Week 8 Power Rankings: Contenders to Pretenders? Making Sense of the Weekend's Wreckage

A weekend of reckoning in college football gives this week's power rankings a new look, with four new entrants and a pair of schools ascending into the top five.
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After a crazy weekend that saw four top-10 teams lose, the conference and playoff picture got a little clearer for the eight unbeatens and 19 one-loss teams still left in the FBS.

Lining up the four top teams that lost next to each other, it appears some will have a tougher time getting back in the playoff mix than others.

Clemson: The Tigers found out in the second half on Friday night in Syracuse that if quarterback Kelly Bryant misses extended time with a concussion, they could be on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrive. There is plenty of time and quality opponents left on the schedule for Clemson to right the ship.

Auburn: The Tigers’ chances of winning any title took a hit with their ninth straight loss in Death Valley, bringing LSU back into the SEC West race. The threat to archrival Alabama has not materialized, as transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been inconsistent throwing the ball.

Washington: The Huskies' loss to Arizona State was simply mind-blowing. The Sun Devils had allowed quarterbacks to find open receivers all season, but on Saturday night they held Jake Browning to just 139 yards. The Huskies' schedule down the stretch (Stanford, Utah, Washington State) won’t do them any favors.

Washington State: Perhaps the most fraudulent top-10 ranking heading into this week belonged to the Cougars, who decided to have Christmas in October by giving the ball away seven times in a 37–3 loss to Cal. This kind of blowout could derail the rest of the season, so it’s on Mike Leach to get his team to bounce back ahead of a home stretch packed with tough road games.

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Now, on to this week’s Top 25:

1. Alabama (7–0, 4–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Arkansas, 41–9
Next week: vs. Tennessee

Alabama’s dominance of Arkansas probably started during the pregame warmups, but it officially began with the Tide’s first play from scrimmage, when Damien Harris ran 75 yards for a touchdown. It was business as usual after that for Bama, which ran for 308 yards and put Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s job further in jeopardy.

2. Penn State (6–0, 3–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 3
Last week: Off
Next week: vs. Michigan

The week off comes at a great time for the Nittany Lions, whose two biggest games await next in division rivals Michigan and Ohio State. Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley could put some distance between him and the rest of field with two big games.

3. Georgia (7–0, 4–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Missouri, 53–28
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)

Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm helped out his loaded stable of running backs with 326 yards passing, and the Bulldogs woke up after a slow start to cruise to an easy victory at the expense of Missouri’s woeful defense. It was an atypical defensive performance for the Bulldogs, who allowed 28 points—their first time giving up 20 or more this season—and did not sack Tigers quarterback Drew Lock. Pressuring the quarterback has been that unit’s relative weakness: Georgia sits in a three-way tie for last in the SEC with just 10 sacks so far.

4. Ohio State (6­–1, 4–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Nebraska, 56–14
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Penn State

J.T. Barrett threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns, and J.K. Dobbins added 106 of his team’s 276 rushing yards as Ohio State continue to torment the bottom tier of the Big Ten with another blowout victory. After scoring eight touchdowns in Lincoln, it seems the Buckeyes’ struggles on offense are a distant memory. Ohio State gets a week off before the Big Ten game of the year against Penn State.

5. TCU (6–0, 3–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Kansas State, 26–6
Next game: vs. Kansas

Kansas State’s offense, or lack thereof, was on full display without starting quarterback Jesse Ertz, as TCU held its hosts to 216 yards, 70 yards rushing and a 2-of-15 mark on third down in Manhattan. Kenny Hill threw for 297 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground. TCU can add to its Big 12 lead next week when it hosts Kansas, which has lost 42 straight on the road but has given the Horned Frogs trouble of late.

6. Wisconsin (6–0, 3–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Purdue, 17–9
Next week: vs. Maryland

Jonathan Taylor continued his impressive freshman campaign, running for 219 yards to ensure Wisconsin stayed on track to have the Big Ten West wrapped up by early next month. The Badgers held the ball for nearly 40 minutes and limited Purdue to 221 yards. They own a two-game lead in the Big Ten West, and their next three conference opponents have one conference win between them.

