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  • After a chaotic weekend, one thing we know for certain is that Clemson is the class of the ACC, even after giving the keys to a true freshman QB. Here's how the 25 toughest teams in the nation stack up through four weeks.
By Scooby Axson
September 24, 2018

The Atlantic Coast Conference was thought to be a three-team race during the preseason, with Clemson ultimately expected to find a way to emerge atop the heap and compete for another College Football Playoff berth.

It’s not even October yet and the results are in: Barring a complete and utter meltdown over the next eight weeks, the ACC race is hereby declared over. Virginia Tech was riding high after beating Florida State on the road during opening weekend. The Seminoles have since been exposed as one of the year’s biggest disappointments.

Then on Saturday, the Hokies came out flat in a stunning loss to previously winless Old Dominion, punctuated by an injury to starting quarterback Josh Jackson and the dismissal of top edge rusher Trevon Hill. The Monarchs, who scored a total of 55 points in losses to Liberty, FIU and Charlotte, shredded the Virginia Tech defense for 49 points and 632 yards while coming into the game as four-touchdown underdogs. Elsewhere in the league, Boston College was blown out by Purdue and Wake Forest had no answer for Notre Dame.

After the Big Ten’s dismal Week 3, it was time for ACC to take its lumps. But Clemson, at least, has looked the part, and with this week’s elevation of true freshman Trevor Lawrence to the starting quarterback job, the Tigers are finally riding with their most talented arm as the ACC schedule picks up.

Now, let’s get to the rankings:

1. Alabama (4–0, 2–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Texas A&M, 45–23
Next week: vs. Louisiana

Well, Alabama only won by 22 points. But here is the honest truth: Nobody is beating the Crimson Tide ... at least until conference championship week.

2. Georgia (4–0, 2–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Missouri, 43–29
Next week: vs. Tennessee

The Bulldogs needed all three phases to overcome a sloppy start against Missouri, getting three touchdowns from Jake Fromm, scoring on a fumble return and blocking a kick for another score. Georgia’s offense got cranked up in the second half, gaining almost 300 yards after being held to 148 in the first half.

3. Clemson (4–0, 1–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Georgia Tech, 49–21
Next week: vs. Syracuse

While he’s not the threat to run that incumbent starter Bryant is, freshman Lawrence did more than enough to earn the starting nod over the first four weeks. Lawrence went 13-of-18 for 176 yards and four touchdowns against the Jackets; Bryant went 6-of-10 for 56 yards. Dabo Swinney’s decision just raised the Tigers’ offensive ceiling.

4. Ohio State (4–0, 1–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Tulane, 49–6
Next week: at Penn State

5. Penn State: (4–0, 1–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Illinois, 63–24
Next week: vs. Ohio State

Illinois had a glimmer of hope on Friday night, even taking a 24–21 lead early in the third. But the Nittany Lions closed the door quickly, scoring 42 unanswered points in the second half. Trace McSorley threw a TD pass in his 32nd straight game, and Miles Sanders ran for a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns. Penn State will need every one of those yards and points when Ohio State comes to town in Week 5.

6. Notre Dame (4–0)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Wake Forest, 56–28
Next week: vs. Stanford

A change at quarterback might have been what the Irish needed to become a legitimate playoff contender. Ian Book started over Brandon Wimbush, who didn’t play despite coach Brian Kelly saying he would use both players, and threw for 325 yards as part of a season-high 566-yard offensive effort.

7. LSU (4–0, 1–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Louisiana Tech, 38–21
Next week: vs. Ole Miss

8. Oklahoma (4–0, 1–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 5
This week:  Beat Army, 28–21 OT
Next week: vs. Baylor

On athleticism alone, Army had no business staying in the game with Oklahoma, but when you hold the ball for nearly 45 minutes of game clock and run 87 plays against any defense, you will have a chance to win. The Sooners had no answer for Army’s triple-option, which racked up 338 yards. Also, Oklahoma’s leading receiver Marquise Brown didn’t have a single catch in the game.

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9. Stanford (4–0, 2–0 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Oregon, 38–31 OT
Next week: at Notre Dame

Overcoming a 17-point deficit at Autzen Stadium isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, but the Cardinal can’t rest on any laurels after their thrilling victory in Oregon. Waiting in the wings is a road trip to Notre Dame, which has a new quarterback and a ton of confidence. This game could go a long way toward deciding the playoff fortunes of both teams.

10. Auburn (3–1, 2–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Arkansas, 34–3
Next week: vs. Southern Mississippi

11. Washington (3–1, 2–0 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Arizona State, 27–20
Next week: vs. BYU

Washington did some good things (five red zone trips turned into 27 points, and top ASU wide receiver N’Keal Harry was held to five catches for 20 yards) and some bad things: The Huskies’ defense let the Sun Devils convert 50% on third-down conversions and didn’t register a single sack. Washington quarterback Jake Browning threw for 202 yards, passing the 10,000-career passing-yard mark.

