So after one has had fun and excitement with a summer fling, the fall usually is time to find out if those guys and girls are ready for the long haul that comes with a relationship. It’s actually no different in college football, at least in the 2016 season.
On this first day of fall, Week Four of the college football season starts, and a good number of matchups on the slate this weekend include teams who started off very well – while officially still in the summer – facing serious tests of their legitimacy and commitment to a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Some will prove worthy for the altar. Others will get cold feet.
It all starts on Thursday and in the ACC, with our No. 4 team, the Clemson Tigers, going into Atlanta to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the conference opener for both. Last year’s national runner-up might have the gaudy ranking, a legit Heisman Trophy candidate (quarterback Deshaun Watson) and a 59-0 whitewashing of South Carolina State under its belt going into the game, but one can easily argue that it’s facing the worst possible opponent at the worst possible place. Georgia Tech has won five straight games at home against Clemson, including defeating nationally-ranked Tigers teams in 2011 and 2014. Moreover, the Yellow Jackets are 7-2 against nationally-ranked teams at home under head coach Paul Johnson, including a 3-1 record against Top 10 teams.
Prove that you’re just as relationship worthy in 2016 than in 2015, Clemson.
All the way out West, another Top 10 team, the Washington Huskies, head to the desert to take on the University of Arizona. The summer of love for the Huskies actually is a carryover from the end of last fall, when they won their last two games by a combined score of 97-17 to gain bowl eligibility. In their bowl game, Washington scored 44 more points in a victory over Southern Mississippi. Washington has scored 40 or more points in each of their first three games this season, marking the first time in school history that U-Dub has scored 40 points in six consecutive games. But Washington hasn’t been ranked this high in the polls since 2001 and the weight of expectations might end up being too much to carry for Chris Petersen’s team, especially as they start their Pac-12 slate against the Wildcats.
The mettle of national championship contenders and eventual champions are usually forged in road games, and as vicious of a bite the Huskies have historically possessed at home, they’ve been equally as toothless on the road in conference play since 2001 – the last time Washington finished with a conference record better than one game over .500. Since 2002, Washington’s combined Pac-10/Pac-12 road record is 19-42. Washington hasn’t won at Arizona, Saturday’s opponent, since 2006.
Prove that you won’t cheat on your supporters when you leave home, Washington.
The SEC schedule on Saturday includes three games that match up ranked opponents (using the AP Poll). Tennessee was the hottest thing on the beach this summer, with preseason talk of its resurgence causing many to believe that a longterm commitment to the Volunteers was more than worth it. It’s been a bumpy ride for the Vols and their supporters, surviving an overtime game in the season opener against Appalachian State and squeezing out a nine-point win last week against Ohio. Their first official game of the fall is at home against Florida, a team whose offense has exceeded expectations and have people in Gainesville wondering what lies ahead. Are the Gators back, too?
In Arlington, Texas A&M looks to crack into the Top 10 nationally as they take on an Arkansas team looking to finally break through to the top of the SEC West standings under Bret Bielema. Both teams have already had magical summer nights, with the Aggies winning against then-No. 16 UCLA at home in the season opener while Arkansas upset then-No. 12 TCU in Forth Worth in overtime two weeks ago. Which team will prove Saturday that their big win was not just a one-night stand?
Finally, in Oxford, Miss., Georgia goes on the road looking to stake their claim to SEC supremacy as they face Ole Miss. Under Mark Richt, Georgia was the team that almost always proved to be the league’s bridesmaid year after year. They’re undefeated, just as much of a threat in the SEC East as Florida and Tennessee and Jacob Eason looks like a future star under center. Being the best two-loss team at this stage of the season is absolutely no consolation for the Rebels, and you’d expect them to come out angry at Vaught-Hemingway Saturday afternoon. But a game like this is one the reasons Kirby Smart was lured from Alabama to take over in Athens.
Prove that you’re not the same “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” Georgia team that we’ve come to know you as over the past decade.
Summer was fun, but it’s now time for a hot and heavy fall. Which teams are ready for just that?
I’m almost certain that the members of the A Lot of Sports Talk College Football Poll panel have at least one interesting story of a summer fling that’s occurred at least one time in their lives. As always, the panel consists of journalists, former college football players and coaches as well as knowledgeable fans who continually have a finger on the pulse of college football. For this week’s poll, our qualified quintet remains the same: Evie Van Pelt (managing editor at The Rebel Walk Magazine), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Nick Mancuso (patent attorney who attended USC as an undergrad and Oregon for law school) and, yours truly, Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief).
