Like a poorly thought-through movie-to-TV series, it appears the Marty McFly rankings are on life support. The actor I hired to play Michael J. Fox’s character is no Michael J. Fox, the de-aging for Christopher Lloyd is too expensive, and the DeLoreans keep breaking down. Never mind that these are the most “Back to the Future” jokes I’ve made in a piece and this is Week 6.
If only more people put the reference together or wanted to read someone talk shit about their fallen football programs. Oh well. Live and let blog I guess.
Alright, onto what could be the final unofficial McFly rankings of which college football teams trying to get back are the most back. Washington and Florida State were in the ICU after falling to UCLA and Wake Forest, respectively, two Saturdays ago, and both are out of the top five entirely following losses to Arizona State (yikes) and NC State, respectively.
The Seminoles scored all 17 of their points in the second quarter, and blew a 14-point lead to the Wolf Pack. Down 19-17 with 38 ticks left in the game, quarterback Jordan Travis threw a pick on second-and-eight from NC State’s 22-yard line. Florida State’s kicking game has been a rollercoaster this year — kicker Ryan Fitzgerald is five-of-10 on the season — and I guess Mike Norvell wanted to get closer or not risk it or something. Instead, the ’Noles dropped to 4-2 on the year.
For the second straight week, a Micheal Penix interception was the difference in a Washington loss. The Sun Devils batted and intercepted a second-quarter pass from the Huskies QB and returned it for a touchdown. That gave ASU a 24-10 lead that it never relinquished, trading scores until the buzzer to win, 45-38. Now, 2-4 after six games and firing Herm Edwards, interim coach Shaun Aguano has his first career W against a ranked opponent.
Anyway, those losses open up two spots, and we’ll have a new entry in the field as well as a return to the rankings for two lucky programs.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Since this is a somewhat abridged version and the Huskers are currently tied for first place in their division after two-straight conference wins under interim head coach Mickey Joseph, welcome the Huskers to the rankings. Surely this trajectory under a new coach will only continue to rise as Nebraska looks to win its first division title since the Big Ten was using the regrettable Leaders and Legends distinctions.
After holding off Indiana at home, Nebraska went into New Jersey and stared down Rutgers until one team threw an ill-timed interception. Down 13-0 at the break, the Huskers rallied to a 14-13 win, and Greg Schiano reminded people he was once an NFL coach, and a head coach at that.
The Blackshirts are back. Big Red football is back. And Nebraska is back.
4. No. 22 Texas Longhorns
Quinn Ewers returned to the football field against Oklahoma and led Texas to its most lopsided win over their longtime rival, 49-0. It was a statement win that said, “Hey, we can beat the best at their worst.” The Sooners were without starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel and also the coach who beat them four of the past five seasons.
The Longhorns have two wins and a loss against three of the bottom four teams in the Big 12, and that includes the Red River Rivalry win. I doubt the Sooners finish the year at the bottom of the conference, but they’ve been outscored 145-58 over the past three weeks.
As for Texas, four of its next six games are against ranked opponents, and the other two are against Iowa State and Baylor. (Crazy how there are five ranked teams in the Big 12 and none of them are coached by Matt Campbell or Dave Aranda.)
The benefit of these rankings being short-lived is I won’t have to publicly eat all the shit I’ve been giving to Texas fans if they end up being good this year. So with that said, it’s even odds the Longhorns go .500 over the final six games of the regular season.
3. No. 11 UCLA Bruins
I’m still foggy on whether the Bruins were ever present enough to be gone and back. Good thing I don’t have social media to tell me how poorly I’m doing my job. I know UCLA and Chip Kelly only have one national title between them, and it came in 1954. So what?
Kelly was a prominent enough figure at Oregon, fell off the appropriate number of years to qualify as gone, and now his team is in the top 15 with a bye week before the coach’s triumphant return to Eugene. The former Duck HC has yet to beat his old school (0-3), and current Duck coach Dan Lanning also will have an extra week to prepare for what will be a matchup of two top 15 teams as they’re also on a bye.
The Bruins traded blows with last year’s Pac-12 champs, beating the Utes, 42-32, and it’ll be fun to see how they fare against the program that won it the two years before Utah did.
2. No. 7 USC Trojans
Lincoln Riley’s team survived its toughest test to date — a 30-14 win over Washington State that featured a dozen punts, but no turnovers. The Trojans are doing what we ask of every team looking to get back: Beat the teams you’re supposed to beat. Talented athletes, a potent yet safe passing game, a veteran running attack, and an opportunistic defense will take you far in college football. Change the defense from opportunistic to stellar and you have Alabama.
After cross-town rival UCLA beat Utah last week, there’s been the obligatory college football in Los Angeles is relevant again pieces, and it would be embarrassing for USC to fail where its rival just succeeded. That’ll be USC’s mission Saturday night in Salt Lake City against a good Ute team. This is one of Caleb Williams’ few chances to have a Heisman moment, and probably the last one until Nov. 11 against UCLA.
Utah is a 3.5-point favorite at home, it’s Riley’s USC debut against a ranked team, and this is the kind of game that generates “USC is back” headlines.
1. No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers
Back when I first started this weekly ranking, I said Tennessee wasn’t back until opponents were so sick of hearing Rocky Top that they’ll actively listen to Chumbawamba to put a song less obnoxious in their heads. It’s actually quite genius even if it’s really evil. We’re going to beat you so badly that every one of our fans is going to hit the “Woo!” part of Rocky Top at full throat for four straight hours.
It’s psychological warfare, and LSU fans tapped out after three quarters of it in Death Valley on Saturday. Brian Kelly’s team got off to a nightmarish start, fumbling the opening kick, and never recovered. The Vols’ 40-13 win catapulted them over USC in the AP poll and set up the biggest Alabama-Tennessee game since 2016.
It’s so big that College Gameday is making a return trip to Knoxville less than a month after it came to town for the Florida game. Nick Saban is hopeful Bryce Young can play after hurting his shoulder against Arkansas a couple of weeks ago. Regardless, he probably won’t be 100 percent, Jalen Milroe didn’t look great against Texas A&M, and Hendon Hooker is still healthy.
This is as vulnerable as the Tide gets under Saban. Short of making the College Football Playoff, a win over Alabama when you have their attention is about as attention-grabbing as you’re going to get, and a big step to getting back.