While nothing is settled in the quest for College Football Playoff spots, three teams came out of September with the most emphatic statement that they would have to be dealt with if any other teams want to crash the Final Four.
Alabama is, well, Alabama. The Crimson Tide were not challenged at all in their first five games, beating teams into submission by halftime. Tua Tagovailoa still hasn’t thrown a pass in the fourth quarter and can sit on the bench while the rest of his teammates get playing time for the foreseeable future.
Ohio State can thank Penn State’s late-game play-calling for keeping the Buckeyes on track for another playoff appearance. Ohio State is the only Big Ten team to leave September unscathed, on the strength of an explosive offense and a defense that, while not dominant, has the talent to make plays at the most opportunistic times.
Having shut down fellow top-10 team Stanford, Notre Dame now has no excuses if it doesn’t make the playoff. With a quarterback who can move the ball consistenly, the Irish have to like their chances against a schedule of opponents who have proven to be weaker than advertised. The rest of the slate, which includes games against Virginia Tech, Florida State and USC, once looked like a gauntlet but now looks fairly manageable.
Now, let’s get to the rankings:
1. Alabama (5–0, 2–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Louisiana, 56–14
Next week: at Arkansas
2. Georgia (5–0, 3–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Tennessee, 38–12
Next week: vs. Vanderbilt
Could there be another quarterback controversy surrounding a top-five team? “The plan is, there is no plan,” according to Kirby Smart, who has increased his rotation between sophomore incumbent Jake Fromm and freshman Justin Fields. Fromm, for his part, has managed the offense and taken care of the ball, but the Bulldogs were intermittently stagnant in September.
3. Clemson (5–0, 2–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Syracuse, 27–23
Next week: at Wake Forest
Clemson’s worst nightmare came to life when true freshman Trevor Lawrence was injured in his first start and had to be replaced by fellow freshman Chase Brice. Fortunately, the Tigers have a good running game, led by Travis Etienne, who ran for a career-high 203 yards and scored three touchdowns, including the winning score with 41 seconds remaining.
4. Ohio State (5–0, 2–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Penn State, 27–26
Next week: vs. Indiana
While Ohio State’s defense again gave up big plays, it also got stops when it needed to, helping the Buckeyes rally from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat Penn State for the third time in the last four trips to Happy Valley. The offense, led by quarterback Dwayne Haskins, capped the comeback with a 96-yard touchdown drive. The Buckeyes can pretty much coast until November, when Michigan State and Michigan fill out the back part of their schedule.
5. Notre Dame (5–0)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Stanford, 38–17
Next week: at Virginia Tech
In ending the Irish’s three-game losing streak to Stanford, quarterback Ian Book solidified his standing as the starter moving forward, throwing for 278 yards and four touchdowns. He has completed 73% of his passes for 603 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions since earning the job. The defense also came to play, as the Cardinal had only 229 yards of total offense, their lowest total in nearly two years.
6. LSU (5–0, 2–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Ole Miss, 45–16
Next week: at Florida
There is nothing like playing Ole Miss to cure whatever offensive woes you have. The Tigers put up a season-high 573 yards and Joe Burrow completed more than 60% of his passes for this first time all season, finishing with 292 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed passes to nine different players and has now thrown 131 consecutive passes without being intercepted.
7. Oklahoma (5–0, 2–0 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Baylor, 66–33
Next week: vs. Texas at Dallas
Kyler Murray was spectacular, throwing for 432 yards and six touchdowns despite missing the first series due to an undisclosed disciplinary issue. In last week’s victory over Army, the Sooners possessed the ball for only 15 minutes. This week, they had the ball for 22 minutes against Baylor, racking up 607 total yards. Marquise Brown had five catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns after not recording a catch against Army.
8. Auburn (4–1, 1–1 SEC)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Southern Miss, 24–13
Next week: at Mississippi State
9. Penn State: (4–1, 1–1 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Lost to Ohio State, 27–26
Next week: Bye; next game Oct. 13 vs. Michigan State
If the Nittany Lions do not make the playoff, the call on fourth-and-five from the Ohio State 45-yard line with less than two minutes will be replayed over and over again. Trace McSorley single-handedly kept Penn State in the game, totaling a school-record 461 total yards, including 175 yards rushing. A Beaver Stadium record crowd witnessed a classic, but the loss snaps a 16-game winning streak at home and sets Penn State back in the Big Ten East race.
10. Washington (4–1, 2–0 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat BYU, 35–7
Next week: at UCLA
11. West Virginia (4–0, 2–0 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Texas Tech, 42–34
Next week: vs. Kansas
Will Grier had 370 yards passing with three touchdowns and might have found a reliable second option behind David Sills V. Junior Marcus Simms has 274 yards in his past two games, including 138 against Texas Tech, all of which came in the first half. But the Mountaineers were bogged down in the second half, gaining only 107 yards as the Red Raiders mounted their comeback, which fell short.
