Week 7 ACC picks with Lauren Brownlow

It’s Week 7, the worst docket on the ACC with Clemson, FSU, Wake and NC State all enjoying an open date and not much in the way of great matchups. So, we dialed up some entertainment value for these picks by bringing in the always delightful Lauren Brownlow, writer and radio voice for WRAL, author of the oral history of the VT-Wake 0-0 gamegenerally entertaining Twitterer and winner of the 2016 and 2018 ACC media Lisa Loeb lookalike contest. (Note: Tim Linafelt bribed the judges in 2017.)

Anyway, we asked Lauren for her thoughts on some big ACC football issues & more…

Q. Is Duke legit?

A. This is complicated. Legit? Sure. But flawed beyond what they showed in games 1-4? Yes, especially with all of the injuries they’ve suffered on both sides of the ball (particularly defensively, and losing a starting linebacker just before you play Georgia Tech is, um, not ideal). David Cutcliffe has built depth in this program, something that was unimaginable even a few years ago, and it has sustained them through this. But as we saw against Virginia Tech, and as we’ll likely continue to see against teams that are more talented than they are, that depth will only get you so far.

This Duke offense is noticeably better than it was a year ago, and Cutcliffe is one of the best coaches in the country. Daniel Jones is a better decision-maker. Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown are a great duo in the backfield. Duke finally has some wide receivers that can stretch the field a little bit, which it did not have a year ago. The defense is for real in a way it wasn’t before. Last year’s Duke team had a six-game skid, in my opinion (and theirs), because of issues with mental toughness. This year’s team is different. The next three games will tell us a lot, as they’re all winnable (at Georgia Tech, Virginia at home, at Pittsburgh).

Q. More salvageable situation without a coaching change: Louisville or UNC?

A. On paper, you’d think Louisville, because the Cardinals have recruited pretty well and Bobby Petrino has a track record of being good there before – and not all that long ago! North Carolina did win the Coastal Division and push Clemson in the ACC title game (hard to believe that was just three years ago), but Mitch Trubisky leaving a year earlier than expected and a few other quarterback transfers later, and the high-powered Larry Fedora offense is a shell of itself. There are issues that persist in the Fedora era at North Carolina, like penalties and subpar defensive play, but if you look closely at this North Carolina team, it’s shown some improvement from last year at every position except quarterback. But that’s a pretty important position.

When Petrino hired Brian VanGorder as his defensive coordinator, it left many scratching their heads. But rumblings in the college football universe seemed to indicate that VanGorder was the best Petrino could do. That’s…not a good sign for the future if you’re Louisville. Petrino is known for being a sharp offensive mind, but this year’s offense sure doesn’t show it. And that was after he spent the whole off-season talking up how much more “balanced” and better this offense would be without Lamar Jackson. (Blasphemy, sir.)

With the news that Kelly Bryant is visiting North Carolina, I tend to think that’s the more salvageable situation without a change right now. I think this offense might be a quarterback away from at least being a bowl team.

Q. As a woman in sports radio, what’s the dumbest thing a sports bro has said to you?

A. I get called “that lady” or “that girl” a lot, sometimes derisively, as if to say, “What is this female voice doing on my radio?” But I have co-opted it, and now am known jokingly as “That Brownlow lady.” Plus, my intro music for a segment on our morning show The Sports Shop is “Who’s That Lady.” I just try to embrace it and have fun with it. I know a female voice on sports radio, even though I’ve been in this market for awhile now, is still pretty new to some people. My favorite insult I got was “dingbat.” That should be used more.

Being asked whether or not I like sports is always one of my favorites. It’s almost like there’s this idea that if I’m a woman covering sports, it must be for non-sports reasons? To be around men? To be different? I have no idea why I get asked that, but I do not know men that get asked this same question.

