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  • As Notre Dame continues to cruise along a clear path to the College Football Playoff, the Irish’s inclusion may be at the expense of the Big 12 and Pac-12, where a one-loss champion mounting a late charge may run out of time.
By Scooby Axson
October 08, 2018

It’s been 30 years since Notre Dame has won a national championship, and if it does get a chance to crash the College Football Playoff for the first time, it will be at the expense of the Big 12 and Pac-12.

The good fortune of the Fighting Irish is that if they continue to navigate a manageable schedule, they can sit back and watch those two conferences take aim at the teams atop the standings. If the majority of conference champions emerge with one or two losses, Notre Dame will have a clear path to the final four.

Oklahoma’s loss to Texas seriously damaged the Big 12’s hopes, even though West Virginia remains undefeated. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest league slates possible in November, starting with a trip to Austin.

The Pac-12 is a different story. There isn’t one team that elicits the confidence of a playoff team. Washington looks to have the most top-to-bottom talent and only Colorado remains unbeaten, but there are plenty of league tests left for everyone. The winner of Saturday’s Washington-Oregon game can hold out hope that chaos over the next seven weeks propels it back into the top four.

Now, let’s get to the rankings:

1. Alabama (6–0, 3–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Arkansas, 65–31
Next week: vs. Missouri

You can rest assured that Nick Saban will raise some hell about the Crimson Tide giving up 31 points, albeit with second- and third-stringers down the stretch. Tua Tagovailoa continued his brilliant play, throwing for 334 yards and four touchdowns, and getting his customary rest during the fourth quarter.

2. Georgia (6–0, 4–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Vanderbilt, 41–13
Next week: at LSU

Georgia has used its first six games to see if it could improve its passing game to complement its running back-by-committee success. The Bulldogs did just that against Vanderbilt, finding success on some shots downfield with Jake Fromm, who finished with 276 yards and three touchdowns. With the win, Fromm has now started 6–0 in consecutive seasons, a first for any Bulldogs QB.

3. Ohio State (6–0, 3–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Indiana, 49–26
Next week: vs. Minnesota

Dwayne Haskins had a career day with 455 yards and six touchdowns for the Buckeyes against Indiana. Outside of its escape from Happy Valley, Ohio State has been skating through its schedule despite some obvious concerns. The running game averaged only 3.2 yards a carry on Saturday, and the secondary was burned numerous times as the Hoosiers were not afraid of testing Ohio State down the field. The Buckeyes have already allowed 20 plays of 20 yards or more; that’s the second-worst total of all Power 5 teams.

4. Notre Dame (5–0)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Virginia Tech, 45–23
Next week: vs. Pittsburgh

This is the kind of consistency Brian Kelly has wanted out of his offense all season. Backup-turned-starting QB Ian Book continues to impress as the Irish push toward the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame scored 38 points or more for the third straight week and won its first road game over a ranked opponent since beating Temple in 2015. Book had 271 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception.

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5. Clemson (6–0, 3–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Wake Forest, 63­–3
Next week: Bye; next game Oct. 20 vs. NC State

Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson summed up his team’s performance against Clemson quite accurately, calling it a “good old fashion butt-whipping,"

Travis Etienne rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns, while Trevor Lawrence returned from injury after leaving last week’s game against Syracuse and threw for 175 yards. Clemson thrived on the big play all day, scoring six times on plays of 50 yards or more.

6. Penn State (4–1, 1–1 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Michigan State

7. Washington (5–1, 3–0 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat UCLA, 31–24
Next week: at Oregon

Washington avoided a huge letdown against UCLA, scoring its first victory over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl since 1995. Jake Browning had 265 yards passing and Myles Gaskin scored twice as the Huskies held the ball for 38 minutes to help drop UCLA to 0–5 for the first time since 1943. The Bruins’ defense was game, giving up only 127 yards in the second half.

8. West Virginia (5–0, 3–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Kansas, 38–22
Next week: at Iowa State

The Mountaineers played an uneven game against Kansas but will press on as their conference’s last undefeated team standing. Will Grier had 332 yards and four touchdowns, but he was picked off three times in the red zone and fumbled once. West Virginia will get its biggest test of the year so far when it heads to Ames to take on Iowa State.

9. Michigan (5–1, 3–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Maryland, 42–21
Next week: vs. Wisconsin

The steady improvement by Michigan’s offense has some thinking it could finally challenge for an elusive conference title game appearance under Jim Harbaugh. Shea Patterson threw for a season-high 282 yards and three touchdowns, while the defense, which entered Saturday ranked first in total defense, held the undisciplined Terrapins to 220 yards of total offense, almost 180 yards below their season average.

10. UCF (5–0, 2–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat SMU, 48–20
Next week: at Memphis

11. LSU (5–1, 2–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Lost to Florida, 27–19
Next week: vs. Georgia

Joe Burrow made a habit of protecting the football in LSU’s first five games, helping the Tigers to score top-10 wins against Miami and Auburn. With a chance to lead the Tigers to a game-winning drive against Florida, Burrow threw a pick-six to Brad Stewart Jr. Burrow finished with 191 passing yards on 34 attempts and was sacked five times as LSU went a dreadful 4-for-17 on third down.

