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  • The first College Football Playoff rankings will quickly be rendered meaningless as the SEC prepares for two elimination games in Week 10 that will set the course for November's big moves. For now, here are the strongest teams in the nation ahead of a weekend full of showdowns.
By Scooby Axson
October 29, 2018

The first College Football Playoff rankings of 2018 come out this week, and once they are revealed on Tuesday night ... absolutely nothing will change. The weekly exercise from now until Dec. 2 gives fans, pundits and everyone else a chance to complain about and debate where teams stand, knowing full well there is still a month left of regular season action to render everything meaningless before the real rankings are finalized.

Of more pressing significance to the story of the season is Week 10’s SEC schedule, which will feature two division title games on Saturday.

In the East, it’s simple. The winner of the Georgia–Kentucky battle in Lexington books its trip to Atlanta. That’s a big ask of the Wildcats as the Bulldogs have won the last nine meetings between the schools by an average of almost 20 points. If Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops wants that to change, his offense, which has scored a grand total of 43 points in its last three games, must get in gear.

The victor there likely takes on whoever emerges from a battle in Baton Rouge between top-ranked Alabama and LSU. The Tigers are also trying to break a long losing streak in the series after having dropped the last seven to their bitter rivals. Maybe LSU has the defense to finally force Tua Tagovailoa to see some action in the fourth quarter. Maybe.

Now, let’s get to the rankings:

1. Alabama (8–0, 5­–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Bye
Next week: at LSU

2. Clemson (8–0, 5–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Florida State, 59–10
Next week: vs. Louisville

Trevor Lawrence threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns as Clemson handed FSU its worst home loss in its storied history. Lawrence continued to be the main source of offense as Clemson’s running game stalled again, but it still did better than the Seminoles, who finished with minus-21 yards on the ground against the Tigers’ fearsome defensive line. It wasn’t all bad for Florida State: Logan Tyler tied the single-game school record for most punts with 12.

3. Notre Dame (8–0)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Navy, 44–22
Next week: at Northwestern

The Irish continue to win, and the leaders of the Pac-12 and Big 12 continue to sweat. Running back Dexter Williams had 142 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and quarterback Ian Book continued his excellent play, tossing two scores against a struggling Navy squad that has lost five straight games.

4. Michigan (7–1, 5–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Penn State

5. LSU (7–1, 4–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Alabama

6. Georgia (7–1, 5–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Florida, 36–17
Next week: at Kentucky

Georgia is one step closer to Atlanta after beating its rival Florida in Jacksonville. Jake Fromm threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns, and the Bulldogs ran for 189 yards, making this the 13th straight year in the series that the team with more rushing yards came away with the win. Turnovers also played a role: Georgia had three that it cashed in for 10 points and kept the ball away from the Gators, who had come into game third in the SEC in turnover margin.

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7. Oklahoma (7–1, 4–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Kansas State, 51–14
Next week: at Texas Tech

A week after allowing the fewest yards it had to an opponent all season, the Sooners’ defense stepped up again, giving up only 245 yards to Kansas State, holding the Big 12’s leading rusher Alex Barnes to 28 yards. Kyler Murray threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, and the running-back-by-committee approach in the wake of Rodney Anderson’s early season injury continued to work as Oklahoma got 322 of its 702-yard offensive output on the ground.

8. UCF (7–0, 4–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Bye
Next week: at Temple

9. Ohio State (7–1, 4–1 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Nebraska

10. Kentucky (7–1, 5–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Missouri, 15–14
Next week: vs. Georgia

For those wondering how Kentucky came back from a 14–3 deficit with less than six minutes to go, the credit lies with the defense. Missouri, which came in averaging 39 points and 501 yards a game, did not have a single first down in the second half, which opened the door for quarterback Terry Wilson to redeem an awful day with a two-yard walk-off touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Conrad. Lead back Benny Snell was mostly shut down, but receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. picked up the slack, catching 13 passes for 166 yards, and adding a 67-yard punt return score.

11. Washington State (7–1, 4–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 18
This week: Beat Stanford, 41–38
Next week: vs. California

It might be time to put Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew on some Heisman lists. Minshew threw for 438 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Cougars back from an early two-touchdown deficit. The victory gave the Cougars sole possession of first place in the Pac–12 North and kept their fringe playoff hopes alive if they eventually win the conference.

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12. West Virginia (6–1, 4–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat Baylor, 58–14
Next week: at Texas

The Mountaineers enjoyed a big bounceback from their first loss of the season with an absolute drubbing of Baylor, as Will Grier threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns. The defense took advantage of three first-half interceptions to take a 41–0 halftime lead and finished with five sacks and 12 tackles for loss, holding Baylor to a season-low 285 yards.

13. Penn State (6–2, 3–2 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 14
This week: Beat Iowa, 30–24
Next week: at Michigan

Trace McSorley threw for 167 yards and a touchdown, adding 63 yards and a score, coming back into the game after a brief injury scare. Kicker Jake Pinegar booted three 40-plus-yard field goals and Nick Scott’s late interception deep in Penn State territory helped the Nittany Lions beat Iowa for the third straight year. Penn State’s slim Big Ten East hopes hinge on this week’s trip to Michigan.

