Each week during college football season we put the conventional polls to shame by ranking every FBS team from 1-125, by whatever standard we see fit. Last week's rankings were not consulted.
1. ALABAMA (1–0). Outwardly, Nick Saban is determined to prepare for every game the same way, regardless of the opponent or the stakes, adhering to the strictures of "The Process," etc. The rhetoric is embedded so deep his older players can recite it on cue like a call-and-response in church. Beneath the surface, though, you know his repressed rage over last year's loss to Texas A&M and its non-standard, schoolyard quarterback is twitching this week with furious abandon. If they look close enough doctors can probably spot it on x-rays. If Alabama somehow loses again, he might die. Or somebody will.
2. CLEMSON (2–0). Clemson devoured some also-ran FCS team that needed the check, but its most important victory Saturday was Georgia's win over South Carolina, thereby confirming the Tigers' opening-night win over UGA as the most impressive of the early season. It's only a matter of time before bored and/or lazy pundits start dredging up "Clemsoning" again, along with some other reheated bullshit about an ACC team needing to "prove itself" against elite competition. A win over a viable SEC contender is its own rebuttal.
3. OREGON (2–0). My favorite quote of the weekend came from tailback De'Anthony "Black Momba" Thomas, after he accounted for 183 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a routine, 59–10 incineration of Virginia: "Teams always talk in the first half. But as the game go by it slows down a little bit."
4. LSU (2–0). A couple times a year the Tigers hit the gas a little on offense, just to see what happens, and force everyone to contemplate how terrifying it would be if they ever decided to really open it up. After a strong debut against TCU, quarterback Zach Mettenberger set career highs for touchdowns (5) and efficiency (295.7) in Saturday's win over UAB, and wide receiver/return man Odell Beckham Jr. is currently leading the nation in all-purpose yards. Is this only a drill?
5. FLORIDA STATE (1–0). The Seminoles were off this weekend following a Monday opener, meaning that by Saturday we'll either have forgotten about phenom quarterback Jameis Winston or he'll be so oversaturated that sports radio shows will devote entire segments to dumbasses complaining about how overrated he is for throwing an incomplete pass.
6. STANFORD (1–0). Stanford is the polar opposite of Oregon in every detail, but it's no less efficient. Against San Jose State, the Cardinal took their time, converted 12-of-15 on third down and scored on six of their first eight offensive possessions of the season. On the ninth, they put the clock out of its misery. Unlike Oregon, they did not punt.
7. GEORGIA (1–1). No team had a tougher 1–2 punch to open the season than Clemson and South Carolina, and in the long run the Bulldogs' chances of playing for a championship are probably not going to be damaged by a split. As far as the SEC race is concerned, they won the one they needed Saturday to get a leg up in the East Division, and narrative-wise, "bounced back in the face of adversity" sounds a lot better this week than "let an opportunity slip away." (As if pollsters will even remember the prevailing narrative in Week 2 by the time their opinions actually matter.) A competitive loss to a top-10 opponent on opening night, on the road, is about as forgivable as it gets. As long as it keeps winning, when undefeated BCS frontrunners start biting the dust in November, Georgia is going to be right there in the on-deck circle, again.
8. OHIO STATE (2–0). Headliner Braxton Miller may or may not play this weekend after spraining his MCL against San Diego State, but frankly the Buckeyes would be favored to win every game on their schedule even if Miller fails to take another snap all season. And yes, that says as much about the schedule as it does about the Buckeyes.
9. TEXAS A&M (2–0). I caught an hour or so of the radio broadcast of A&M's 65–28 win over Sam Houston State, in which time Bearkat players were identified—if they were identified at all—only as "that guy" and "the man from Sam Houston." It was probably the most realistic approximation of actually attending the game I can imagine.
10. OKLAHOMA STATE (2–0). Texas' all-hands-on-deck collapse at BYU leaves Oklahoma State as the de facto Big 12 frontrunner heading into conference play, which is a more assertive way of saying "this team has been successful in the recent past and hasn't done anything yet this year to distinguish or embarrass itself."
