College News & Analysis

2021 Week 3 Top 25 College Football Rankings 

Sep 11, 2021; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown (13) makes a pass during the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Week 2 college football slate left a lot to be desired entering Saturday, but chaos took over to make for an exciting set of games. Five ranked teams, Ohio State, Iowa State, Texas, USC and Utah, went down, and two others, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, needed a score in the final minutes to get by their unranked opponents. This wild week in college football proved one thing: The playing field is as level as it’s ever been, save for Alabama.

Below is how I’d order the top 25 teams after Week 2. Please note that this top 25 is not the same as PFF’s Power Rankings and are subject to major swings early in the year.


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1. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (–)

Week 2 Result: W vs Mercer (48-14)

Alabama head coach Nick Saban may not be happy with his team’s performance versus Mercer, but the Tide got the job done in their 34-point blowout win. Quarterback Bryce Young put up a 90.5 PFF grade against the subpar competition, and true freshman receiver JoJo Earle flashed potential. Earle was targeted seven times on 13 routes and came away with an 86.8 PFF grade and 6.54 yards per route run. 

Next week won’t be as easy for the Crimson Tide, as they travel south to take on the Florida Gators.

2. GEORGIA BULLDOGS (–)

Week 2 Result: W vs UAB (56-7)

The Dawgs covered their 22.5-point spread against UAB comfortably in Week 2. Quarterback JT Daniels was out with a core injury, so Stetson Bennett stepped in and put up some monster numbers. He averaged over 24 yards per attempt on his 12 passes and produced two big-time throws en route to a 91.4 PFF grade. True freshman cornerback Kelee Ringo had an encouraging day as well, allowing no catches, snagging an interception and earning an elite grade.

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3. OKLAHOMA SOONERS (–)

Week 2 Result: W vs Western Carolina (76-0)

Oklahoma was out for blood in Week 2 after barely edging out Tulane in Week 1. The Sooners subsequently shut out the Catamounts, 76-0. Quarterback Spencer Rattler bounced back with a near-flawless day, recording zero turnover-worthy plays and a 91.7 passing grade. Next week, the Sooners will face off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who reportedly wanted to cancel the game this past offseason. 

4. OREGON DUCKS (+17)

Week 2 Result: W at Ohio State (35-28)

Oregon fielded the second-most efficient offense of Week 2 among teams that played a Power Five defense. The Ducks’ offense shredded the static Ohio State defense with RPOs and play-action bootlegs.

Anthony Brown vs. Ohio State
Play-Action No Play-Action
10/16 Comp/Att 7/19
128 Yards 101
1:0 BTT:TWP 0:1
88.1 Passing Grade 43.1

It was a clinic from offensive coordinator and play caller Joe Moorhead and head coach Mario Cristobal. Quarterback Anthony Brown needs some help in the passing game, and they provided that aid and executed an efficient passing attack. Brown, in turn, made the right decisions, and running back C.J. Verdell took advantage of his opportunities. He busted off a 77-yard rushing touchdown that changed the game — a play that was named PFF’s Game-Changing Moment of the Week.

5. CINCINNATI BEARCATS (+1)

Week 2 Result: W vs Murray State (42-7)

Cincinnati looked anything but the fifth-ranked team in the country in the first half against Murray State. The teams were tied 7-7 through two quarters, but the Bearcats shut out the Racers, 35-0, in the second half. Quarterback Desmond Ridder led a dominant passing attack in the second half that ranked second in the FBS in explosive pass play rate (33.3%), but he also had his fair share of inaccurate throws, lowering his passing grade to a 65.2 mark.

Next week will be the first of two consecutive opportunities for Cincinnati to prove it is College Football Playoff-worthy, with the team traveling next door to take on the Indiana Hoosiers. The Bearcats then have a bye before taking on Notre Dame in Week 5.

6. IOWA HAWKEYES (+5)

Week 2 Result: W at Iowa State (27-17)

Iowa proved that it's here to stay by traveling to Ames as the underdog and handling the Cyclones. Phil Parker’s defense once again played standout coverage. The Hawkeyes' coverage unit is now tied for the third-highest grade in the FBS this season. Iowa’s starting outside cornerbacks — Riley Moss and Matt Hankins — rank second and fourth, respectively, in coverage grade among FBS players at the position.

Quarterback Spencer Petras failed to execute an effective passing offense, though, which has been the theme of his time as the starter. Iowa ranked seventh-to-last in the FBS in successful pass play rate in Week 2. As long as Iowa’s pass defense continues to be a turnover machine, the team can get by with no offense.

7. CLEMSON TIGERS (-2)

Week 2 Result: W vs South Carolina State (49-3)

Clemson may have smashed South Carolina State, but quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei didn’t quite bounce back from his pressure-ridden loss to Georgia. He finished with a 56.4 passing grade and threw more quarterback-fault incompletions (five) than completions (four) on passes of 10-plus yards downfield. One of those incompletions was a desperation throw under pressure out of his own end zone that should have been intercepted. Uiagalelei will have another shot to prove himself against a subpar Georgia Tech team in Week 3.

8. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (-5)

Week 2 Result: L vs Oregon (35-28)

One reason Ohio State endured a home upset as two-touchdown favorites was the team's unwillingness to sway from its usual coverage gameplan. The Buckeyes showed and played the same single-high coverage all throughout the game as they normally would, and they got beat this time.

Quarterback C.J. Stroud also missed several throws in important situations, including on an early fourth down in Oregon territory and on a third-and-18 that resulted in an interception. Stroud still made five big-time throws, but he lacked consistency. Perhaps the Buckeyes can get back on track to their top-five standards against Tulsa and Akron in the coming weeks.

9. TEXAS A&M AGGIES (-2)

Week 2 Result: W vs Colorado (10-7)

The Aggies went up against a sneaky good Colorado defense, and the Buffaloes shut them down. It took Texas A&M a touchdown drive with a few minutes left in the game to take the lead for the first time and eventually win.

The Aggies' quarterback situation continues to be on shaky ground with Haynes King out hurt. King was less than inspiring in Texas A&M's Week 1 win over Kent State (70.4 passing grade), and Zach Calzada — his replacement —looked a tier below him against Colorado. Calzada earned a 56.1 PFF grade and produced the seventh-worst negatively graded throw rate in the Power Five. The Aggies' defense was expected to be the backbone of the team's success entering the year, and that has proven correct. Texas A&M ranks third in the Power Five in expected points added allowed per pass.

10. NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (-1)

Week 2 Result: W vs Toledo (32-29)

It took Notre Dame a touchdown within the final two minutes of play to get by Toledo. As impressive as it was that quarterback Jack Coan dislocated his finger the play before that, he had a subpar day overall, resulting in a 61.1 passing grade. The offense couldn’t find its groove, failing to generate positive expected points added per play. It marked just the second time in the PFF College era where the Irish did so against a non-Power Five opponent.

Next week’s contest against Purdue has all the makings of a trap game. Not only do the Irish face a six-week span where they face Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, USC and North Carolina after the fact, but the Boilermakers have an under-the-radar offense. Notre Dame is clearly the more talented team — hence the No. 10 ranking here — but it is skating on thin ice through two weeks.

11. OLE MISS REBELS (+2)

Week 2 Result: W vs Austin Peay (54-17)

Quarterback Matt Corral missed a few more throws than he should have at the intermediate level of the field against Austin Peay, but he still hit some impressive deep shots and earned a respectable 77.7 passing grade to keep his dark horse Heisman run alive.

Only Alabama has put together a more efficient passing offense than Ole Miss since Lane Kiffin’s arrival in 2020. Next week against Tulane will be a good matchup for Corral and company before they focus their attention on the Crimson Tide following their Week 4 bye.

12. FLORIDA GATORS (+1)

Week 2 Result: W at USF (42-20)

Starting quarterback Emory Jones has been an expected rushing threat and is making the right reads as a passer, but a concerning accuracy issue has popped up over his first two games. He could have a short leash moving forward, given the flashes from backup Anthony Richardson — a 2020 four-star recruit.

Richardson came in for four dropbacks against USF: one was a scramble where he broke two tackles and picked up 18 yards, while the other three resulted in perfectly placed passes downfield. That trio of big-time throws picked up 152 yards and two touchdowns. The backup quarterback also managed to take one of his three designed runs 80 yards to the house. But as noted by head coach Dan Mullen, Richardson has failed to make the right reads in the passing game.

13. COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS (+3)

Week 2 Result: W vs Kansas (49-22)

Another day brought another rout from Coastal Carolina and an elite grade for quarterback Grayson McCall. The Chanticleers finished top three among the 130 FBS programs in successful play rate on offense for the second consecutive week. Their easy schedule continues next week against Buffalo, which ranks 85th in PFF’s Power Rankings and is double-digit home underdogs in the contest.

14. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (+2)

Week 2 Result: W vs Middle Tennessee (35-14)

Virginia Tech got by Middle Tennessee comfortably despite quarterback Braxton Burmeister having a lackluster day as a passer (53.8 passing grade). The ground game carried the offense, producing the 14th-best successful run rate in the country. The bad news for the Hokies is that they lost tight end James Mitchell — their top pass-catcher — for the entire year due to a knee injury suffered in the win. Virginia Tech still has a well-rounded receiving unit without Mitchell, but losing a top-10 tight end nationally is a crushing blow.

15. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (+2)

Week 2 Result: W vs Georgia State (59-17)

Sam Howell looked like an elite quarterback against Georgia State — a performance that was notably missing in Week 1. He earned a 94.0 PFF grade in the Tar Heels' 42-point victory, anchored by five deep big-time throws. Howell completed four of six 20-plus-yard throws for 158 yards and a touchdown, with one of those incompletions being a drop. If that form of Howell is here to stay, then North Carolina can climb back closer to top-10 status.

16. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (+3)

Week 2 Result: W vs Ball State (44-13)

Penn State is fresh off a thrashing of Ball State, which saw Nittany Lions linebacker Jesse Luketa earn PFF Defensive Player of the Week honors. Between him, safety Jaquan Brisker and edge defender Arnold Ebiketie, this Penn State defense has been in top-tier shape through two weeks. The unit is best in coverage, ranking tied for third among FBS teams in PFF grade in that facet.

17. NEVADA WOLF PACK (+1)

Week 2 Result: W vs Idaho State (49-10)

Nevada got a nice breather against Idaho State in Week 2 before its schedule picks up. The Wolf Pack now have to face off against Kansas State and Boise State in their next two outings. Quarterback Carson Strong has been executing this Air Raid attack at a high level, and Nevada currently ranks 15th in the FBS in per-play passing efficiency. The scary part is that Strong and wide receiver duo Romeo Doubs and Elijah Cooks are still a ways away from their respective ceilings.

18. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (NR)

Week 2 Result: W vs Washington (31-10)

Washington’s offense looked anemic in the team's Week 1 loss to Montana, whereas Michigan’s defense looked strong. And the Wolverines had the second-highest-graded defensive unit in Week 2 among teams that played a Power Five offense. Michigan's passing offense was virtually nonexistent, but it didn’t matter thanks to the team's rushing attack. The duo of Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum led the Wolverines to 0.25 expected points added per running back carry. They still have a lot more to prove before we can start talking about them hanging with the Buckeyes, but it was a promising start.

19. MIAMI HURRICANES (-7)

Week 2 Result: W vs Appalachian State (25-23)

Miami generated -0.1 expected points added per pass play against Appalachian State, making the game a lot closer than it should have been. That doesn’t mean quarterback D’Eriq King underwhelmed, though. His supporting cast dropped four passes and missed another catchable ball against the Mountaineers. Overall, King finished with an elite 91.1 passing grade. The start of the Hurricanes' season has been less than ideal, but they can bounce back this weekend against Michigan State.

20. KENTUCKY WILDCATS (NR)

Week 2 Result: W vs Missouri (35-28)

While quarterback Will Levis made a couple of big-time throws in Kentucky’s touchdown victory over Mizzou, the Wildcats can thank their run game for the brunt of their offensive success. The offensive line did its part by giving the backfield 3.6 yards before contact per attempt. And the ball-carriers took advantage of the lanes by busting off 10 runs of 10-plus yards and producing a successful run on 54% of their attempts — the third-best rate by a team against a Power Five defense in Week 2. This new pro-style offense is humming a lot sooner than expected in Lexington.

21. BYU COUGARS (NR)

Week 2 Result: W vs Utah (26-17)

BYU beat Utah in the Holy War as outright underdogs and for the first time since 2009. The Cougars, who will be a Big 12 team in 2023, have now beaten two Power Five opponents this season and have their shot at making it three this Saturday against Arizona State. The passing offense has been rolling, generating 0.26 expected points added per pass through two games. That’s not to say quarterback Jaren Hall can’t improve some, as his PFF grade from a clean pocket is over 16 points lower than on pressured plays.

22. UCF KNIGHTS (+1)

Week 2 Result: W vs Bethune-Cookman (63-14)

Quarterback Dillon Gabriel bounced back against Bethune-Cookman in Week 2 — as he should have — by earning a 91.2 PFF grade. That was over 34 grading points higher than his mark from a volatile, come-from-behind night in Week 1 against Boise State.

23. AUBURN TIGERS (+1)

Week 2 Result: W vs Alabama State (62-0)

Auburn is still a bit of a wild card considering it's played only Akron and Alabama State in 2021. Quarterback Bo Nix did play well the first week against the Zips, but he fared poorly against the Hornets. He earned a 58.5 PFF grade in Week 2. The world will find out what kind of team Auburn truly is this weekend when it takes on Penn State.

24. MARYLAND TERRAPINS (+1)

Week 2 Result: W vs Howard (62-0)

Maryland took care of business against Howard after a quality Week 1 win over West Virginia. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa now has a 90.3 PFF grade in 2021 that features five big-time throws and zero zero turnover-worthy plays across 69 dropbacks. For reference, he had five big-time throws and nine turnover-worthy plays in four games last season. His decision-making is night and day compared to last year, and Maryland's offense is sneaky good as a result.

25. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (NR)

Week 2 Result: W vs Illinois (42-14)

Brennan Armstrong is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country. One wouldn’t expect him to be an elite passer after watching his wonky mechanics, but it works for him. He owns a 94.9 PFF grade through two weeks in 2021, albeit against Illinois and William & Mary of the FCS. This isn’t much different from the level he was at in 2020 when he earned a 90.3 PFF grade. Next week will be a major test for Armstrong and company as they travel to Chapel Hill to take on Sam Howell and North Carolina in what is likely to be a high-scoring affair.

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