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  • Week 5 gave us some notable adjustments as a team that lost found its way into the rankings, and a team that won in a nightmare scenario dropped down.
By Andy Staples
September 30, 2018

We almost had a big shakeup in the upper regions of the Top 10 Plus One. Instead, a young quarterback showed he could lead his team to a win in a hostile environment to keep the status quo (mostly) intact. Elsewhere, a quarterback making his second start sent his team surging up the ranking. Meanwhile, another team survived a nightmare scenario involving its quarterback—but not with its previous ranking intact. 

1. Alabama (5–0)
Last week: 1
Last game: Beat Louisiana, 56–14
Next game: Saturday at Arkansas

Any bit of drama for the Crimson Tide melted away when Jalen Hurts took the field in relief of Tua Tagovailoa late in the first quarter with Alabama leading by four touchdowns. Hurts, who started for his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa before losing the starting job to Tagovailoa, had said in the preseason that he didn’t intend to redshirt this season so he could play two more seasons somewhere else as a grad transfer. But given the events at Clemson last week and a lack of recent public statement from Hurts, it was only natural to wonder. But now he’s played in five games, and we know Hurts will be with the Tide for remainder of the season. Against the Ragin’ Cajuns, Hurts went 4-of-6 for 118 yards and a touchdown. Tagovailoa completed all eight of his pass attempts for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Even third-teamer Mac Jones threw a 94-yard touchdown pass.

2. Ohio State (5–0)
Last week: 2
Last game: Beat Penn State, 27–26
Next game: Saturday vs. Indiana

It took most of a half for the Buckeyes to figure out how to attack Penn State’s defense, but once they did, quarterback Dwayne Haskins settled and looked more like the guy we’ve seen the rest of this season. And if he can handle the White Out environment at Penn State, he can handle anything. Ohio State still has more challenges ahead on the schedule, but the Buckeyes survived perhaps their biggest one on Saturday. They’re now in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten East.

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3. Notre Dame (5–0)
Last week: 6
Last game: Beat Stanford, 38–17
Next game: Saturday at Virginia Tech

The question after last week’s win was whether the vast improvement of Notre Dame’s offense was more because of the switch to Ian Book at quarterback or because of Wake Forest’s defense. We got the answer on Saturday, and it’s definitely because of Book. Against Stanford, Book completed 24-of-33 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns. Tailback Dexter Williams saw his first action this season and gained 161 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown. The Fighting Irish look like legitimate College Football Playoff contenders. They’ll probably have to go undefeated, though. Before the season began, their schedule looked rugged enough that going 11–1 might be good enough. Bad starts by Florida State and Northwestern have changed the perception of that schedule. Still, the Irish should be favored in every remaining game. This week’s visit to Virginia Tech might be the toughest game left.

4. Georgia (5–0)
Last week: 3
Last game: Beat Tennessee, 38–12
Next game: Saturday vs. Vanderbilt

If this top four were the one that wound up being the CFP selection committee’s final four on Dec. 2, we’d see conferences start moving to try expand the playoff. The ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 would all get left out. That sounds crazy, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Notre Dame has a real chance if it keeps winning. And either the SEC or Big Ten might be able to get two teams in depending on how things shake out. For the Bulldogs to wind up here, they’d probably have to go 12–0 in the regular season and play Alabama close in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs beat down a vastly inferior Tennessee team on Saturday. They should do the same to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Then comes a trip to Baton Rouge that will tell us a whole lot more about Georgia and about the next team on this list.

5. LSU (5–0)
Last week: 5
Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 45–16
Next game: Saturday at Florida

The Ole Miss defense is the cure for an ailing offense, and LSU’s offense got a great shot of confidence Saturday. Quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 96 yards and a touchdown. The LSU defense, meanwhile, held an explosive Rebels offense to 4.8 yards a play. Now comes the meat grinder for the Tigers. They go to Gainesville this week to face a Florida team coming off an unexpected but impressive win at Mississippi State. Then they go home to face Georgia. Then they get a visit from Mississippi State, which has struggled the past two weeks but is physical enough to challenge any team coming off consecutive games against Florida and Georgia. Given preseason expectations, LSU is playing with house money at this point. But there is no reason the Tigers can’t adjust their expectations.