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7. Oklahoma (5–1, 2–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Texas, 29–24
Next week: at Kansas State

Oklahoma has a problem on its hands: Not only do the Sooners give up big plays in the passing game, they also can’t seem to hold on to substantial leads, having blown double-digit advantages in each of their last three games. This week, they lost a 20-point lead over Texas and failed to score at least 30 points for the first time in 15 games, but the nation’s top offense by yards per play rolled up 518 against the Longhorns to keep playoff hopes alive in Norman.

8. Clemson (6–1, 4–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Lost to Syracuse, 27–24
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Georgia Tech

While Clemson is not out of the national championship or ACC title picture by any stretch, it was surprising to see the defense give up big plays and the Tigers take 11 penalties in an upset loss to Syracuse. The Orange had six plays of over 20 yards and contained the Clemson offense after quarterback Kelly Bryant went down with a concussion late in the first half. How badly Bryant has been banged up at midseason has to be a cause for concern moving forward.

9. Miami (FL) (5–0, 3–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Georgia Tech, 25–24
Next week: vs. Syracuse

For the second straight week, Miami needed a last-minute play to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Malik Rosier led the Hurricanes on a 15-play, 85-yard drive in the game’s final 2:26, capped off by an incredible catch by Darrell Langham off a tipped pass on fourth down that led to Michael Badgley’s 24-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. The Hurricanes held Georgia Tech to 225 yards rushing, 170 yards below the Jackets’ season average.

10. Oklahoma State (4–1, 1–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 14
Last week: Beat Baylor, 59–16
Next week: at Texas

Oklahoma State had a school-record 747 yards of total offense in an absolute destruction of winless Baylor, which had won three straight against the Cowboys. The Mason Rudolph–to–James Washington connection deserved its personal own highlight reel, as Rudolph passed for 459 yards and three touchdowns and Washington finished with six catches for 235 yards, with a receiving and rushing touchdown.

11. USC (6–1, 4–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Utah, 28–27
Next week: at Notre Dame

USC needed a failed two-point conversion to sneak past Utah, but the Trojans know there is no room for error to keep their playoff hopes alive. Sam Darnold went 27 of 50 for 358 yards and three touchdowns but again had trouble holding on to the ball, losing three fumbles. Running back Ronald Jones had 111 yards and a touchdown for USC, which plays three of its next four games on the road.

12. Virginia Tech (5–1, 1–1 ACC)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Off
Next week: vs. North Carolina

Virginia Tech were ruled out of the ACC title conversation after a convincing loss to Clemson, but Tigers don’t look to be invincible anymore. Of course, the Hokies need to win out to make their way to Charlotte for a potential rematch.

13. South Florida (6–0, 3–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 17
Last week: Beat Cincinnati, 33–3
Next week: at Tulane

South Florida’s 23rd straight game with more than 30 points led to its 11th straight win—the nation’s longest winning streak. Quinton​ Flowers had 264 total yards to lead the Bulls’ balanced attack, and the defense spent most of the night in the Cincinnati backfield, recording eight tackles for loss.

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14. Michigan (5–1, 2–1 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Indiana, 27–20 (OT)
Next week: at Penn State

Not sure what to make of Michigan after it blew a 10-point lead to Indiana in the final four minutes before surviving in overtime. If all else fails, the Wolverines can keep handing the ball to Karan Higdon, who ran for 200 yards and scored twice, including the game-winner. Quarterback John O’Korn had just 58 yards on 20 pass attempts, which is not going to cut it if the Wolverines want to realize their Big Ten title hopes.

15. Washington (6–1, 3–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Lost to Arizona State, 13–7
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. UCLA

Maybe there was a reason that most of the East Coast preferred not to stay up late to watch Washington. The Huskies turned in an uninspired performance against an Arizona State team that couldn’t stop anyone before this weekend, allowing 30 or more points in 11 straight games. Now the Huskies must get their act together just to have a chance in the Pac-12 North, as games against Stanford and Washington State still lie ahead.

16. North Carolina State (6–1, 4–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 19
This week: Beat Pittsburgh, 35–17
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Notre Dame.