Here is ALOST‘s 2016 College Football Top 25 for Week 4. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
Though I believe the Tide was fortunate to leave Oxford with a 48-43 win last Saturday, I also believe that Alabama freshman QB Jalen Hurts is the real deal. (Evie Van Pelt)
As much as I wanted to vote the Tide or Louisville as No. 1, the Buckeyes’ rout of Oklahoma in Norman probably stood out more to me than anything else that occurred last week. By the way, I had no idea that a “basic defense” could perform so well! (Adesina Koiki)
Lamar Jackson has 18 touchdowns in three games, though five of those were against Syracuse. I’m not sure if those should count. (I’m joking, of course.) (Sandy Weintraub)
It’s a good thing the Tigers had a laugher last week against South Carolina State, because a having short week to prepare for Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack away from home is anything but fun and games. (Adesina)
For the rest of the season, any road trip the Cougars take will be the most anticipated game on their opponent’s schedule. The biggest FBS college football game to be played in San Marcos will take place on Saturday night when Texas State hosts the Cougs. (Adesina)
It’s looking like the Wolverines will win at least 10 games once more. With that said, one of my biggest questions is how much consideration will all-everything Jabrill Peppers garner for the Heisman Trophy? (Adesina)
The Heisman race is not over until Christian McCaffrey says it is. This is also my under-the-radar pick for one of the participants in the national championship game. (Sandy)
No matter what you think of Notre Dame, running out to a 29-point lead in South Bend tells me that Spartans might be an even better team in 2016 than the one that made the College Football Playoff just last year. Can’t wait for the game at high noon against the Badgers. (Adesina)
A Top-10 showdown in Seattle next week is almost set, but both the Huskies and Stanford have to take care of business away from home this week. While the Cardinal go to Westwood to take on UCLA, the Huskies have a trip to Tucson, where they haven’t won a road game against Arizona since 2006. (Adesina)
Yes, the Badgers looked pedestrian in their win over Georgia State. But better to look lethargic in a win the week before a monumental conference matchup than come in to it with a loss. I’m banking on a better showing by Bucky in East Lansing Saturday afternoon. (Adesina)
The Aggies travel to “Jerry World” in Arlington to face the Razorbacks. There’s a lot of great history between the once Southwest Conference rivals, but A&M currently owns a four-game winning streak in the series. Listen to former Aggie QB great David Walker talk about some of the legendary games with the Hogs. (Evie)
This is an epic “make-it-or-break-it” game for Vols’ head coach Butch Jones. Lose this game, and he may find himself in the same place as Les Miles at LSU and Gus Malzahn at Auburn – sitting on a very hot seat. If Gators’ starting QB Luke Del Rio is unable to play due to an injured knee, look for the Vols to win this one. (Evie)
The Dawgs travel to Oxford to face Ole Miss this Saturday in another key SEC showdown. The Bulldogs’ Jacob Eason is a freshman phenom under center, but the Landsharks are hungry for a win. (Evie)
The Razorbacks are a 5 1/2-point underdog entering Saturday’s game against A&M, but look for this to be the year Coach Bielema and the Hogs emerge victorious over the maroon and white. The Aggies do have that aforementioned four-game winning streak against Arkansas, but this could be the year that changes. (Evie)
Suffering a beat down like they did in the Derby City last week really should bring you down in the rankings a quite a bit. (Sandy)
Recent history says the Bears have the advantage against Oklahoma State – BU has won three of last the four contests against OSU – but the Cowboys have not only won 16 of the last 20 meetings overall against Baylor, they come into the game on a six-game winning streak in true road games. (Adesina)
Yes, there’s a road game against Georgia Tech next Saturday, but it looks like we won’t know how good the ‘Canes are until the week after that contest, when they host Florida State. (Adesina)
At 2-1 on the season, with a season-opening loss to Wisconsin, Tigers’ head coach Les Miles is already squarely on the hot seat. Miles should be 3-1 after Saturday’s game at Auburn – where Coach Gus Malzahn’s seat may be even hotter than Miles’. (Evie)
Great win against a hobbled but still dangerous Oregon Ducks team at home. Nebraska supporters are amazing; they’re the most friendly and genuinely passionate fans that I have ever experienced live. A gameday in Lincoln is highly recommended for any college football fan. (Sandy)
Two undefeated SEC teams square off Saturday as Florida goes on the road to Neyland Stadium to face Tennessee. The Gators will likely be without Luke Del Rio, but head coach Jim McElwain said on Wednesday that his freshman QB has been participating in practice and will travel with the team to Knoxville. This one will go down to the wire, but home field advantage should give the Vols the edge. (Evie)
In a Pac-12 South that’s crying out for a clear-cut favorite, the Utes have as good a chance as any to win it in 2016. (The Pac-12 South race typically is an unpredictable one.) Coach Whittingham’s squad starts on its road to a division title tomorrow at home against USC. (Adesina)
If there are people actively rooting against the University of Houston to run the table and make the College Football Playoff, they probably reside in San Diego, where the Aztecs and their fans are dreaming of a 13-0 season. That’s not as far-fetched as you might think. (Adesina)
No Carson Wentz? No problem. The Bison won their sixth consecutive game vs. an FBS team last week, winning against then No. 13 Iowa in Iowa City on a last-second field goal. Not only are they in our national Top 25 ranking, they’re 27th in the latest AP Poll. Polling history awaits NDSU. (Adesina)
The good news to come from the ‘Horns’ loss to Cal last weekend? Shane Buechele showed his toughness at quarterback, coming back from temporarily being knocked out of the game to almost lead a come-from-behind victory. The bad news? In two of their three games this season, Texas has allowed 47 (Notre Dame) and 50 points. Oh, and their next two games are against teams that have a long history of scoring points in bunches: Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. (Adesina)
A win over Stanford on Saturday not only would give the Bruins the perfect start to conference play, but would still keep them very much alive in the College Football Playoff picture. (Adesina)
Others receiving votes:
Oklahoma (6 points), Ole Miss (6), West Virginia (4), TCU (3), California (3), North Carolina (3), Boise State (2), Notre Dame (2), Oklahoma State (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)
[Cover photo (Greg Ward Jr. and Tom Herman) courtesy of Scott Halleran/Getty Images]