Wolverines (last week: No. 5)
We can’t take credit away from Michigan for what they did Sept. 2 against Florida, but it’s looking less and less impressive following two uninspired wins the past two weeks by the Wolverines. Regardless, Jim Harbaugh’s club is 3-0 – which is all he cares about – and got past a pesky Air Force team on Saturday. They now open Big Ten play against a Purdue team that is better than anyone realizes at 2-1 overall.
7) Penn State Nittany Lions (last week: No. 7)
It’s early, but the Nittany Lions look like the class of the Big Ten, after a 56-0 beat down of Georgia State to improve to 3-0. Things won’t be nearly as easy next week when Penn State travels to Iowa City to face an undefeated Iowa club in its Big Ten opener. Remember, Iowa plays its best in its big games at home: They upset an undefeated Michigan team last year at Kinnick Stadium.
6) Oklahoma State Cowboys (last week: No. 16)
The Cowboys are the quiet juggernaut no one is talking about, after running Pittsburgh off the field in a 59-21 victory that wasn’t close as the final score looked (Oklahoma State scored 49 points in the first half). The Cowboys are for real, as they get set to open Big 12 play against TCU next week.
5) Georgia Bulldogs (last week: No. 3)
Georgia is higher in our poll than most – but after Notre Dame crushed Boston College on Saturday, that road win by the Dawgs last week looks that much more impressive in hindsight. In terms of what Georgia did on the field Saturday, they dominated Samford and now head into a quietly massive game next Saturday when they host a really good Mississippi State team.
4) USC Trojans (last week: No. 6)
I don’t care how nerve-racking Saturday night’s win was, or the fact that USC barely survived as a 17-point favorite – name me a team with two better wins than the ones USC has over Texas and Stanford. You can’t. The Trojans’ gauntlet continues with back-to-back games at Cal and Washington State the next two weeks.
3) Alabama Crimson Tide (last week: No. 1)
Just about everyone in Alabama will freak out when they see this ranking (some already are) but the Crimson Tide hasn’t looked like their usual dominant selves in wins over Fresno State and Colorado State the past two weeks (CSU racked up nearly 400 yards of total offense on Saturday). In the Crimson Tide’s defense they are young and dealing with a slew of injuries, and should get better as the season goes on and they get healthy. They’ll also have a chance to prove us wrong next week, when they travel to Nashville to face Vanderbilt, in what all of a sudden could be a tough road game.
2) Oklahoma Sooners (last week: No. 2)
The Sooners played on pay-per-view Saturday so unless you’re a Sooners diehard or just like to spend your money recklessly (in which case, feel free to send it my way), you probably didn’t see Oklahoma’s 56-14 win over Tulane. Not surprisingly, the Sooners rolled and should continue to do so the next few weeks. Their next two games are against Baylor and Iowa State before they face Texas on Oct. 14.
1) Clemson Tigers (last week: No. 4)
As we said at the top, these rankings are based not on name recognition or where you were ranked last week. It’s based on what you’ve done this season, and no one has been more impressive than the Tigers, who bludgeoned Auburn last week before doing the same in a 47-21 win at Louisville Saturday night. Even without Deshaun Watson, it appears as though coach Dabo Swinney’s club has picked up right where it left off last year, as Clemson gets set to face Boston College next Saturday.