11. MICHIGAN (2–0). Quarterback Devin Gardner was so good in the Wolverines' win over Notre Dame that he gets a mulligan for attempting the worst pass I've ever seen. Otherwise he was fantastic. I am really rooting for Gardner to emerge as a bona fide star whose reliably flawless performances are punctuated by one equally reliable, jaw-dropping gaffe per game.
12. SOUTH CAROLINA (1–1). Jadeveon Clowney's Heisman campaign was doomed in part by over-the-top expectations for a mortal human being—which, admittedly, he had a hand in creating—but also by the fact that few opposing offenses are stupid enough to give him an opportunity to Sasquatch them the way he did to poor Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl. After Saturday's loss to Georgia, Clowney openly complained to reporters about the number of plays run to the opposite side of the field and the fact that coaches aren't moving him around enough to keep offenses from avoiding him:
"I told the coaches you got to put me somewhere else — in the middle if you want to — somewhere I can make some plays [to] help my team get in position to win," Clowney told reporters after the game. "But [Georgia] took me right out of the game."
"It's hard out there trying to chase from the backside, and they just took me right out of the game," Clowney said. "[Coaches] want to move me around — that's up to them. I'm going to keep playing my assignments. I set the edge most of the night, [but] the ball went away from me on the backside chasing. That's just how the game went."
That's an honest answer to a specific question, by the way, not random venting. But it's how every game is going to go, because when you're the dragon the villagers aren't going to set up shop next to your cave. Clowney did have a sack on Saturday, his first of the year, along with three tackles, which is not a bad afternoon for a defensive end. For whatever Clowney is supposed to be, almost nothing short of weekly decapitations will be enough. Apparently even for Clowney.
13. LOUISVILLE (2–0). Since we're looking at 12 more weeks of him doing the exact same thing to every defense on Louisville's schedule, now might be a good time to retire the Teddy Bridgewater hype in this space before it reaches Jadeveonian heights. Maybe next week we can examine the cultural symbolism of the basketball team's move from Freedom Hall to the KFC Yum! Center or something. Because the only way Bridgewater doesn't put up at least 350 yards and four touchdowns in a given week is if he decides it's unsporting.
14. MIAMI (2–0). A win over an SEC heavy is a win over an SEC heavy, and Saturday's upset over Florida is the high point of Al Golden's beleaguered tenure in Miami by a wide margin. So credit where it's due. That said, the Hurricanes were outgained in that game by a full 200 yards, and were also the beneficiaries of a handful of ghastly, self-inflicted Gator turnovers. As much fun as it would be to have the U "back" just as it's bracing for battle over the NCAA's forthcoming verdict in the Nevin Shapiro affair, this particular breakthrough answered a lot fewer questions about the Canes than it raised about their victim.
15. WASHINGTON (1–0). Every year there are a couple of teams that exceed expectations by just enough in the early going to disorient preseason assumptions, but not quite render them obsolete. So what are we supposed to think about Washington? Judging strictly from their opening-night beatdown of Boise State, the Huskies may well be on their way to a huge season behind the most veteran lineup in the Pac-12. (I drop a few numbers into a spreadsheet to establish a working baseline for these rankings, and had I stopped there they'd be No. 2 behind Alabama.) They may also turn out to be exactly the same team that's finished 7–6 three years in a row. We won't learn much from this week's game against Illinois, because suddenly the 2–0 Illini are every bit as baffling.
16. OKLAHOMA (2–0). Last year, Oklahoma and West Virginia staged the most entertaining shootout of the season, a down-to-the-wire barn-burner featuring 99 points between two fully loaded, veteran offenses at full tilt. On Saturday, the rebuilding Sooners and Mountaineers combined for 23 points in a game featuring four times as many turnovers (8) as touchdowns (2). Surprise: With a trip to Notre Dame looming, Bob Stoops has already succumbed to the siren song of the Belldozer.
