With the PAC-12 starting play this past weekend, now seems like the logical time to release the initial “Rahl Reviews CFB Top 25 Rankings”. Like all other sports, college football has a rocky landscape this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With very few non-conference matchups, near-empty stadiums, postponements and general distractions caused by the necessary precautions taken in order to play college football at all, it’s very difficult to produce accurate power rankings using traditional methods and metrics. So instead, for this season, I’m going to put a little more value and emphasis on less traditional factors in my rankings. They will, more or less, be formed in the same manner as the AP and Coaches polls. While I will still be applying common points of reference such as strength of schedule and common opponents, I’ll also be looking at some intangibles, such as QB play, game management and the ever-debatable “eye test”. Maybe you agree that those things should be taken into consideration in rankings. Maybe you don’t. Whatever your views are in this regard, it is hard to argue that any ranking system is accurate while trying to judge teams in this makeshift season. A season that just feels hollow with all the changes that were made as a result of the pandemic. So, let’s get down to business. Here are the nation’s 25 best college football teams in my eyes:
- All games are to be played on 11/14 unless noted otherwise.
- All lines are the most recent Action Network consensus lines prior to publishing this article.
1. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (6-0)
With Clemson’s loss, the Crimson Tide have moved up into the #1 ranking in the AP poll for the 13th consecutive season. As you can see, I have them at #1 as well. With only 1 game remaining vs an opponent who is currently ranked, the Tide seem to be in a good position to once again win the SEC West, despite losing their leading WR Jaylen Waddle for the remainder of the season on October 24th. The performance of the receiving corps may be something to pay attention to for the remainder of the season.
This Week: PPD
2. NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (7-0)
Could this finally be Notre Dame’s year to get back on top? After taking down #1 Clemson in a 2OT thriller, it would appear that this season may be their best shot at a national title. Especially considering that this is QB Ian Book’s final year in South Bend. While they already defeated Clemson, they may be asked to do it again down the road in the ACC Championship. Except that game would be on a neutral field and Clemson would have Heisman-hopeful QB Trevor Lawrence back at the helm. However, if things shake out in their favor, there is a chance that Notre Dame could drop the ACC title game and still earn a playoff berth, as long as that is their only loss.
This Week: at Boston College
Lines: Notre Dame -13.5 / 50
3. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (3-0)
The B1G may have had a delayed start, but that hasn’t slowed down Ohio State. Led by Heisman contending QB Justin Fields, the Buckeyes are flying high through 3 games. After beating Penn State by 13 in Happy Valley, Ohio State hung 517 yards on Rutgers in a 49-27 victory. It’s hard not to pity the defensive coordinators and players who are tasked with trying to slow down this machine-like offense.
This Week: PPD
4. CLEMSON TIGERS (7-1)
That must have been a tough loss to swallow for Clemson fans. Despite four of their drives being limited to FG’s, Clemson found themselves up by 7 with less than 2 minutes left. Ian Book then orchestrated a 91-yard drive to tie the game and force overtime. It only took the Tigers 2 plays to score in the first OT, but Notre Dame once again tied it. Notre Dame would go on to score in 2OT, but Clemson failed to match. Although freshman QB DJ Uiagalelei played exceptionally well after being thrust into the starting role after starting QB Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19, it’s hard not to wonder what kind of a difference Lawrence would have made in that game. We may get to find that out, as Clemson & Notre Dame appear to be on a collision course to meet again, this time for the ACC Championship in Charlotte come December.
This Week: BYE
5. TEXAS A&M AGGIES (5-1)
Although they suffered a 28-point defeat to Alabama, the Aggies’ playoff dreams aren’t dead just yet. They will most likely need some outside help, however. It would appear that Jimbo Fisher’s team is finally coming along, which should produce a collective sigh of relief from the fan base. If they continue to play well, they may find themselves in a position to make the playoff as a 1-loss team who is not a conference champion. There is a precedent of that happening, as Alabama accomplished that feat in the 2018 CFP. So, if you’re a Texas A&M fan, you should be rooting for chaos across college football, and for Aggies victories of course.
This Week: PPD
6. FLORIDA GATORS (4-1)
The Gators are another team fighting for their playoff lives. After beating rival Georgia 44-28 in their annual showdown in Jacksonville, Dan Mullen’s Gators are in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. With their toughest games behind them, and QB Kyle Trask slinging the ball like a Heisman contender, the Gators appear to be on the road to Atlanta. They may have to win the SEC Championship for a playoff berth, however, as there has not been a 2-loss College Football Playoff team since its inception. They surely have the talent to do so, but they need to avoid any more slip-ups along the way.
This Week: vs Arkansas
Lines: Florida -17.5 / 60.5
7. CINCINNATI BEARCATS (6-0)
Is this the year that a G5 team makes the playoff? Cincinnati is one of the teams trying to make that happen. With no P5 teams on the schedule, Cincinnati knew they would have to make a statement in order to receive a CFP or NY6 berth. They are doing just that. The Bearcats are undefeated and all 6 of their wins have been by double-digits, including 2 wins vs ranked opponents. If they keep up this level of play, the selection committee will have a tough decision to make in December.