The Wolfpack find themselves atop the Atlantic Division, but winning out to secure their spot in the ACC title game will be no easy task. Nyheim Hines saved the day with an 83-yard TD run and a 92-yard punt return touchdown. Ryan Finley has gone 313 passes without an interception, and NC State is on its longest winning streak in 15 years.

17. Notre Dame (5–1)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Off
Next game: vs. USC

A rash of upsets this past week has the Irish sitting pretty in the playoff picture. With the difficulty of their upcoming schedule, they have a chance to make a statement. Up next is USC, which has split its last eight meetings with Notre Dame.

18. Stanford (5–2, 4–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 22
This week: Beat Oregon, 49–7
Next week: vs. Oregon State

Bryce Love had only one carry in the second half before being sidelined by a minor injury, but he still finished with 147 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The Heisman candidate should have an even bigger day next week if he’s healthy enough to go against Oregon State, which gives up 200 yards a game on the groung and has surrendered 18 rushing touchdowns so far this season. Keller Chryst had an efficient game, throwing for 181 yards and three scores for Stanford, which has won four straight.

19. Washington State (6–1, 3–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Lost to California, 37–3
Next week: vs. Colorado

Everything that could go wrong for Washington State did go wrong as it was thumped in its attempt to prove it belongs amongst the Pac-12 elites. Cougars quarterback Luke Falk was picked off five times, lost a fumble and was sacked nine times, and Cal cashed in on those mistakes all night, scoring a win over a top-10 foe for the first time in 14 seasons.

20. Central Florida (5–0, 3–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 23
This week: Beat East Carolina, 63–21
Next week: at Navy

Central Florida’s blowout of East Carolina helped it keep pace with South Florida in the AAC and padded the numbers of the Knights’ nation-leading scoring offense. Possibly the best quarterback you have never heard of, UCF’s McKenzie Milton, had 324 yards passing and two touchdown passes and also ran for another score.

21. Auburn (5–2, 3­–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Lost to LSU, 27–23
Next week: at Arkansas

Blowing nearly three-touchdown leads seemed to be the theme of Saturday, as Auburn let an offensively challenged LSU team back in the game and ultimately didn’t make the plays that the homestanding Tigers did. Jarrett Stidham completed only nine of his 26 passes for 165 yards, and Kerryon Johnson provided the other half of the offense by running for 156 yards on 31 carries.

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22. West Virginia (4­–2, 2–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: ­—
This week: Beat Texas Tech, 46–35
Next week: at Baylor

Will Grier threw for 352 yards and five touchdown passes to lead the Mountaineers back from an 18-point deficit. West Virginia scored the game’s final 29 points after the defense withstood an initial flurry from Texas Tech’s explosive offense. Grier basically had to complete the comeback himself, as conference rushing leader Justin Crawford was held to 47 yards, but the Red Raiders helped him out by missing three field goals and committing 16 penalties.

23. Memphis (5–1, 2–1 AAC)

Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Navy, 30–27
Next week: at Houston

Riley Ferguson had 279 yards and three touchdowns and the defense used five Navy turnovers to hand the Midshipmen their first loss and throw a wrench in the AAC West standings. Ferguson has been on fire lately, throwing 13 touchdowns in his last four games.

24. Texas A&M (5–2, 3–1 SEC)

Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Florida, 19–17
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 28 vs. Mississippi State

Left for dead just a couple of weeks ago, the Aggies have bounced back in a big way, winning four of their last five games. Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond did just enough in the victory, completing only eight of his 24 passes for 180 yards but added 52 yards rushing and a touchdown. The Aggies only had 263 yards of offense, but they put themselves back in major bowl contention with the victory.

25. Michigan State (5–1, 3–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Minnesota, 30–27
Next week: vs. Illinois

Michigan State running back L.J. Scott ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns in his return from injury, and the Spartans nearly squandered a 17-point lead before holding on against Minnesota. Madre London added 74 yards on the ground for the Spartans, who beat the Gophers for the fifth straight time. The Spartans already have two more wins than their 2016 total.

Out: San Diego State, Texas Tech, Navy, Utah. Maybe next week: LSU, Virginia, Marshall. By conference: Big Ten (5), Big 12 (4), SEC (4), ACC (4), Pac-12 (4), AAC (3), Independent (1).