Midseason All-ACC team: Finley, Willis lead the way

Get ready to get angry! After consulting with the far more insightful Andrea Adelson, here are our midseason All-ACC selections. Keep in mind, we based this exclusively on production thus far, not accounting for preseason expectations or predictions on where things will end. Some spots are obviously tougher to judge than others, and some teams look underrepresented largely because they had a lot of runners-up. In the end, this is what we came up with, so feel free to mock us at your leisure.

And if you’re interested, ESPN’s midseason All-America team is HERE and our all-Freshman team is HERE.

QB: Ryan Finley, NC State
RB: Travis Etienne, Clemson
RB: A.J. Dillon, Boston College
WR: Kelvin Harmon, NC State
WR: Olamide Zaccheaus, Virginia
TE: Brevin Jordan, Miami
OT: Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
OG: Chris Glaser, Virginia
C: Justin Falcinelli, Clemson
OG: Parker Braun, Georgia Tech
OT: Tyler Jones, NC State

DE: Brian Burns, Florida State
DT: Christian Wilkins, Clemson
DT: Gerald Willis, Miami
DE: Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
LB: Shaq Quarterman, Miami
LB: Joe Giles-Harris, Duke
LB: Germaine Pratt, NC State
S: Juan Thornhill, Virginia
S: Jaquan Johnson, Miami
CB: Levonta Taylor, Florida State
CB: Bryce Hall, Virginia

K: Andre Szmyt, Syracuse
P: Sterling Hofrichter, Syracuse
AP: Greg Dortch, Wake Forest
We went with Dillon by a hair over Jordan Ellis as our No. 2 back, despite his absence for the better chunk of the past three games. His 652 rushing yards still rank second in the league, and he’s averaging more yards per carry than Ellis, Qadree Ollison, or Travis Homer.

Putting Dortch at all-purpose makes sense given his success in the return game, and it also gives us an out at receiver, where it would’ve otherwise been a tough call after Harmon. But Zaccheaus belongs in the conversation in his own right. His 36 catches rank second (behind Dortch) and his six TDs are tops. And while Dortch has been great, he’s also been targeted 19 more times. And Zaccheaus is averaging 8.6 yards after catch per reception, which is the second-most in the ACC for receivers with 20+ catches.

Glaser is arguably the surprise pick on our O-line, but he’s done a terrific job at opening up running lanes. Virginia is averaging 6.8 yards per carry when running between the tackles to the left side, which is tops in the ACC and fourth in the Power 5.

We knew going in that defensive end would be the toughest position to narrow down. The fact is, we get two spots, and there are about 10 guys worthy of discussion. In the end, we took Ferrell narrowly over Jonathan Garvin, Wyatt Ray, Alton Robinson, Kendall Coleman and Zach Allen due to the impact he’s made in some huge wins, and the fact that his overall sack totals are incredibly impressive given that he’s faced three option offenses so far.

Safety was a shockingly tough selection, too. Johnson had to make the list. He’s been exceptional, as usual, and Miami is allowing just 8.32 yards per drop back on passes of 15+ yards downfield and is fourth overall in yards-per-attempt. Thornhill is arguably the most under appreciated player in the ACC, and his two picks against Miami last week spurred one of the league’s big upsets of the season. We only wish there was space for Reggie Floyd, Dylan Singleton, Andre Cisco and Lukas Denis.

Team totals:
Clemson – 5
Virginia – 4
Miami – 4
NC State – 4
Syracuse – 2
Florida State – 2

Week 7 Tiered Rankings: The Myth of the Final Score

This sounds dumb, I know, but here’s an important part of analyzing teams: We overreact to wins and losses. Obviously, the ultimate arbiter of a game is the final score, and we don’t award titles to the teams with the best metrics. But the final score is often really deceiving. Perhaps a fluke play happens. Was Auburn really better than Alabama in 2013? Perhaps the small sample size of one game allows for anomalies. Perhaps a team falls behind early due to something unforeseen, and the game plan gets thrown out the window, so a close loss turns into a blowout. The point is, what happens during the game often tells us more about a team than the final score.

