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SI's Top 10: The State of Michigan Reigns Supreme As Wolverines, Spartans Charge Forward

Michigan and Michigan State clinch top spots as the undefeated teams prepare for an epic showdown in Week 9.

The beauty of college football is that when you sit down for a Saturday that doesn’t have much walk-up appeal, things will end up happening that you’ve never seen before.

Like a nine-overtime game in which only 38 points are scored.

Like a quarterback stealing the ball from his own running back and carrying it for a key first down to keep an undefeated season going.

Both those things happened in the noon window of games, sending what was supposed to be a mundane weekend off the rails. Illinois stunned Penn State 20–18 in the nine-OT fandango that showed the flaws of the utterly gimmicky new overtime rules and showcased the offensive futility of both teams. It was, technically, the longest game in the history of the sport and also one of the worst. Neither team was capable of mustering three yards for a score across five straight OT periods, when they went to the two-point conversion stage in the third OT. For 10 straight plays from the three, neither team could find the end zone.

It was hilariously awful.

The same could describe Oklahoma’s wheeze past Kansas in Lawrence. Being shut out for a half by Kansas, which entered the weekend 129th out of 130 teams nationally in scoring defense, was an incredible development for the high-octane Sooners. But freshman quarterback Caleb Williams put it together in the second half and Oklahoma was clinging to a 28–23 lead when the second unprecedented moment of the afternoon occurred.

Facing a fourth-and-1 on its own side of the 50-yard line, Lincoln Riley went for it. A carry by Kennedy Brooks appeared briefly to take the ball past the line to gain for a first down, but he was pushed back. Before the officials could blow their whistles and stop the play, Williams rushed in and forcibly removed the football from Brooks’ hands—the second handoff of the play, which went Williams to Brooks to Williams— and he ran for five yards and the first down.

After much consternation and official replay review, the play was declared legal and the drive continued. Oklahoma scored the clinching touchdown seven plays later and got out of town with its seventh underwhelming victory. And thenceforth, anytime a player steals the ball from a teammate and runs with it will be known as “The Caleb Williams Play.”

After those two wild developments, the rest of the day unfolded largely as expected. The week began with 11 undefeated teams and ended with nine, the only casualties being Coastal Carolina at Appalachian State on Wednesday and Oklahoma State losing (as a road underdog) against Iowa State Saturday.

This was not the first time Oklahoma State has seen an undefeated season flame out in Ames. A decade ago, the Cowboys had the inside track to play in the BCS Championship Game but were beaten 37–31 by the Cyclones. This year’s team had a long way to go to get within a sniff of the national title, but now the path to the playoff appears blocked. Oklahoma State’s best option might be playing spoiler to Oklahoma when the Sooners visit Stillwater Nov. 27—though the Cowboys will have to be on the lookout for The Caleb Williams Play.

1. Georgia (7–0) 

Last game: Beat Kentucky 30–13 Oct. 16
Next game: Florida in Jacksonville Oct. 30

The tumult elsewhere Saturday did nothing to lessen the belief that the Bulldogs (7–0) are the best nationally to this point. They have won every Southeastern Conference game by at least 17 points, and unless the Gators produce an inspired rivalry effort in the Cocktail Party game, that level of dominance could continue for the rest of the regular season. Coach Kirby Smart has this season sufficiently under control that he could spend Friday night in New Orleans watching high school junior Arch Manning throw spirals. The Georgia recruiting machine never rests.

2. Michigan (7–0) 

Last game: Beat Northwestern 33–7
Next game: at Michigan State Oct. 30

The Wolverines were in a scrap for a half against the Wildcats, then pitched a 23–0 shutout after intermission. This was exactly who Michigan is: slamming the ball at Northwestern on the ground, with both Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins gaining 100 yards; the defense keeping the Wildcats out of the end zone other than a 75-yard run in the second quarter; special teams chipping in a blocked punt. Michigan still doesn’t have much juice in the passing game, throwing for 163 yards with just 5.1 yards per attempt and no completions longer than 18 yards. Even at 7–0, the Wolverines have improving to do to win their division.


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3. Michigan State (7–0) 

Last game: Beat Indiana 20–15 Oct. 16
Next game: Michigan in East Lansing Oct. 30

Even after an open date, the Spartans remain the only Power 5 team in the country that is 4–0 on the road. Their big-play offense stalled last week against the Hoosiers, producing just 241 yards and 3.89 yards per snap. They’ll need to rediscover some pop by Saturday when the Wolverines come to town. Defensively, Michigan State is one of just two teams to not allow more than 21 points in a game this season. (Georgia is the other.)

