We’re getting to that point of the college football season where the time-honored phrase will be repeated ad nauseum.
They ain’t played nobody.
And while nobody is accusing the ACC of being a gauntlet, Clemson has been the best and most complete team in the country to this point, which is why the Tigers are the new No. 1 team this week in ESPN’s power rankings. Their 42-17 victory over Miami on Saturday was their 25th straight win over an ACC opponent, and 21 of the 25 have been by 17 or more points.
Now, before anybody in the SEC chimes in, remember when that league used to play defense?
Alabama gave up 48 points and 646 yards (no, that’s not a typo) Saturday in a 63-48 win over Ole Miss, as the two teams combined for an SEC-record 1,370 yards. LSU was so porous on defense in a 45-41 loss at Missouri that coach Ed Orgeron called it “embarrassing.” Florida yielded more than 500 yards of offense for the second time this season and lost 41-38 at Texas A&M, which moved up to No. 13 with what quarterback Kellen Mond said can be a “culture-changing win” for the Aggies.
For the time being, Georgia is still carrying the defensive banner in the SEC. The Dawgs smacked Tennessee around in the second half for a 44-21 win and moved up to No. 3. We’ll find out a lot more about Georgia’s defense and Alabama’s offense this Saturday when the Dawgs and Crimson Tide meet for the first time in the regular season since 2015.
Until then, Clemson is back on top of college football’s throne.
Everywhere you look on Clemson’s offense, there are guys capable of making big plays. Junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence is the one who makes it all go, and he was again outstanding in Clemson’s 42-17 win over No. 7 Miami on Saturday with three passing touchdowns and another one rushing. But the more you watch senior running back Travis Etienne and all he can do, the more impressed you become with this offense. He finished with 222 combined rushing/receiving yards, and he’s just one of many playmakers for the Tigers, who won their 25th consecutive game against an ACC opponent.
Up next: at Georgia Tech (Saturday, noon ET, TBA)
Travis Etienne takes the handoff and changes directions as he makes his way into the end zone to extend Clemson’s lead to 14-0 over Miami.
As surreal as it is to watch Alabama light up scoreboards on offense and spread the ball around to an assortment of playmakers, it’s equally surreal to see the Crimson Tide get torched on defense. And while the game has indeed changed, this is not the Alabama defense of old. Not even close. The Crimson Tide gave up a staggering 646 yards of total offense Saturday in a 63-48 win over Ole Miss. The Rebels’ offense under Lane Kiffin is legit, and he’s as good as there is when it comes to calling plays. But Alabama’s defense right now is anything but championship-caliber.
Up next: vs. Georgia (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS)
There’s still a lot of football to be played, but nobody has been better defensively through the first part of the season than Georgia. The Dawgs clamped down Saturday on No. 15 Tennessee for a 44-21 win, as the Vols were held to minus-1 rushing yards. One of Tennessee’s three touchdowns came on a bad snap over Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett‘s head to open the game, and the Vols were held scoreless in the second half. The Dawgs might not be a finished product on offense, but they have it all defensively.
Up next: at Alabama (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS)
A dynamic quarterback is always going to be a game-changer, and the Buckeyes obviously have that in Justin Fields. But what makes this Ohio State offense especially dangerous is that Fields will be operating behind one of the best offensive lines in college football. Three returning starters are back, led by All-American right guard Wyatt Davis. The Buckeyes have experience, depth and promising younger players who will make for some interesting competition. True freshman Paris Johnson Jr. and sophomore Dawand Jones (all 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds of him) will make a hard push at the tackle positions.
Up next: vs. Nebraska (Oct. 24, noon ET, Fox)
The Fighting Irish got back onto the field after a two-week stretch of not playing a game and thumped reeling Florida State 42-26 at home. Sophomore running back Kyren Williams rushed for more than 100 yards for the second straight game (185 yards and two touchdowns) and has added another dimension to the Notre Dame offense. He has shown a penchant for making big plays in both the running and passing games, and the Irish finished with 353 rushing yards in winning their third straight game by at least two touchdowns.
Up next: vs. Louisville (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
The shadow of Saquon Barkley will loom large for some time in Happy Valley, but Journey Brown (890) and Noah Cain (443) combined for 1,333 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns last season. They rolled up 294 yards and four touchdowns in the 53-39 Cotton Bowl win over Memphis, and there’s even more depth behind them in the Nittany Lions’ backfield. One of the things to watch in 2020 is how much new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca incorporates the running backs into the Penn State passing game.