Here’s a quick example of how small and/or unlikely things (stuff controlled by luck or not often repeatable) impact the outcome of a game from three different teams:

Washington Huskies

Washington has lost two games by a total of eight points, including one in overtime. In those two games, they’ve had 10 drives enter the red zone. Only two of them have resulted in touchdowns. Just one more apiece in each game, and they’re undefeated. Additionally, they’ve allowed Auburn and Oregon to combine to convert 18-of-36 third downs and 4-of-4 on fourth (which, given that a forth negates the missed third, equates to a 61.1 percent conversion rate). Add in the missed chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation against Oregon, and the 5-2 record says one thing, while the actual game performance suggests another.

Georgia

A lot will be made of the LSU loss, but let’s consider that a.) LSU is an elite defense, b.) the game was in Baton Rouge, and c.) it’s the first time Georgia’s offense was held to less than 21 since 2016. Beyond that though, the real issue seemed to be play calling. In the first quarter, Georgia ran the ball 11 times for 69 yards and trailed 3-0. On its second drive of the third quarter, the Dawgs got the ball at their own 4 and threw three straight times, culminating with an INT. That interim stretch involved 22 plays, just seven of which were designed handoffs to the tailbacks. Meanwhile, the passing game in that stretch was 7-of-17 for 60 yards, an INT and two sacks, while the score went from 3-0 to 19-3. This game was bad, but I’m not sure it reflected who Georgia really is on offense. Or, maybe Georgia is still trying to figure out who it is on offense.

Michigan State

The loss to Arizona State came on the road, across the country, against a team with little film to work from. Michigan State also finished just 4-of-12 on third- and fourth-down tries. The loss to Northwestern was more baffling. They outgained the Wildcats 425-381 and held Northwestern to 8 yards on the ground, while also winning the turnover battle. In the last decade, Michigan State is one of just two teams to lose a game when winning the turnover margin, the yards margin and holding an opponent to less than 25 rushing yards. The other was Clemson’s baffling 2014 overtime loss to Florida State.

Clemson Tigers

They’re undefeated, but it feels sort of like they’ve underperformed, right? Well, the QB whirlwind was one problem, particularly against Syracuse. The trip to Texas A&M was a game where the Aggies clearly had an upper hand in prep — Jimbo knew Clemson, Clemson didn’t know what Jimbo had planned with his new personnel. And then there’s this: The Tigers rank 18th in offensive efficiency (skewed by the Chase Brice game), 1st in defensive efficiency, but 108th in special teams efficiency. Even an average special teams performance this year would’ve made for a far more dominant look.

Clearly we undervalued Michigan State heading into the Penn State game. In this week’s polls, Washington and Georgia tumbled. This is because we use wins and losses to determine how good a team is. Again, that’s fine. That’s the point of the whole endeavor, right? But when we’re looking ahead to predict future results, or when we’re trying to parse teams with similar records, it’s probably better to ignore the outcome and focus on the input — especially in a sport with such small sample sizes as college football.

Anyway, on to our Week 7 tiered rankings

Tier 1: Poised for the Playoff (5)

Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas

Tier 2: Legit playoff threats (6)

Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, LSU, UCF, Oregon

Tier 3a: Can’t ignore due to record but limited evidence (5)

Iowa, Kentucky, USF, Cincinnati, NC State

Tier 3b: Good, but not real threats (7)

Florida, West Virginia, Washington, Penn State, Michigan State, Texas A&M, Wisconsin

Tier 4: Resume-builders (25)

App State, Fresno State, Utah, Duke, Mississippi State, Utah State, Syracuse, Washington State, Missouri, Iowa State, TCU, Colorado, Miami, Stanford, Purdue, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Houston, Texas Tech, Maryland, USC, Ole Miss, Baylor, San Diego State

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.