Of the 13 unbeaten teams left in college football, about half have a realistic shot at making a push for the College Football Playoff. After Michigan and Oklahoma both lost at home to unranked teams in Week 6, those unbeatens know they have little margin for error if they want to stay in the national title hunt.
Let’s look at a few of the surprising teams in that group of 13:
Washington State: The Cougars have a defense, a running game (sometimes), a savvy veteran quarterback in Luke Falk and an unconventional coach who likes to shake things up in Mike Leach. With wins over Boise State, USC and Oregon, they have firmly in the Pac-12 title conversation.
Georgia: With true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm at the helm, the Bulldogs have relied on a punishing running game and a defense that simply won’t allow the opponent to do anything. UGA looks to be by far the most complete challenger to Alabama’s stranglehold on the SEC.
TCU: Many expected TCU to compete in the Big 12, but what is going in Fort Worth is nothing short of amazing. The defense, which has given up its fair share of big plays, comes up big when needed and the steady hand of Kenny Hill keeps the offense on pace with the rest of the conference’s high-scoring squads.
Now on to this week’s Top 25:
1. Alabama (6–0, 3–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Texas A&M, 27–19
Next week: vs. Arkansas
Expect Nick Saban to be in a feisty mood with everyone this week (his players, the media and anyone else he comes into contact with) after Alabama allowed the Aggies back into the game and needed an onside kick recovery to seal the victory. That is bad news for the Tide’s next opponent, Arkansas, which hasn’t beat Alabama since 2006.
2. Clemson (6–0, 4–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Wake Forest, 28–14
Next week: at Syracuse
It remains to be seen how severe Kelly Bryant’s ankle injury is, but if he going to miss significant time, the Tigers can lean on their defense and a manageable schedule to get them through. Bryant threw for 200 yards and a score before he exited, and Clemson overcame some sloppy play (two turnovers, nine penalties) to beat a game Wake Forest squad for the ninth straight year.
3. Penn State (6–0, 3–0 Big 10)
Previous ranking: 4
Last week: Beat Northwestern, 31–7
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 21 vs. Michigan
Trace McSorley is proving he can lead the offense when Saquon Barkley is bottled up. McSorley threw for 245 yards, and the Penn State defense continued to play solid, picking off two passes and sacking Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson four times. Penn State has next week off before its two biggest games of the season: at home against Michigan and on the road the following week against Ohio State.
4. Georgia (6–0, 3–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Vanderbilt, 45–14
Next week: vs. Missouri
If Georgia continues to dominate the line of scrimmage by running the ball, Fromm (or Eason, if he reassumes starting duties) will have to do very little in order for the Bulldogs to keep rolling. The Bulldogs ran for 423 yards, with Nick Chubb totaling 123 yards and two touchdowns and Sony Michel adding 150 yards and another score.
5. Washington (6–0, 3–0 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat California, 38–7
Next week: at Arizona State
Chris Peterson’s comments about the Huskies not getting TV exposure on the East Coast mostly fell on deaf ears, but ESPN's broadcast of Saturday's game took it a step further by calling Washington “soft” for its stress-free non-conference schedule. The Huskies continue to pile up the victories regardless of who’s watching and have a reasonable shot at getting back to the College Football Playoff.
6. Ohio State (5–1, 3–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Maryland, 62–14
Next week: at Nebraska
Here is a recipe for losing any game at any level, brought to you by the Maryland Terrapins: 66 total yards of offense (16 of which are passing yards), six first downs and conversions on one out of 15 third-down opportunities. J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State offense have been rolling lately, and the Buckeyes have won four straight since their Week 2 loss to Oklahoma, averaging 52.5 points and 615.5 yards per game during their current streak.
7. TCU (5–0, 2-0 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat West Virginia, 31–24
Next game: at Kansas State
The last undefeated Big 12 team and perhaps its best playoff hopeful, the Horned Frogs used the talents of quarterback Kenny Hill to thwart a talented West Virginia squad. Hill ran, caught and threw for a touchdown to keep TCU in a game that the Mountaineers largely controlled. Despite giving up 508 yards of offense, the Horned Frogs’ defense made stops when it needed to. It’s no longer a stretch to call TCU a national contender, but it still has several tough conference games left.