I don’t notice or retain a lot of the gendered insults, which I’m not sure is because I’m in a more enlightened market than most or because I have an aggressive mute trigger on Twitter. I know that my existence on the airwaves will bother some people, and frankly, I kind of enjoy that. I hope it gets to the point where they hear me enough that I no longer make those same people uncomfortable, and that, in some small way, will be progress. The more I or other women can be on sports radio, the more normal it will seem. We’re not going anywhere, so people might as well get used to it.

Q. You are invited to a free, high end, super nice dinner at the restaurant of your choosing. The caveat is you have to bring three CFB coaches with you. Who you picking and why?

A. This is difficult for me because perhaps my favorite coach in all of college football is Paul Johnson. He is my spirit animal.

However, he would not get along well with the coach I’d want to invite the most, and that’s David Cutcliffe. I learn something every time I listen to one of his press conferences, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate him letting us in the way that he does. He is one of the rare coaches who will try to explain a strategic decision to the media, even after a tough loss, and the world somehow doesn’t end. He’s everyone’s favorite college football grandpa. I’d order a sweet tea and let him regale us with stories of the Mannings.

I’d also ask Dino Babers to come along. Some of you might know him for his passionate postgame speeches. Those are all well and good, but I’d love to pick his brain about up-tempo offense and what might happen in Game of Thrones (yes, he’s a fan).

Guest No. 3? Lane Kiffin, of course. I could ask him about all of his Nick Saban trolling on Twitter, all while David Cutcliffe politely tries to hide his disapproval. Kiffin might be a bit of a Paul Johnson in terms of the third dinner guest and the chemistry of the group, but I want to pick his brain so badly that I don’t even care.

Q. What happens to the world if NC State beats Clemson next week?

A. At first, I thought this said world OF NC State, which, being a local, I’m pretty sure we’d be in College Football Playoff conversation mode here locally until proven otherwise. It doesn’t take much for us to start having those conversations, since the teams we cover are so rarely in them.

And nationally – speaking of Alabama vs. everyone else – this outcome probably eliminates one of the 2-3 teams that would have a shot at beating the Crimson Tide. But really, the only constants in life are death, taxes and Alabama winning national championships.

What happens to the ACTUAL world, though? Well, Ryan Finley finally becomes a legit part of the Heisman Trophy discussion, even though we’re all just playing for second place behind Tu’a. But that publicity is great for NC State, which has already produced a slew of NFL quarterbacks.

Locally, while many NC State fans will be awash in the glee that accompanies their best shot at an ACC title since 1979, plenty more will be dreading the inevitable loss to Syracuse the next week. Even worse, some NC State fans that I know are convinced they’ll somehow lose at Louisville or at North Carolina. This does not seem logical to me, but such dread of bad things rarely is. As a Carolina Panthers fan, I understand and respect this dread and I have always felt a kinship with NC State fans because of it. And it’s not like they haven’t been burned plenty of times before, so I get it. But they should enjoy the ride, because this team is really good, regardless of whether it beats Clemson or not.

This week’s picks…

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Week 6 Tiered Rankings

Eight top-25 teams lost this week, including five of the top 14. That’s big in shifting the conversation and narrowing our list of playoff competitors, but don’t be fooled. By year’s end, we’re likely to only have two, maybe three undefeated teams. So the real questions will be deciphering between one-loss teams, and that means the Week 6 games will just be part of a bigger conversation.

Anyway, here are our tiers for this week…

Tier 1: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame (5)

These are the teams essentially in control of their own destiny for the College Football Playoff. Obviously Alabama and Georgia would have to play each other. If the others win out, they’ll be in. The Bulldogs are the one team that I’m a little less convinced by. Not that I don’t think UGA is good. It is. But much like Clemson the first few weeks, there’s been too many games where the Dawgs just haven’t looked quite in sync. This probably fixes itself, but something to monitor.

Tier 2: Penn State, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Texas, UCF, Oregon (8)

Everyone on this list has either a.) lost a game or b.) not played a serious opponent. So what to make of them? The eye test tells me each of these teams is a legit challenger, but they’ll need some luck ahead of them in the rankings to make a real push.

