• After three high-profile matchups and some surprising upsets in Week 5, two new teams crack the top five, including Washington, which pummeled Stanford 44–6.
By Mike Fiammetta
October 03, 2016

As promised, Week 5 of the 2016 college football season delivered. Clemson and Louisville presented a classic heavyweight bout in the nightcap after Wisconsin-Michigan provided the Big Ten fare that fans were waiting for (or, depending on their predilection, dreaded). Tennessee managed yet another comeback with a miraculous Hail Mary, North Carolina walked-off vs. Florida State and Washington thumped Stanford in a result few saw coming.

Throughout the top 25, a number of contests either extended pre-existing storylines or shook up widely held assumptions. Six teams departed the rankings, paving the way for a Week 6 full of captivating rivalry meetings and conference showcases. With playoff projections picking up meaning by the week, it’s time to start finding some separation in a top 10 that features a tremendous amount of ability and experience.

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Few programs could make the suspension of a star linebacker and the transfer of its opening-game starter feel so far in the past, but this is Alabama we’re talking about. Sure, the Crimson Tide played the first quarter vs. Kentucky to a 3–3 tie. By the end, the first-half suspension of Tim Williams and the transfer of quarterback Blake Barnett seemed long, long forgotten. Jalen Hurts tossed a pair of third-quarter touchdowns to Calvin Ridley (11 receptions for 174 yards) while freshman running back Joshua Jacobs posted his first hundred-yard game (16 carries, 100 yards, one touchdown).

Previous rank: 1
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat Kentucky 34-6
Next week: ​Saturday at Arkansas


J.T. Barrett set Ohio State’s career passing touchdown record as the Buckeyes greeted Chris Ash, their former defensive coordinator and Rutgers’s first-year head coach, quite rudely in Columbus. In the 58–0 win, Ohio State outgained the Scarlet Knights 669–116, prompting Ash to say afterward, “They smothered us.” Things should start getting more interesting for the Buckeyes, as Saturday’s matchup with Indiana is more appealing after the Hoosiers knocked off Michigan State and precedes a trip to Wisconsin.

Previous rank: 2
Record: 4-0
Last week: Beat Rutgers 58-0
Next week: Saturday vs. Indiana

3Clemson Tigers

College football’s latest Game of the Year candidate boosts the Tigers back into the top three. Including last year’s thrill ride of a campaign, is there a more battle-tested team in college football? Clemson isn’t perfect, having blown an 18-point lead to Louisville and surrendering 26 unanswered points, but the Tigers rode Deshaun Watson and a beaten-but-not-defeated defense to a potentially season-defining victory. Dabo Swinney’s squad might not face another ranked team this regular season (only Florida State is currently ranked among its remaining opponents), further cementing the Tigers’ return path to the playoff.

Previous rank: 6
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat Louisville 42-36
Next week: Friday at Boston College

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4Houston Cougars

What a difference a year makes. After UConn derailed Houston’s perfect 2015 season, Thursday’s rematch saw Greg Ward Jr. rack up five touchdowns in just more than three quarters of a 42–14 win. The Cougars should be heavily favored in every game until Louisville comes to town on Nov. 17. Sign us up for a Ward Jr.–Lamar Jackson showdown.

Previous rank: 4
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat UConn 42-14
Next week: Saturday at Navy

5Washington Huskies

As Washington stomped through non-conference play, it was easy to dismiss the Huskies with a “Wait until they play someone legitimate.” When they needed overtime to shake off Arizona in their Pac-12 opener, that question rang even louder. Friday night, Washington obliterated Stanford, putting many miles’ worth of distance between itself and any other contender in the conference. Aside from tracking the Huskies’ violent, fearless defense, it will be fascinating to see how much Heisman hype quarterback Jake Browning can gather.

Previous rank: 10
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat Stanford 44-6
Next week: Saturday at Oregon

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6Michigan Wolverines

Saturday’s win over Wisconsin was peak Harbaugh, a 14–7 Michigan win that had sportswriters scrambling to the thesaurus seeking synonyms for “gritty,” “grinding,” “ugly” and such. Truthfully, the Wolverines should have won by at least another touchdown or two, ruining a 349–159 yardage advantage by missing three field goals and failing to fully take advantage of three Badgers turnovers.

