If there’s one thing you should know about the early season college football predictions, it is that the preseason USA Today and AP Top 25 Polls are usually meaningless in the grand scheme of playoff contention. The only poll you should be concerned about is the college football playoff committee poll that is released around midseason. You need justifications? Just take a look at how the #18-ranked Auburn Tigers of 2015 choked up and disappointed mightily last season. Or better yet, see how your overhyped 2016 playoff favorites (Hello Oklahoma and LSU) couldn’t even go past Week 1 without losses, or how some of them luckily escaped with undeserved wins (Yes, I am talking about you Tennessee).
But, as always, some of the top teams will perennially remain in the thick of things, come what may. Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide are a good example of that, with Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes following closely. A lot can change in the course of the season, especially with injuries and suspensions being a commonality in the league, but as things stand, here is our updated look at the top 2016-17 college football playoff risers, fallers and darkhorses based on the results from Week 1. Note that we won’t be talking about obvious candidates such as Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan and Stanford, who’ve—in no particular order—maintained more-or-less the same placements atop the CFP race.
College Football Playoff Risers, Fallers, Darkhorses After Week 1
College Football Playoff Risers
Biggest Riser: Houston Cougars
Let’s not repeat the obvious, folks. I mean, you’ve heard about Greg Ward Jr., the offensive juggernaut in Houston’s offense and how he launched 17 TD passes and broke the plane of the end zone 21 times for a total of 38 touchdowns last season. You also witnessed the manner in which Ward and the Houston Cougars outplayed star QB Baker Mayfield and the top-5 ranked Oklahoma Sooners in nearly every facet of the game last weekend and kept the ball for over 35 minutes against a gassed Sooner defense, earning a dominant double-digit upset win. This victory is sure to impress everyone, including those biased college football playoff committee members that love to look down on Non-Power Five teams. And in case you are forgetting, this is the same team that dominated the ACC and went 13-1 last season, then ended the year on a flying note with a New Year 6 Bowl victory in the Peach Bowl. Speaking of the AAC, Houston will play its two biggest competitors in Memphis and Navy on the road, but these two teams are breaking in new quarterbacks, with Memphis particularly having a tough rebuilding year after losing head Coach Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech, so running the AAC shouldn’t be a big deal. Throw in the additional fact that the returning starters will be getting much-needed help and depth from top 2016 recruits like 5-star DT Ed Oliver, 4-star OT Na’Ty Rodgers and 4-star WR Courtney Lark, we don’t need to explain further why we have the Cougars as our biggest risers in the 2016-17 CFP race.
Honorable Mentions: Washington Huskies, Wisconsin Badgers, Georgia Bulldogs, Texas Longhorns, Louisville Cardinals
College Football Playoff Fallers
Biggest Faller: LSU
For a minute, I considered having Oklahoma and LSU as joint top-fallers in the playoff race, but I remembered that the Sooners lost to a higher-ranked team and OU did in fact put up a decent fight. The same can’t be said for the Tigers who were every bit of the word pathetic. Sure, Leonard Fournette did rush for 138 yards on 23 carries, but there was nothing spectacular about his running game. Meanwhile, LSU QB Brandon Harris showed absolutely no improvement from his much-criticized poor play from last season. In fact, going by his performance against Wisconsin’s middling defense, you wouldn’t be wrong to expect a worse season from Harris than his performance last year. Add to the fact that Fournette got injured in Week 1 and he’ll most likely be banged up for quite a while, it’s safe that the Tigers will be having a crash-bound, tailspin of a season with Les Miles having his behind planted on the hot seat for the entirety of the year. If you are an LSU fan with hopes of still making the playoffs, better cut your losses right now coz it won’t be happening. Oh, and the same goes for you Notre Dame, Oklahoma (you still have Baylor, Texas and TCU in your schedule) and Tennessee fans who are burying your heads in the sand and ignoring the fire that is blazing around you.
Dishonorable Mentions: Oklahoma Sooners, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ole Miss Rebels, USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins
College Football Playoff Darkhorses
Best Darkhorses: Louisville and Baylor
Clemson and Florida State front-run the ACC title race, but if those two aren’t careful, Louisville could sneak up and run away with the title. The #2 Tigers struggled to win at Auburn, in spite of the fact that the Auburn unit had several new starters. FSU, meanwhile, did manage to beat Ole Miss, but that was largely because the Rebels shifted down their gears after leading the game comfortably at half-time. Louisville did not show any of such struggles in Week 1. Yes, Charlotte is not an elite team, but you’d be hard-done to find a QB who was as efficient as Louisville Lamar Jackson, who scintillatingly went 17-23 passing for 286 yards and 6 touchdowns. The dual-threat maestro also ran for additional 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. And all that damage, mind you, was done in one half, with the coach opting to sit down the QB for the entire second half. Oh, and the Cardinals defense was just as impressive in the win. With Jackson continuing to rise up as one the best QBs in the nation, Louisville’s defense also playing well and head Coach Bobby Petrino bringing his stellar experience to the team; the Tigers and Seminoles better watch their backs or else the Cardinals will be ACC’s representatives in the playoffs.
Like Louisville, and all great teams for that matter, the Bears have a ruthlessly efficient offense that is led by star QB Seth Russell. Unless you have been living under some rock, you should know by now that Russell was the top-rated FBS passer in the country last season after 6 weeks, before he suffered a season-ending neck injury in Baylor’s seventh game. And to confirm that his skills were still intact, Russell efficiently passed for 163 yards and four touchdowns in less than a half in the 55-7 win over FCS member Northwestern State last Friday. As long as Russell is fit and healthy, and Baylor’s defense continues to improve silently in the Big 12 (the Bears held Northwestern State to a measly 78 total yards), a playoff berth could easily be in the books for this underrated team. This should be particularly encouraged by the fact that Oklahoma’s loss to Houston allows Baylor a slight margin of error while TCU and Texas have holes to patch up in their defenses.
Worthy Mentions: Georgia, Oregon, Washington
I really liked how Georgia’s Nick Chubb announced his return from a season-ending 2015 injury with a big performance in 33-24 win over UNC. My problem, though, is that this team is too over-reliant on the RB, and that is likely to be their undoing, as was the case for the Fournette-reliant LSU Tigers last year. That makes me doubt their potential as a serious darkhorse right now, especially in the top-heavy SEC conference.
With USC and UCLA both probably out of the playoff race, and Stanford still looking shaky at QB, the duo of Washington and Oregon could be due for some value as Pac-12’s representatives in the playoffs. Oregon’s transfer quarterback transfer, Dakota Prukop, looked solid in the 53-28 win over FCS opponent UC-Davis in their opener. But then again, Oregon’s defensive lapses were still glaring in that game and I doubt if new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke will fix those issues in time. The Huskies, meanwhile, welcomed back star wide receiver John Ross, who after missing all of the 2015 season with a knee injury, made his return with 5 receptions for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns while also scoring on a 92-yard kickoff return in the 48-13 blowout of Rutgers. And, unlike Oregon, the Huskies have a decent defense, making them a good pick. Evidently, the Ducks and Huskies have potential, with Oregon’s hopes heavily relying on their offense. Even so, both Oregon and Washington have daunting Pac-12 schedules, so finishing the season unbeaten or as one-loss teams won’t be easy.