Auerbach's Top 10: Washington takes No. 1, UNC enters the mix (2024)

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Each Saturday night throughout the season, I’ll rank the 10 best teams in the country. The order will fluctuate week to week based on new results, player availability and whatever else impacts this chaotic sport. This is obviously a subjective process, and I look forward to the arguments. The final spot each week will go to a team that may not actuallybe the 10th best team in the country but still deserves a little shine.


1. Washington (6-0)

The Huskies’ offense dazzled in a 36-33 win against Oregon. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr., a Heisman Trophy hopeful, led the pass-happy, quick-strike offense we’ve become accustomed to, throwing for more than 300 yards and finding three different receivers for touchdowns. But no moment was more impressive than the two-play, 53-yard touchdown drive he orchestrated in the game’s waning minutes. Over 33 seconds of game time, Penix connected with two future NFL stars in Ja’Lynn Polk and Rome Odunze to deal the final blow in a spectacular game that more than lived up to its billing.

I’ve thought about putting the Huskies in the top spot for a few weeks; when they’re firing on all cylinders, they look the part of the best team in the country. But I wanted to wait until they had a big win under their belt, so that the resume matched the eye test. Now, the Huskies have the best win in the country over a team I still believe is one of the nation’s five best. Kalen DeBoer’s squad came out on top in a matchup of the two teams that are a cut above everyone else in the nation’s deepest conference, and it should be considered the team to beat in the Pac-12 and the league’s top College Football Playoff contender. At least for now.

GO DEEPERMandel: The Pac-12 is loaded. But Washington is the clear CFP contender

2. Oklahoma (6-0)

The Sooners were idle this weekend, giving them more time to bask in the glory of that wild Red River Rivalry win. Oklahoma now has the nation’s full attention and, I suspect, Vegas’s respect. Oklahoma should be favored in every game the rest of the way, with its toughest remaining test a trip to Lawrence at the end of October.

3. Georgia (7-0)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Bulldogs started slow before pulling away and hanging on for a victory. But the story of their 37-20 win over Vanderbilt was tight end Brock Bowers’ early exit with what head coach Kirby Smart described as a lower left ankle sprain. Smart didn’t seem too worried about the injury after the game, which is a good sign because Bowers is critical to this Georgia offense. He has singlehandedly won them games (most recently Auburn) and is arguably the Bulldogs’ best player on that side of the ball. He sparks this team when they need it most, and the Bulldogs hope their upcoming off week can let Bowers recover in time to return at full strength against Florida.


4. Michigan (7-0)

The Wolverines kept Saturday’s game against Indiana interesting for longer than they typically do, as the Hoosiers outgained them by 124 yards in the first quarter and led 7-0 into the second. On a rainy day in Ann Arbor, J.J. McCarthy completed 14 of 17 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns, each to a different receiver. Blake Corum was great in short-yardage situations, finding the end zone twice, and his backfield mate Donovan Edwards finally scored a touchdown, too. Ultimately, the 52-7 score looks a lot like the Wolverines’ recent results. This one was slightly harder-won.

5. Oregon (5-1)

The Ducks certainly had their chances on Saturday. Head coach Dan Lanning made three controversial fourth-down decisions, opting to go for it inside the 10-yard line twice and forgoing easy points in a game that was decided by just three. And then, of course, there was the fourth-down decision with a little over two minutes to go, a play to end the game without giving the ball back to Penix. The resulting incomplete pass allowed Washington to take over near midfield, and the Huskies needed just two plays to score the go-ahead touchdown.

Still, we learned quite a bit about the Ducks’ fight after a slow start in Seattle. Their defense forced the nation’s best offense into repeated three-and-outs. They should still be considered one of the top teams in the country, with a balanced offensive attack and a defense that can slow (if not fully stop) Washington. Someone just needs to talk some sense into Lanning about some of these fourth-down calls.

GO DEEPERVannini: Dan Lanning made the right call, but Oregon keeps faltering in big games

6. Florida State (7-0)

The Seminoles are a little bit out-of-sight, out-of-mind right now, by no real fault of their own. Massive showdowns in other leagues have allowed other teams to rocket past Florida State. Which is OK! This will all even itself out once resumes are complete at the end of the regular season.