Tier 3: LSU, Michigan, Miami, Florida, Colorado, NC State, Kentucky, Cincinnati (8)

This is the real wild card group. Clearly there are flaws with every team here, but they either haven’t lost or have shown they can play with the big boys, too. In either case, it’s too soon to write them off, but they’re clearly a tick behind the rest.

Tier 4: Auburn, Texas A&M, USF, Stanford, Mississippi State, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Utah, Washington State, South Carolina, Fresno State, Duke, Virginia Tech, TCU, App State, Maryland, Memphis, Ole Miss, Houston, San Diego State, Boise State (22)

We talked last week about how hard it is to really know who belongs in this group. To me, this is the foundation for how we judge everyone in Tiers 1-3. These are the resume builders, and it’s where the “experts” tend to go really off base. We talk about “top 25 wins” but that’s arbitrary and pointless. The difference between beating the No. 23 team or the No. 32 team is nothing, so the big question is which teams qualify as good but not real competitors. There are a lot of good arguments we can have here. Is Syracuse good? Is Boise State? Boston College? App State? More games will give us more info, but this is the list I’m going with this week.

Seminole Rap, 30 years later

I’ve worked on a lot of fun stories over the years, but this was one of the most entertaining reporting jobs I’ve had: The oral history of “Seminole Rap” on its 30th anniversary.

A few nuggets worth noting: This wasn’t a rogue project. The university was behind it, it was cleared by the NCAA, and the songwriters had to forego all royalties in order to avoid any sort of NCAA infractions. Bobby Bowden wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but he supported it. And the players all loved it — right until they took the field against Miami, in an opening game that ended up being one of the worst losses in FSU history.

Read the story for a litany of great memories and better quotes. In addition, I’ve embedded images of the original request letter and lyrics to the song, courtesy of Florida State.

Enjoy.

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Week 6 ACC picks with Tim Bourret

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This week’s guest picker brings some much-needed credibility to this project. For 40 years, Tim Bourret worked in the Clemson sports information office, and has been one of the truly great folks to work with in our careers. He retired earlier this year, and he’s now working with NBC on its golf coverage, including a trip to Paris last week for the Ryder Cup.

Not only is Tim among the most knowledgable people you’ll meet in sports, he’s also among the nicest and most passionate — particularly when it comes to Clemson and his alma mater, Notre Dame. So, with the Tigers playing a big game at Wake and Notre Dame heading to Lane Stadium for the first time ever, we figured Tim was the perfect guy to check in with about the Week 6 slate.

Q. So if Notre Dame and Clemson end up facing off in the playoff, where’s your heart?

A. If you’ve worked any time for Dabo Swinney, you can’t help but love the guy, so it would have to be with Clemson, as it was in 2015 [when they played in the regular season].

Q. Both Notre Dame and Clemson have benched QBs who won 10-plus games for them last year, as has Miami and Alabama. You know the history of the sport as well as anyone. How crazy is this?

A. It’s exceedingly crazy. I can’t think of many times in Clemson history where the starting quarterback who has even had a winning season was benched the next year. I’m trying to think — a season where a team had a winning year with one quarterback who got benched the following season?

(Tim runs through a dozen different QBs and seasons, then says he’ll research it further. See addendum at end of post.)

The bottom line, it’s very rare, even for a winning season, let alone a 10-win season.

Q. So how’s life away from college football? How strange has this year been to be on the golf course instead of in the press box?

A. I was the student SID at Notre Dame starting in 1975, so it’s been different. But I love what I’m doing with NBC. Those guys are into it, too. So I come into the trailer at the beginning of the day, and the announcers are all asking me what I think about Clemson or about the game. They’re all big football fans — Dan Hicks and Peter Jacobson. The rest of the year, I’ll be doing games on the radio with Clemson, since I don’t have another golf tournament until December. But the strangest is when there’s home games. I hadn’t missed a home game since 1977. I’d been to 230 straight games in Death Valley. So when the Furman game was played, and I was in Boston, and I couldn’t even follow it because we were on the air with a golf tournament at the same time the game was on. Now, in Paris, I was able to listen to the game on my computer when I got back to the hotel. But that’s been the strangest.

