Week 4 brought losses for five teams that made last week’s Power Rankings, throwing some previously held assumptions into doubt and making the argument that some overlooked or underappreciated squads might be better than previously believed.
Michigan State, Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and LSU all met conference opponents determined to produce statement wins and only the Tigers’ loss was “close.” Yet that game, an 18–13 slog of win for Auburn in which only one touchdown was scored, was brutal enough to get Les Miles and Cam Cameron fired.
Consequently, four of the teams that knocked off those ranked squads—Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Tennessee—are this week’s big risers. Expect to see similar movement in the coming weeks as conference play heats up and presents more matchups in the vein of this weekend’s Stanford-Washington, Wisconsin-Michigan and Louisville-Clemson highlights.
11ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
A matchup with Nick Saban’s alma mater brought more of the same for Alabama. Just as they have against every opponent aside from Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide overpowered a team that had no business being on the same field, scoring three first-quarter touchdowns against Kent State on drives that took no longer than 2:51.
Previous rank: 1
Last week: Beat Kent State 48-0
Next week: Saturday vs. Kentucky
22OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Ohio State was idle following its 21-point win over Oklahoma, offering the Buckeyes an extra week to prepare for a pair of home contests against Rutgers and Indiana. Things will finally get interesting Oct. 15, when Urban Meyer’s squad heads to Wisconsin.
Previous rank: 2
Last week: Bye
Next week: Saturday vs. Rutgers
After tacking on seven touchdowns against Marshall, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has 25 scores on the season. As ESPN’s Andrea Adelson pointed out Saturday, that’s more than any FBS player through the first four games of a season since at least 2000. Jackson is on pace for 75 touchdowns, and he hasn’t even played a full game yet.
Previous rank: 3
Last week: Beat Marshall 59-28
Next week: Saturday at Clemson
Houston continued its romp through the American Athletic Conference with a 64–3 road win at Texas State, outgaining the Bobcats 563–142 in the process. The Cougars have a short week to prepare for UConn on Thursday, but that shouldn’t daunt Tom Herman’s squad too much at this point. It is worth remembering, though, that the Huskies were the one team to derail Houston’s bid for an undefeated season last year.
Previous rank: 4
Last week: Beat Texas State 64-3
Next week: Thursday vs. UConn
This is where the rankings get interesting, considering the number of unbeaten teams with impressive wins on their resumes. The Badgers boast victories over LSU and Michigan State, the latter on the road and by 24 points. Wisconsin’s rigorous schedule has been a popular talking point since the preseason, and though the Badgers survived their first major conference test, it’s also fair to say they’ve yet to face an offense led by a legitimately solid quarterback. Next up is Michigan’s Wilton Speight on the road before Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.
Previous rank: 11
Last week: Beat Michigan State 30-6
Next week: Saturday at Michigan
Don’t fault Clemson for cooling off in the second half vs. Georgia Tech. With a 23–0 halftime lead against the previously undefeated Yellow Jackets, the Tigers had clearly produced a dominant effort. Deshaun Watson threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns as Clemson outgained Georgia Tech 442–124, putting even more distance between a disappointing first two outings to open the season. Just in time to host Lamar Jackson and Louisville.
Previous rank: 6
Last week: Beat Georgia Tech 26-7
Next week: Saturday vs. Louisville
After the Wolverines rolled through the first quarter of the season at a 208–55 margin, it’s time to see what Michigan’s really made of. With all due respect to Penn State, Wisconsin should finally provide the measuring stick needed to fully evaluate Jim Harbaugh’s second outfit in Ann Arbor.
Previous rank: 7
Last week: Beat Penn State 49-10
Next week: Saturday vs. Wisconsin
Credit Stanford for taking possession with 1:58 remaining, down four at UCLA, and working a 10-play, 70-yard drive to pull out a pivotal road win. It wasn’t pretty, but this was an invaluable early-season test for quarterback Ryan Burns and the rest of the Cardinal offense on a night when Christian McCaffrey was largely contained. That experience should pay dividends Friday on the road at Washington and throughout the season against a crowded Pac-12 field.