8. Washington State (6–0, 3–0 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Oregon, 33–10
Next week: at California
Washington State QB Luke Falk continued his stellar play, throwing for 282 yards and three touchdowns for the Cougars, who have earned back-to-back victories over Oregon for the first time since 2004–05. But enough about the prolific Washington State offense—it’s the defense that is making the headlines this season. Oregon was held to 282 total yards on Saturday night, with freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister sacked four times and forced into two interceptions.
9. Wisconsin (5–0, 1–0 Big 10)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Nebraska, 38–17
Next week: vs. Purdue
Remember when Nebraska let Melvin Gordon run for an FBS record 408 yards in 2014? Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor did his best Gordon impression in Week 6, running for 249 yards and two touchdowns against the free-falling Cornhuskers. Again, the Badgers didn’t ask for much from their quarterback, as Alex Hornibrook only threw for 113 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
10. Oklahoma (4–1, 1–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Lost to Iowa State, 38–31
Next week: vs. Texas
The Sooners played with fire and finally got burned, as their sloppy performance against Baylor two weeks ago carried over to an upset loss at home to Iowa State. Oklahoma’s Big 12 and playoff hopes took a serious hit, but there’s time to build them back up with games left against Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Although the Sooners’ offense rolled up 513 yards against the Cyclones, the defense was roasted on multiple explosive plays.
11. USC (5–1, 3–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Oregon State, 38–10
Next week: vs. Utah
Sam Darnold threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns as USC won its 13th straight home game, bounced back from its first loss of the season at Washington State. But while the Trojans returned to their winning ways, Darnold continues to throw the ball to the other team. He has now tied his 2016 interception total of nine.
12. Auburn (5–1, 3–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Ole Miss, 44–23
Next week: at LSU
The Tigers’ offense is making great strides as running back Kerryon Johnson (204 rushing yards, three TDs) and quarterback Jarrett Stidham (235 yards, two passing TDs) find their respective rhythms, but the defense is making noise as well. The game was well in hand when Ole Miss produced most of its yards and points, and Saturday marked the first time all season that Auburn gave up more than 14 points.
13. Miami, FL (4–0, 2–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Florida State, 24–20
Next week: vs. Georgia Tech
Miami broke a seven-game losing streak against Florida State, sending the spiraling Seminoles to their first 1–3 start in 30 years. Malik Rosier’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Langham with six seconds left provided the winning score. The battle for first place in the ACC Coastal is very much up for grabs—now Miami only has a week to prepare for Georgia Tech’s option attack.
14. Oklahoma State (4–1, 1–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 14
Last week: Off
Next week: vs. Baylor
Now that the Big 12 race is in total upheaval, the Cowboys have an opportunity to get back in the conference title hunt. That long climb starts with still-winless Baylor, which has beaten Oklahoma State in each of the last three years.
15. Michigan (4–1, 1–1 Big 10)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Lost to Michigan State, 14–10
Next week: at Indiana
Michigan will likely have to go with quarterback John O’Korn for the rest of the season as starter Wilton Speight is reportedly dealing with three broken vertebrae. O’Korn struggled on a wet night against the Spartans, going 16 for 35 for 198 yards while getting picked off three times as part of the Wolverines’ sloppy, five-turnover effort. The home loss leaves Jim Harbaugh with a 1–4 record against Michigan’s biggest rivals.
16. Virginia Tech (5–1, 1–1 ACC)
Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat Boston College, 23–10
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 21 vs. North Carolina
Josh Jackson threw for 322 yards and Travon McMillian had 88 yards rushing as the Hokies went into their bye with a victory over Boston College, their third straight in the series. Jackson was sacked five times and his team took nine penalties—those mistakes can be corrected in the next three weeks leading up to a critical Miami game.