This Week: vs East Carolina (11/13)
Lines: Cincinnati -27.5 / 55.5
8. BYU COUGARS (8-0)
BYU is another non-P5 team trying to make a statement worthy of a CFP or NY6 bid. The Cougars’ original schedule was daunting, but the rescheduling as a result of COVID-19 gave BYU a slate of opponents that are much more manageable. It’s hard to say whether that was a good thing or not. While BYU is much more likely to go undefeated, especially after a 51-17 shellacking of #21 Boise State on the blue turf, the softer schedule won’t do them any favors with the Selection Committee. The best that BYU can do is keep thrashing opponents and hope that it’s enough when the CFP & NY6 matchups are decided.
This Week: BYE
9. MIAMI HURRICANES (6-1)
Miami’s aspirations took a hit this weekend when Notre Dame took down Clemson. After dropping a game to Clemson earlier in the year, I’m sure the ‘Canes were sorry to see Notre Dame win since now they will need some help to make an appearance in the ACC title game. QB D’Eriq King looks like he is hitting his stride after throwing for 430 yards and 5 TDs in a comeback win vs NC State. Should Miami win out, which they very well may do, they will need Notre Dame or Clemson to drop a game in order to have a chance to play for the ACC Championship.
This Week: at Virginia Tech
Lines: Miami +2 / 67.5
10. INDIANA HOOSIERS (3-0)
I cannot imagine that anyone expected Indiana to be a top-10 team after only 3 games, but here they are. They have earned it. After upsetting then #8 Penn State, they went on to beat Rutgers by 16, and this past weekend they took down #23 Michigan in Ann Arbor. They did so in an impressive fashion too, putting up 460 yards in a 17-point win. If the Hoosiers can keep this up, it’s going to make for an interesting matchup in Columbus, Ohio in two weeks.
This Week: at Michigan State
Lines: Indiana -7 / 52
11. OREGON DUCKS (1-0)
The long wait for the PAC-12 to start play may have been worth it for Ducks fans. Oregon opened their season with a commanding 35-14 victory over Stanford. QB Tyler Shough’s debut as the Ducks’ new starter looked promising. The defense may need to be sturdier in the run game, but it looks like Oregon is once again a strong contender in the PAC-12, which is no surprise.
This Week: at Washington State
Lines: Oregon -10 / 58
12. WISCONSIN BADGERS (1-0)
Is anyone else as anxious as I am to see Wisconsin get back in action? Specifically, to see how QB Graham Mertz follows up his jaw-dropping performance vs Illinois in his first start. He connected on his first 17 passes as the Badgers starter. After going 20-21 for 248 yards and 5 TDs, Mertz tested positive for COVID-19. More positives within the program followed, causing them to postpone 2 games. The good news is that it appears the Badgers will take the field again this weekend. The bad news is that they may have to do so without Graham Mertz because of Big Ten protocols regarding the virus.
This Week: at Michigan
Lines: Wisconsin -4.5 / 54
13. GEORGIA BULLDOGS (4-2)
After having high hopes in the preseason, this year is turning into a bit of a let down for the Bulldogs. This off-season, Georgia fans had playoff aspirations and Heisman hopes for transfer QB Jamie Newman. Things took a bad turn when Newman opted out of the 2020 season. They then turned to former walk-on QB Stetson Bennett. His inexperience showed in a 17-point loss to Alabama and then he struggled mightily in their 44-28 loss to Florida before suffering a shoulder injury. Now the Bulldogs are playing catch-up in the SEC East, and Stetson Bennett may lose his starting job even if he is healthy.
This Week: PPD
14. OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (5-1)
It looks like the Pokes are the Big 12’s only hope at fielding a CFP team this season, as they are the only team in the conference who hasn’t lost 2 games. Those hopes took a big hit two weeks ago when they suffered a loss at home to Texas. They will try to keep the dream alive next weekend during Bedlam, when they will try to avoid a 6th straight loss in the series.
This Week: BYE
15. COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS (7-0)
Coastal Carolina is doing a great job of rising through the ranks. The Chanticleers have only been an FBS team since 2017, so I’m kind of amazed to see the program ranked this high, this soon. They have earned their ranking by beating opponents by 21.6 points on average, including a victory vs a ranked opponent (#21 Louisiana) and another victory vs a P5 school, albeit the P5 school was Kansas. (Sorry, Jayhawks fans).
This Week: at Troy
Lines: Coastal Carolina -10.5 / 53
16. MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD (6-0)
The Thundering Herd have a similar resume to the Chanticleers. They are undefeated, winning by 27.2 on average, with one of those victories coming vs a ranked opponent. While these two teams could be considered interchangeable in the standings, the lack of P5 opponents in Marshall’s schedule forced me to give Coastal Carolina the edge. That could change, however, if Marshall continues to win games in blowout fashion.