12. Texas (5–1, 3–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 19
This week: Beat Oklahoma, 48–45
Next week: vs. Baylor

With the Longhorns’ fifth straight victory, the Big 12 race has suddenly gotten interesting. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger went off against the Sooners for 314 yards passing and 72 yards rushing, including 25 on the final drive that led to the game-winning field goal. It was one of the more exciting finishes of the weekend, but make no mistake: Texas was in control for most of the game.

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13. Wisconsin (4–1, 2–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Nebraska, 41–24
Next week: at Michigan

Jonathan Taylor finally got back on track, running for 220 yards and three touchdowns, and the Badgers got back to being physical on the offensive side ahead of a primetime test in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines’ punishing defense.

14. Oklahoma (5–1, 2–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Lost to Texas, 48–45
Next week: Bye; next game Oct. 20 at TCU

Oklahoma basically needed the offense to score every chance it got the ball. That didn’t happen, Texas took full advantage, and Kyler Murray’s Heisman campaign took a bit of a dent. The Sooners had won 27 of their last 28 games against Big 12 opponents; now they’ll use their bye week breaking in a new defensive coordinator.

15. Miami (FL) (5–1, 2–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat Florida State, 28–27
Next week: at Virginia

Florida State blew a 20-point third-quarter lead because it could not get out of its own way. Two costly turnovers allowed Miami to creep back into the contest after a start devoid of any sustained offense from either team. Hurricanes redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry threw four touchdown passes—but only completed 13 of his 32 passes. The defense swarmed the Seminoles all game, recording six sacks and 11 tackles for loss.

16. Florida (5–1, 3–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 24
This week: Beat LSU, 27–19
Next week: at Vanderbilt

No one is confusing Florida’s offense with the ones that piled up points during the Tim Tebow or Steve Spurrier eras, but what the Gators can hang their hat on is a swarming defense and an offense making a few plays a game. The Gators must clean up the penalties; they were flagged 11 times for 116 yards and were lucky to escape with a win.

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17. Colorado (5–0, 2–0 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat Arizona State, 28–21
Next week: at USC

Steven Montez threw for 328 yards with two touchdowns, both to Laviska Shenault, and was aided by Travon McMillian’s 136 rushing yards. Shenault accounted for all four of Colorado’s touchdowns, and had 13 catches for 127 yards to pad his nation-leading receptions total. The Buffaloes will be in control of the Pac-12 South if they can beat USC on the road next week. Colorado has never beaten the Trojans in 12 all-time meetings.

18. Texas A&M (4–2, 2–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Kentucky, 20–14 in OT
Next week: at South Carolina

Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams had 210 total yards, including a 10-yard run in overtime to win it for the Aggies. He put Kentucky’s stingy defense on its heels and got A&M back on track to play a possible spoiler in the SEC West. Coordinator Mike Elko’s defense was outstanding, holding the Wildcats to a putrid 3.56 yards per play and 70 rushing yards.

19. Kentucky (5–1, 3–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 17
This week: Lost to Texas A&M, 20–14 in OT
Next week: Bye; next game Oct. 20 vs. Vanderbilt

Even amid their hot start, the problem with the Wildcats was always on the offensive side of the ball, where they have struggled to find another go-to player outside of star running back Benny Snell. The search continues. Snell was held to 60 yards as the offense did not take a single snap across midfield during regulation. The Wildcats were held to 178 total yards and 70 rushing yards, their lowest output of the season. On the final 33 plays of the game, they gained only 41 yards.

20. Auburn (4–2, 1–2 SEC)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Lost to Mississippi State, 23–9
Next week: vs. Tennessee

Auburn can only blame itself for a performance that was downright embarrassing. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is going to get most of the blame for his team's loss at Mississippi State as the offense continued to struggle in all facets. Auburn kept the ball for just 18 minutes against the Bulldogs and gave up 392 yards on the ground.

21. Oregon (4–1, 1–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 23
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Washington

22. Mississippi State (4–2, 1–2 SEC)

Previous ranking Unranked
This week: Beat Auburn, 23–9
Next week: Bye; next game Oct. 20 at LSU

After two straight losses in which the offense was punchless in single-digits scoring efforts, head coach Joe Moorhead’s offense regained its footing. The Bulldogs play the two teams just above them in the SEC West standings to round out October.

23. NC State (5–0, 2–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Boston College, 28–23
Next week: Bye; next game Oct. 20 at Clemson

The Wolfpack are 5–0 for the first time since 2002 thanks to Ryan Finley’s two touchdowns and Reggie Gallaspy’s 104 rushing yards against Boston College. But NC State did turn the ball over four times, allowing the Eagles to make it a closer game even without with the services of running back AJ Dillion. The Wolfpack have two weeks to prepare for their biggest game of the year against Clemson, which could go a long way in determining the ACC’s fate in the playoff.

24. South Florida (5–0, 1–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat UMass, 58–42
Next week: at Tulsa

25. Cincinnati (6–0, 3–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Tulane, 37–21
Next week: Bye; next game Oct. 20 at Temple

By conference: SEC (8), Big Ten (4), Big 12 (3), Pac-12 (3), ACC (3), AAC (3), Independent (1).

Dropped Out: Michigan State, Boise State, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Stanford.

Maybe next week: San Diego State, Duke, Iowa, Hawai’i.

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