- Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Miami are all making serious pushes to go from the fringe of college football's elite to the center of the fray. But should we buy in?
None of the top five teams in this space a week ago did anything in Week 8 to deserve a demotion, but a handful of teams elsewhere in the Power Rankings that are staking their claim to be among college football’s elite and threaten to push into the playoffs.
Notre Dame, Miami and Wisconsin have a combined one loss and just as many quality victories. Let’s take a closer look.
Notre Dame: Saturday’s blowout win against USC opened some eyes, but they still have work to do with games remaining against NC State, Miami and Stanford. Win out from here, and the Irish should have a chance to win the program's first title in nearly three decades.
Wisconsin: Does anyone really think that the Badgers are a top-five team right now? Maybe they do in Madison, but Wisconsin’s schedule says otherwise. Victories against the Big Ten West’s bottom feeders won’t convince anyone. Nevertheless, if the Badgers continue to win, there won’t be much argument against a playoff spot, as whoever emerges from the Big Ten will easily earn one.
Miami: Let’s be realistic: This is not The U of old, despite the 6–0 record. The Hurricanes keep finding improbable ways to win, and it will be a shock if they get through November unscathed. Miami has won its last three games by a combined 13 points.
Now on to this week’s Top 25:
1. Alabama (8–0, 5–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Tennessee, 45–7
Next week: Off; next game Nov. 4 vs. LSU
Alabama’s thorough beatdown of Tennessee was its 11th straight victory in the rivalry. The Vols were outgained by almost 500 yards, and the Tide’s backups—themselves four- and five-star recruits—were still dominating in garbage time.
2. Penn State (7–0, 4–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 2
Last week: Beat Michigan, 42–13
Next week: at Ohio State
Step one of Penn State’s three-part gantlet on the way to a second straight Big Ten East title was completed with a surprisingly easy victory over Michigan. Trace McSorley threw for 282 yards and a touchdown and had three more scores on the ground. Saquon Barkley’s Heisman campaign continues to chug forward after he garnered 108 rushing yards and a spectacular 42-yard touchdown grab from McSorley. Next up for Penn State is a visit to the Horseshoe for a game that will have huge playoff implications.
3. Georgia (7–0, 4–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
Florida has won three straight over Georgia, but will come into this year’s game as heavy underdogs. The have possess a suffocating defense and an equally potent running game. Florida’s offense will need to score early and often (both rarities so far this season) and take advantage of the Bulldogs’ questionable secondary to have any chance at the upset.
4. Ohio State (6–1, 4–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Penn State
J.T. Barrett has been lighting up the Big Ten this season, and if he continues the trend, he could find himself right back in the Heisman conversation. Barrett has an absurd 21 touchdowns and only one interception on the year, and that lone pick came in the only blemish on the Buckeyes’ record, Week 2’s nationally televised loss to Oklahoma.
5. TCU (7–0, 4-0 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Kansas, 43–0
Next game: at Iowa State
Four first downs, a conference record-low 21 total yards and negative-25 rushing yards: That was the extent of what TCU allowed Kansas’s offense on Saturday en route to the Jayhawks’ 44th-straight road loss, which ties an NCAA record. (The Jayhawks have not won a game away from Lawrence since Sept. 12, 2009.) Kenny Hill paced the Horned Frogs with 278 passing yards and five touchdowns, and the final damage wasn’t worse only because the fourth quarter featured a running clock due to approaching bad weather.
6. Wisconsin (7–0, 4–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Maryland, 38–13
Next week: at Illinois
The Badgers continue to roll past their overmatched competition. True freshman Jonathan Taylor reached the 1,000-yard mark in just his seventh game and Alex Hornibrook threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns to hand Maryland its third straight loss. Wisconsin’s tendency to turn the ball over and commit penalties that cost them scores could bite them later in the season.