This Week: vs Middle Tennessee
Lines: Marshall -24 / 57
17. IOWA STATE CYCLONES (5-2)
The Cyclones had high hopes for their team this season after a promising 2019 campaign, that included the emergence of QB Brock Purdy, who was a preseason Heisman candidate. They started the season with a shocking loss to Louisiana. They turned things around, defeating Oklahoma 2 games later. While Purdy hasn’t exactly put up the numbers expected of him, the Cyclones have dropped only 1 other game, a 24-21 loss at then #6 Oklahoma State. With only 1 conference loss, Iowa State is alive and well in the Big 12 title hunt.
This Week: BYE
18. OKLAHOMA SOONERS (5-2)
Spencer Rattler’s career as Oklahoma’s QB got off to a rocky start when the Sooners began the season 1-2. His inexperience showed in the form of an interception during Oklahoma’s final drive vs Iowa State. Although he is not quite living up to his lofty expectations, it is hard to fault him for that considering how high the Sooners standards at the QB position have been the past few seasons. It seems like he is getting comfortable though, with OU scoring 62 points back-to-back in their previous 2 games. Next weekend should serve as a measuring stick as to how far he has come since that interception.
This Week: BYE
19. SMU MUSTANGS (7-1)
It has been a stellar season so far for SMU QB Shane Buechele. Without their 42-13 loss to Cincinnati, SMU would be one of the top contenders for a NY6 bowl. If they finish the season strong, which they have been doing so far, they could still be in the mix, but they will most likely need some outside help.
This Week: at Tulsa
Lines: SMU +2.5 / 63.5
20. USC TROJANS (1-0)
The Trojans season started with a scare. Down 13 to Arizona State, with 3 minutes left, the Trojans faced a 4th & 13. Kedon Slovis threw a 26-yard TD pass. The Trojans recovered the ensuing onside kick and Slovis took them down the field to score the game-winning TD. That had to get Trojans fans’ hearts pumping. It’s hard to say if it is a bad sign for USC that they were in that position to begin with or if it is a good thing that they are capable of making those kinds of comebacks. Assuming that game was a hiccup as a result of the delayed start, the Trojans have a good chance of making an appearance in the PAC-12 Championship.
This Week: at Arizona
Lines: USC -14 / 67.5
21. AUBURN TIGERS (4-2)
I thought Auburn would be a lot higher than #21 at this point in the season. But they have had a tough time getting into a rhythm and forming an identity. After losing big in Athens, a mental mistake almost cost them a victory vs Arkansas. A week later they were upset by South Carolina. It looks like things are finally on track now, though. After beating Ole Miss 35-28, they handed out a beat down to LSU, defeating the Tigers 48-11. Currently, with two top-5 opponents remaining on their schedule, they could still play their way into a possible NY6 berth.
This Week: PPD
22. TEXAS LONGHORNS (5-2)
The Longhorns have experienced some disappointment this year, both on and off the field. After making an appearance in the AP top-10, Texas dropped 2 straight games, losing to TCU and then Oklahoma. Adding to their frustrations were the de-commitments of 5* (5-star) QB recruit Quinn Ewers and 4* WR recruit Phaizon Wilson. The loss of Ewers was an especially big blow, as he is the consensus #1 QB in his class and consensus #2 player overall. On top of that, he is from Texas. The loss of top in-state talent always stings worse. Despite these disappointments, and thanks to the jumbled-up standings in the Big 12, the Longhorns are still very much in the mix to make an appearance in the conference championship game.
This Week: BYE
23. LIBERTY FLAMES (7-0)
To see Liberty ranked is somewhat astonishing. This is only the Flames’ 2nd season as a full FBS member. Not only is Hugh Freeze’s team undefeated, but they boast 2 road wins over P5 schools (Syracuse, Virginia Tech). I am genuinely excited to see how they finish the season as they have matchups at NC State and at Coastal Carolina remaining on their schedule.
This Week: vs Western Carolina
Lines: Liberty -32.5 / 60.5
24. NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (3-0)
A hot start for the Wildcats has earned them the 24-spot in my rankings. After a rout of Maryland, Northwestern went into Iowa and earned a victory. They followed that up by beating Nebraska. While they haven’t exactly replicated their performance against Maryland, they have been finding a way to get it done. They may need to see some more consistent play from QB Peyton Ramsey if they want to hold on to their ranked status, however.
This Week: at Purdue
Lines: Northwestern -2.5 / 50.5
25. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (5-2)
Personally speaking, my expectations for the Tar Heels this season were somewhat high. I thought QB Sam Howell would follow up his freshman season with an even stronger sophomore campaign, which would vault them up in the standings. While Howell is currently on pace to have a higher QB Rating than last season, frankly speaking, the team around him has been letting him down. Scoring 41 points vs Virginia should have been enough for a win. It was not. As for the loss to FSU, Howell wasn’t blameless, as he threw a pick-6, but special teams blunders and dropped passes ultimately did the Tar Heels in. Still, the offensive firepower on this team makes them a dangerous opponent.