What a crazy week of college football it was. September has been so exciting in this sport, and it’s crazy to think that we have two full months of football left to divulge and consume. I couldn’t be more excited. It’s been entertaining to write Vogel’s College Football Top 25 every week to summarize the action.
Last week, I noted that the stability across the rankings had remained consistent. This week, we have some significant shakeups across the board. There are massive movements as this had to be a whole re-assessment week. Clemson and Texas A&M fell, Oklahoma almost went down. It was a fun week of college football action, and there is a lot to unpack.
Let’s get to it.
Vogel’s College Football Top 25: 5 Must-Watch Candidates Next Week
- UTSA Roadrunners (4-0; W @ Memphis 31-28)
- Oklahoma State Cowboys (4-0; W Kansas State 31-20)
- Maryland Terrapins (4-0; W Kent State 37-16)
- SMU Mustangs (4-0; W @ TCU 42-34)
- Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-0; W @ Virginia 37-17)
The UTSA Roadrunners came out on top of Memphis this week, securing their first 4-0 start since 2012, their first season as an FBS team. They’ve been a formidable team thus far behind the legs of Sincere McCormick. This week, they have a game against UNLV, which will be their chance to match the 5-0 start in 2012 as the best start in school history. McCormick ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns in the comeback win this week.
SMU is off to a big 4-0 start, behind former Oklahoma quarterback Tanner Mordecai. The Mustangs have an incredibly explosive offense right now that isn’t easy to contain. The 42-34 win over TCU is undoubtedly a big step forward for this team, who has an opportunity to stand out in their homecoming game this week against USF.
For a breakdown of the other three teams here, scroll down to the end of the article and look at the new key matchups section.
Vogel’s College Football Top 25: 25-21
25. Clemson Tigers (2-2; L @ 24. North Carolina State 27-21 2OT) -21
24. North Carolina State Wolfpack (3-1; W 25. Clemson 27-21 2OT) +2
23. BYU Cougars (4-0; W USF 35-27) +2
22. Baylor Bears (4-0; W Iowa State 31-29) +4
21. Auburn Tigers (3-1; W Georgia State 34-24) +3
I debated ranking Clemson in the top 25, who is the only team in these rankings with two losses at this point of the season. However, I noticed that North Carolina State, in the upset, ran a total of 96 plays to Clemson’s 49. The Wolfpack also possessed the ball for 41:48 of the game clock. While Devin Leary’s performance was stellar, and the Wolfpack played well, it took extreme measures to take Clemson down, making them a threat. The offense needs to get it together to stay relevant.
The Baylor Bears have jumped out to a shocking 4-0 start, 2-0 in the Big 12, with wins over Kansas and Iowa State. They have a formidable test on the road this week against Oklahoma State, who is also undefeated (1-0 in conference play). Baylor is thriving behind an opportunistic defense that can make big plays and set their offense up for success.
While the Auburn Tigers struggled most of the game against Georgia State, a quarterback switch to LSU-transfer TJ Finley breathed new life into the Tigers, who roared back with 22 unanswered points to get the win. I’m not concerned with this performance in particular. I think it was a team looking forward to next week.
Vogel’s College Football Top 25: 20-16
20. Texas Longhorns (3-1; W Texas Tech 70-35) +6
19. Kentucky Wildcats (4-0; W @ South Carolina 16-10) +1
18. Michigan State Spartans (4-0; W Nebraska 23-20 OT) +6
17. Fresno State Bulldogs (4-1; W UNLV 38-30) +9
16. Michigan Wolverines (4-0; W Rutgers 20-13) +6
The Texas Longhorns roared back to relevancy with a massive win over their in-state rivals, Texas Tech, with a tremendous offensive performance under quarterback Casey Thompson. The defense is still a concern, as it has been, but the Longhorns are a formidable foe.
Fresno State debuts despite a close shave with UNLV only because of the complete factor of the team. Who in the Mountain West is better right now than the Bulldogs? Quarterback Jake Haener has emerged as an NFL prospect. They took down UCLA and lost to Oregon by a touchdown. Between the passing game and running back Ronnie Rivers, this is a formidable team across the board.