17. NORTHWESTERN (2–0). I like Northwestern's approach to non-conference scheduling, which involves seeking out the most Northwestern-like opponents from other major conferences (Cal, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College) in the hopes of finding teams the Wildcats can beat with regularity without completely tanking the strength of schedule. It's working: Saturday's win over Syracuse was Northwestern's seventh in a row outside of Big Ten play, and although none of those wins have come at the expense of a ranked team, only one has come against a cupcake from outside the "Big Six" BCS leagues.
18. UCLA (1–0). Last year, the Bruins and quarterback Brett Hundley announced their arrival by dropping a 653-yard bomb on Nebraska en route to a 36–30 upset, numbers that are certainly within reach this weekend in Lincoln. The only question is whether UCLA's fledgling secondary has any chance of stopping the Cornhuskers from reaching them, too.
19. NOTRE DAME (1–1). Before he was a national punchline, Manti Te'o was actually a pretty good linebacker, and his absence was more sorely felt against Michigan than expected. The Wolverines racked up significantly more yards (460) and twice as many points (41) Saturday as anyone other than Alabama managed against Notre Dame last year in regulation, against a lineup that returned a pair of All-Americans on the defensive line and was only replacing two other starters.
20. BAYLOR (2–0). The Bears scored eight touchdowns on their first eight possessions against Buffalo, all of them clocking in under two minutes, and effectively called it a day after going ahead 63–13 just a few seconds into the third quarter. Through two games, they've scored 139 points, which is almost twice what Michigan State's offense is on pace to score for the entire season.
21. BYU (1–1). We probably should not get too carried away by the start-to-finish ass-kicking the Cougars administered to Texas, considering the same offense that left the Longhorns rotting in the desert was previously seen slogging its way to 16 points in a loss to Virginia. (I'd like to see a defense at least attempt to force Taysom Hill to beat them with his arm before I anoint him as the next Collin Klein.) But as a general rule, if you humiliate a ranked opponent so thoroughly that they start firing coaches on the plane ride home, you are top-25 material. At least for a week.
22. OLE MISS (2–0). The Rebels were looking forward to this weekend's trip to Texas to carve out a place in the national conversation that doesn't involve speculation over how they signed such a ridiculous recruiting class. Now, the reaction to a win in Austin will be all about the buyout clause in Mack Brown's contract.
23. FLORIDA (1–1). Just how far has this team come from the post-Tebow malaise of 2010–11? On one hand, the 2012 edition beat Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State en route to an 11–2 record and a BCS game, which was as impressive a collection of scalps as any team in the country, up to and including Alabama. On the other, the Gators struggled with the likes of UL-Lafayette and Missouri, got waxed in the bowl game by Louisville and limped in near the bottom of the SEC in almost every major offensive category. Of the 15 turnovers Florida committed last year (tied for the lowest number in the SEC), nine of them came in the two losses alone, and the floodgates were wide open again in Saturday's loss at Miami: Five giveaways, three of them coming inside the UM 25-yard line not including a turnover on downs in the second quarter. The light is certainly not coming on for quarterback Jeff Driskel, victimized on two brutal interceptions and a sack-and-strip fumble that set up a short field for Miami's clinching touchdown. So far, the only thing that's changed about this attack is that everyone is a year older and, from the looks of it, more careless with the ball.
24. AUBURN (2–0). The Tigers scored 38 points against Arkansas State, which probably sounds routine unless you watched Auburn's offense in 2012, in which case you recognize it for the borderline miracle it is.
25. FRESNO STATE (2–0). The Bulldogs scored an intentional Fat Guy Touchdown against Cal Poly on a hook-and-ladder pitch to an offensive lineman. Automatic entry to the top 25, no questions asked.
