Fornelli 50 rankings: Why a three-loss USC has climbed into the top 10
Where we rank teams based on nothing but how they've performed in 2016
There aren't nearly as many changes in this weeks' rankings as there were last week, but we do see some movement.
Obviously, Louisville takes a tumble following its loss to Houston, but even though it's no longer in the top five, the formula still respects it enough to keep it from falling too far. Though the Cardinals do fall far enough to cause Clemson fans to stop yelling at me about being ranked behind a team they beat.
Of course, that won't stop Clemson fans from yelling at me about the Tigers being ranked behind Western Michigan, so I won't escape their rage completely.
Elsewhere we see big jumps in the rankings from teams like USC, Houston, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Navy, as each climbed five spots higher. And in another amazing coincidence, I write about all five of them!
Before we get to that, a quick reminder as to how these rankings work.
1. My opinion has absolutely nothing to do with the rankings. They are based on a mathematical formula of my creation. So keep this in mind before you call me an idiot, which I know you will.
2. There is true equality to start. The math doesn't play favorites. Before the season begins, defending national champion Alabama is just as good as our defending Bottom 25 champion Central Florida. The only factor that matters in the rankings is how you've performed on the field in 2016.
3. Wins and losses mean more than anything. I have a lot of different statistics involved, and I factor in strength of schedule, but at the end of the day whether you won or lost is going to mean more than anything else. Also, just because it's too difficult for me to rank FCS teams as well, my formula doesn't have much respect for FCS schools. If you beat one it won't mean much, and if you lose to one, well, you might show up in The Bottom 25.
4. The formula is in no way predictive. It is based on nothing but what has occurred in the season to this point in time. Just because a team is currently ranked No. 15 does not mean it's better or that it's going to beat a team ranked No. 35. It just means that, to this point, it has been the 15th-best team in the country. Think of it as a meritocracy in its purest form. The math plays no favorites. I put this here every week, but my inbox and Twitter mentions make it pretty clear you don't read it.
5. I won't share the formula. I just don't want to. I'm not a mathematician. I know my formula isn't perfect. I don't think a perfect formula can exist, so I don't share it because I don't care what anybody thinks. So don't ask. Just know that, even if you don't agree with it right now, at the end of the season, it has been startlingly accurate.
Let's get to rankin'.
1. Alabama 11-0 (Last week: 1)
2. Ohio State 10-1 (3)
3. Michigan 10-1 (4)
4. Washington 10-1 (5)
5. Western Michigan 11-0 (6)
6. Clemson 10-1 (7)
7. Louisville 9-2 (2)
8. Boise State 10-1 (9)
9. Penn State 9-2 (12)
10. USC 8-3 (15): Before I get into what I'm going to say about USC -- and Oklahoma -- let's get one thing clear: there is no team in the country that I would want to play less than Alabama. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Alabama is the best team in the country, and the gap between it and everybody else is quite large.
So what I'm about to say is something you should think about in a world in which we pretend Alabama doesn't exist. Deal?
OK, it's somewhat funny right now that the two teams that are perhaps playing better than any other teams in the country right now are USC and Oklahoma, and both of them are currently long shots to reach the College Football Playoff.
This is evident in USC's spot in these rankings. I must reiterate that while my formula takes a lot of different things into consideration before spitting out the results, there is nothing weighted heavier than wins and losses. Yet, despite that, a three-loss Trojans team cracks my top 10 ahead of 13 other two-loss teams. It's even ranked ahead of the Colorado team it currently trails in the Pac-12 South.
And the reason for this is the Trojans are simply playing fantastic football lately. They're living up to their talent level for the first time in a while, and while I think guys like Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones and Adoree Jackson deserve credit for that, we can't forget about Clay Helton
I was very skeptical about the decision to retain Helton last winter, and he's making me look pretty damn stupid these days.
This team has won seven straight, winning by an average of 20 points per game, and with wins over Colorado and Washington in the process. Now the Trojans are one Colorado loss against Utah away from playing for a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth.
It's been a remarkable turnaround.
11. San Diego State 9-2 (8)
12. Wisconsin 9-2 (13)
13. Colorado 9-2 (16)
14. Oklahoma 9-2 (14)
15. Auburn 8-3 (17)
16. Nebraska 9-2 (20)
17. Houston 9-2 (23): Let me pose a simple question to you. Aside from Nick Saban, who just never loses anymore, is there a better big game coach in the country than Tom Herman right now? Seriously, I don't know how much longer he's going to be at Houston -- and I mean that, because I'm not entirely convinced he's going to leave -- but last Thursday should have been a reminder as to why Herman is so sought after by blue chip programs.
The dude just wins the big games.
In his second game at Houston, he went on the road and beat Louisville 34-31. Over the rest of 2015, the Cougars would play three ranked opponents, and Houston would beat all three, finishing with a bang by beating Florida State 38-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to end the season.
That launched Houston into the 2016 season with high expectations. Expectations they lived up to early by beating Oklahoma to open the season. Then, just when the world is starting to wonder if Herman's star has "cooled off" following a couple of unexpected losses to Navy and SMU, his team comes out and plays the best game of its season against Louisville on Thursday night, just obliterating the Cardinals.
Now, there are two sides to the big-game coach coin. The good side is you win the big games, but the bad side is you sometimes lose games you shouldn't, which the Cougars have definitely done (I'm talking SMU more than the Navy loss because there's nothing wrong with losing to Navy).
If he is on his way to Texas as so many people believe, I have no idea what to expect from the Longhorns in his first season there, but I know one thing: he'll probably beat Oklahoma.