6. Oklahoma (5–0)
Last week: 8
Last game: Beat Baylor, 66–33
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas

The Sooners raised some red flags against Army and then lowered them the following week with a convincing win against a Baylor team that is much better than the one that challenged Oklahoma in Waco last year. Quarterback Kyler Murray remains a cheat code. On Saturday, he completed 17 of 21 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns. But now Oklahoma must go to Dallas and face a rival that in the past five years has beaten the Sooners twice and played them close in losses three times despite Oklahoma being the vastly superior program. This time, Texas looks as if it may be good enough to contend for a Big 12 title. So what will that mean in a series where the Longhorns have played better than they are in recent years?

7. Clemson (5–0)
Last week: 4
Last game: Beat Syracuse, 27–23
Next game: Saturday at Wake Forest

We don’t yet know when quarterback Trevor Lawrence will return, but we do know this was the nightmare scenario after Kelly Bryant decided to redshirt this season and transfer following coach Dabo Swinney’s decision to make Lawrence the starter. The good news is Clemson survived it, thanks in part to backup Chase Brice’s clutch fourth-down throw late in the fourth quarter and thanks quite a bit to Travis Etienne’s 203 rushing yards and three touchdowns. No matter who plays quarterback at Clemson, the Tigers should be talented enough to beat everyone else on their regular-season schedule. This game shouldn’t have been as close as it was. I’ve dropped Clemson less out of concern over the quarterback situation and more because I’m concerned about the quarterbacks’ teammates. As good as they’re supposed to be, they should be more dominant than they have been.

8. Penn State (4–1)
Last week: Unranked
Last game: Lost to Ohio State, 27–26
Next game: Bye

I don’t think it’s right that a previously undefeated team should come within a point of the team I have at No. 2 only to have me leave that team out of the top 10. If you’re a fan of one of the two teams listed below or one of the teams who just missed the cut, I have a question for you. Would you want to play Penn State? Of course you wouldn’t. The Nittany Lions will regret that fourth-down play call, but their long-term goals remain possible. They might need some help, but the top of the Big Ten might just be deep enough to give it to them.

9. West Virginia (4–0)
Last week: 9
Last game: Beat Texas Tech, 42–34
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas

Though the Mountaineers got sluggish in the second half, their first half Saturday was a master class in winning in the Big 12. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson toggled between dropping eight and bringing five or six and kept Texas Tech quarterback Alan Bowman off balance until he left the game with an injury. Meanwhile, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier lit up the scoreboard in a place that can do funny things to opposing offenses. West Virginia just needs to stay consistent for the next month. If the Mountaineers can, they’ll be undefeated as they enter the November from hell.

10. Kentucky (5–0)
Last week: 10
Last game: Beat South Carolina, 24–10
Next game: Saturday at Texas A&M

This is already a special season for the Wildcats. Now we’re about to find out how special. If they can beat Texas A&M this week, the idea of a 10–2 or 11–1 season becomes entirely plausible. And while we’re assuming Georgia beats Kentucky and wins the SEC East, the way the Wildcats are constructed gives them a chance against everyone remaining on the schedule.

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Plus One: Middle Tennessee (2–2)
Last game: Beat Florida Atlantic, 25–24
Next game: Friday at Marshall

The Blue Raiders didn’t play for overtime Saturday when Tavares Thomas scored with 38 seconds remaining to cut FAU’s lead to 24–23. Coach Rick Stocktill called for his son, Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill, to throw for two, and the younger Stockstill found Gatlin Casey with the game-winner. In the process, the Blue Raiders handed Owls coach Lane Kiffin his first loss against a Conference USA foe. FAU went 9–0 in conference play last season.

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