7. Oklahoma (6–1, 3–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Kansas State, 42–35
Next week: vs. Texas Tech
Baker Mayfield continues to bail out Oklahoma when he’s needed most, this time rallying the Sooners from an 11-point halftime deficit. Mayfield threw for 410 yards and two touchdowns and added 69 yards and two scores with his legs as the Sooners, who have won 14 straight road games, racked up 619 yards of offense and figured out how to stop Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton just in time.
8. Clemson (6–1, 4–1 ACC)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Georgia Tech
A week off for the Tigers should have done them some good, as quarterback Kelly Bryant needed the time off to recover from an ankle injury and a concussion suffered in a loss to Syracuse. The defense could also use the time off to prepare for Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, which averages 362 yards a game on the ground.
9. Miami (FL) (6–0, 4–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Syracuse, 27–19
Next week: at North Carolina
Quietly, the Hurricanes have won 11 games in row dating back to last season. Malik Rosier had 344 yards and two touchdowns, and the Miami defense picked off Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey four times in the first half, but the game was still in doubt well into the fourth quarter. The Hurricanes held up well late against an Orange offense that ran 93 plays.
10. Oklahoma State (6–1, 3–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 10
Last week: Beat Texas, 13–10 OT
Next week: at West Virginia
The nation’s leader in total offense looked nothing like it on Saturday, as Texas held Oklahoma State to 183 yards below its season average. With the Longhorns threatening to steal a win in overtime, Sam Ehlinger’s ill-advised pass was picked off in the end zone by Ramon Richards, handing the Cowboys their fifth straight victory in Austin. Oklahoma State’s conference title hopes hinge on games against West Virginia and Oklahoma in the next two weeks.
11. Notre Dame (6–1)
Previous ranking: 17
This week: Beat USC, 49–14
Next game: vs. NC State
The Fighting Irish are now officially in the College Football Playoff conversation after an impressive victory over USC. The schedule also sets up the Irish with a few more quality win opportunities, including next week’s tilt against NC State and a visit to Miami on Nov. 11. Notre Dame took care of a sloppy USC team as Brandon Wimbush had four total touchdowns and Josh Adams had 191 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
12. Virginia Tech (6–1, 2–1 ACC)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat North Carolina, 59–7
Next week: vs. Duke
The Hokies made quick work of North Carolina, racing out to a 35–0 halftime lead as as Josh Jackson threw three touchdown passes in two-plus quarters of action. The Tar Heels helped out by giving the ball away three times, with each turnover leading to a Virginia Tech touchdown. The Hokies’ 52-point victory was their largest league win since joining the ACC in 2004.
13. South Florida (7–0, 4–0 AAC)
Previous ranking: 13
Last week: Beat Tulane, 34–28
Next week: vs. Houston
South Florida held off a furious comeback by Tulane to win its 12th straight contest. Quinton Flowers and Darius Tide led a rushing attack that gained 378 yards for USF, which has scored 30 or more points in 24 straight games. While some question the Bulls’ record—with good reason—they continue to beat the teams on their schedule and still have the expectations of an undefeated year heading into their anticipated end-of-season showdown with Central Florida.
14. Washington (6–1, 3–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: Off
Next week: vs. UCLA
The Huskies were left to lick their wounds last week after a lackluster offense performance against Arizona State that has their conference and national title hopes in peril. The defense, which leads the nation in yards per play allowed, has to carry the team if the offense continues its struggles.
15. NC State (6–1, 4–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Notre Dame
Is NC State for real? No one really knows, but the Wolfpack have a stud on each side of the ball (defensive end Bradley Chubb and all-purpose weapon Jaylen Samuels) that have propelled them to a nice record. The reality check is coming, with back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Clemson.
16. Stanford (5–2, 4–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 18
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Oregon State
Oregon State has no coach, no defense and no conference wins. Those three things spell doom for the Beavers against Bryce Love and Stanford. Even after a bye week, Love’s 1,387 rushing yards this season lead the nation. If he’s back to 100%, he could pile up big stats against Oregon State.
