The Big Ten has made a case to be this year’s deepest Power 5 conference (and with five teams in this week’s AP Top 25, it has a strong case), but the league has done itself no favors as the top teams continue to go Hunger Games on each other before any get a chance to prove themselves in the playoff. While those teams will struggle to remain part of the playoff conversation, that is not the case in the ACC and SEC, where those conference championship matchups are nearly set.
Alabama and Georgia have emerged as the class of the SEC and the Bulldogs have already punched their ticket to Atlanta, while Alabama is just biding its time before it officially gets there as well. The SEC East champion has not claimed the conference title since Florida’s Tim Tebow-led 2008 squad and Georgia represents the best chance in years to break that drought.
The ACC is also close to securing its two teams for its title matchup. Miami dominated Virginia Tech and could make some real national title noise with a victory on Saturday over Notre Dame. Earlier next Saturday, Clemson should wrap up the Atlantic Division with a victory over Florida State. As far as the Tigers’ résumé, it’s as good as any in the nation: Clemson has beaten six teams that currently have winning records.
On to this week’s Power Rankings:
1. Alabama (9–0, 6–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat LSU, 24–10
Next week: at Mississippi State
The Crimson Tide pretty much went through the motions against LSU, securing an easy victory that felt like the outcome was never really in doubt because the Tigers could not sustain drives with consistency. Alabama did have trouble running the ball, averaging only 3.2 yards per rush, but quarterback Jalen Hurts did enough to move the offense, throwing and passing for a touchdown in the Crimson Tide’s seventh straight win over LSU and 18th straight win at home.
2. Georgia (9–0, 6–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat South Carolina, 24–10
Next week: at Auburn
Georgia clinched the SEC East and now has its sights set on loftier goals. The Bulldogs controlled the clock and kept the Gamecocks at bay with a healthy dose of their reliable running game (242 yards) and the arm of freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs have a big game against Auburn next week in another potential playoff eliminator.
3. Oklahoma (8–1, 5–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Oklahoma State, 62–52
Next week: vs. TCU
With a 62–52 track meet that had the feel of a video game, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State cemented the Big 12’s anti-defense reputation in Bedlam. The Sooners rolled up 785 yards of offense, led by Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield, who threw for 598 yards and five touchdowns. The Sooners did just enough to pass the latest test in its quest to get back to the playoff.
4. Clemson (8–1, 6–1 ACC)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat NC State, 38–31
Next week: vs. Florida State
Clemson all but wrapped up the Atlantic Division by outlasting a gritty NC State team that has now lost two in a row. The Tigers also figure to stay put in this week’s playoff rankings after the three teams ahead of them all won. Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant looked healthy running for 88 yards and throwing for 191 yards as the Tigers beat the Wolfpack for the sixth straight time.
5. Notre Dame (8–1)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Wake Forest, 48–37
Next game: at Miami
Notre Dame dodged some injury bullets early in the game to keep pace in the playoff conversation. Brandon Wimbush passed for 280 yards and a score and ran for 110 yards, adding two touchdowns to lead the Irish to their seventh straight win. Irish running back and Heisman candidate Josh Adams was injured, but his backups and Wimbush still rolled up 383 rushing yards. Neither the Irish nor Wake Forest decided to stop each other, combining for almost 1,300 yards and 64 first downs.
6. Miami, FL (8–0, 6–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Virginia Tech, 28–10
Next week: vs. Notre Dame
The Hurricanes had plenty of reason to flaunt their absurd turnover chain, forcing four Virginia Tech miscues en route to inching closer to clinching a berth in the ACC title game, which they have never played in. Quarterback Malik Rosier had three total touchdowns and was picked off three times, but the Canes’ defense stifled the Tech offense to win a 13th consecutive game.
7. Wisconsin (9–0, 6–0 Big 10)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Indiana, 45–18
Next week: vs. Iowa
Jonathan Taylor had 183 yards rushing for Wisconsin, which is headed straight for an undefeated regular season. Once again, the passing game wasn’t much of a factor, although Alex Hornibrook did throw for 158 yards and two touchdowns—Wisconsin ran the ball 52 times and threw it 20. The stout Badgers defense only allowed 40 yards rushing and forced three turnovers.