26. VIRGINIA TECH (1–1).
27. TCU (1–1).
28. PENN STATE (2–0).
29. WISCONSIN (2–0).
30. NEBRASKA (2–0).
31. MICHIGAN STATE (2–0). With two touchdowns in Saturday's win over South Florida—one on a fumble return in the first quarter, followed by an interception return in the third—defensive tackle Shilique Calhoun has found the end zone more times in the Spartans' first two games (3) than the entire Spartan offense (2). After mounting a single scoring drive in its first game, MSU finally punched in its first offensive touchdown Saturday in the fourth quarter, following a badly shanked USF punt. The drive took nine plays and 4:34 off the clock to cover 33 yards.
32. ARIZONA (2–0).
33. ARIZONA STATE (1–0).
34. BOWLING GREEN (2–0).
35. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (1–0).
36. UTAH (2–0).
37. TENNESSEE (2–0).
38. MISSOURI (2–0).
39. TEXAS TECH (2–0).
40. CENTRAL FLORIDA (2–0).
41. GEORGIA TECH (1–0).
42. UTAH STATE (1–1).
43. BOISE STATE (1-1).
44. ILLINOIS (2–0). Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase connected on four touchdown passes to four different receivers in the Illini's 45–17 upset over Cincinnati, matching his total for the entire 2012 season. Through two games, Illinois has scored 87 points, just one touchdown shy of its total in all eight Big Ten games (94) last year.
45. TEXAS (1–1). The Longhorns' historic flop at BYU set off so many alarm bells on Saturday night that by Sunday morning, Mack Brown had already fired his defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, reinforcing just how crucial this season is to Brown's own survival. In Diaz's place, Brown will turn to former coordinator Greg "GERG" Robinson—last seen in disastrous stints as head coach at Syracuse and defensive coordinator at Michigan under Rich Rodriguez—who conveniently rejoined the team in the offseason as an "analyst" and has already been involved in game-planning. (Apparently Mack Brown, unlike myself and other members of the prognostoscenti who pegged Texas for a breakthrough season, began preparing for this scenario months in advance, although as Michigan fans will tell you, putting Robinson in charge of a struggling defense seems like "throwing gas on an already raging tire fire.") As helpless as they looked in Provo, the Longhorns are still the most veteran outfit in the country and have the entire Big 12 schedule in front of them. But Brown can't afford to lose another season to "rebuilding," especially with a lineup built to win now, and he knows it.
46. MARYLAND (2–0).
47. VANDERBILT (1–1).
48. NORTH CAROLINA (1–1).
49. WASHINGTON STATE (1–1). Part of what made USC's flop against the Cougars so horrendous (see below) is that Washington State made no attempt to look like anything other than a perennial Pac-12 doormat. The Cougars achieved zilch offensively, relying on the defense for their only touchdown and failing cross midfield at any point between their first possession of the night and their last, when an improbable 50-yard connection from Connor Halliday to Dominique Williams set up what turned out to be an even more improbable game-winning field goal. That play alone covered more ground than the rest of Wazzu's second-half snaps combined, and even then it was the result of a missed tackle that allowed Williams to break yet another dinky route for a big gain.
They're ranked here mainly for taking an up-and-coming Auburn outfit to the wire in the opener.
50. NAVY (1–0).
51. VIRGINIA (1–1).
52. KANSAS STATE (1–1). K–State coach Bill Snyder sent a handwritten note to North Dakota State's starting quarterback congratulating him on the Bison's upset over the Wildcats, which is pretty much the most Bill Snyder thing ever. Even more so if turns out to have been laced with ricin.
53. ARKANSAS (2–0).
54. N.C. STATE (2–0).
55. RUTGERS (1–1).
56. CINCINNATI (1–1). Not only did the Bearcats get blown out by Illinois, thereby joining Texas in a freefall from last week's top 20: They also lost our favorite starting quarterback named "Munchie," Munchie Legaux, whose knee injury was as bad as it looked.