17. Central Florida (6–0, 4–0 AAC)
Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat Navy, 31–21
Next week: vs. Austin Peay
Central Florida did what it needed to do in a hard-fought victory at Navy to keep pace with South Florida in the AAC East. McKenzie Milton passed for 233 yards and a touchdown and Adrian Killins added 122 rushing yards and two touchdowns for UCF, which has won its first six games for the first time in school history. Just imagine what the Knights’ résumé could have looked like if that early-season game against Georgia Tech wasn’t cancelled.
18. Washington State (6–1, 3–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 19
This week: Beat Colorado, 28–0
Next week: at Arizona
Luke Falk threw for three touchdowns, but Washington State kept its offense on the ground for the most part in recording its second shutout of the season. The Cougars held the reigning Pac-12 South champions to 176 yards of offense and one third-down conversion in 17 attempts. The Cougars will need that defense against quarterback Khalil Tate and the running attack of Arizona; the Wildcats’ two losses have come by a combined nine points.
19. Auburn (5–2, 3–1 SEC)
Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat Arkansas, 52–20
Next week: Off; next game Nov. 4 at Texas A&M
Auburn cranked up its running game against Arkansas, gaining 7.3 yards per carry in an easy road win. Jarrett Stidham passed for 218 yards and also had a rushing touchdown, and Kamryn Pettway added three touchdowns as the Tigers racked up a season-high 629 yards of offense.
20. USC (6–2, 4–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Lost to Notre Dame, 49–14
Next week: at Arizona State
USC has 19 turnovers in eight games this season, and 16 of them have been committed by Sam Darnold. Notre Dame cashed in on each of the Trojans’ three giveaways in Saturday night’s rout. Things don’t get any easier for USC next as it visits Arizona State, which has beaten Pac-12 North contenders Washington and Utah in consecutive weeks.
21. Memphis (6–1, 3–1 AAC)
Previous ranking: 23
This week: Beat Houston, 42–38
Next week: vs. Tulane
Riley Ferguson’s 471 passing yards led Memphis back from a 17-point third-quarter deficit and kept the Tigers in the conversation for a New Year’s Six bowl for at least another week. Ferguson had one touchdown pass, leaving most of the scoring to Patrick Taylor, who had only 39 rushing yards but scored four times on the ground.
22. Michigan State (6–1, 4–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat Indiana, 17–9
Next week: at Northwestern
Michigan State keeps on winning, somehow, and the Spartans are in a three-way tie for first in the Big Ten East. Sparty didn’t do much on the offensive end, but held Indiana to 253 total yards and 95 yards rushing. L.J. Scott ran for 87 yards and a touchdown, and that 18-yard score all but sealed the deal and avenged last year’s loss to the Hoosiers.
23. LSU (6–2, 3–1 SEC)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Ole Miss, 40–24
Next week: Off; next game Nov. 4 at Alabama
Not sure what has gotten into LSU lately, but the Tigers find themselves right back in the SEC West race after an impressive victory against Ole Miss. The Tigers kept it simple on Saturday and just decided to run it down the Rebels’ throats to the tune of almost 400 yards. Derrius Guice had 22 carries for 276 yards, and Darrel Williams added 103 yards for LSU, which has won three straight heading into its annual matchup with Alabama.
24. Texas A&M (5–2, 3–1 SEC)
Previous ranking: 24
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Mississippi State
Texas A&M has rebounded nicely from a nightmarish start that had people calling for Kevin Sumlin’s job. With SEC West showdowns against Mississippi State and Auburn ahead, Sumlin still has work left to do to secure his future in College Station.
25. West Virginia (5–2, 3–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 22
This week: Beat Baylor, 38–36
Next week: vs. Oklahoma State
West Virginia nearly blew a 38–13 fourth quarter lead as Baylor scored the game’s final 23 points and almost took the game into overtime before a failed two-point conversion attempt. Will Grier threw five more touchdowns, including three to David Sills V, but the Mountaineers’ gun-slinging quarterback was held to 11 yards in the fourth quarter as Baylor got back in the game.
Out: Michigan. Maybe next week: Iowa State, Arizona.