Michigan played their first real test of the season with their in-division opponent Rutgers. While they took care of business, I think the scoreless second half is a little bit of a concern moving forward. Michigan is relying on their run game and not asking quarterback Cade McNarma to do much other than manage the game. The defense prevented the comeback, but McNarma will have to win the game with his arm at some point. I’m not convinced that he has that ability.
Vogel’s College Football Top 25: 15-11
15. UCLA Bruins (3-1; W @ Stanford 35-24) +4
14. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (4-0; W UMass 53-3) +3
13. Texas A&M Aggies (3-1; L Vs 12. Arkansas 20-10) -8
12. Arkansas Razorbacks (4-0; W vs 13. Texas A&M 20-10) +9
11. Ole Miss Rebels (3-0; BYE) +1
The UCLA Bruins bounced back with an excellent game against Stanford, who is a formidable opponent. The run game is almost an SEC-style bruising, physical combination of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown, which makes this team difficult to defend. The question mark is Dorian Thompson-Robinson, arguably the most inconsistent quarterback in the PAC-12. If he can continue to play well, this is a top-ten team in the country.
Texas A&M fell to Arkansas in Dallas this past weekend, bringing to light every concern that could be had with the Aggies team. The Razorbacks, however, played their most satisfactory defensive performance of the season and overcame the injury of quarterback KJ Jefferson in the third quarter. The Razorbacks are very explosive, while the Aggies are susceptible to explosive plays. I don’t believe that Arkansas is ready to contend with Ole Miss or Alabama, but this game was a huge step forward.
Vogel’s College Football Top 25: 10. Ohio State Buckeyes (3-1) +1
Last week: W Akron (59-7)
Ohio State is looking to get their offense back on track following a plodding start to the season and a devastating loss to Oregon in their home opener. However, this week’s headlines around the Buckeyes surround linebacker K’Vaughan Pope leaving the field during the game to quit the team.
Yep. He just said, “F/#& this, I’m not playing,” and walked off the field. Mind-boggling.
What Ohio State did differently is they benched quarterback CJ Stroud, who started the first three games and instead began Kyle McCord and inserted Jack Miller III later in the game. The Buckeyes racked up many points, 59 unanswered against Akron, and started preparing for Rutgers next week.
While this was undoubtedly the best defensive performance of the season so far for Ohio State, there are still questions about their ability to play consistently in and play out. They’ve surrendered many explosive plays this season which is problematic when Ohio State has to face Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan. They have time to answer these questions, but for now, we’re still not impressed.
9. Florida Gators (3-1) +4
Last week: W Tennessee (38-14)
The Florida Gators had questions entering this season, starting with the quarterback position. With a close loss to Alabama and this win over Tennessee, I think those questions have been firmly answered. Emery Jones finally played a mistake-free game, and it resulted in 28 unanswered points for the Gators in the win over rival Tennessee.
The defense is solid too. They are stout in the front seven and the back end, playing the physical brand of football that they need to. The real question is, how will Florida manage backup quarterback Anthony Richardson once he is cleared to return?
8. Cincinnati Bearcats (3-0) +1
Last week: BYE
The Bearcats last week proved that they are legitimate with their disastrous start against Indiana that resulted in the rally and 38-24 win. This week, they have their biggest test of the season – Notre Dame.
The offense has started slow the last few weeks, led by Desmond Ridder. Alabama transfer running back Jerome Ford has been phenomenal in providing a steady run game, and with Ridder’s run threat, they are challenging to defend.
The Bearcats have a very tough pass rush that plays downhill to get to the quarterback. Their run defense is a big question mark, though, as the team is designed to get ahead and force teams to throw and face the pass rush, led by Myjai Sanders. The Fighting Irish will be a challenge and a “prove-it” game for Cincinnati this week.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-0) +3
Last week: W Vs. Wisconsin (41-13)
Notre Dame played a game down to the wire against Wisconsin through the first three quarters before the Fighting Irish special teams and defense delivered. Kyren Williams took a kick return 96 yards for a score, and the Fighting Irish defense took back two interceptions for touchdowns in the last 2:30 of the game.
Starting quarterback Jack Coan went down in the third quarter with an injury and was replaced by Drew Pyne, who immediately provided a fresh spark to the offense. He threw for 80 yards and a score in relief.