14. Texas (6–2, 4–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Lost to Oklahoma State, 38–35
Next week: vs. West Virginia

The one thing that Texas hung its hat on was its defense, and that was nowhere to be found against Oklahoma State. Cowboys QB Taylor Cornelius had five total touchdowns and threw for 321 yards, sending the Longhorns to their first conference loss. The Big 12 title game is still within reach, but Texas will now face a visit from West Virginia and a trip to Texas Tech in the coming weeks with little margin for error.

 15. Houston (7–1, 4–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat South Florida, 57–36
Next week: at SMU

Houston quarterback D’Eriq King had 553 total yards (419 passing, 134 rushing) and seven touchdowns to drop South Florida from the ranks of the unbeaten and keep the Cougars’ New Year’s Six bowl hopes alive. Houston played without star defensive end Ed Oliver, who missed the game with a knee injury, and it showed. The Cougars gave up 203 yards rushing and recorded only two sacks.

16. Utah (6–2, 4–2 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 22
This week: Beat UCLA, 41–10
Next week: at Arizona State

All of a sudden, Utah’s offense is putting up points and making waves in the Pac-12 South. The Utes, who lead everyone else in the division by a game and have already beaten defending champ USC, have scored at least 40 points in four straight games after failing to score more than 24 in their previous three. The Utes were led by Zach Moss, who ran for a career-high 211 yards and added three touchdowns at the Rose Bowl, while the defense created three turnovers.

17. Florida (6–2, 4–2 SEC)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Lost to Georgia, 36–17
Next week: vs. Missouri

Florida’s SEC East dreams went down with another puzzling and inconsistent offensive performance. Feleipe Franks made a few nice plays but finished with only 105 passing yards on 21 attempts and the Gators set a season-low in total yards. After having six turnovers in their first five games this season, the Gators have doubled their season total in the last two games, adding three giveaways in Jacksonville.

18. Boston College (6–2, 3–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Miami (FL), 27–14
Next week: at Virginia Tech

In the annual Red Bandana game, AJ Dillon returned from a two-game absence to pace the Eagles with 149 rushing yards and a touchdown to deal the Hurricanes another disappointing conference road loss. Boston College turned Miami quarterback Malik Rosier’s two interceptions into 10 points and diced up a Hurricanes team that entered the weekend ranked second in the nation in total defense, finishing with 433 yards, the most Miami has given up all year..

19. Northwestern (5–3, 5–1 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Wisconsin, 31–17
Next week: vs. Notre Dame

The Wildcats are all alone atop the Big Ten West thanks to Wisconsin’s puzzling struggles to run the football and three fumbles that lead directly to 17 points. The defense held the nation’s leading rusher Jonathan Taylor under 100 yards for the first time this season. Clayton Thorson’s three interceptions did not help matters, but his three total touchdowns and Isaiah Bowser’s 114 rushing yards were enough to put Northwestern in the divisional driver’s seat.

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20. Mississippi State (5–3, 2–3 SEC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Texas A&M, 28–13
Next week: vs. Louisiana Tech

The Bulldogs finally found their groove offensively, as Nick Fitzgerald had 241 yards passing (his most in over a year) and added 88 rushing yards, accounting for all four of Mississippi State’s touchdowns. The Bulldogs had six plays of 20 or more yards, after having only one such play in a rout at the hands of LSU the previous week.

21. Michigan State (5–3, 3–2 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Purdue, 23–13
Next week: at Maryland

Their Big Ten East division title hopes are nearly dead, but the Spartans are still hanging around, ready to catch hot teams by surprise. Purdue’s offensive explosion against Ohio State felt like a decade ago in East Lansing, and the Buckeyes visit in two weeks.

22. Syracuse (6–2, 3–2 ACC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat NC State, 51–41
Next week: at Wake Forest

Eric Dungey threw for 411 yards and three touchdowns, using a 24-point first quarter to lead the Orange to bowl eligibility for the first time in five years by snapping a four-game losing streak to NC State. Syracuse held on despite giving up 473 passing yards to Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley, the most ever allowed by an Orange defense. The teams combined for more than 1,100 yards of offense, only 149 of which came on the ground.

23. Iowa (6–2, 3–2 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 19
This week: Lost to Penn State, 30–24
Next week: at Purdue

While Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley and the offense had their issues, the Hawkeyes had others step up, scoring 24 points without the offense contributing. The special teams came to play, picking up two safeties, kicking two field goals and for good measure, employing some trickery with the punter throwing a touchdown pass. The defense also had a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. Coach Kirk Ferentz gets points for creativity this time, but Iowa has now lost five straight to Penn State.

24. Texas A&M (5–3, 3–2 SEC)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Lost to Mississippi State, 28–13
Next week: at Auburn

Kellen Mond threw for 232 yards with one touchdown, but he did not have much help from his receivers, who dropped several passes, and a running game that managed only 61 yards. All this led to the Aggies posting a season-low in offensive yards and having a three-game winning streak stopped. Texas A&M enters its final road game of the season next week at Auburn with a chance at bowl eligibility, then ends the season with Ole Miss, surprising UAB and LSU in College Station.

25. Utah State (7­–1, 4–0 MWC)

Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat New Mexico, 61–19
Next week: at Hawai’i

By conference: SEC (7), Big Ten (6), ACC (3), Big 12 (3), Pac-12 (2), AAC (2), Independent (1), MWC (1).

Dropped Out: Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, South Florida, NC State, Miami (FL).

Maybe next week: Army, Georgia Southern, Virginia, UAB.

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