I realize I said in my introduction last week that the rankings would vary wildly in the first few weeks. It appears I lied. I expected them to fluctuate a lot, but it turns out they didn’t.
That should change in the coming weeks, though. There are some teams that I’m just not sure about because of their competition. For instance, I don’t yet know if Virginia Tech belongs in the top 10 because while the Hokies’ season-opening win at Florida State on Labor Day was impressive, Florida State’s near-miss against Samford on Saturday casts doubt on how great a win at Doak Campbell Stadium really is. Meanwhile, I still don’t have LSU ranked here. Yes, the Tigers looked great against Miami. But I’m not sure what a win against Miami is worth.
I neglected to mention last week the basic premise I use when I rank teams. If I rank one team above another, it means that based on what I’ve seen so far this season, I think the team I ranked higher would beat the team I ranked lower if those teams faced one another on a neutral field this week. This usually works fine until one team pulls a fluky upset and I have to explain why I’m ranking a one-loss team ahead of a six-loss team that beat the one-loss team in a head-to-head.
We’ll also keep honoring a Plus One, which is a team that doesn’t belong in the top 10 but does deserve some special recognition. The fans of this week’s Plus One have waited a long time for a night like Saturday.
On to the rankings…
1. Alabama (2–0)
Last week: 1
Last game: Beat Arkansas State, 57–7
Next game: at Ole Miss
The first game with Tua Tagovalioa as the official starter went smoothly. Tagovailoa completed 13 of 19 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns. Jalen Hurts got into the game in the first half and wound up finishing his day 7-of-9 for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Next up, the Crimson Tide face a team that trailed Southern Illinois 38–35 at the half and wound up winning 76–41. With quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and one of the nation’s best receiving corps, Ole Miss is capable of hitting a few big plays against the Tide. But the Rebels also might be capable of giving up 80.
2. Ohio State (2–0)
Last week: 2
Last game: Beat Rutgers, 52–3
Next game: vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas
We’ll know a lot more about the Buckeyes after they face the Horned Frogs next week. But if Ohio State shreds TCU the way it has shredded Oregon State and TCU, watch out for acting (at least during the games at this point) head coach Ryan Day to shoot to the top of wish lists at schools that will take part in the coaching carousel this year. For all the tumult the Buckeyes went through off the field, none of it shows on the field.
3. Georgia (2–0)
Last week: 7
Last game: Beat South Carolina, 41–17
Next game: vs. Middle Tennessee
This may look like an overreaction considering I raised Georgia four spots and dropped the team I’ve predicted will win the national title (Clemson), but the Bulldogs stomped their biggest threat in the SEC East on the road on Saturday. If the Bulldogs keep playing the way they did Saturday, only LSU, Auburn and (if Georgia does wind up in the SEC title game) Alabama have the athletes to compete with them.
4. Oklahoma (2–0)
Last week: 3
Last game: Beat UCLA, 49–21
Next game: at Iowa State
The Sooners looked brutally efficient on offense again Saturday. Quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 69 yards and two touchdowns. But unfortunately, the injury tailback Rodney Anderson suffered Saturday could be a huge blow if it knocks out Anderson for the season. The Sooners may have to rely on freshman T.J. Pledger and Murray to carry the load on the ground from this point forward.
5. Clemson (2–0)
Last week: 4
Last game: Beat Texas A&M, 28–26
Next game: vs. Georgia Southern
We won’t know exactly what Clemson’s win at Kyle Field actually meant until Sept. 22 when the Aggies visit Alabama and the Tigers open ACC play against Georgia Tech, but this one took a lot of work thanks to an electric atmosphere in Aggieland and some very good players recruited by Kevin Sumlin and coached Saturday by Jimbo Fisher. The Kelly Bryant–Trevor Lawrence mystery doesn’t seem to be solved, though Bryant helped the Tigers lock down the win by using his legs.
6. Auburn (2–0)
Last week: 5
Last game: Beat Alabama State, 63–9
Next game: vs. LSU
The Washington win was great, but a blowout against an FCS school—while always a relief for the coaches and players—does nothing in the grand scheme. That will change dramatically next week when LSU visits Auburn.
7. Wisconsin (2–0)
Last week: 6
Last game: Beat New Mexico, 45–14
Next game: vs. BYU
The Badgers ran through the Lobos thanks to 253 rushing yards and three rushing TDs from Jonathan Taylor, but we’re still going to need to see Wisconsin beat someone a little bit better. That may not be BYU next week, but a trip to Iowa the following week absolutely will test the Badgers.
8. Stanford (2–0)
Last week: 9
Last game: Beat USC, 17–3
Next game: vs. UC-Davis
The Cardinal creamed the Trojans, shutting down USC’s offense even more than they shut down San Diego State’s in Week 1. The only question is, what does that mean? Perhaps USC will be good this year, but that seems like a questionable sentiment based on the available evidence. But with road trips to Oregon and Notre Dame coming up later this month, we should have a good handle on the Cardinal by October.
9. Notre Dame (2–0)
Last week: 8
Last game: Beat Ball State, 24–16
Next game: vs. Vanderbilt
The Fighting Irish slogged their way through a win against the Cardinals that included quarterback Brandon Wimbush averaging 9.6 yards an attempt (very, very good) and throwing three interceptions (very, very bad). But Michigan’s bounceback on Saturday against Western Michigan made Notre Dame’s season-opening win against the Wolverines look even better.
10. West Virginia (2–0)
Last week: 10
Last game: Beat Youngstown State, 52–17
Next game: at NC State
The Mountaineers pounded Tennessee and then handily beat an FCS program that lost the previous week to a Pioneer League team. This week, they’ll be tested thoroughly. As long as the game doesn’t get wiped out by a hurricane, we should have a good idea what West Virginia is as it enters Big 12 play.
Plus One: Kentucky (2–0)
The Wildcats traveled to The Swamp and beat Florida 27–16 to snap a 31-game losing streak to the Gators. Even in spite of two killer turnovers, Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson looked like the most dynamic player on the field. Wilson completed 11 of 16 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns and ran 10 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, tailback Benny Snell Jr. carried 27 times for 175 yards.
The last time Kentucky beat Florida before Saturday was Nov. 15, 1986.
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