The nation’s No. 1 team did not look like the nation's No. 1 team. The No. 2 team did the same. The No. 3, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 teams lost outright.
With all the carnage fully accounted for—another wild weekend of college football in a season that seemingly abandoned the script entirely—I have one simple question.
Who is the best team in college football?
Don’t just blurt it out. Think about it. Really think about it. Typically, in most sane seasons, one or two teams would come to mind. They might change over the course of the year, although the elite teams are usually rather defined in this sport. There are options, but not many.
That is not the case thus far this year—not after five weeks, at least. This is no sane season. There are more options than ever.
Indiana pushed No. 1 Ohio State to the brink, No. 2 Michigan State nearly lost to Purdue, Florida blindsided No. 3 Ole Miss in Gainesville, No. 6 Notre Dame fell to Clemson, Arizona State upended No. 7 UCLA, and Alabama destroyed No. 8 Georgia.
That all happened...in one day. Whew.
After another weird weekend that prompted more questions than answers, the search for college football’s new No. 1 begins now. Let's sort through the candidates, and let's start with the team currently holding that spot.
The clear choice as the top dog before the season began has earned the benefit of the doubt after early struggles.
Outside of a handful of moments, however, Urban Meyer’s team has looked remarkably human. It needed a superhuman effort from running back Ezekiel Elliott against Indiana to stay unbeaten. Elliott ran for 274 yards in the Buckeyes’ 34-27 victory.
"We're turning the ball over at an alarming rate," Meyer told reporters following the win. "That's obviously a difference in the game. And at some point, that's going to bite you. We have to fix that."
The defense is still one of the nation’s best—if not the best. Offensively, however, the Buckeyes are out of sync. It’s not just Cardale Jones’ fault they are struggling, either. Nothing is coming together.
Right now, the Buckeyes look and feel a lot like Florida State from a season ago. To avoid a similar undoing, things will have to improve. A matchup with Maryland next weekend certainly can’t hurt.
After watching his defense give up 63 points to Baylor in a loss, Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury did not hold back his praise.
"That's the best group of wide receivers I have ever coached against,” Kingsbury told reporters following the game. Yes, the Bears offense is cooking. Act surprised.
The schedule has not been daunting, so the insane offensive numbers—an average of more than 63 points per game—should be viewed accordingly. Still, quarterback Seth Russell and his stable of wideouts have been great. Running back Shock Linwood, maybe the most underappreciated player in the nation, has been excellent as well.
Defensively, Baylor is fine. Given the points the Bears score, it won’t be an issue most weeks. It is this particular deficiency that gives many cause for pause: Most people need to be convinced.
If you need proof that Baylor can manhandle a better team than Texas Tech, you’ll have to wait a little longer. Next week, the Bears play Kansas.
Oh, TCU did some horrible things to Texas in Week 5. The 50-7 final score actually could have been much, much worse.
The Horned Frogs offense was as advertised, as it has been for much of the season. Quarterback Trevone Boykin threw five more touchdowns, giving him 15 total in the last three weeks (14 passing, one rushing). More importantly, the TCU defense finally looked comfortable. With the unit having lost so many players to injuries, it was refreshing—even against a struggling team—to see this group play well.
It’s assumed the defensive holes will cost the Horned Frogs. However, at this point, even with the slew of moving parts on one side of the ball, TCU has done more than simply weather the storm.
With crucial games still to come, they're right there. And with so many others struggling to even get by, TCU's case to be the nation’s No. 1 team is still quite valid.
In many ways, Michigan State’s case to be the No. 1 team mirrors that of its main competition, Ohio State: undefeated team, plenty of talent and unimpressive box scores.
After squeaking past Purdue on Saturday 24-21, Sparty again failed to dominate an opponent. Mark Dantonio’s squad has looked sluggish early, playing closer games than expected against Western Michigan and Air Force. Even the win over Oregon has lost some shine due to the Ducks' blowout loss to Utah.
Still, Michigan State has a fabulous quarterback in Connor Cook. The defensive line, led by Shilique Calhoun, is still superb.
Still very much in the conversation, Michigan State lacks style points. The good news is that many others do, too. Welcome aboard.
Don’t scoff at this inclusion in the least bit. Utah looks like an elite team.
After dismantling Oregon in Eugene during Week 4, the Utes enjoyed a well-timed bye week. By sitting on the couch, Utah gained ground as the bombs went off. It was a good weekend to kick the feet up.
All of the ingredients are there. Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker give Utah one of the more dynamic quarterback-running back duos in the nation. The defense has played exceptionally well.
The only thing standing between Utah and the No. 1 spot is perception. If USC or Oregon delivered these exact results, we would be throwing them up to the top of the mountain with haste.
With Cal on deck, the Utes can further convince the rest of the world they belong.
Others Warranting Consideration…
Clemson: The Notre Dame blowout turned into a nail-bitter at 24-22, although Clemson enters Week 6 in prime position. While so much attention goes to quarterback Deshaun Waston, the rebuilt defense is the real reason the Tigers are inching closer to the top. Playing in a conference that's there for the taking, Clemson is in prime position to make a run at the ACC and beyond. The best part? There’s obviously room to grow.
Oklahoma: We spent so much time talking about Baylor and TCU this offseason that we forgot about the Sooners. That should change. Oklahoma clobbered West Virginia 44-24 in Week 5 in convincing fashion, which is a win that should not go overlooked. If the offense continues to put up points and the defense continues to fly around, Oklahoma will make its case for the No. 1 spot even stronger.
Texas A&M: The Aggies are becoming more and more balanced. While the offense will continue to push teams in unique ways—thanks in large part to freshman wideout Christian Kirk—the defense has become formidable overnight. After limiting Mississippi State to 17 points in Week 5, Texas A&M's momentum is building. After a bye week, A&M draws Alabama on Oct. 17. If it wins against the Tide, we’ll have to completely recalibrate.
Florida: Yes, Florida. This is not a drill. At this point in the year, after the Gators beat Ole Miss 38-10 Saturday night, it’s time to take them seriously. The defense has been excellent, as expected. It’s the offense—led by the sudden surge of quarterback Will Grier—that has made this team a force. Maybe it’s a bit too early to put Florida at No. 1, but the resume stacks up exceptionally well to almost any other team.
The team that remained dormant Saturday, Utah, probably came away with one of the stronger cases to be college football’s new No. 1 team. Perhaps that's a perfect place to begin to summarize the current state of madness. By doing nothing, Utah did plenty.
The Utes' case for No. 1 is legitimate, even if there are doubts.
Ohio State, as discombobulated as it has appeared at times, still feels like the boss at the end of the video game, though. But perhaps that’s more symbolic than anything else, because right now the Buckeyes look anything but invincible.
With that, college football's No. 1 team is none other than the great machine: Baylor.
It is not easy to pick a top team, nor is the Bears' case all that defined, but it's impossible to ignore just how potent and dangerous they have looked. These conclusions and gaudy numbers will have to be verified with better opponents; there's no question about it. We need more.
Baylor has questions and legitimate concerns, just like every other team mentioned above.
No one is perfect. At the moment, no one feels close to being perfect. In fact, after talking it through, perhaps it's best that we simply leave the No. 1 spot vacant until further notice. Thank goodness there's a four-team postseason to help us decide these things.
But first, we have to get there.
To Week 6 we go...