Q. Seems crazy that Notre Dame has never played a game at Lane Stadium before, but the Irish head there to take on Virginia Tech this week. What do you make of this game?

A. Everybody will look at it as Virginia Tech just lost to Old Dominion, and Notre Dame just beat a seventh-ranked, traditionally good Stanford team. But I know what Lane Stadium can be like, especially at night. And this is a game Virginia Tech has been pointing to. I can see it, just from when Notre Dame came to Clemson for the first time since 1977, ACC teams really get fired up when Notre Dame comes to town. And one thing that’s neat about how they’ve done the schedule is, the games Notre Dame plays against other ACC teams are spaced out enough that it still creates a special atmosphere when Notre Dame comes to your place. But that’ll especially be the case at Lane Stadium. So I think it’ll be a close game.

Q. OK, so what are the odds, in your mind, that Notre Dame will be a full-time ACC member in the next 10 years?

A. I’ll go 60-40 that they will.

Q. What makes you say that?

A. I think, if you’d asked me this about Notre Dame basketball in 1985 — we’re in a little bit of the same situation. Digger [Phelps], before he left, he was pushing for Notre Dame to join a conference in basketball. He sensed the advantages of being in a conference. And I think over the next 10 years, the playoff structure could change, and it would be to Notre Dame’s advantage to join a conference. So I could see it happening.

Q. As a longtime Notre Dame fan, would that be OK with you?

A. I’d be OK with it because I think it would be easier for Notre Dame to get to the playoff if they were in the ACC as opposed to being independent. So if Notre Dame was in the ACC, they could probably lose a game and still get into the playoff. Right now, I think they’re in the situation where they have to go undefeated. Not just this year, but pretty much any year.

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ADDENDUM: Tim did the research and here are the results: No Clemson QB has ever had a winning season and then been benched the following year. So the Kelly Bryant/Trevor Lawrence situation is really crazy.

At Notre Dame? ” I have every Notre Dame football guide since 1964 so I was able to get more details,” Tim wrote after our interview.

And sure enough, he’s got lots of details. (Editor’s note: I consider this a career highlight that I was able to find a research project for Tim.)

1971-72—Cliff Brown, Notre Dame’s first African American quarterback, started the last six games of the 1971 season and the Irish finished 8-2. So he is considered the season starter because he started the most games at quarterback, And they were the last six games of the season.

Brown’s bio in 1972 media guide said he was the “man to beat in the quarterback scramble,” going into the fall. But Tom Clements, a sophomore (first year of eligibility, freshmen could not play in 1971) beat out Brown and started every game in 1972. ND finished 8-3 in 1972. Clements then quarterbacked every game in the 1973 National Championship season.

1982-83—Blair Kiel was starter in 1982 as a junior and took Irish to a 6-4-1 record. His bio in 1983 media guide, his senior year, says, “destined to become the first-four year starter at quarterback in Notre Dame history. “

Kiel started the first three games of 1983, then Steve Beuerlein took over for the fourth game and started last nine games of the season. Notre Dame finished 1983 with a 7-5 record.

2000-01—In 2000, Matt Lovecchio, a freshman, started the last eight games of the season and took Irish to a 9-3 season and a BCS bowl game. His bio in 2001 press guide says, “Notre Dame’s No. 1 quarterback heading into the 2001 season.” Was 7-1 as the starter in those last eight games of the 2000 season with only loss in bowl game.

In 2001, Carlyle Holiday beat out Lovecchio and became the starter in the third game of the year. Started the last eight games of the season and took Irish to 5-6 record. Bob Davie was fired at end of the year.

2002-03—In 2002 Holiday took ND to a 10-3 record in Tyrone Williamgham’s first year as head coach. He started 12 of the 13 games, missing one start due to injury. In 2003, Holiday started the first three games at quarterback, then Brady Quinn, a freshman, took over. Holiday finished 2003 as backup quarterback, but also played some wide receiver. Quinn started last nine games of 2003 as a freshman. ND finished with 5-7 record that 2003 season. Quinn went on to start in 2004-05-06.