8. Washington (8–1, 4–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Oregon, 38–3
Next week: at Stanford
Oregon found out the hard way about punting to Dante Pettis, who set the NCAA record by returning his ninth career punt for a touchdown. Pettis also had 87 yards receiving and a touchdown. Oregon suddenly forgot how to throw the ball, or didn’t want to, and at some points in the game didn’t even try to challenge the Washington secondary. Each team ran for 247 yards, but Oregon only had 31 yards passing.
9. TCU (8–1, 5–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Texas, 24–7
Next game: at Oklahoma
TCU’s defense allowed a mere nine rushing yards, forcing Texas quarterback Shane Buechele to attempt to beat it through the air. The Horned Frogs keep pace with Oklahoma in the Big 12 before the conference’s game of the year on Saturday in Norman.
10. Central Florida (8–0, 5–0 AAC)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: Beat SMU, 31–24
Next week: vs. UConn
UCF had been used to blowing teams out all season and had to sweat one out on the road against a good SMU team. Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton again was outstanding, throwing for a career-high 412 yards, and he got a big boost from running back Adrian Killins, who contributed 145 rushing yards and two scores. The Knights remain a half-game up on South Florida, which they meet on Nov. 24 with a trip to the AAC title game on the line.
11. Auburn (7–2, 5–1 SEC)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat Texas A&M, 42–27
Next week: vs. Georgia
Jarred Stidham passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns and Kerryon Johnson added 145 yards on the ground as Auburn continued Texas A&M’s season of misery and pushed Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin one step closer to a possible dismissal. Auburn’s two biggest games come in the next three weeks against Alabama and Georgia, the top two teams in the nation.
12. Ohio State (7–2, 5–1 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Lost to Iowa, 55–24
Next week: vs. Michigan State
Ohio State can all but officially kiss its championship dreams goodbye. In both of the Buckeyes’ losses this season they were manhandled up and down the field, with seemingly no answer when the opponent punched back. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, after playing so well the previous six weeks, threw four interceptions, including a pick-six on the game’s very first play.
13. USC (8–2, 6–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 17
This week: Beat Arizona, 49–35
Next week: at Colorado
USC held off a furious comeback by Arizona and gained firm control of the Pac-12 South. Sam Darnold had two touchdown passes and 311 yards through the air and Ronald Jones II took over in the fourth quarter, running for 96 of his 194 yards in the final frame. The Trojans’ defense allowed Khalil Tate to run for 161 yards and throw for 146 but forced two crucial interceptions late to stall the Wildcats' comeback.
14. Penn State (7–2, 4–2 Big 10)
Previous ranking: 7
Last week: Lost to Michigan State, 27–24
Next week: vs. Rutgers
Just two weeks ago, Penn State was thought to be one of the nation’s best teams. After two losses by a combined four points, the Nittany Lions find themselves on the outside looking in of any conference or national championship chatter. Additionally, Saquon Barkley’s Heisman chances took a hit after he rushed for 63 yards and caught three passes for 33 yards.
15. Oklahoma State (7–2, 4–2 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 10
Last week: Lost to Oklahoma, 62–52
Next week: at Iowa State
Another team that saw its conference title hopes take a hit, the Cowboys did everything they needed to do against Oklahoma—except make stops and avoid untimely turnovers. The Cowboys’ big three (Mason Rudolph, 448 yards, five TDs; James Washington, seven catches, 128 yards, one TD; Justice Hill, 228 yards rushing, two TDs) showed up, but the defense was shredded to the tune of 596 passing yards on only 24 completions.
16. Michigan State (7–2, 5–1 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: —
Last week: Beat Penn State, 27–24
Next week: at Ohio State
The Big Ten East race is now in total chaos thanks to the Spartans’ weather-delayed victory over Penn State and Iowa’s absolute destruction of Ohio State. Brian Lewerke threw for 400 yards and Michigan State beat Penn State for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The Spartans still have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference by beating Ohio State and handling the rest of a winnable schedule.
