We are now three weeks into the college football season, meaning there’s too many games to go to start previewing potential national championship games. ESPN.com has already written an article based around an Alabama vs. Oregon championship game, referencing it as the game all college football fans want to see.
Maybe it is. Perhaps its the game we are going to see, but let’s calm down a little bit.
Instead of looking at one potential matchup, let’s look at the frontrunners to play in the national title game. The BCS standings won’t come out for over a month from now, but that doesn’t mean the national championship race isn’t clearing up a little bit. After Alabama’s win against Texas A&M, it is clear once again that Alabama is the team everyone is chasing.
Let’s take a look at how the picture is coming into focus (albeit slowly):
The two teams to beat
Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0): Obviously, Alabama is the team to beat. The Crimson Tide have already survived arguably their toughest test of the season, although Alabama did give up 628 yards to Texas A&M. Can LSU beat Alabama on in Tuscaloosa Sept. 9? If not, can Ole Miss upset the Tide in Tuscaloosa? Or can Auburn pull the upset to end the season at Jordan Hare Stadium? Isn’t it hard to see Tennessee, Arkansas or Mississippi State pulling the upset?
Three toughest tests remaining:vs. No. 21 Ole Miss (Sept. 28), vs. No. 9 LSU (Nov. 9), at Auburn (Nov. 30)
Oregon Ducks (3-0): There was a small group of people out there who felt Oregon’s run was over when Chip Kelly departed for the NFL. Too bad. The Ducks rolled Tennessee on Saturday and probably could’ve scored 75 points if they’d really wanted to. Maybe 100. Like Alabama’s, it’s hard to find too many teams that can challenge the Ducks. Can California or Colorado pull the upset the next two weeks? It’s probably unlikely. Washington, UCLA, and Stanford seem like the toughest teams left on the schedule.
Three toughest tests remaining:at Washington (Oct. 12), vs. UCLA (October 26), at Stanford (Nov. 7)
Next in line
Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0): If Ohio State can beat California like a drum without Braxton Miller, imagine what the Buckeyes might do to the rest of the Big Ten? You know, the conference that saw Nebraska blow an 18 point lead at home and get routed, saw Wisconsin lose at Arizona State, Penn State fall to UCF, and Michigan State — perhaps the conference’s second best team — couldn’t score points on Texas A&M’s defense.
Clemson Tigers (2-0): It’s almost unfair how the media, including myself are treating the Tigers. In sports, it’s like watching the Dallas Cowboys with a trip to the playoffs on the line. Tony Romo has looked so good the entire game, heck the entire season, but you know the Cowboys are probably going to screw it up somewhere. It all changes in an instant too. The Tigers knocked off Georgia to raise expectations to an unbelievable level in Death Valley, but nobody is brave enough to declare the Tigers as a team to beat because we’re all expecting a train wreck performance against North Carolina State, Maryland or some other team the Tigers should roll over.
Untested, but on the right track
Stanford Cardinal (2-0): Obviously, the Cardinal isn’t going to get style points for the way they’ve won against San Jose State and Army, but along with Alabama, Stanford has been the most consistent program in the country over the last four years. This week a trip to Arizona State should show everyone just how ready Stanford is to take the next step as a program. We’ve all ranked the Cardinal high. Everyone is buying the hype, but yet Stanford hasn’t impressed me at all this year so far.
Louisville Cardinals (3-0): If the Cardinals play for the national championship, I feel like many people won’t watch it. That’s no disrespect to Louisville head coach Charlie Strong, who I am a big fan of, but the Cardinals play a middle school schedule this season. The American Athletic Conference is about as tough as a group of the nearest eight junior varsity teams in your proximity. It’s a joke. That isn’t Louisville’s fault, but the Cardinals non-conference schedule is the Cardinals fault and in the end they will be punished for it. If Louisville goes 12-0, let’s put the Cardinals in a BCS game and congratulate them on the best year in school history, but let’s not throw into a championship game designed for teams that have proven they are worthy to be there.
LSU Tigers (3-0): Starting this week, we get to start finding out how good LSU actually is. A win against TCU looked nice, but the Horned Frogs do not appear to be anything more than a Big 12 also-ran this season. Still, we should pat the Tigers on the back for taking that game. LSU takes on Auburn this week, followed by a huge game against Georgia, who is already past its annual “screw up somewhere early” part of its schedule and is in the homeward stretch.
Florida State (2-0): The Seminoles are my top darkhorse to play for the national title, because there is a ton of upside here. Florida State has Jameis Winston at quarterback, who still has a lot of growing to do as a passer. Imagine how good the Seminoles might be in five or six weeks when Winston starts to figure it out and continues to run the ball effectively. Before a game at Clemson Oct. 19, it is really hard to see anyone even challenging the ‘Noles.
UCLA (2-0): Saturday’s win in Lincoln confirmed what many football fans — including myself — already knew. Brett Hundley is really good. He has thrown for 568 yards and five touchdowns, while also running for two scores in the Bruins two games this season. There’s a reason why he’s my darkhorse Heisman pick. The problem with a potential Cinderella national title run for the Bruins is that UCLA plays Stanford and Oregon on the road in back to back weeks. Ouch! I don’t like UCLA’s chances, but they still make a great darkhorse pick, with Hundley at quarterback and an improving defense. Plus, not many teams could come back from 18 down at Nebraska and still win in a rout.
Oklahoma State: I’m starting to see a very manageable schedule for the Cowboys. Texas is softer than my pillow wrapped in bird feathers and a silk sheet. Kansas State has already lost to North Dakota State. Texas Tech isn’t scoring like Texas Tech. TCU couldn’t beat Texas Tech. West Virginia couldn’t win against an Oklahoma team that acts like finding the endzone is as trying as solving the riddle on “Whodunnit?“. Baylor can score, but can the Bears gets enough stops to beat good teams? Have I called out the entire Big 12 yet? The Cowboys schedule is very open to an undefeated run. They’ll be favored in every single game the rest of the way and the more I write about it, the more I like it. You read it here first, the Cowboys are very dangerous.
The one loss teams still in the picture
Georgia (1-1): The Bulldogs are officially out of their initial first game swoon, where they all but eliminate themselves from serious national title discussion before nearly winning out to get everyone excited and wondering what might’ve been. Next week’s game against LSU is huge. If Georgia wins it, the Bulldogs bandwagon will fill up very quickly.
Texas A&M Aggies (2-1): Isn’t it scary to think about how good Johnny Manziel’s team would be if they had a defense? Wow. But the Aggies don’t and won’t have a great defense this year, so as fun as it is, that discussion is really pointless. Can Manziel outscore everyone the rest of the season and then catch a few breaks from many other contenders? If they can, maybe they can get a rematch with Alabama for the title game (one I think even SEC haters would welcome) or win the SEC West off of a tiebreaker.
South Carolina Gamecocks (2-1): South Carolina is in the same shape as Texas A&M, except the Gamecocks defense isn’t as good and the offense doesn’t have Johnny Manziel or anyone on the same planet as him. A lot of help is needed, but SEC teams have shown that they can overcome a loss and still play for the national championship if all the pieces fall correctly down the stretch.
Florida Gators (1-1): With Florida’s offense, I wouldn’t hold my breathe, but there is a lot of season to go. The Gators may have the nation’s best defense.
Others deserving mention
Oklahoma, Miami (FL), Michigan