17. South Florida (5–0, 2–0 AAC)
Previous ranking: 18
Last week: Off
Next week: vs. Cincinnati
South Florida’s next four games (Cincinnati, Houston, UConn, Tulsa) should provide the Bulls ample opportunity to fix whatever deficiencies they have in the lead-up to an end-of-season matchup with Central Florida that could be a meeting of unbeaten teams.
18. San Diego State (6–0, 2–0 MWC)
Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat UNLV, 41–10
Next week: vs. Boise State
Rashaad Penny rushed for 170 yards, recording his sixth straight game in triple digits, and added two touchdowns. Aztecs quarterback Christian Chapman threw for 172 yards (144 of which went to Mikah Holder) as San Diego State continued its push toward a New Year’s Six game.
19. NC State (5–1, 3–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Louisville, 39–25
Next week: at Pittsburgh
NC State did two things in its victory over Louisville on Thursday: end Lamar Jackson’s bid at a second straight Heisman and remind everyone that Clemson’s road to another ACC title isn’t a cakewalk from here. Tricky road games against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame must be dealt with before the Wolfpack can look ahead to a visit from Clemson in early November. If they can get past those two games, the Wolfpack will be set up very well.
20. Notre Dame (5–1)
Previous ranking: 24
This week: Beat North Carolina, 33–10
Next game: Off; next game Oct. 21 vs. USC
Backup quarterback Ian Book threw for 146 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions taking over for starter Brandon Wimbush, who missed the North Carolina game with a foot injury. The Irish running backs took care of the rest, as Deon McIntosh and Josh Adams combined for 242 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries, part of a team total of 341 yards on the ground. With the toughest part of the schedule ahead, the Irish are in prime position to make some noise for at least a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
21. Navy (5–0, 3–0 AAC)
Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Air Force, 48–45
Next game: at Memphis
Navy remained in the hunt for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy by beating Air Force on a last-minute touchdown pass. The Midshipmen ran for 471 yards and nearly blew a three-touchdown lead. Navy’s AAC title hopes come down to its defense. Its next opponent, Memphis, has scored 40 or more points three times this year, including 70 last week against UConn.
22. Stanford (4–2, 3–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Utah, 23–20
Next week: vs. Oregon
Bryce Love continued his rampage through Pac-12 defenses, running for 152 yards to get Stanford’s season back on track after two early losses. Love has a nation-leading 1,240 yards and has also scored nine touchdowns this season. The Cardinal won their third straight game despite pedestrian quarterback play; they rank 11th in the conference in passing offense with 188.3 yards per game through the air.
23. Central Florida (4–0, 2–0 AAC)
Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat Cincinnati, 51–23
Next week: vs. East Carolina
The Knights have won their first four games in a season for the first time since 1988, thanks to an offense that relies on the big play and doesn’t waste time when it has the ball. Against Cincinnati, UCF had the ball for only 15 minutes before the game was called due to weather near the end of the third quarter. In just under 45 minutes of game time, the Knights gained 515 yards, averaging almost 20 yards per pass completion.
24. Utah (4–1, 1–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 17
This week: Lost to Stanford, 23–20
Next game: at USC
The muddled Pac–12 South race will get some clarity next week as Utah hits the road to take on USC. Utah will also be seeking clarity in its quarterback situation—making the start in place of the injured Tyler Huntley, Troy Williams threw two fourth-quarter interceptions.
25. Texas Tech (4–1, 1–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Kansas, 65–19
Next week: at West Virginia
Texas Tech decided to concentrate on its running game for once against Kansas, because it knew that Kansas probably couldn’t stop it. The Red Raiders were right, rolling up 313 yards on the ground, led by Justin Stockton’s 161 yards and Desmond Nisby's 93 yards and four touchdowns. The defense forced four turnovers and now ranks fifth in the nation in turnover margin.
Out: Louisville, Florida, Kansas State, West Virginia. Maybe next week: Virginia, Michigan State.