2011-12—In 2011, Tommy Rees took ND to an 8-5 record. He started 12 of the 13 games. In 2012 Everett Golson beat out Rees and led ND to National Championship game and a 12-1 record where it lost to Alabama. He started 11 of the 13 games that year. Rees started other two, but changes were for injury to Golson.

Week 5 Tiered Rankings: Who belongs in the middle of the pack?

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.

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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.

Week 5 picks with Julian Whigham

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This week’s guest picker is the always insightful Julian Whigham, a former Syracuse defensive back who now provides analysis for the Syracuse IMG network and ESPN Syracuse radio. If you’re not already following Julian on Twitter, we highly recommend. He’s genuinely one of the best Xs and Os follows out there.

Q. What do you make of the Syracuse defense? The end of last year was a train wreck, but they’ve certainly played better so far in 2018.

A. The reason we saw the breakdown last season, I felt like, was the unit faced better quarterbacks — Lamar Jackson, John Wolford – who picked out the zone gaps inside the coverages and were able to exploit that. I don’t think teams earlier in the season did that. Against Clemson, they managed to knock out Kelly Bryant, and they faced a backup who couldn’t make plays. After that, they faced good quarterbacks and things fell apart. This season, there’s an emphasis in the secondary on tighter coverages. That’s not necessarily man coverage, but maybe a man emphasis type of coverage, if they get past a certain depth, you start to buy your guy and not play off so far. I think that’s played better for this defense, especially with improved defensive line play. They’ve done a great job of pressure from the front and tighter coverages.

Q. Dino talks all the time about tempo, and it feels like this year, the offense has full command of how to use it. Is that what you’ve seen?

A. You could see in the last game with Eric Dungey telling Coach, ‘Let’s ramp it up, let’s go, let’s go.’ You can see the guys, Coach Babers talked about there would be a year or two to click and everyone would just get it. Last season, the injuries midyear pushed back that process. Now we’re seeing it, Game 3, 4 and going into Clemson, that click that Coach Babers talked about, where guys just get it. There’s definitely a progression.

Q. A Syracuse optimist might say that the win last year shows the Orange can win this game. The pessimist probably says that it ensures Syracuse has Clemson’s full attention now. How do you think last year’s game impacts Saturday’s performance?

A. That defense Clemson has, that front four, I don’t know how this offensive line for Syracuse will handle them. They’ve improved, certainly, from last year to this year. They seem to understand their responsibilities that much more. But I don’t know how they’ll respond to that defense. Last year, Coach Babers had a very good game plan for Clemson’s secondary. They play a lot of man and will let their corners and free safety roam with a guy over the top, and they were using a lot of motions and bunch formations to really open up their guys. You saw the long pass plays to Erv Phillips and such. I don’t know if that’ll be there this year. I think Clemson will be much more sound defensively against what Syracuse wants to do.

And then with Trevor Lawrence, I’m not sure what he can do. He hasn’t been hit yet. He’s been sacked once. And this defense is playing really well right now for Syracuse. The front four has been playing really well the past few weeks. So you never know what happens once Trevor Lawrence starts getting hit. At first I thought Clemson was the clear-cut favorite, but I think Syracuse has a chance to really make this a close one in the same manner that Texas A&M did.

Q. What do you think a win Saturday does for Syracuse’s program in the bigger picture?

A. For me, and I think for this program, it would complete the 180 degree cultural change they’ve tried to put in place here. It’d signify a complete overhaul of what they want this place to be. Eric Dungey talks about not wanting to be considered a basketball school anymore. If they were to win this Saturday, I think Syracuse puts themselves on the map. Beating Florida State, it was a brand name program, but to beat Clemson two years in a row, to have a 5-0 start, to be back into the top 25 — it would make this a team with credibility that’s a real player in the ACC. It’s an opportunity for a program changing win. This could change the tide of Syracuse football for a very long time.