Previous rank: 5
Last week: Beat UCLA 22-13
Next week: Friday at Washington
99TEXAS A&M AGGIES
The Aggies finally have an athletic and skilled defense to pair with their explosive offensive, and both were on display against Arkansas. Texas A&M looks like the only challenger to Alabama in the SEC West, and the two are set for a colossal meeting in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 22—but only after A&M hosts a resurgent Tennessee.
Previous rank: 10
Last week: Beat Arkansas 45-24
Next week: Saturday at South Carolina
Like Stanford, its next opponent, Washington slogged through a tough late-night road contest to pick up yet another win. In their first true test of the season, the Huskies overcome their inability to contain Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins (346 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns) as well as two missed field goals to prevail in overtime.
Previous rank: 9
Last week: Beat Arizona 35-28 in overtime
Next week: Friday vs. Stanford
1111Florida State Seminoles
Florida State allowed an 84-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage against South Florida, a moment that likely prompted a sense of “Oh, here we go again” for Seminoles fans still recovering from their demolition by Louisville. By the end of the quarter, Florida State held a 28–14 lead and never really looked back. Dalvin Cook had his first stellar outing of the season, rushing for a career-high 267 yards and two touchdowns while adding 62 receiving yards. That should be enough to make the beatdown from the Cardinals firmly a thing of the past…right?
Previous rank: 12
Last week: Beat South Florida 55-35
Next week: Saturday vs. North Carolina
Snapping an 11-game losing streak to a hated rival is one thing, but doing so by reeling off 38 unanswered points gives Tennessee’s defeat of Florida the possibility of being truly season-defining. Once the Volunteers had their legs under them, Josh Dobbs was able to finally turn in a star performance, accounting for 414 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. Now Tennessee, widely considered one of the more unreliable teams in college football entering the weekend, is 4–0 with a trip to Georgia up next.
Previous rank: 16
Last week: Beat Florida 38-28
Next week: Saturday at Georgia
After a win over Oregon boosted them into these rankings, the Cornhuskers avoided a letdown on a trip to Northwestern. Two fumbles near the goal line were embarrassing, but Nebraska eventually settled down behind a strong showing from Tommy Armstrong Jr. Overshadowed by Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin in the Big Ten so far, Nebraska deserves credit for building on a strong finish to 2015 with an encouraging start to 2016.
Previous rank: 19
Last week: Beat Northwestern 24-13
Next week: Saturday vs. Illinois
One of the Big 12’s two unbeatens, Baylor is no longer overlooked in the conference race. A strong passing effort featuring 387 yards and four touchdowns from Seth Russell and a pair of hundred-yard, two-touchdown receivers in Ishmael Zamora and Chris Platt took care of Oklahoma State. With lowly Iowa State and Kansas up next, Baylor could remain undefeated entering its Oct. 29 trip to Texas.
Previous rank: 17
Last week: Beat Oklahoma State 35-24
Next week: Saturday at Iowa State
Miami was off this weekend and begins ACC play with a trip to Georgia Tech on Saturday. A win there would set up a captivating matchup with Florida State a week later.
Previous rank: 15
Last week: Bye
Next week: Saturday at Georgia Tech
1616Ole Miss Rebels
The first of two teams with multiple losses in these rankings, Ole Miss followed its gut-wrenching collapse to Alabama with a thorough drubbing of Georgia. Not even the Rebels could blow a 45-point lead, as Chad Kelly cruised and the defense shut down the Bulldogs. Alabama and Texas A&M remain the class of the SEC West, but Ole Miss could be next in the pecking order.