12. West Virginia (3–0, 1–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 17
This week: Beat Kansas State, 35–6
Next week: at Texas Tech

The combination of Will Grier to David Sills V continues to torment opposing defenses. Grier threw for 356 yards and five touchdowns, including three to Sills, in his fifth game throwing for five or more touchdowns as a Mountaineer, but his offense was careless with the ball, turning it over four times.

13. Michigan (3–1, 1–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Nebraska, 56–10
Next week: at Northwestern

This game may have been more about Nebraska’s futility than Michigan’s excellence, as the Cornhuskers have now dropped to 0–3 for the first time since 1945. Running back Karan Higdon racked up 136 yards in one half of action, and Shea Patterson seems to have taken firm control of the offense, which is averaging 50 points a game since its season-opening loss to Notre Dame.

14. Wisconsin (3–1, 1–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 14
This week: Beat Iowa, 28–17
Next week: Bye

Alex Hornibrook’s 17-yard touchdown to A.J. Taylor in the final minute saved the Badgers from a second straight loss. The Badgers win ugly, but don’t write them off for a playoff push despite their loss to BYU. Hornibrook threw for 205 yards (just his second game throwing for more than 200 this season) and three touchdowns. The win was Wisconsin’s 10th straight on the road, which is the second-longest active streak in the nation.

15. UCF (3–0, 1–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 18
This week: Beat Florida Atlantic, 56–36
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh

16. Miami (FL) (3–1)

Previous ranking: 19
This week: Beat Florida International, 31–17
Next week: vs. North Carolina

17. Michigan State (2–1, 1–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat Indiana, 35–21
Next week: vs. Central Michigan

Michigan State is one of those teams that can beat just about anyone with a perfect game. The Spartans also can lose to anyone, and they almost handed Indiana a victory because of their own mistakes. The Spartans turned the ball over four times, with two directly leading to scores. Brian Lewerke threw for 231 yards, and Michigan State again found it tough to get any semblance of a run game going.

18. Texas (3–1, 1–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat TCU 31­–16
Next week: at Kansas State

After two impressive home victories over USC and TCU, the Longhorns are back in the Big 12 title conversation. The winning margin against the Horned Frogs is deceptive as the Longhorns took full advantage of turnover-prone Shawn Robinson in ending a four-game losing streak to their in-state rival. The defense picked off three of Robinson’s passes and TCU went 6-for-16 on third down, which isn’t a recipe for success on the road.

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19. Kentucky (4–0, 2–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Mississippi State, 28–7
Next week: vs. South Carolina

Perhaps the best running back in the country no one’s talking about is Benny Snell Jr., who scored all four of Kentucky’s touchdowns on Saturday while breaking the school record for career touchdowns. Snell ran for 165 yards to move the Wildcats to 4–0 for the first time in 10 years. But it was Kentucky’s defense that truly showed up big, holding the normally prolific Mississippi State offense to 201 total yards.

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20. Mississippi State (3–1, 0–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Lost to Kentucky, 28–7
Next week: vs. Florida

Mississippi State knew it had a problem when it couldn’t run the ball against Kentucky. It had a bigger one when Snell decided to take it upon himself to hand the Bulldogs their first loss. Running for 56 yards isn’t going to cut it in the SEC, and Nick Fitzgerald continued his inaccurate passing as the Bulldogs were held to 386 yards below their offense’s season average.

21. Colorado (3–0)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. UCLA

22. Oklahoma State (3-1, 0–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Lost to Texas Tech, 41–17
Next week: at Kansas

The defense that led the way through the first three games for Oklahoma State was nowhere to be found on Saturday. The Cowboys had seven sacks against Boise State, then let the Red Raiders have their way through the air and on the ground. Texas Tech freshman QB Alan Bowman threw for 397 yards and two touchdowns, and Tech had 213 yards rushing in its first victory over Oklahoma State since 2008.

23. Boise State (2–1)

Previous ranking: 24
This week: Bye
Next week: at Wyoming

24. BYU (3–1)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat McNeese State, 30–3
Next week: at Washington

25. Oregon (3–1, 0–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 22
This week: Lost to Stanford, 38–31 OT
Next week: at California

Head coach Mario Cristobal will be questioned for the rest of the year for its decision not to punt to Stanford late in the game while nursing a three-point lead, especially if the Ducks don’t rally to win the Pac-12 North. Time-management issues aside, Oregon made some crucial mistakes in letting Stanford back in the game and spoiling an outstanding performance by QB Justin Herbert, who finished 26-of-33 for 346 yards.

By conference: SEC (6), Big Ten (5), Big 12 (4), Pac-12 (4), ACC (2), Independent (2), AAC (1), Mountain West (1).

Dropped Out: Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, TCU.

Maybe next week: Duke, California, Texas Tech, Syracuse, South Florida

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