The bad? Notre Dame’s rushing offense was held to just 3 yards. Star running back carried the rock 18 times, only gaining 33 yards. The Wisconsin defense forced them to play one-dimensional, and it was effective for three quarters. This was a fantastic game for the Fighting Irish defense, though, showing what they are capable of performing any given week.
6. Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0) +1
Last week: W Colorado State (24-14)
The Iowa Hawkeyes got into the danger zone of upset when they fell behind to Colorado State 14-7 right before the half. However, the Hawkeyes defense, arguably the best in the Big Ten, stood up and shut out the Rams in the second half and allowed the offense to get into position with a key turnover on the goal line to put the ballgame away.
The biggest concern remaining for the Hawkeyes is the offense. They are limited in explosive plays and don’t play too consistently. Their power run style has worked through the first four games, allowing them to take down two formerly ranked opponents, but quarterback Spencer Petras is a game manager at best, and this team is not designed to get behind on the scoreboard. Can they outscore the points their stingy defense allows all season long?
Vogels College Football Top 25: 5. Oklahoma Sooners (4-0) -2
Last week: W West Virginia (16-13)
Oklahoma drops a couple of spots this week as the consistency and development of quarterback Spencer Rattler that was anticipated has simply not happened. As a result, the Sooners offense has struggled tremendously, and fans began calling for backup Caleb Williams.
Most of the mistakes that Rattler made before his rebound last season was trying to force the ball downfield when he didn’t need to. The Sooners offense is designed to play a ball-control offense and give the quarterback an open option every play. Instead, what is happening, Rattler is forcing the ball downfield into coverage when he has available options underneath for significant gains. On top of that, the running game hasn’t been what it’s needed to be with running backs Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks contributing.
The positives are that the Sooners defense is playing better than they ever have under Lincoln Riley. Their defense has allowed them to win these ugly games, holding opponents under 20 points each of the last three weeks. Can Rattler get it together, or is he already looking too far forward to the NFL?
4. Penn State Nittany Lions (4-0) +1
Last week: W Villanova (38-17)
Penn State’s offense was clicking all through the first half before surrendering a couple of late touchdowns to Villanova. Sean Clifford passed for 401 yards and four touchdowns, including three scores of 50 yards or more. They racked up 509 yards of total offense and continue to show their big playability. It appears to only be getting stronger as the season progresses.
The running game, however, is part of the problem at Penn State. They only gained 80 yards on 34 carries against Villanova, averaging 2.4 yards per carry. So far this season, the Nittany Lions are averaging 3.8 yards per run this season. The offense is almost leaning on big-play wide receiver Jahan Dotson to break one to sustain themselves in action.
Next week, they have a tough Indiana team on the road. The defense has been lights out – Penn State is +5 this season in turnover margin. The Hoosiers will be a tough match, this was a game last season that came down to a controversial two-point conversion that Penn State will be looking to pay back for.
3. Oregon Ducks (4-0) +5
Last week: W Arizona (49-13)
The Oregon Ducks through the first third of the season are the most consistent team in the PAC-12. Oregon has a powerful offense and a physical defense, and everything is fringed on the performance of quarterback Anthony Brown. The Ducks use Brown more as an athletic game manager, trying to put leads together behind the legs of running backs CJ Verdell and Travis DyeThe team has eight rushing touchdowns betweenen Brown and his running bacns on top of Brown’s four passing scores.This week,
Oregon goes on the roak to face Stanford, a team that has traditionally given them problems. While the Ducks have won the last two matchups against The Cardinal, Oregon is 2-3 in the last five matchups and the teams have split the last 12 games against each other. They need to remain consistent and this game will be a big test.
2. Georgia Bulldogs (4-0)
Last week: W @ Vanderbilt (62-0)
The Georgia Bulldogs have, to me, the unquestioned number one defense in America. Their front seven is deep and strong no matter who is in the game playing. The 62-0 win over Vanderbilt is a good look for the team, but anyone coming in knew that Vanderbilt wouldn’t be a challenge for the Bulldogs. The Commodores lost two out-of-conference games, one to East Tennessee State (23-3) and another one to Stanford (41-23).
The question about the offense has been answered. JT Daniels is proving to be a formidable quarterback in the SEC, and the running back room is stuffed with talent. Georgia had their way with Vanderbilt all day and didn’t flinch any bit of the way. Georgia’s next test, however, will be significantly more challenging.
