College Football: Which Teams Are Contenders and Pretenders?
We are six weeks into the college-football season, so we have basically seen what each team is made out of. While there are improvements and changes to be made, they probably won't be too drastic or controversial.
Once-mighty programs like LSU and Oklahoma have already seen their chances of a national title take a hit, while others, like West Virginia and Alabama, are sticking around. Meanwhile, teams like Florida and South Carolina are fighting to prove their place in the national spotlight.
Anything can happen in college football, so the rest of the season is assured to be a roller-coaster ride. But from the limited looks we have gotten of these next few teams, we can begin to tell who is actually a player in the championship race instead of just playing us.
If you have a divergent opinion, please feel free to share below.
West Virginia Mountaineers
I started this article last Friday, so when West Virginia lost to Texas Tech, I had to change this entire slide. Everything that could have gone wrong with the Mountaineers did.
They had the best offense in the nation. Geno Smith was a man on a mission and, to be quite frank, is still the leader for the Heisman. However, Texas Tech totally stifled them, which is ridiculous. Offenses have off days, and they had theirs on the worst possible date.
Actually, they needed their offense for every single game because their defense is horrendous. They let Texas Tech do whatever it wanted whenever it wanted. West Virginia's defense was so bad that its offense wasn't able to sustain its already enormous part of the bill.
Unless West Virginia can go perfect for the rest of the season, don't expect a national-championship appearance.
South Carolina Gamecocks
I was one of those who was very shaky with the Gamecocks at the beginning of the season. I wasn't sure if they would emerge as an actual threat or if they would struggle to win the SEC East. Needless to say, after the Georgia game, they pulled me over.
The defense is just as good as last year, as it blanked Georgia's offense for three quarters and effectively shut down Aaron Murray. That defensive front seven is amazing and is one that will carry them throughout the season.
The real kicker with South Carolina is the offense. Any team with Marcus Lattimore is going to do well; it just also helps that they've found a very capable quarterback in Connor Shaw. Great defense plus good offense? Recipe for success.
While some may point towards the LSU game as evidence they aren't ready, that's hogwash. It was versus the LSU defense in Death Valley, and they still kept it close. They looked a whole lot better than Florida did, though they did still lose.
At this point, however, nobody in the SEC East can match up with them. If they get to the SEC Championship, watch out. We've seen weirder things happen.
Florida has gotten off to a great start; that is apparent. It has rocketed up the rankings and has finally cracked the Top 10. Pretty good for a team that was an afterthought in the SEC East, huh?
The Gators' defense has been astounding so far, having contained a lot of offenses and explosive playmakers. In fact, their defense is the main reason they have won games.
While defense is the most important part of a team, you need to have an offense to back it up. Florida has lacked an explosive offense that can comfortably separate it. Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee create a balanced offense, but not one that is going to blow by anyone.
As we saw with the LSU matchup, defense is what will keep them in games. However, they run the risk of falling to teams like South Carolina later on. If they can't finish first in the SEC East, I can't comfortably put them in the national-title race.
They're good—just not that good.
Coming into the season, many had USC pegged as their national-title favorites. I hesitated and wanted to see it take a step forward in defense. Instead, it has gone backwards in a lot of ways.
While their first two games showed the Trojans at their best, the next four are certainly concerning. Losing to Stanford needs no explanation, but playing close games with Cal, Utah and Washington—teams you should probably be blowing out? Not exactly encouraging.
Barkley and the offense have been great, but their consistency has been lacking. A team that has that much talent should be at least cracking the Top 20 in offensive categories. Instead, it ranks 50th in the pass and 63rd in rushing.
The Trojans' defense hasn't changed much, but on the bright side, it hasn't been letting teams score all over them. Minor improvement is better than none at all.
As the season wears on for the Trojans, I can't see them beating Oregon in a few weeks. If you can't win the Pac-12, you can't win the national championship.
Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State has had its bursts throughout the years, and this is one of them. Its offense and defense may not be Top 10, but are just outside of it. Balance is the name of their game.
Collin Klein is one of the best leaders in college football, which would explain why its offense does so well. Its rushing game is one most teams would love to have, so having a great quarterback at the helm of it all just adds icing on top of the multi-layered cake.
One aspect nobody ever focuses on is its defense. The Wildcats finally kept the Sooner offense in check and have done the same to every team this season. Right now, the only team I could see them stumbling against would be West Virginia, though that wouldn't necessarily be anything to be ashamed of.
