Three weeks of football provides a great deal of information about a team. Most teams have been tested, some favorites have disappointed and some surprises have emerged. As the season goes on and the playoff picture comes into focus, it will be easier to decide who the best teams are. For now, we have to work with what we have seen so far and what we predict will happen for the rest of the season. Contenders are teams that have gotten off to a good start and have a favorable chance to compete for the playoff later in the season. Pretenders are the teams that have started well but are unlikely to continue that success for the rest of the season. This list will leave off some of the obvious contenders like Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan as we are more focused on the teams that are unpredictable or still unknown.
# 7 Stanford Cardinal (2-0)
The Cardinal were ranked eighth in the country in the preseason poll and are only one of five teams that are still in the top 10 after a preseason top 10 rating. Essentially, Stanford is one of few teams living up to expectations. After wins against Kansas State and USC, Stanford only has one more ranked team on their schedule (September 30 at #9 Washington). While the Pac-12 gauntlet is tough, a Heisman candidate at running back and an eighth-ranked scoring defense should keep Stanford in the playoff conversation for the entire season.
#15 Miami Hurricanes (3-0)
In recent years, when people think about the ACC they think about Florida State and Clemson. This year, the talk has shifted as Louisville is now considered one of the best teams in the country. For some reason, people are forgetting about Miami. Yes, they have played an easy schedule thus far, but they have Florida State as their only ranked opponent left on their schedule. While the Atlantic Division beats up on each other, the Hurricanes could quietly make their way into the ACC championship game. While going on the road to Georgia Tech and Notre Dame will not be easy, the Hurricanes boast the second-best scoring defense in the country and the second-best rushing yards per attempt. The recipe of good defense and efficient rushing will keep the Hurricanes in contention. That is unless their entire defense continues to get injured. Then the Hurricanes might have some problems.
#16 Baylor Bears (3-0)
In a down year for the Big-12, Baylor represents their best chance for representation in the playoff. Baylor has had an easy schedule thus far but will be tested this week by Oklahoma State. In typical Baylor fashion they score their points by going fast and throwing the ball. This strategy works well in the Big-12 and could lead to success for the Bears. This year Baylor has also been very productive on the ground as they rank ninth nationally in rushing yards per game. They will be tested this week and in a few weeks against Texas, but if Baylor can find a way to win those games, the Big-12 will be theirs to take.
#9 Washington Huskies (3-0)
A strong recruiting class and an experienced quarterback led to high expectations for this season. So far Washington has performed well, albeit against a weak schedule. As the Pac-12 season begins with a trip to Arizona, Washington will have to prove they are for real. #7 Stanford at home will be a real test, and #24 Utah and California will be tough games on the road. A sixth-ranked defense has carried the team thus far, but a limited running game could make this team too one-sided. They have impressed thus far, but time will tell if the Huskies are for real.
#12 Georgia Bulldogs (3-0)
They say football is a game of inches. No team exemplifies that this year more than Georgia. Their three games have been decided by a total of 12 points and one of those games was a two-point win over FCS Nicholls State. Georgia has a great running back in Nick Chubb who they rely on for most of their offense. It seems as though they have decided on a quarterback, but he is just a true freshman. Georgia’s schedule gets much more difficult in the next few weeks and they will need to play much better if they want to keep winning. Or they have to luck their luck continues into SEC play.
# 14 Tennessee Volunteers (3-0)
Tennessee has also been living dangerously with narrow wins over Appalachian State and Ohio. Once Miami blew out Appalachian State, it became clear that Tennessee had been challenged by a team that is not very good. Even though it has not been pretty Tennessee did what they had to though their first three games. The next four games are all against ranked teams concluding with an October 15 game against Alabama. It’s possible that a loss in that game could drop Tennessee to 3-4.