Previous rank: 7
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat Wisconsin 14-7
Next week: Saturday at Rutgers

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7Louisville Cardinals

A faster start could have made all the difference for Louisville, which scored Saturday night’s first points vs. Clemson at the start of the second quarter and entered halftime trailing 28–10. Behind Jackson’s brilliance, the Cardinals rallied with five unanswered scoring possessions to take a mid-fourth-quarter lead. It couldn’t last, potentially dooming Louisville’s hopes of an ACC title, but the Cardinals remain in the playoff picture and Jackson’s Heisman candidacy is bolstered by his 457-yard, three-touchdown effort.

Previous rank: 3
Record: 4-1
Last week: Lost to Clemson 42-36
Next week: Off

8Texas A&M Aggies

Texas A&M is 5–0 for the third consecutive season despite missing four injured starters vs. South Carolina. But things finally get real for the Aggies in the coming weeks: Tennessee and Alabama are up next, with the latter on the road.

Previous rank: 9
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat South Carolina 24-13
Next week: Saturday vs. Tennessee

9Tennessee volunteers

Tennessee could climb to No. 1 in these rankings and I still wouldn’t feel comfortable trusting the Vols to make things easy on themselves. The latest example was Saturday’s preposterous Hail Mary win vs. Georgia, which simultaneously confirmed that Tennessee has a lot to work on and asserted the Vols as the SEC East favorite. We’ll develop more concrete feelings about Tennessee over the next two weeks, as a trip to Texas A&M and a meeting with Alabama provide a fascinating opportunity to evaluate the Vols against elite competition.

Previous rank: 12
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat Georgia 34-31
Next week: Saturday at Texas A&M

College Football
Tennessee still flawed but closer to East title after stunning Georgia

Just as Michigan squandered the opportunity for a more comfortable win, Wisconsin hung around so long Saturday afternoon that it began to feel inevitable the Badgers would manage to at least pull ahead for a late lead. Alas, Alex Hornibrook was unable to move Wisconsin downfield against Michigan’s fierce pass rush or avoid chucking three interceptions. The Badgers’ offense remains a giant question mark, but their defense is good enough to keep them in any game—including against Ohio State after a bye week.

Previous rank: 5
Record: 4-1
Last week: Lost to Michigan 14-7
Next week: Off

11Nebraska Cornhuskers

Following Wisconsin’s loss and Nebraska’s (albeit partially sluggish) win vs. Illinois, the Cornhuskers seem next up as the next Big Ten team to try to take the country by surprise. Should Mike Riley’s squad get by Indiana and Purdue, it will finally get its shot vs. the Badgers and Buckeyes.

Previous rank: 13
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat Illinois 31-16
Next week: Off

12Miami Hurricanes

Miami took five weeks to play a Power 5 opponent, so it needed a good showing at Georgia Tech. A pair of defensive touchdowns helped make that happen, and now the Hurricanes get to enter their matchup with Florida State moving in the opposite direction of the Seminoles.

Previous rank: 15
Record: 4-0
Last week: Beat Georgia Tech 35-21
Next week: Saturday vs. Florida State

13Ole Miss Rebels

Have two straight comfortable wins carried Ole Miss beyond the nightmares of its early collapses vs. Florida State and Alabama? We’ll have to wait a week to get the answer, as the Rebels have a bye before traveling to Arkansas for a pivotal mid-October showdown.

Previous rank: 16
Record: 3-2
Last week: Beat Memphis 48-28
Next week: Off

14North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina returns to the rankings after a walk-off 54-yard field goal secured a road upset of Florida State. Only a nine-point, season-opening loss to Georgia dampens UNC’s season to date, and the next two weeks against Virginia Tech and Miami provide a tremendous opportunity for posturing in the ACC Coastal.

Previous rank: Not ranked
Record: 4-1
Last week: Beat Florida State 37-35
Next week: Saturday vs. Virginia Tech

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15Arkansas Razorbacks

Just how good is Arkansas? Alcorn State barely provided a tuneup before Saturday’s battle with Alabama, which is followed by meetings with Auburn, Florida and LSU. At least all but the Auburn game are in Fayetteville.

Previous rank: 19
Record: 4-1
Last week: Beat Alcorn State 52-10
Next week: Saturday vs. Alabama

16Baylor Bears

Baylor’s perfect record was heavily marred by needing a 17-point fourth quarter comeback to overcome 1–4 Iowa State on Saturday. Incredibly, the Bears still haven’t allowed a fourth-quarter point this season while scoring 45 of their own over five games. After a breezy non-conference slate, Baylor will have to buck the trend of diminishing margins of victory as it preps to gace Kansas, Texas and TCU before traveling to Oklahoma on Nov. 12.