17. Memphis (8–1, 5–1 AAC)
Previous ranking: 18
This week: Beat Tulsa, 41–14
Next week: Off; next game Nov. 18 vs. SMU
Riley Ferguson and the Memphis offense continued their methodical steamrolling of opponents, racking up 524 yards in an easy, penalty-filled victory over Tulsa, which has lost six of its last seven games. Ferguson had 298 passing yards and threw four touchdowns to four different receivers in scoring the game’s last 27 points. The Tigers could have the AAC West division wrapped up by the time they play again in two weeks.
18. Virginia Tech (7–2, 3–2 ACC)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Lost to Miami, 28–10
Next week: at Georgia Tech
The Hokies squandered an opportunity to at least keep the game close by failing to fully capitalize on three Miami turnovers and committing four themselves, including three in the second half. Their lack of offensive production against the conference’s two best defenses will ultimately keep them out of the ACC title game.
19. Mississippi State (7–2, 3–2 SEC)
Previous ranking: 22
This week: Beat UMass, 34–23
Next week: vs. Alabama
Maybe SEC teams should consider keeping UMass off the schedule after Mississippi State struggled to put away the two-win Minutemen just weeks after Tennessee did its best to embarrass itself in a close victory in September. Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had 274 total yards but was picked off twice, helping UMass stay in the game. Next is the unbeaten Crimson Tide, who Mississippi State has lost nine straight games to, including a 51–3 thrashing in Tuscaloosa last season.
20. Washington State (7–2, 5–2 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 25
Last week: Beat Stanford, 24–21
Next week: at Utah
Luke Falk returned to the lineup and threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, in the process breaking the Pac-12 record for career passing yards. The Cougars’ defense again stepped up, holding the nation’s leading rusher Bryce Love to 69 yards. Now, the Cougars must hit the road for their final two games with the Pac-12 North title at stake. In its last two road games, Washington State has lost by an average of 27.5 points.
21. Michigan (7–2, 4–2 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 23
This week: Beat Minnesota, 33–10
Next week: at Maryland
Michigan got back to what it is known for, using a bruising running game and a relentless defense to shut down Minnesota. The Wolverines rushed for 371 yards, averaging a first down every carry. New starting quarterback Brandon Peters was not asked to do much, throwing the ball only 13 times for 56 yards and a touchdown.
22. Stanford (6–3, 5–2 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: Lost to Washington State, 24–21
Next week: vs. Washington
Familiar offensive struggles showed up again for Stanford, which gained only 198 yards and had no threat of a passing game. Bryce Love was held to 69 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown. The Washington State defense also spent ample time in the Stanford backfield, totaling 11 tackles for loss to end the Cardinal’s winning streak at five.
23. West Virginia (6–3, 4–2 Big 12)
Previous ranking: —
Last week: Beat Iowa State, 20–16
Next week: at Kansas State
West Virginia jumped out to a 20–0 lead and held on to beat Iowa State despite not scoring a point in the second half. The West Virginia offense moved the ball at will against the Cyclones. Will Grier had 316 yards passing and Justin Crawford ran for 102 yards to deal the Cyclones a second conference loss and clarify the Big 12 picture.
24. South Florida (8–1, 5–1 AAC)
Previous ranking: —
Last week: Beat UConn, 37–20
Next week: Off; next game Nov. 16 vs. Tulsa
UConn’s nation-worst pass defense did not disappoint last weekend, allowing USF quarterback Quinton Flowers to throw for 385 yards and three touchdowns. Flowers also ran for 131 yards for the Bulls, who are not entirely out of the conversation for a New Year’s Six bowl bid and still control their own destiny when it comes to the AAC East.
25. Boise State (7–2, 5–0 MWC)
Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Nevada, 41–14
Next week: at Colorado State
Just imagine where Boise State would be if it hadn’t blown a three-touchdown lead to Washington State in early September and actually showed up in an embarrassing blowout home loss to Virginia two weeks later. The Broncos have reeled off five straight wins after an easy victory over Nevada and are in prime position atop the MWC’s Mountain Division.
Out: NC State, LSU, Arizona, Iowa State. Maybe next week: Iowa, Army, Toledo, Iowa State.