It feels like an abundance of college football programs are “back” this season more so than in recent iterations. USC beat Rice 66-7, and they’re already the Pac-12’s best hope of making the College Football Playoff. Florida State topped LSU (who’s still a candidate to make this list if Brian Kelly would get out of the way), and you can hear the racist chants emitting from Tallahassee. The U dropped 70 on Bethune-Cookman, and now Miami is “flexing new muscle as a football town.”
Returning a fabled house to former glory is extremely hard, and the results often end up looking more like King’s Landing after Daenerys Targaryen returned to Westeros than a peaceful seat atop the Iron Throne. (I don’t know who’s shanking King Saban in this analogy, but let’s hope someone takes on the role of usurper.)
So, in order to help keep track of who is and who is definitely not back, I thought it might be helpful to keep tabs throughout the season.
If you’re wondering why it’s the Marty McFly rankings, I thought an allusion to a “Back” reference was better than a play on Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby’s Got Back,” Eminem’s “Without Me” (guess who’s back?), or the Beatles’ used-so-much-in-get-back-montages-on-the-jumbotron-that-it’s-a-cliche “Get Back.” So, if you’re looking for a bunch of “Back to the Future” references — save for an eventual hoverboard, Biff, or DeLorean nod — my apologies.
Alright, now hop in, and let’s get this relic up to 70 mph or whatever the threshold is so Marty can stop someone other than his dad from banging his mom. (I’m pretty sure that was a plot of one of the movies, right?)
5. No. 24 Tennessee — The Vols won’t be back until opponents wake up on Sunday with Rocky Top still stuck in their heads. Omnipresent at any UT function, the song hasn’t seeped into anyone’s subconsciousness since Phillip Fulmer last won 10 games at school in 2007.
The closest they’ve come to a double-digit win season since then was a couple of 9-4 years under Butch Jones, who’s now the coach at Arkansas State. Current head man Josh Heupel found a perfect quarterback for his breakneck-paced system in Hendon Hooker, and the coach-QB duo looked impressive in sync during the home-opener against Ball State. The offense played its usual brand of fast football, and Hooker tallied four scores (two passing, two running) in the first half. They host No. 17 Pitt this week, and could sprint up these rankings and the AP Poll with a win.
4. No. 15 Miami — Mario Cristobal has Hurricane football in the top 25, and it’s likely to remain relevant at least through Week 2. The team dispatched Bethune-Cookman like they were… Bethune-Cookman, and face Southern Miss (0-1) on Saturday. Barring disaster, they should be perfect heading into the biggest game on the schedule, outside of Clemson, when they visit No. 6 Texas A&M the following week.
That matchup of top 15 teams in a couple of weeks could have a significant impact on the CFP race if we were in the mid-’90s — or whatever era it was that A&M was actually a title contender. The U doesn’t have enough talent to overcome Cristobal’s coaching deficiencies yet. However, the Aggies also have yet to find that threshold for Jimbo Fisher.
3. No. 10 USC — Los Angeles sportswriters might finally be able to take some of the braggadocio they’ve been covering the Dodgers with and apply a coat or two to USC. I’d love to see where all the smugness would go if the Lakers, Dodgers, Rams, and Trojans were all shit. Would they be relegated to bragging about the weather?
We’re not likely to find out in 2022 because Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley brought the instant rice to Southern California, and this conference is begging to be boosted like an unlocked car with the keys in it sitting outside the Coliseum. It took all of one week, two losses from the other Pac-12 teams in the top 25, and three pick-sixes (two of which deflected off the hands of Rice receivers) for the Trojans to become the highest ranked school in the conference.
I’m not sure how much aura is left surrounding David Shaw, but it was enough to land Stanford and USC a prime-time slot on ABC this weekend. If Riley and Co. get past this “test,” they could be a staple in the top 10 until at least Oct. 15 when they play No. 13 Utah.
2. Florida State — Had LSU not come back to almost ruin Florida State fans’ weekend in New Orleans, the ’Noles might’ve jumped into the top 25. Quarterback Jordan Travis made a few of the best plays from Week 1 against a Tigers’ defense that would’ve had more than two sacks if not for Travis’ escapability. The QB had to make plays with his arm as he was the team’s second-leading rusher (31 yards) behind Treshaun Ward (49 yards). The adage “It’s better to be lucky than good” never rang so true when Florida State avoided OT via a blocked extra point.
Ideally, Mike Norvell’s team listened to him during his interviews in the days after the massive victory when he told ESPN that Florida State is “back to work” rather than just “back.” Their next two opponents — at Louisville and home against Boston College — lost to Syracuse and Rutgers respectively. We’ll see how resurgent the program that Bobby Bowden built is soon enough as they kick off October with three ranked teams: No. 23 Wake Forest, No. 18 NC State, and No. 5 Clemson.
1. No. 12 Florida — Of all the schools in the Sunshine State to, umm, shine in Week 1, it was the Gators who shined the brightest, beating then-No. 7 Utah in what would’ve been the game of the week had LSU-Florida State not had it hold its beer. Quarterback Anthony Richardson earned SEC offensive player of the week honors for his three-score performance, all of which came on the ground. He also led the team in rushing, piling up 106 yards on 11 carries.
Brenton Cox Jr. received an SEC honor of his own, and congrats to him for his co-defensive lineman of the week honor. New coach Bill Napier faces another ranked team this week, as No. 20 Kentucky — who has beaten Florida twice in the past four years after going winless against the SEC East rival since 1986 —visits the Swamp.