Winning against Oklahoma on the road was the first step towards national legitimacy. Until Kansas State shows otherwise, we have good reason to believe that it will be in the thick of things for the rest of the season.
We've seen an Oregon team very similar to this one make the national championship, so why not this one? Nothing drastic has changed besides the fact that its defense has continued to improve.
What is there left to be said about the Oregon offense? Speed, speed and more speed. Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota put up video-game numbers that would make any defensive coordinator have nightmares.
A pleasant surprise has been its defense, which has held some pretty explosive offenses down. This will be essential down the line if it wants to win the Pac-12, which doesn't have a reputation for killer defenses.
Remember, this is the team that almost beat Auburn a couple of years ago. It has the talent and the experience to make another run. As much as I fear saying this, if it can make it to the national championship, I just might be choosing it.
Florida State Seminoles
This was an especially hard slide to write. As a Seminoles fan, I really did believe this year. But after the NC State loss, it was no mystery that Florida State could not make it into the national championship.
When you have an easy schedule, you have to win all of your games. There is no doubt in my mind that Florida State has the talent to. Heck, I think it goes perfect from here on out.
It has the offensive and defensive talent to compete with anybody. An explosive running game with a great passing game, while at the same time having an elite defense. It has everything you could want from a team.
However, it fell into a trap game. It had survived the initial onslaught of teams and didn't play its best. Believe me, this team really had the chance to compete for a national championship. Right now, it looks like the best scenario is the Orange Bowl. Not anything to scoff at.
If FSU were still undefeated, I would say it is a contender. But solely because of its one loss, there is a very small chance it can get in now.
I did expect better things from the Tigers this year. I had them pegged as my favorites for the national title, but that has experienced a shake-up these past couple of weeks. However, it is entirely possible that they can make it in.
Their defense is everything we expected it to be. They shut down the run and pass like very few teams do. If there is one thing that can bring them another title, it is the defense.
What they need to focus on is the offense. Their running game looks good, but the pass offense needs to step up in a huge way. Zach Mettenberger has the talent; we have all seen it. Neither him nor his receivers have reached their full potential, which is a shame because they could be so much more dangerous.
While the Florida loss stung, it wasn't a divisional loss. Beating South Carolina went a long way toward revitalizing this often-criticized LSU team looking to get back on track. Right now, it appears the Tigers and Alabama are the two contenders in the West. If LSU can beat Alabama, it is the new favorite for the national championship.
Call me crazy, but after seeing what LSU has done throughout its tumultuous history, it'd be wrong to doubt them.
Refer back to the FSU slide to understand why I have to put the Sooners as a pretender. They have the talent; they just dropped a game they couldn't afford. It really is a shame, too. This is one of the best Oklahoma teams in a long time.
Landry Jones made the smart choice to return for his senior season, because this is a balanced offense that needed his arm. With over 285 yards passing and 221 yards rushing per game, this Sooner offense is as lethal as ever.
Their defense experienced quite the improvement at the same time. They rank 20th in points given up per game, which will be key in the coming weeks versus teams like West Virginia and Baylor.
However, Oklahoma stumbled once again. Losing to KSU in Norman really hurt its chances. By "really hurt," I mean "pretty much wiped it out." A lot of things will have to happen for Oklahoma to get the nod to the national championship.
But when voters look back at that loss to the Wildcats in Oklahoma's stadium, it definitely won't help their cause. It seems that Oklahoma will have to settle again for a lesser bowl this year.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
I am going out on a limb with this one, but after seeing the victory versus Stanford, the Irish have finally won me over. While it has its faults, this Notre Dame team looks like it is out to prove the doubters wrong.
Naming Everett Golson starting quarterback didn't automatically solve all of its offensive troubles. As I said before, defense is always important, but you need to have an offense. Luckily for them, the Irish seem to have gotten into a groove these past few games against Stanford and Miami.
Many have been shocked by the Irish defense, which has been unanimously one of the best in the nation. The pressure from the front seven is real; no doubt about that. The No. 2 defense in the nation has been astounding, and expect that to stay.
If there is one prediction that could blow up in my face, it is this one. But right now, there may not be a hotter team. Until Notre Dame loses a game in blowout fashion, this team is a contender.
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