57. WEST VIRGINIA (1–1).
58. MISSISSIPPI STATE (1–1).
59. BOSTON COLLEGE (2–0).
60. USC (1–1). To grasp the ascent of Lane Kiffin, boy genius, we have to go back to 2005, when then-USC head coach Pete Carroll decided to push out veteran offensive coordinator Norm Chow on the heels of the Trojans' second consecutive national championship for the sake of keeping his 29-year-old wide receivers coach from moving up the ladder somewhere else. Kiffin's offense that season averaged 49 points, led the nation in total offense, produced the Heisman Trophy winners and was feted for a while, in the weeks preceding a Rose Bowl loss to Texas with another title on the line, as the greatest college attack ever assembled. A year later, he was introduced as the youngest head coach in NFL history.
Every piece of inexplicably good fortune that has followed Kiffin since then has come to some extent out of the inertia of that season. Which brings us to Saturday night, and a 38-year-old boss with no gravitational pull. With seven points against Washington State—which, keep in mind, is Washington State—the Trojans were held to their lowest point total at home since September 2001, in a 10–6 loss to Kansas State in Carroll's second game. With 54 yards passing, they made it exactly halfway to their previous low through the air in this century. Between two quarterbacks, sophomores Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, they completed more passes to Washington State cornerback Damante Horton (two) than they completed for a first down (one). Marqise Lee, the most prolific receiver in the nation in 2012, touched the ball ten times as a rusher and receiver for a grand total of 24 yards. The longest completion of the night to any receiver covered eight yards.
Performance reviews from Trojan fans, witnesses to the full trajectory of Kiffin's career, are already in. Most of them have never seen USC at this depth. The players, universally celebrated as recruits, are a despondent lot with legitimate last-place potential, and that's taking into account the fact that they share a division with Colorado. The offense that took the field Saturday night cannot win a game in the Pac-12. At this program, even outside of the context of last year's collapse, that in itself is a fireable offense.
61. SAN JOSE STATE (1–1).
62. TOLEDO (0–2). With competitive losses against Florida and Missouri, the Rockets edge out Syracuse for the title of "Least Depressing 0–2 Start." I'm fine with it if they want to use that quote in the media guide.
63. SYRACUSE (0–2). Unlike Toledo, the Orange don't have a manageable MAC schedule to look forward to.
64. MINNESOTA (2–0).
65. PITTSBURGH (0–1).
66. IOWA (1–1).
67. OREGON STATE (1–1).
68. HOUSTON (2–0).
69. MARSHALL (2–0).
70. EAST CAROLINA (2–0).
71. COLORADO (2–0). Wide receiver Paul Richardson, back from an injury that cost him all of 2012, went over 200 yards receiving for the second week in a row in the Buffaloes' 38–24 win over Central Arkansas, hauling in a pair of touchdown passes in the process. Prior to Richardson's 208-yard, two-touchdown comeback against Colorado State in the opener, there had only been three 200-yard receiving games in Colorado's entire history, one of them by Richardson himself in 2011.
72. BALL STATE (2–0).
73. DUKE (2–0).
74. CALIFORNIA (1–1).
75. WYOMING (1–1).
76. INDIANA (1–1).
77. RICE (0–1).
78. WESTERN KENTUCKY (1–1). The Hilltoppers took a 3–0 lead on their first possession at Tennessee, and proceeded to turn the ball over on five consecutive possessions in an eventual 52–20 loss. To be more specific, they committed five turnovers in a span of six plays, beginning with back-to-back interceptions by quarterback Michael Doughty that were returned by the Volunteers for back-to-back touchdowns. From there, WKU fumbled on consecutive snaps, setting up a Tennessee field goal and touchdown, respectively, and rounded out the first quarter with Doughty's third interception, leading to another UT touchdown at the start of the second quarter. At that point, the Vols led 31–3 with less than 70 yards of total offense.
79. KANSAS (1–0).
80. KENT STATE (1–1).
81. AIR FORCE (1–1).
82. ARKANSAS STATE (1–1).
83. TULSA (1–1).
84. KENTUCKY (1–1).
85. NEVADA (1–1).
86. OHIO (1–1).
87. SMU (1–1).
88. LOUISIANA TECH (1–1).
89. LOUISIANA–MONROE (1–1).
90. TEXAS STATE (2–0).
91. WAKE FOREST (1–1).
92. PURDUE (1–1). The Boilermakers barely survived an upset bid from Indiana State, 20–14, which they should enjoy because given the rest of the schedule it may be their last victory of the season.
