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  • One week into the season, it's hard to draw sweeping conclusions—but it's easy to see that several of the leading playoff contenders have the talent to beat anyone.
By Scooby Axson
September 05, 2018

The first week of the season doesn’t tell us much. Filling out the schedule around the marquee matchups are several glorified scrimmages and paycheck games that lower-tier schools use to fund their operations and Power 5 use to work out kinks before conference play starts. Even the big games are difficult to draw extreme conclusions from—even though that rarely stops fans and pundits from doing just that.

The SEC West was perhaps the most impressive out of the gate with early season statement victories by Alabama, Auburn and LSU, part of a 7–0 first week for the division. The Pac-12, on the other hand, will be holding its breath for the rest of the season as league favorite Washington tries to get back into playoff consideration after a loss to Auburn, unless one of the other top teams runs the table.

Now, let’s get to the rankings:

1. Alabama (1–0)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Louisville, 51–14
Next week: vs. Arkansas State

Nick Saban will continue to play two quarterbacks because he can. The Crimson Tide can afford to swap Tua Tagovailoa, who will start again on Saturday, and Jalen Hurts until they face a real challenge and have to make a choice in crunch time.

2. Clemson (1–0)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beats Furman, 48–7
Next week: at Texas A&M

Another team with questions at quarterback, as Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence each played five series on Saturday. Bryant led the Tigers to 17 points; Lawrence led Clemson to 31. In this case, two quarterbacks may be better than one, but many expect Lawrence to take full control by midseason.

3. Georgia (1–0)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Austin Peay, 45–0
Next week: at South Carolina

Georgia’s tune-up for its pivotal SEC opener went about as well as expected. A victory at South Carolina this week puts the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. At least it was worth it for Austin Peay, who earned half a million bucks for a 10-hour round trip. Another $3.2 million will be shelled out later this year for UMass and Middle Tennessee to come to Athens.

4. Ohio State (1–0)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Oregon State, 77–31
Next week: vs. Rutgers

Ohio State didn’t need suspended coach Urban Meyer ... at least for this week. Dwayne Haskins impressed, passing for 313 yards and five touchdowns, while the Buckeyes’ offense rolled up 721 yards over an outclassed Oregon State team, who might be fighting for the title of the Power 5’s worst team.

5. Wisconsin (1–0)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Western Kentucky, 34–3
Next week: vs. New Mexico

The Badgers could afford to start slow against the Hilltoppers, but once the offense got cranked up there was no turning back. An efficient game from quarterback Alex Hornibrook (257 yards, two TDs) and steady running from Jonathan Taylor, who had 18 carries for 145 yards in three quarters of action, was all Wisconsin needed to win its 40th straight non-conference game at home.

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6. Auburn (1–0)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Washington, 21–16
Next week: vs. Alabama State

The Tigers were sloppy (12 penalties) and their offensive line struggled against Washington’s talented defensive front, but they scored the best, if not the prettiest, win of the weekend. The defense stepped up big, allowing only three yards per rush and holding a high-powered Washington offense to under 400 total yards.

7. Oklahoma (1–0)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Florida Atlantic, 63–14
Next week: vs. UCLA

Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma offense made quick work of Lane Kiffin’s squad, racing out to a 42–0 halftime lead at the expense of an FAU defense that had 10 starters back from 2017’s Conference USA champion lineup. Oklahoma’s schedule, which was thought to be tough on paper, looks manageable well into October.

8. Notre Dame (1–0)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Michigan, 24–17
Next week: vs. Ball State

Notre Dame played one half of good football and managed to win. But scoring three points and gaining 79 yards of offense in the second half will get the Irish beat on most weekends. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush turned in a promising performance against the vaunted Michigan defense, throwing for 170 yards and adding 59 more on the ground.

9. Penn State: (1–0)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Appalachian State, 45–38 in OT
Next week: at Pittsburgh

The Lions lost a lot of starters from last year’s defense and it showed, as they gave up 451 yards and 38 points and needed every bit of magic from quarterback Trace McSorley just to get to overtime against Appalachian State.

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10. Washington (0–1)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Lost to Auburn, 21–16
Next week: vs. North Dakota

The Huskies can blame lackluster red zone offense if their loss to Auburn ultimately keeps them out of the playoff. An untimely fumble and a missed field goal robbed them of (at minimum) the six points that ended up being the difference.

11. Stanford (1–0)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat San Diego State, 31–10
Next week: vs. USC

San Diego State’s plan to stop Bryce Love, using eight and nine man fronts at times, worked to perfection. The Aztecs just forgot about the rest of the offense. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside abused the secondary all night, with three touchdowns on six catches to offset Love running for only 29 yards on 18 carries, a year after the Cardinal’s star running back torched the Aztecs for 184 yards.

12. Mississippi State (1–0)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Stephen F. Austin, 63–6
Next week: at Kansas State

With quarterback Nick Fitzgerald serving a suspension, first-year coach Joe Moorhead let his backup Keytaon Thompson loose and the sophomore delivered, throwing for 364 yards and five touchdowns (albeit on 13-of-31 efficiency) along with 109 rushing yards.