18. Washington State 8-3 (11)
19. Florida 8-2 (18)
20. Oklahoma State 9-2 (25): If you listen to Mike Gundy talk about his team, you know what he insists his Cowboys are 10-1, not 9-2. The reason he does this is because, according to the rules, Oklahoma State's loss to Central Michigan shouldn't have happened. The referees gave Central Michigan an extra play it should have had, and the Chippewas performed a miracle on that play.
I get why Gundy feels that way, though I tend to be on the "don't put yourself in position to lose that game you should have easily won, and it doesn't happen" side of things.
Personal feelings aside, however, I decided to alter history this week. I made some adjustments to the rankings as if that final play never happened, and Oklahoma State beat Central Michigan 27-24. I did this just because I wanted to see how it would affect Oklahoma State's spot in these rankings.
As you'd expect, it makes a pretty significant difference.
With the loss, Oklahoma State is ranked No. 20. In a world where Oklahoma State won that game, it's ranked No. 15, a full five spots higher.
Of course, I'm sure an Oklahoma State team that was ranked No. 11 by the College Football Playoff last week would much rather know where the CFP would have it under the same premise.
Had that loss never happened, the season finale against Oklahoma may have been for a playoff berth.
21. West Virginia 8-2 (10)
22. Toledo 9-2 (24)
23. Appalachian State 8-3 (32)
24. Western Kentucky 8-3 (21)
25. Texas A&M 8-3 (27)
26. Florida State 8-3 (34)
27. Louisiana Tech 8-3 (22)
28. South Florida 9-2 (26)
29. Temple 8-3 (33)
30. Virginia Tech 8-3 (29)
31. Minnesota 8-3 (36): I'd like to share an email I received from a Minnesota fan last week before the Gophers beat Northwestern this weekend.
Is it strange to want Minnesota to fire Tracy Claeys even though the Gophers are 7-3 and about to be 8-3? I already know we're going to beat Northwestern because Northwestern isn't a good team, and we beat any team that isn't good. And that's the problem with Claeys. He's a bumslayer, and being a bumslayer puts a permanent ceiling on how good this program can be under him.
I want to dream bigger. I want PJ Fleck. Do you think Minnesota could get PJ Fleck?
Well, first of all, if Minnesota beats bad teams why didn't it beat Iowa?
Second of all, no, I don't think it's strange to want somebody other than Claeys. I do think it'd be really strange to fire a guy after he wins anywhere between eight and 10 games, but I can at least see where you're coming from. It's hard to imagine Claeys being the guy that turns Minnesota into a Big Ten power. He's more a coach that's going to ensure Minnesota's a solid program.
As for whether Minnesota could get Fleck, maybe? I don't know, it's hard to say what Fleck is really looking for. If he wants a Big Ten job, then of course Minnesota has a chance. It's only competition would be Purdue, and I think Minnesota is more attractive than Purdue. Having said that, Purdue is a lot closer to where Fleck is from (Illinois) and where he has coached (Michigan). It's central location there could help him in recruiting the area, so while I think Minnesota is more attractive to Purdue, that doesn't mean Fleck would.
The problem is that bigger jobs may come calling.
So I guess what I'm saying is that, unless P.J. Fleck has already told you he wants to be the next coach at Minnesota, and is just having his lawyer look at the contract, I wouldn't fire Tracy Claeys.
32. Stanford 8-3 (35)
33. LSU 6-4 (30)
34. Troy 8-2 (19)
35. North Carolina 8-3 (31)
36. Miami 7-4 (37)
37. Tennessee 8-3 (43)
38. Tulsa 8-3 (38)
39. Navy 8-2 (44): It seems like every week when these rankings are published, there's at least one fan base that gets really angry about them. Last week, it was Navy fans.
Navy fans couldn't understand how a two-loss team could be ranked No. 44, and behind two teams that it beat in both Tulsa and Houston. Well, that's not going to change this week, because even though Navy climbed up to No. 39, it's still behind both Tulsa and Houston.
So let me explain, or at least try to.
Yes, wins and losses mean more than anything, but it's important to realize that head-to-head results aren't going to ultimately decide anything here. These rankings are a compilation of everything that has happened to this point in the season, and that win over Tulsa or that win over Houston are just a couple of data points that are considered.
What absolutely kills Navy in my rankings is its defense. Long story short, it has not been good. Navy allows 30 points per game, which isn't good, but even that figure is somewhat masked by the fact that Navy's defense isn't on the field as often because its offense is designed to chew more clock than cows chew grass. On a per play defense, Navy is much worse as it allows 6.61 yards per play and 0.476 points per play this season. Those two numbers respectively rank 119th and 101st nationally.
Then there's Navy's third-down defense, which has allowed opponents to convert on 51.05 percent of its third downs. The only teams doing worse on third down are Arizona and Nevada. The red zone hasn't been much better, as opponents have scored on 26 of their 28 red zone possessions against Navy. That has Navy tied with TCU for 121st in the country.
These are just some of the things that factor into Navy's overall ranking, and with its defensive numbers not just being bad, but really bad, it drags them down further than their record alone warrants. If this team simply just put up average defensive numbers it would be in the top 25 right now, if not the top 20.
40. Utah 8-3 (28)
41. Iowa 7-4 (45)
42. Air Force 8-3 (41)
43. Memphis 7-4 (50)
44. Old Dominion 8-3 (46)
45. Georgia Tech 7-4 (Not Ranked)
46. Pitt 7-4 (NR)
47. Wyoming 8-3 (NR)
48. TCU 5-5 (39)
49. Ohio 7-4 (42)
50. BYU 7-4 (NR)
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