Up next: at Indiana (Oct. 24, TBA)
The Cowboys had an open week after showcasing an improved defense the first three weeks. They haven’t given up more than 13 points. Granted, Oklahoma State is going to face offenses much more capable of putting up big points down the road, but the balance of this Cowboys defense has been what has stood out to this point. Mike Gundy said before the season that he thought this defense had a chance to be the best he has had in his 16 years as Oklahoma State’s coach. Check back in a month or so to see if he was right.
Up next: at Baylor (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
The Bearcats, who were off this weekend, are one of only two unbeaten teams in the American Athletic Conference, along with SMU, among those teams who’ve played multiple games. Luke Fickell’s club has given up only 17 points in its past two outings, wins over South Florida and Army. And while Cincinnati has won 15 straight games at home, the road (literally) is about to get a lot harder. The Bearcats’ next two games are at Tulsa and at SMU, followed by a home date with Memphis to close out October.
Up next: at Tulsa (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN2)
It has been a mixed bag for North Carolina to this point. The Tar Heels have looked really good at times and really average at others. After building a 42-17 lead midway through the third quarter Saturday, North Carolina had to hold on to beat Virginia Tech 56-45. The Tar Heels took advantage of a depleted Hokies secondary, and for the second consecutive week, senior running back Michael Carter had a big day. He has rushed for 335 yards in his past two outings and averaged 10.2 yards per carry.
Up next: at Florida State (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
UNC quarterback Sam Howell throws three touchdown passes, and the Tar Heels top the Hokies 56-45.
The Ducks took a major hit earlier this year with opt-outs, but the news is getting better. Senior cornerback Deommodore Lenoir announced last week that he had changed his mind and would play this season. Lenoir’s return really helps an Oregon secondary that had been gutted, and with sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux returning after racking up nine sacks last season as a true freshman, the Ducks just got a lot better on defense.
Up next: vs. Stanford (Nov. 7, TBA)
As it turns out, Wisconsin fans won’t have to wait long to see Graham Mertz run the Badgers’ offense. Jack Coan, the starter last season, underwent foot surgery last week and will be out indefinitely. Mertz, a redshirt freshman, is the highest-ranked quarterback to sign with the Badgers and played in two games last season. He’s extremely talented, but replacing Coan’s experience and his efficiency won’t be easy. Coan threw 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 2019. It will be interesting to see how different the Badgers’ offense looks with Mertz at the helm, especially to open the season.
Up next: vs. Illinois (Oct. 24, TBA)
Like everybody else in the ACC, Miami hoped it had closed the gap some on Clemson. But the Hurricanes still have a ways to go after falling 42-17 on Saturday night to the Tigers. What had been an improved offense for Miami in the first three games was no match for Clemson’s defense. The Hurricanes’ only offensive touchdown came in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over. They scored on a 48-yard return of a blocked field goal just before half. Miami has clearly made strides from a year ago, just not enough to hang with the team that has dominated the ACC for the past several years.
Up next: vs. Pittsburgh (Saturday, noon ET, ACC Network)
Jimbo Fisher hopes to have even bigger wins down the road at Texas A&M. After all, that’s why the Aggies paid what they did to get him. But three games into Fisher’s third season, none has been any bigger than Texas A&M’s 41-38 comeback victory Saturday over No. 4 Florida. The Aggies rallied from 11 points down in the third quarter, and Fisher earned his first win over a top-five team as Texas A&M’s coach. With the Alabama and Florida games now behind them, the Aggies have a chance to go on a run and put themselves squarely in the SEC race.
Up next: at Mississippi State (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
After trailing for the majority of the game, Seth Small wins it for Texas A&M with a 26-yard field goal as time expires.
For the second time in three games this season, the Gators gave up more than 500 yards in total offense, and this time it cost them. After giving up 613 yards in the season-opening 51-35 win over Ole Miss, Florida was scorched for 543 yards Saturday in a 41-38 loss at Texas A&M. The Gators are explosive on offense and are going to score points on everybody they play. That much we know. But unless there’s significant improvement on defense, it’s difficult to see Florida as a serious contender in the national championship conversation.
Up next: vs. LSU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
For the first time all season, the Cougars had to sweat a little bit in the fourth quarter but pulled away to win 27-20 over UTSA and stay unbeaten. Quarterback Zach Wilson had three more touchdowns, two passing and one rushing, and BYU’s route to an unbeaten season as an independent still goes through Houston and Boise State, both on the road, and San Diego State at home to end the regular season in December.
Up next: at Houston (Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The ever-changing schedule has given the unbeaten Ragin’ Cajuns the most trouble to this point. Their game with Coastal Carolina was moved from Saturday to Wednesday because of Hurricane Delta. Louisiana was originally scheduled to face Appalachian State this past Wednesday, but that game was postponed because of COVID-19 issues with the Mountaineers. The Coastal Carolina game will be the first time Louisiana has played in nearly three weeks, so there could be a little rust for Billy Napier’s club, which has won 10 of its past 11 games dating to last season.