Previous rank: 14
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat Iowa State 45-42
Next week: Off

17Stanford Cardinal

Suddenly, Stanford’s meeting with Washington State takes on utmost importance for the Cardinal. An utterly demoralizing showing against Washington recontextualized Stanford’s season, and now David Shaw’s squad needs a remarkable bounce-back effort before traveling to Notre Dame and hosting an upstart Colorado.

Previous rank: 8
Record: 3-1
Last week: Lost to Washington 44-6
Next week: Saturday vs. Washington State

18Florida Gators

A meager effort against Vanderbilt must have Florida eager to put on a strong showing against a now under-development LSU team. At least quarterback Luke Del Rio could return for the contest; the Gators were outgained by a Commodores attack that now ranks No. 123 in total offense. Coming on the heels of the crushing defeat to Tennessee, Jim McElwain’s team will take winning ugly and keeping pace in the SEC East.

Previous rank: 20
Record: 4-1
Last week: Beat Vanderbilt 13-6
Next week: Saturday vs. LSU

19Florida State Seminoles

How painful will the 2016 season get for Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles? Two weeks after the confounding beatdown at the hands of Louisville, Florida State fell to a last-second North Carolina field goal at home. The Noles still have to play Miami, Clemson and Florida while rumors of Fisher’s coaching future continue to swirl.

Previous rank: 11
Record: 3-2
Last week: Lost to North Carolina 37-35
Next week: Saturday at Miami

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20Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado has played well all season, legitimately testing Michigan in its only loss of the season. The Buffaloes now have multiple conference wins for the first time since 2011, and their first-ever win against USC—they’re 0–10 all time—could be next. Considering the Trojans’ struggles, Colorado’s emergence has made the Pac-12 South exceptionally intriguing.

Previous rank: Not ranked
Record: 4-1
Last week: Beat Oregon State 47-6
Next week: Saturday at USC

21Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma returned from a bye to get a win after being picked apart by Ohio State. The effort was still far from spectacular; rarely do you see a team surrender 21 points in the first quarter and 22 in the fourth with only three in between, and even rarer does the team win in those circumstances. In the vein of Florida accepting its lackluster win and moving forward, Oklahoma’s victory over TCU gets it off on the right foot in Big 12 play before the Red River Rivalry against Texas.

Previous rank: Not ranked
Record: 2-2
Last week: Beat TCU 52-46
Next week: Saturday vs. Texas (in Dallas)


Can Boise State play its way into a New Year’s Six bowl? It’ll have to continue taking care of business like it did vs. Utah State, converting eight of 16 third downs in an efficient showing powered by junior running back Jeremy McNichols (30 carries, 132 yards; six receptions, 73 yards, one touchdown).

Previous rank: 22
Record: 4-0
Last week: Beat Utah State 21-10
Next week: Friday at New Mexico

23West Virginia Mountaineers

West Virginia is 4–0 for the first time since 2012 after overcoming a late 13-point deficit vs. Kansas State. One of two remaining Big 12 unbeatens, the Mountaineers get a bye before regrouping for a trip to Texas Tech.

Previous rank: Not ranked
Record: 4-0
Last week: Beat Kansas State 17-16
Next week: Off

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24Western Michigan Broncos

P.J. Fleck’s magic continues to work as Western Michigan trounced rival Central Michigan to remain unbeaten and receive its first-ever national ranking (No. 25 in the coaches poll). The 5–0 start is the Broncos’ best since 1994, when the program also opened with five consecutive wins. Western Michigan’s hot start this season includes two road victories over Big Ten foes (Northwestern, Illinois) before beginning MAC play.

Previous rank: Not ranked
Record: 5-0
Last week: Beat Central Michigan 49-10
Next week: Saturday vs. Northern Illinois


UCLA’s loss to Stanford certainly doesn’t look any better after this weekend, but the Bruins rebounded with a solid showing vs. Arizona to remain in the Pac-12 South race. Four touchdowns (three passing) from Josh Rosen guided an improved effort by the offense after the Bruins managed just 13 points and 325 yards vs. the Cardinal a week ago.

Previous rank: Not ranked
Record: 3-2
Last week: Beat Arizona 45-24
Next week: Saturday at Arizona State

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