Tiers after Week 5, with a few teams looking like real power players and some big mysteries after that.
Tier 1: The Alabama Tier
(1) – Alabama
As you might imagine, this tier is for teams that can beat Alabama. So far, I really only see one team that belongs.
Tier 2: Not-Quite Alabama Tier
(6) Ohio State, Penn State, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Notre Dame
None of these teams would be favored vs. Alabama on a neutral field. In fact, some might be close to a double-digit dog. That says more about Alabama than these guys though. And despite James Franklin’s protests, I’d actually argue Penn State looked fairly elite against the Buckeyes all except for the playcalling, which was pretty dang bad.
Tier 3: Ain’t Played Nobody Tier
(5) West Virginia, Oregon, UCF, Kentucky, Colorado
All three of these teams can make a solid case to be one group higher, but I’m just not sold. West Virginia’s best win was Saturday against Texas Tech (which also lost to Ole Miss). Oregon should be undefeated, but instead it folded in its only tough game. UCF has a 17-game winning streak, but this year’s slate hasn’t exactly been electrifying. And Kentucky actually looks like a legit team, and the combo of Terry Wilson and Benny Snell is really good. But I’m not sure Mississippi State, Florida and South Carolina victories prove anything other than the Wildcats are above average.
Tier 4: Flawed-With-Upside Tier
(7) LSU, Michigan, Washington, Miami, Wisconsin, Stanford, Auburn, Texas
You can make a pretty good case for any of these teams to be contenders, but I’m also not sure I’d be surprised if any one o them finished outside the final top 25. LSU has some big wins, but also some ugly offensive numbers (prior to last week, but Ole Miss), while Auburn looks like a really erratic team at best, and potentially not very good at all. Miami looked awful in Week 1, but has a new QB. Wisconsin has tons of talent, but that BYU game. Stanford is lucky it doesn’t have multiple losses, but if Bryce Love ever breaks out, who knows? Michigan stunk in the first half of the first game and really hasn’t played a good team since. Texas stunk in the first half of the first game and has been OK ever since. And Washington is Washington.
Tier 5: Participation Trophies
(26) Florida, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Iowa, NC State, South Carolina, Boston College, Maryland, Cincinnati, USF, Houston, Syracuse, Duke, TCU, Indiana, Fresno State, Washington State, Cal, USC, Missouri, Texas A&M, Troy, Michigan State, Arizona State
Here’s the real problem group. We know by now that these teams aren’t pushing for the playoff, but some may prove to be pretty good, while others may be complete frauds. We just don’t know. And while that’s not an issue with narrowing our field of contenders, it is a problem with judging what constitutes a quality win. Is beating Florida a real asset for Kentucky? How about West Virginia’s victory over Texas Tech? Or will the Gators and Red Raiders end up being 6-6 or 7-5 teams that really don’t matter much. As this group thins, we’ll have a much better idea of the resumes of Tiers 1-4.
Typically what I like to do as we get a little further along is to look at the records and performances amongst these teams. So, for example, there are nine teams that have multiple victories over tiered programs: Texas, Texas Tech, Clemson, Kentucky, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Stanford. Obviously we can point out some flaws with many of those teams, but they’ve largely shown they can play with the big boys. This is also a more apt way of reviewing programs than saying something like “LSU has two top-10 wins!” when Miami and Auburn haven’t exactly looked like top 10 programs. It’s also worth noting that a few teams own a victory over tiered programs that aren’t tiered themselves: San Diego State, Minnesota, Purdue, Ole Miss, Temple and Old Dominion. Should we alter our perception of those teams? Perhaps we’ve undervalued someone like Minnesota, but I also feel pretty comfortable eliminating these guys from conversation at the moment.
Again, all this can (and will) change, and like with last week’s more analytical approach, the small sample size makes the info a little less reliable. But it’s a starting point.