Previous rank: 25
Last week: Beat Georgia 45-14
Next week: Saturday vs. Memphis
1717Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State tumbles in the rankings after a pitiful showing on offense against Wisconsin. Sure, the Badgers have a top-10 defense by a number of metrics, but Tyler O’Connor failed to keep the Spartans competitive by throwing three interceptions and failing to get them into the end zone. Perhaps a return to earth was inevitable after beating Notre Dame, but you have to trust Mark Dantonio to get much more out of this team approaching the heart of Big Ten play.
Previous rank: 8
Last week: Lost to Wisconsin 30-6
Next week: Saturday at Indiana
Utah remained cool vs. USC, overcoming a 14-point, third-quarter deficit to start 4–0 for the second consecutive season. All three of the Utes’ wins against FBS foes have come against teams that are now 1–3, but the competition stiffens with a trip to Cal, a meeting with Arizona and a pair of road games at Oregon State and UCLA.
Previous rank: 23
Last week: Beat USC 31-27
Next week: Saturday at California
Despite the lopsided final score, Arkansas had its chances against Texas A&M. Three lost fumbles and an Aggies goal-line stand ruined the Razorbacks despite a valiant effort from Austin Allen, who managed to pass for 371 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions despite a steady battering from Texas A&M’s defense that briefly forced him from the game with a bruised chest muscle. Still, it’s not the worst way to pick up your first loss of the season—as long as Saturday vs. Alcorn State provides the necessary tuneup before hosting Alabama the following weekend.
Previous rank: 14
Last week: Lost to Texas A&M 45-24
Next week: Saturday vs. Alcorn State
Losing its winning streak over Tennessee after a week of ill-advised trash talk has Florida undeniably sour. Getting quarterback Luke Del Rio back over the next few weeks will help, but the defense needs some immediate improvement after blowing a 21–0 lead. Fortunately for Jim McElwain’s group, its next ranked opponent doesn’t come until Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party the last weekend of the month.
Previous rank: 18
Last week: Lost to Tennessee 38-28
Next week: Saturday at Vanderbilt
2121San Diego State Aztecs
A bye week kept the Aztecs overlooked in the broader college football picture, but make sure you’re paying attention to Donnel Pumphrey. He’s an early Heisman Trophy candidate averaging 8.2 yards per carry with 599 rushing yards and seven touchdowns through San Diego State’s first three games.
Previous rank: 22
Last week: Bye
Next week: Saturday at South Alabama
2222bOISE sTATE BRONCOS
Boise State is 3–0 for the first time since 2011 after beating two consecutive Pac-12 opponents. The Broncos were sloppy in the second half against Oregon State, but a sterling first half was enough to drum up excitement about Bryan Harsin’s squad, which has a friendly schedule upcoming.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Last week: Beat Oregon State 38-24
Next week: Saturday vs. Utah State
Charlie Strong had a bye week to address the Longhorns’ defense, which allowed 50 points and 507 yards to Cal in its first loss of the season. A trip to Oklahoma State is up next, which means the defense better have made some progress—the Cowboys have averaged 39.3 points through four games (36th in the country).
Previous rank: 20
Last week: Bye
Next week: Saturday at Oklahoma State
2424TCU Horned Frogs
TCU continues to improve after a rocky start (allowing 41 points in a win over South Dakota State, losing to Arkansas in double overtime). Kenny Hill’s 452 yards and two touchdowns against Southern Methodist look nice, but the Horned Frogs have work to do, beginning with a still-hungry Oklahoma this weekend.
Previous rank: 24
Last week: Beat SMU 33-3
Next week: Saturday vs. Oklahoma
2525Arizona State Sun Devils
Let’s go out on a limb and welcome in the Sun Devils to the top 25 for the first time this season. They’re 4–0…with college football’s 104th-ranked scoring defense and 120th-ranked total defense. At least they remain unbeaten, as opposed to the likes of LSU, Georgia, Oklahoma, etc.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Last week: Beat California 51-41
Next week: Saturday at USC
Dropped out: LSU, Georgia
Next five: Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, North Dakota State, West Virginia