93. TROY (2–0).
94. TEMPLE (0–2).
95. IOWA STATE (0–1).
96. TEXAS–SAN ANTONIO (1–1).
97. LOUISIANA–LAFAYETTE (0–2).
98. NORTH TEXAS (1–1).
99. MIDDLE TENNESSEE (1–1).
100. MEMPHIS (0–1).
101. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (1–1).
[spoiler alert ahead]
102. NEW MEXICO (1–1). Breaking Bad has never fully explained Walter White's exit from Gray Matter Technologies, and this close to the end it seems unlikely to play any overt role in the series' climax. But the show has gone to great lengths to root Walt's motivations in that event, which we have seen on multiple occasions—most recently (and explicitly) in season five, but beginning as far back as season one—as the root cause of the arrogance and greed that has defined his character, and as of Sunday night has finally destroyed it. Although we know from a pair of flash-forward scenes earlier in the season that Walt survives the shootout that closes the episode (unlike a certain segment of the audience, I suspect), we're also privy to the death of a crucial part of his psyche: Before his Aryan henchmen arrive, Walt's capture in the desert is already the most dramatic arrest in the history of television not because of a Scarface-worthy display of firepower—the arrest itself plays out in relentlessly by-the-book fashion—but because Heisenberg, a figment of Walt's own hubris, has been decisively outmaneuvered for the first time. The moment that Walt, driven to desperation, forced to acknowledge his recklessness, admits defeat in a battle of wits with Hank and Jesse, of all people, is the moment Heisenberg has been robbed of the foundation for his existence. By the time the big guns come out, explicitly against Walt's orders, the illusion of control that defined him in his own mind has already been laid to waste.
103. SOUTH ALABAMA (1–1). The Jaguars beat Tulane in a battle for mid-Gulf Coast supremacy, marking the only victory Mobile has ever claimed over New Orleans.
104. TULANE (1–1).
105. ARMY (1–1).
106. AKRON (1–1).
107. EASTERN MICHIGAN (1–1).
108. UTEP (0–1).
109. CONNECTICUT (0–1).
110. SOUTH FLORIDA (0–2).
111. UAB (0–2).
112. FLORIDA ATLANTIC (0–2).
113. HAWAII (0–2).
114. FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (0–2).
115. BUFFALO (0–2).
116. SAN DIEGO STATE (0–2).
117. UNLV (0–2).
118. COLORADO STATE (0–2).
119. SOUTHERN MISS (0–2). A week after gacking it up six times in a loss to Texas State, USM committed four more turnovers in a predictably lopsided, 56–13 debacle at Nebraska, including two interceptions returned for Cornhusker touchdowns in the first quarter. (Later, another interception would set up another Husker touchdown on the following play.) The 43-point margin is the widest yet in Southern Miss' ongoing, 14-game losing streak, still the longest in the nation with Arkansas and Boise State on deck.
120. NEW MEXICO STATE (0–2).
121. MIAMI (OHIO) (0–2). The same Kentucky team that lost its opener to Western Kentucky outgained the RedHawks on Saturday by 533 yards, 675 to 122, en route to a 41–7 blowout. By halftime the Wildcats had more yards (410) and points (31) than they managed in nine full games in 2012.
122. WESTERN MICHIGAN (0–2). WMU lost Saturday to Nicholls State, 27–23, thereby becoming the Colonels' first NCAA-sanctioned victim since 2010. Nicholls' only victories in 2011 and 2012 came at the expense of a local NAIA school, Evangel University.
123. MASSACHUSETTS (0–2).
124. IDAHO (0–2).
125. GEORGIA STATE (0–2). The Panthers have been outscored at home by a pair of FCS teams, Samford and Chattanooga, by a combined 38 points. Two of their next three games are trips to West Virginia and Alabama.