Q. OK, your pick for the game?

A. I can’t be the homer this year. I have to go with Clemson at home. They have too many weapons. But even if they’re 4-1 after this game and keep it as close as Texas A&M did, I think they have a shot at 10 wins. They don’t need this one, but a nice showing would do them a lot of good.

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Week 4 tiered rankings: With stats!

For the sake of adding some data to these tiers, I went through a small exercise for every FBS teams, ranking them 1-130 in each of eight key categories: Explosiveness, efficiency, finishing drives and converting third and fourth downs, both on offense and defense. To do this, I used the following stats:

Explosiveness = explosive plays/total plays, with explosive play defined as a run of 12 yards or a pass of 16.
Efficiency = plays per point
Finishing drives = % of drives inside opponents’ 40 that resulted in TDs
Conversions = 3rd coversions + 4th down conversions/total chances

Again, we did this for each team on both sides of the ball and added up their rankings for a total score. So, the best you could get is an 8 (1st in all eight categories) and the worst is 1,040 (130th in all eight categories). For what it’s worth, the actual best score belonged to Alabama (82) and the worst to MTSU (907). We didn’t include FCS games, so this skews things a bit for a team like MTSU which has just two FBS games so far.

Anyway, what did we come up with?

Here’s how the tiers shape up using a rough breakdown of those points, looking for large gaps from one spot to the next.

Tier 1

Alabama (82) — They’re the only team with a score under 100, and the difference between Bama and No. 2 is 49 points. So yeah, they good.

Tier 2

Ohio State (131), Penn State (160), West Virginia (175), Clemson (203) — I fudged this a bit to include Clemson, which is closer to the next group than it is to West Virginia, but it’s my stat, so I can do what I want.

Tier 3

Mississippi State (214), NC State (220), Michigan (234), Kentucky (241), North Texas (247), Oklahoma (251), Colorado (264), Wisconsin (279), Georgia (280), Buffalo (281), Washington (289), Notre Dame (301) — Here’s where we see issues of sample size. One blowout or one close game can skew things quite a bit. So you see Mississippi State and Michigan ahead of teams they lost to head to head. That’s fine. It’s to be expected this early in the year.

Tier 4

Cincinnati (306), Michigan State (307), Oregon (311), South Carolina (316), Baylor (317), Stanford (324), UCF (334), Florida (335), Boise State (345), Memphis (347), Houston (348), Miami (357), Maryland (360), Vandy (364), Fresno State (368) — Again some very meh teams here mixed with a few we have ranked much higher by the eye test.

Tier 5

Virginia (390), Oklahoma State (392), Arizona State (396), BC (403), USF (406), Purdue (412), ECU (413), Minnesota (414), FIU (415), Temple (415), Auburn (417), Duke (420), Syracuse (434), TCU (435), Hawaii (444), Missouri (446), Iowa (446), Southern Miss (446). – A real mixed bag here, but what should be noteworthy here is that teams we think of as pretty darned good like Auburn and TCU are all the way down here in Tier 5, and some others like Washington, Texas, Texas Tech, Utah and BYU aren’t on any of these lists at all.

Again, sample size means a ton here, so there’s no need to take any of it too seriously at this point. But what we can say is that, through four weeks of games, it’s clear who the most dominant teams are (and the numbers really do match the eye test here), while some of the teams we think are playing really well based on the end results may have a few more question marks than what’s shown up in the standings.

For what it’s worth, if you’re interested in separating out offense and defense, here’s how we ranked them:

Top offenses

1. UCF
2. Alabama
3. Penn State
4. Oklahoma
5. Ohio State
6. Hawaii
7. Houston
8. Mississippi State
9. Memphis
10. Boise State

And on defense…

1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. North Texas
4. Utah
5. Cincinnati
6. Cal
7. West Virginia
8. Ohio State
9. Iowa
10. Minnesota

Of note, Clemson was 11th on offense and Florida State was 11th on defense.