When I was a student at Clemson prior to the college football playoff, I always enjoyed checking the new AP Poll Sunday evening to see if the Tigers would make the top 25 and where they’d fall. The College Football Playoff has tapped into this (and ruthlessly monetized it) with a release show on Tuesdays.
Now, STS is bringing you our own rankings poll voted on by our writers. I’ve also added some analysis for each team. This won’t be a weekly article, but the plan is to update it several times throughout the year depending on how much engagement and debate we see in the comments. Don’t hold back, tell us what we got wrong or why we’re undoubtedly wiser than the AP Poll.
1. Georgia (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 1.00
First place votes: 11/11
AP Poll Rank: No. 1
The Georgia Bulldogs received all 11 first-place votes in our first-ever STS writers poll. While they weren’t sharp against Kent State, their win against Oregon looks better with each Duck win. They still play two teams ranked in the top 10 — a home game against Tennessee and a road game at Kentucky — but Florida and Auburn are less daunting than usual and Georgia Tech is hardly a rivalry game at this point. Mississippi State is their rotating draw from the SEC West. It would be shocking if they missed the playoff, but Matt Goldin did pick Kentucky to win the SEC East, which seems a little less crazy right now.
2. Ohio State (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 2.4
AP Poll Rank: No. 3
The Buckeyes looked dominant in a 52-21 win over Wisconsin to add to their win over a mediocre, but perhaps not atrocious Notre Dame team. With two Power 5 wins, STS writers properly awarded them the second ranking over Alabama.
3. Alabama (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 2.6
AP Poll Rank: No. 2
Their win over Texas was a little tarnished when the Longhorns lost to Texas Tech on Saturday. Their only other Power 5 win was over Vanderbilt this weekend. They travel to Arkansas for what should provide a stiffer test.
4. Clemson (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 4.5
AP Poll Rank: No. 5
The Clemson Tigers are one spot higher in our poll than in the AP poll. While the defense was terrible in Winston-Salem, context matters. They faced an excellent passing offense while missing two cornerbacks and having another fresh off a hamstring injury. That doesn’t make it excusable, but it helps make it understandable. If the defense allows another 35+ against NC State then you can mash the panic button.
Conversely, the offense looked more than just incrementally better than last year. DJ, and even more surprisingly, the wide receivers resembled the Clemson offenses we’re used to seeing. Again, context matters, Wake Forest isn’t a very good defensive team. If the offense proves it was no fluke against arguably the best defense on their schedule when they face NC State on Saturday night, it will be time to start the hype train.
5. Michigan (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 4.9
AP Poll Rank: No. 4
The Wolverines beat Maryland 34-27 in Ann Arbor. It was a bit underwhelming and certainly less impressive than Clemson winning at Wake Forest. It is Michigan’s only Power 5 win. Clemson has two. They go to Iowa at noon this Saturday.
T6. Tennessee (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 8.2
AP Poll Rank: No. 8
Tennessee had one of the highest variances in ranking across STS writers. I had them the highest of all at No. 4. They have the best resume of any team so far this season with a road win at Pittsburgh plus a home win against Florida. They have both Alabama and Georgia on their schedule, not to mention Kentucky and a road trip to LSU, so playoff contention may be a tough ask, but they deserve a ranking higher than No. 8 — where the AP Poll has them. STS writers rightly delivered on that putting them in a tie at No. 6.
T6. Penn State (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 8.2
AP Poll Rank: No. 11
Penn State is tied with Tennessee. The Nittany Lions have a close win at Purdue and a blowout win at Auburn. Of course, neither of those teams are great, but road Power 5 wins come at a premium, especially when everyone is busy playing Furman and UConn. STS writers are much higher on Penn State than AP voter as the five-spot difference is the biggest of any team.
8. USC (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 8.5
AP Poll Rank. No. 6
The Trojans beat Rice, Stanford, and Fresno State before reaching No. 7 in the AP poll. With Oklahoma’s loss they moved up to 6 this week, but STS writers are a little more cautious, keeping them at No. 8. They trailed Oregon State 14-10 with under 5:00 to play, but escaped with a 17-10 win. If they are an undefeated conference champ, they’ll make the playoff which makes them interesting. The only ranked team on their schedule is Utah. While they can’t earn many resume wins, they’ll need to look more dominant before I start buying them as a true playoff-worthy team.
9. NC State (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 9.5
AP Poll Rank. No. 10
There was a lot of variation in the ranking of NC State with some willing to go as high as No. 6 (Alex Craft) and others sticking them down at No. 15 (D’arve Robinson). In the end, STS writers have the Wolfpack one spot ahead of AP voters.
NC State looked bad against ECU, but awfully good against Texas Tech. The latter seems to get glossed over but after the Red Raiders beat Texas, it shouldn’t! NC State boasts the ACC pre-season Player of the Year in QB Devin Leary and has a strong defense. It is a veteran team that could be quite good and is deserving of their top 10 ranking. Last year, I mocked them for years of futility and was made to look like a fool. I still have major questions about their ability to handle the spotlight and the pressure of a moment this big, but I don’t doubt that this is a scary opponent.
As much as I want a repeat of 2018 where they come in with tons of hype only to get totally boat-raced, this feels more like an impending slugfest. The winner will have a game-up plus the tie-breaker in the Atlantic Division race which feels insurmountable.
10. Kentucky (4-0)
STS Average Rank: 9.7
AP Poll Rank. No. 7
STS writers put Kentucky down three spots from where the AP voters pegged them. The Wildcats beat Florida, which is a solid win, but that’s their only P5 victory to date. I ranked them above USC and would pick them head-to-head if they played at a neutral site tomorrow, but one more week of caution is probably merited. They play at Ole Miss this weekend. If they win, I’ll have them in my top 6 and you’ll have to start thinking about them as a playoff dark horse if they can beat Georgia or finish 11-1 with that as their only loss.
What did we get wrong? Where did we nail it? Tell us in the comments and let us know if you’d like to see this become a more regular feature on the site. Would you like us to stick with ACC Power Rankings? Do you like a national outlook? Is a blend best? Please share your thoughts.