Up next: vs. Coastal Carolina (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The season-opening loss to Arkansas State was a head-scratcher, but Kansas State has been the picture of efficiency since. Chris Klieman’s Wildcats keep finding different ways to win, and they beat TCU 21-14 on Saturday despite starting quarterback Skylar Thompson being out because of injury. Freshman Will Howard stepped right in and did just enough in his first start, and Kansas State also scored on defense thanks to AJ Parker‘s 37-yard interception return for a touchdown. Looking down the Wildcats’ schedule, they could easily be 5-0 in Big 12 play heading into the Nov. 7 home game with Oklahoma State.
Up next: vs. Kansas (Oct. 24, TBA)
Now that we know what the Pac-12 schedule looks like after it was released last week, the Trojans not only have one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league in sophomore Kedon Slovis, they also might have one of the most manageable schedules, at least on paper. Only two of USC’s six opponents finished last season with a winning record (Arizona State and Utah), and the Trojans won’t have to leave town for their last three games.
Up next: vs. Arizona State (Nov. 7, noon ET, Fox)
When the Big Ten cranks it up in two weeks, we should find out quickly what to expect from Michigan on defense, particularly when it comes to defending the pass. Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan-to-Rashod Bateman connection will test the Wolverines’ secondary. Cornerback Ambry Thomas opted out for this season, and the favorite to replace him is redshirt sophomore Gemon Green. More than ever, Michigan’s pass rush will be crucial, which is where Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson come in after combining for 22.5 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks, last season.
Up next: at Minnesota (Oct. 24, TBA)
The Mustangs were off this weekend before traveling to Tulane on Friday and hope senior quarterback Shane Buechele stays red-hot. Buechele passed for a career-high 474 yards last weekend in a win over Memphis to go along with three touchdowns. Buechele has thrown for 1,326 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first four games and completed 68.6% of his passes. He’s playing at a level right now that will make SMU a tough out against anybody Sonny Dykes’ Mustangs play.
Up next: at Tulane (Friday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN)
After the season-opening loss to Louisiana, Iowa State has won three in a row and scored more than 30 points in all three games. The Cyclones won 31-15 on Saturday over Texas Tech and held the Red Raiders to just 270 total yards. If Iowa State continues to play that way on defense, especially with Brock Purdy and the offense putting up big numbers, this is a team that should be in the Big 12 race all the way to the end.
Up next: at Oklahoma State (Oct. 24, TBA)
Brock Purdy and Breece Hall account for all four Iowa State touchdowns as they defeat Texas Tech 31-15.
The Vols showed the toughness and defensive prowess it takes to go on the road and beat a top-five opponent. But when you can’t run the ball and your quarterback turns it over three times the way Jarrett Guarantano did Saturday — one of those turnovers being returned for a touchdown — then the result is typically what Tennessee got in a 44-21 loss at No. 3 Georgia. The Vols were bullied in the second half after leading 21-17 at the break, and their eight-game winning streak dating to last season is history.
Up next: vs. Kentucky (Saturday, noon ET, SEC Network)
The more you watch that spike/backward pass/fumble (whatever it was) by Bo Nix, the more it looks as if it should have been Arkansas’ ball. Nonetheless, Auburn survived, and Anders Carlson redeemed himself from an earlier miss with a winning 39-yard field goal in the final seconds. The 30-28 win by Auburn is one they won’t be celebrating on the Plains, but it sure beats the alternative. Three of the Tigers’ next four games are on the road, so a telltale stretch awaits Gus Malzahn’s club.
Up next: at South Carolina (Saturday, noon ET, TBA)
Don’t count out Oklahoma just yet, not after its thrilling 53-45 win Saturday over Texas in four overtimes in a Red River Showdown classic that will go down as one of the most entertaining games in that storied rivalry’s history. The Sooners had lost two in a row and their season was teetering. Though they haven’t been able to stop anybody this season on defense, they’re still explosive enough on offense to win the rest of their games and be a factor in the Big 12 race.
Up next: at TCU (Oct. 24, TBA)
Virginia Tech has been short-handed all season due to COVID-19 issues and injuries, but the Hokies continue to be competitive. They battled back from a 25-point deficit in the third quarter Saturday to make it close and managed to hang around despite a makeshift secondary but lost 56-45 at North Carolina. The good news is that Virginia Tech is starting to get some of its players back. The Hokies were down 23 players in the season-opening win over NC State, and that number was reduced to 15 against the Tar Heels.
Up next: vs. Boston College (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network)