In the meantime, the Seminoles crushed Syracuse 41-3 on Saturday, their 12th consecutive win. It was yet another gutty performance from quarterback Jordan Travis, who shook off an injury to his non-throwing hand in the second quarter and returned to the game. Travis also benefited from the latest Keon Coleman highlight: The Michigan State transfer’s one-handed grab was one of the best plays of the weekend and yet another standout moment for one of the Biletnikoff Award frontrunners.

GO DEEPERWeek 7 Takeaways: USC flops, Washington-Oregon delivers and more

7. Ohio State (6-0)

Purdue is not a very good football team right now, but the Buckeyes’ 41-7 win on a rainy Saturday afternoon in West Lafayette was still impressive because they did it with basically the entire running back room injured. TreVeyon Henderson missed his second game. Miyan Williams didn’t dress. Chip Trayanum got hurt in the second quarter and didn’t return … and the Buckeyes still got 165 yards on the ground and controlled the game. (All-everything receiver Emeka Egbuka was also out.)


The most encouraging part of the Buckeyes’ performance was in the red zone. They scored touchdowns on five of six trips, including with a new package that employed backup quarterback Devin Brown, adding a power run wrinkle to the red zone offerings. Ohio State converted 8 of 12 third downs, too. These are really promising developments for the Buckeye offense heading into a massive showdown against Penn State.

8. Texas (5-1)

The Longhorns were idle this weekend, after the crushing loss to Oklahoma. I kept Texas in this top 10 despite the loss because I still believe in Quinn Ewers and company, and I continue to stand by that decision. Plus, the Longhorns’ win over Alabama is looking better and better; the Tide just won their fourth consecutive game and seem to be in the driver’s seat in the SEC West.

9. Penn State (6-0)

The Nittany Lions started slow but ultimately pulled away from UMass, beating the Minutemen 63-0 at home. Two punt return touchdowns from Daequan Hardy were crucial, with his 56-yard return in the first quarter providing a much-needed spark. Drew Allar and the rest of the Penn State offense took care of business from there, scoring touchdowns on the next seven possessions.

After so much talk this week about Penn State’s lack of explosiveness in the passing game, I did expect the Nittany Lions to air it out … and they decidedly did not. Allar averaged just seven yards per attempt and only completed two passes longer than 20 yards. Against UMass! Entering Saturday, the Minutemen pass defense had ranked second-to-last in the FBS, allowing nearly 10 yards per passing attempt. It’s frustrating to watch this Penn State offense, with all its dynamic players, and see it not even try to get chunk plays. The Nittany Lions have two electric running backs who also haven’t broken off long runs in the way they did last year, which is how a top-10 team ranks dead last in the FBS in plays of 20 yards or more from scrimmage. How will this offense move the ball against Ohio State next week? How can it find the end zone? Penn State might need to find another gear to come out of Columbus with a win.

GO DEEPERSnyder: Ohio State week is here, and Penn State looks ready for the moment

10. North Carolina (6-0)

So that’s why the Tar Heels fought so hard for Tez Walker to be eligible this season. In his second game since the NCAA reversed its previous decision and approved a transfer waiver so he could play right away, Walker caught six passes for 132 yards and three touchdowns in UNC’s 41-31 win over Miami. He is another impact target for quarterback Drake Maye, who has been especially productive and efficient in recent weeks. North Carolina is perhaps the quietest unbeaten left, but it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the Tar Heels. The defense has improved, and the offense is hard to slow down. With Walker in the fold, this team looks even more focused and complete than before. The Tar Heels appear to be real ACC contenders and could be on a collision course with Florida State; the teams don’t play in the regular season.

I thought coming into the year that the ACC was a two-horse race — and it may still be. I just got the two horses wrong. Take out Clemson, and sub in UNC.

(Photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Auerbach's Top 10: Washington takes No. 1, UNC enters the mix (5)Auerbach's Top 10: Washington takes No. 1, UNC enters the mix (6)

Nicole Auerbach covers college football and college basketball for The Athletic. A leading voice in college sports, she also serves as a studio analyst for the Big Ten Network and a radio host for SiriusXM. Nicole was named the 2020 National Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Media Association, becoming the youngest national winner of the prestigious award. Before joining The Athletic, she covered college football and college basketball for USA Today. Follow Nicole on Twitter @NicoleAuerbach

Auerbach's Top 10: Washington takes No. 1, UNC enters the mix (2024)


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