13.  Virginia Tech (1–0, 1–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 18
This week: Beat Florida State, 24–3
Next week: vs. William & Mary

The Hokies forced five turnovers, blocked a punt and had FSU playing catch up from virtually their own end zone all game to spoil Willie Taggart’s debut in Tallahassee. Virginia Tech’s offense was actually outgained by Florida State, and Bud Foster’s revered defense will need to continue to come up big if the running game, which averaged 2.8 yards per carry, can’t get moving going forward.

14. TCU (1–0)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat Southern, 55–7
Next week: at SMU

Shawn Robinson did well as the Horned Frogs’ new starting quarterback, throwing for 182 yards and three touchdowns while playing only the first half. TCU has 10 new starters on offense, and the rebuilt line did not allow a sack. The running game produced as well, putting up 235 yards.

15. Michigan (0–1)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Lost to Notre Dame, 24–17
Next week: vs. Western Michigan

Michigan edge rusher Chase Winovich said he was confused by how exactly the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame in a postgame press conference. Here’s how: The quarterback play was just as lackluster as last year, and Shea Patterson did not help Michigan’s ongoing search for big plays. Jim Harbaugh’s team should be just fine because of that stout defense, but there are bugs to be worked out on offense.

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16. Michigan State (1–0)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Utah State, 38–31
Next week: at Arizona State

Utah State gave the Spartans all they could handle despite a non-existent ground game—the Aggies finished with 25 rushing yards. Michigan State, which had problems in the red zone and trouble of its own running the ball, showed nothing that would make you believe they are a top-three Big Ten East team, having been pushed to the brink by a team predicted to finish fourth in its division of the Mountain West.

17. USC (1–0)

Previous ranking: 19
This week: Beat UNLV, 43–21
Next week: at Stanford

The Trojans got off to a slow start and had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns in many cases, but true freshman JT Daniels looks like the answer at quarterback. UNLV racked up 308 yards on the ground, and so with Bryce Love and Stanford coming up, the USC front seven needs to get shored up in a hurry.

18. LSU (1–0)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Miami, 33–17
Next week: vs. Southeastern Louisiana

Ed Orgeron’s seat cooled considerably on opening weekend—we’ll see if that changes when the Tigers head to Auburn on Sept. 15. It remains to be seen how much of Sunday night’s performance represented real improvement from LSU, which only scored two offensive touchdowns, and how much was a Miami self-destruction. Quarterback Joe Burrow managed the game as expected, throwing for only 140 yards, and was aided by Nick Brossette’s 125-yard, two score effort on the ground.

19. West Virginia (1–0)

Previous ranking: 23
This week: Beat Tennessee, 40–14
Next week: vs. Youngstown State

Quarterback Will Grier lit up Tennessee for a career-high 429 yards and five touchdowns in a weather-delayed romp in Charlotte. The defense has tackling issues and suspect secondary play to address, but the Mountaineers showed they have what it takes to challenge Oklahoma in the Big 12.

20. UCF (1–0, 1–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat UConn, 56­–17
Next week: vs. South Carolina State

The Knights began “defense” of their “national title” with an impressive victory over wannabe rival UConn. McKenzie Milton will continue to keep his name in the Heisman conversation as long as he put up stats like this: 24-of-32, 346 yards, five touchdowns. Josh Heupel’s up-tempo offense paid quick dividends as each of UCF’s eight scoring drives took less than three minutes.

21. Oklahoma State (1–0)

Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat Missouri State, 58–17
Next week: vs. South Alabama

Mason Rudolph’s replacement Taylor Cornelius threw for five touchdowns in his first start since high school as part of a 732-yard offensive onslaught, as Oklahoma State won its 23rd straight home opener. A tougher non-conference visitor arrives in Stillwater later this month but sits immediately below the Cowboys in the Power Rankings for now.

22. Boise State (1–0)

Previous ranking: 22
This week: Beat Troy, 56–20
Next week: vs. UConn

The Broncos passed their first road test in what’s expected to be a run at a New Year’s Six bowl, putting their new turnover throne to good use by picking off three Troy passes and recovering a fumble. Quarterback Brett Rypien went over the 10,000-yard mark for his career with 305 yards and four touchdowns.

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23. Miami (FL) (0–1)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Lost to LSU, 33–17
Next week: vs. Savannah State

If Miami’s offense can’t move the ball, it will be a long season in Coral Gables. The turnover chain sat unused on Sunday in Arlington, and the defense may be pressured to turn those miscues into points because the Hurricanes, who have lost four straight, seem to have a hard time scoring otherwise.

24. South Carolina (1–0)

Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat Coastal Carolina, 49–15
Next week: vs. Georgia

It was touchdown by committee for South Carolina, as six different players reach the end zone on Saturday. The Gamecocks will need to cut down on penalties (they were flagged nine times after having only 62 last season) and have their other players match Deebo Samuel’s level when Georgia visits Columbia this weekend.

25. Oregon (1–0)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat, Bowling Green 58–24
Next week: vs. Portland State

Quarterback Justin Herbert completed only 10 passes against Bowling Green (several wide-open receivers had trouble hanging onto the ball), but five of those completions went for touchdowns. Herbert also rushed for 41 yards and a score in what was all-around a solid regular-season debut for head coach Mario Cristobal.

By conference: SEC (6), Big Ten (5), Big 12 (4), Pac-12 (4), ACC (3), Independent (1), AAC (1), Mountain West (1).

Dropped out: Florida State, Texas.

Maybe next week: Northwestern, Houston, Texas A&M, Florida, Arizona State.

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