Not everyone is convinced Alabama and Ohio State are the nation’s two best teams as college football enters its second half.
Michigan received a first-place vote in The Associated Press poll, and Clemson got one in the coaches’ poll, even though the Tigers needed a missed 33-yard field goal by North Carolina State to survive regulation and defeat the Wolfpack in overtime at home.
But after Saturday’s action, with the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes winning challenging road games in different fashions, it’s become easier to think of them on a collision course for the national championship.
Alabama was lights-out good in crushing upstart Tennessee 49-10 in Knoxville, Tenn. The Tide displayed its usual defensive dominance and, of course, returned a takeaway for a touchdown. Ridiculously, that’s the ninth straight game in which the defense has reached the end zone for Alabama.
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Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts had his best game, rushing for 132 yards and three touchdowns, the first on a season-long 45-yard keeper a few moments after former Vols quarterback and television booth visitor Peyton Manning told the audience “We have a ball game,” after Tennessee cut the deficit to seven.
That’s consecutive road victories over ranked SEC opponents for Alabama. The most difficult game on the schedule could be next, a visit to Tuscaloosa by No. 6 Texas A&M. After that there’s there’s an open week and a trip to LSU.
But with every week, the top-ranked Crimson Tide looks more like the nation’s most dominant team.
Dominant doesn’t describe Ohio State’s 30-23 triumph that required overtime in Madison, Wis. Gutsy, yes.
The Buckeyes dialed up the defensive pressure in the extra period to keep Wisconsin out of the end zone on a night in which the Badgers led throughout the first three quarters.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett got better as the game progressed and his performance, which included 92 rushing yards and two touchdowns and a terrific throw on the game-winning touchdown pass, should put him squarely in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
The victory continued No. 2 Ohio State’s remarkable run of 20 straight victories in true road games. That’s all 20 road games in Urban Meyer’s tenure at Columbus.
This figured to be something of a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes, who had 12 players taken in the first four rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, including two of the first four players selected and five in the first round.
Ohio State opened the season with 16 new starters. It hasn’t mattered. Just like Alabama, with its freshman quarterback.
Meyer and the Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban are college football’s coaching gold standard. They’ve won national championships at their current schools and former ones. It’s reached a point with the two programs that a loss is stunning, like Michigan State’s upset of the Buckeyes late last season that knocked Ohio State from the College Football Playoff.
That loss is an example of the game’s unpredictability. The first CFP ranking is two weeks away. In 2014, the top four teams in the first ranking were Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi. Only the Seminoles made it to the semifinals.
Last year, the projection improved by one team, with Clemson and Alabama reaching the semifinals. LSU and Ohio State did not.
Even crazier, Oklahoma, which made the final, was No. 15 in the first CFP poll of 2015. The previous year, Ohio State was No. 16 in the first CFP poll, and went on to win the national championship.
It’s possible to come off the pace, especially this early. Plenty of season remains for Michigan, Clemson, Louisville, Nebraska and others.
But Alabama and Ohio State have made the biggest impressions and seem to win more impressively each week.