Vogel’s College Football Top 25: 1. Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0)
Last week: W Southern Mississippi (63-14)
The Alabama train continues to chug along and we are all a part of Nick Saban’s world. Saban won his 100th consecutive game against an unranked opponent – an FBS record, by the way. The way that Saban has been able to reload his team year after year is the most impressive part of his resume, something that every other school during the span has struggled tremendously with.
All eyes are on quarterback Bryce Young, who has opened this season with 15 touchdown passes to only one interception. Young appears to be more polished than all of the quarterbacks entering the 2021 NFL Draft, which is astonishing considering he’s four starts into his young career.
The defense hasn’t held anyone under 10 points this season, which is a little odd for an Alabama team. They’re still coming together to play more efficient football, and they have a tremendous test this week with the explosive Ole Miss offense, coming off a week of rest.
Next week’s key ranked matchups:
- (11) Ole Miss Rebels @ (1) Alabama Crimson Tide – This is the matchup that Ole Miss fans have been waiting for. It’s the first real test for the Rebels, on the road against the number one team in the country. Matt Corral has so far played phenomenally and will give the Crimson Tide everything that they can handle. The key to this game will be based on the first mistake – who will make it?
- (12) Arkansas Razorbacks @ (2) Georgia Bulldogs – Arkansas is certainly a formidbale foe, but last week against Texas A&M we got a look at how this team plays against a high-caliber SEC team. This week, Arkansas goes up against an elite SEC team. The Razorbacks key to success will be whether they have enough explosive plays to get past the young Georgia secondary. Other than that, this promises to be a phenomenal game.
- (8) Cincinnati Bearcats @ (7) Notre Dame Fighting Irish – The Cincinnati Bearcats have a fighting chance against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this week, who just released their backup quarterback on the world after Jack Coan left with an injury. The key to the Bearcats pulling off the upset will be predicated on Desmond Ridder. Can Ridder play a mistake-free game and stay on schedule? Cincinnati’s offense isn’t built to go deep into games playing from behind.
- (9) Florida Gators @ (19) Kentucky Wildcats – Kentucky has given Florida some trouble in recent memory. The Wildcats have a renewed offense behind offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who has helped develop Penn State transfer Will Levis into a formidable SEC quarterback. Will the weapons be enough? Is Kentucky’s defense strong enough to fight off the Florida offense?
Other key matchups next week:
- Boston College Eagles (4-0) @ (25) Clemson Tigers (2-2) – Clemson has a chance to fall into their first losing record (outside of their 0-1 start this season) since 2010, when Clemson finished 6-7 after a bowl game loss to South Florida. Boston College lost quarterback Phil Jurkovec to an injury, but still have a formidable run attack and will look to use the same recipe for success that North Carolina State just did. When will the talented Clemson offense get on track?
- (6) Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0) @ (WL-3) Maryland Terrapins (4-0) – Maryland has been quietly under the radar putting together a strong start in Mike Locksley’s first real season as the Maryland head coach. Their first big test of the season comes now against Iowa, who has a very strong opotunistic defense. Can Maryland pull off the upset behind Talia Tagovailoa?
- (22) Baylor Bears (4-0) @ (WL-2) Oklahoma State Cowboys (4-0) – The Baylor Bears pulled off the big upset over Iowa State and debuted in Vogel’s College Football Top 25 as a result. Oklahoma State, however, has put together a good start to the season too. Their wins have almost all been close shaves and down to the wire, which leaves me skeptical of their performance this week against Baylor. Can the Cowboys play dominantly or will the skirt on by?
- Louisville Cardinals (3-1) @ (WL-5) Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-0) – I watched my first live action of Wake Forest on Friday night against Virginia and came away pretty impressed with what I saw. The Demon Deacons have a strong team on both sides of the ball and an intriguing scheme. Louisville’s single loss this season was the opener to Ole Miss. This game is a tremendous test for both teams to see where they stand.
- Liberty Flames (3-1) @ UAB Blazers (3-1) – The Liberty Flames have been in my top 25 all season long, but the loss to Syracuse this week was inexcusable. The Flames have a very talented team, led by quarterback Malik Willis, who now has a tremendous test against a strong UAB defense. The UAB offense has their weapons too. If Liberty can not defeat the Blazers, it will be a statement to college football that Liberty is simply not ready to enter another conference.