12. Michigan (4–1, 2–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Northwestern, 20–17
Next week: vs. Maryland
Defense will keep Michigan in many games this season, and defense bailed the Wolverines out against Northwestern. The Wildcats gained only 202 yards, including 97 in the final three quarters, and Clayton Thorsen was sacked six times. Karan Higdon grinded out 115 tough yards and the Wolverines overcame 11 penalties and a 17-point deficit to beat Northwestern for the sixth straight time.
13. UCF (4–0, 1–0 AAC)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Pittsburgh, 45–14
Next week: vs. SMU
14. Stanford (4–1, 2–0 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Lost to Notre Dame, 38–17
Next week: vs. Utah
The most glaring issue for the Cardinal in South Bend was the offensive line’s performance. The line that helped Bryce Love gain over 2,000 yards last season rarely opened up holes for him at Notre Dame, as Love finished with 73 yards on 17 carries before leaving with a leg injury. The line also gave up five sacks. The defense deserves its share of the blame, allowing 550 yards and 29 first downs.
15. Wisconsin (3–1, 1–0 Big Ten)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: Bye
Next week: vs. Nebraska
16. Miami (FL) (4–1, 1–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat North Carolina, 47–10
Next week: vs. Florida State
The turnover chain got worn out on Thursday as the Hurricanes collected six takeaways and returned three of them for scores. Redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry got the start over Malik Rosier and wasn’t asked to do much, throwing for 121 yards on 12 attempts with a touchdown and an interception. Miami dominated with a strong ground game (229 yards on 34 carries), giving the Canes fourth straight weeks with at least 200 yards rushing.
17. Kentucky (5–0, 3–0 SEC)
Previous ranking: 19
This week: Beat South Carolina, 24–10
Next week: at Texas A&M
Kentucky used a good defensive performance and steady running from Benny Snell to move to 5–0 for the first time since 2007, with each victory coming by double-digits. Benny Snell Jr. had 99 yards and a touchdown, and the defense collected four turnovers. The Wildcats could throw a wrench in the SEC East race if they continue to win, with a big road game coming against Texas A&M and a home date with Georgia in a month.
18. Michigan State (3–1, 1–0 Big 10)
Previous ranking: 17
This week: Beat Central Michigan, 31–20
Next week: vs. Northwestern
19. Texas (4–1, 2–0 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 18
This week: Beat Kansas State, 19–14
Next week: vs. Oklahoma at Dallas
Throw out the records whenever Texas plays Oklahoma, but the Longhorns, even with their four-game winning streak, have a few reasons to be concerned. In snapping a five-game losing streak at Kansas State, Texas’s offense went for long periods without doing much, relying on defense and special teams to secure the victory. Next up are the Sooners, who have beaten Texas in six of the last eight years.
20. Colorado (4–0, 1–0 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat UCLA, 38–16
Next week: vs. Arizona State
Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez and receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. continued their red-hot start, with Montez throwing for 237 yards and adding 81 rushing yards and Shenault catching 12 passes for 126 yards. The Buffaloes have won their first four games for the first time in 20 years. Meanwhile, the misery continues for Chip Kelly and UCLA, which is 0–4 for the first time since 1971 and have lost 12 straight road games.
21. Oklahoma State (4–1, 1–1 Big 12)
Previous ranking: 22
This week: Beat Kansas 48–28
Next week: vs. Iowa State
Taylor Cornelius bounced back from his worst game and threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns to help the Cowboys past Kansas. Justice Hill added 189 yards and tied a Big 12 record for the most consecutive games with a TD by a running back. The offense got back in gear a week after suffering its only loss to Texas Tech, rolling up 568 yards and beating Kansas for the ninth straight time.
22. Boise State (3–1, 1–0 MWC)
Previous ranking: 23
This week: Beat Wyoming, 34–14
Next week: vs. San Diego State
23. Oregon (4–1, 1–1 Pac–12)
Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat California, 42–24
Next week: Bye; next game Oct. 13 vs. Washington
Oregon surprisingly won a road conference game for the first time since November 2016. Justin Herbert completing 16 of 22 passes for 225 yards with two touchdowns and was helped by a rushing attack to pile up 260 yards. The defense helped with two touchdowns of its own and is allowing just 2.97 yards per carry, good for a top-20 national ranking.
24. Florida (4–1, 2–1 SEC)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Mississippi State, 31–14
Next week: vs. LSU
The Gators make their first appearance in the Power Rankings this season and are steadily improving on both sides of the ball, even if the stats don’t say so. It may be that the Mississippi State offense is a mess right now, but the defense smothered Nick Fitzgerald and his weapons all night long. Feleipe Franks threw for 219 yards and made timely throws to give Florida hope for its long-suffering passing game.
25. Virginia Tech (3–1, 2–0 ACC)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Duke, 31–14
Next week: vs. Notre Dame
As bad as that Old Dominion loss looked, it didn’t affect the Hokies’ chances in the ACC. All of their remaining difficult games come at Lane Stadium.
By conference: SEC (6), Big Ten (5), Big 12 (4), Pac-12 (4), ACC (3), Independent (1), AAC (1), Mountain West (1).
Dropped Out: Mississippi State, BYU.
Maybe next week: NC State, Texas A&M, San Diego State, Cincinnati, Maryland.