4. Cincinnati (7–0) 

Last game: Beat Navy 27–20
Next game: at Tulane Oct. 30

The Bearcats (7–0) endured their service academy root canal, holding off the 1–6 Midshipmen in a game that wasn’t secured until the final minute. If it weren’t for a Navy meltdown at the end of the first half—bad play calling led to taking sacks and then having a long field goal blocked, with Cincinnati then hitting a 52-yarders—this could have turned out differently. Navy ground out 84 offensive plays to Cincinnati’s 51, playing keep away and shortening the game. The best thing that happened to the Bearcats Saturday was Notre Dame dispatching USC by 15 points and improving to 6–1, putting a little more polish on Cincy’s signature win.

5. Oregon (6–1) 

Last game: Beat UCLA 34–31
Next game: Colorado in Eugene Oct. 30

The Ducks (6–1) needed a defensive stand at the end for the third straight game. The first one was unsuccessful (at Stanford) but the next two have worked out (California, at UCLA). This time, Oregon got an interception to stop a last-minute Bruins drive and prevent a fourth-quarter collapse after leading by 17. The Ducks are injured and hardly dominant of late, but they do have the head-to-head victory over Ohio State in Columbus. As long as they both have the same record, that keeps Oregon a spot ahead of the Buckeyes in my view. They played the game and the results of that game should matter. (If anything should jeopardize Oregon’s place in the Top 10, it’s those lamentable speckled-egg uniforms the Ducks wore. They look like they were washed with a box of leaky ink pens.)

6. Ohio State (6–1) 

Last game: Beat Indiana 54–7
Next game: Penn State in Columbus Oct. 30

The Buckeyes (6–1) tore through another overmatched Big Ten East opponent, scoring 30 points in the second quarter and coasting through the second half in Bloomington. Combined score of their past three games, against Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers: 172–37. Quarterback C.J. Stroud has been on fire in that stretch, throwing for 1,002 yards and 14 touchdowns with no interceptions. More importantly, Ohio State has made strides defensively since a porous start to the season on that side of the ball. Penn State’s loss to Illinois Saturday takes considerable luster off the Nittany Lions’ upcoming visit to the Horseshoe.

7. Alabama (7–1) 

Last game: Beat Tennessee 52–24
Next game: LSU in Tuscaloosa Nov. 6

The Crimson Tide (7–1) sputtered for most of the night against the Volunteers before blowing the game open in the fourth quarter. Nick Saban doesn’t have to worry about much “rat poison” from the media after his secondary gave up three long pass plays to Tennessee, his special teams gave up a blocked punt, and his offense had a number of issues lining up and getting plays snapped without incident. But here’s the thing about Alabama: you can do all those things wrong and still win by 28 when you have game-breaking talent. The Tide still has a very manageable path to the SEC championship game.

8. Oklahoma (8–0)

Last game: Beat Kansas 35–23
Next game: Texas Tech in Norman Oct. 30

Of all the Sooners’ shaky victories this season—which is to say, almost all of them—this might be the shakiest. The Jayhawks hadn’t led a Big 12 game for a second this year, but were up 10–0 in the second half. They finally cracked defensively, but the game still was in doubt when Williams made his super-savvy play to steal the ball from his own teammate. Oklahoma has won all its games, but at this juncture Oklahoma’s resume is scantly better than Wake Forest’s.

9. Kentucky (6–1) 

Last game: Lost to Georgia 30–13 Oct. 16
Next game: at Mississippi State Oct. 30

It’s hard to come up with 10 teams worth ranking, so why not the Wildcats (6–1)? They were respectable against the Bulldogs between the hedges, and have a blowout of LSU and a victory over Florida. Maybe Wake Forest should be ranked here, but the Demon Deacons would certainly have a loss to Georgia if they had to play the Bulldogs.

10. Mississippi (6–1) 

Last game: Beat LSU 31–17
Next game: at Auburn Oct. 30

The Rebels displayed their defensive growth against the Tigers Saturday, holding them to seven points through three quarters and just 326 total yards for the game. Matt Corral’s numbers didn’t do a whole lot for his Heisman Trophy campaign (209 yards rushing and passing and one touchdown each way), but he did have a 19-yard reception for some added style points. Ole Miss painted “MANNING” in the end zones for the game, ostensibly to honor the retirement of Eli’s jersey number, but rest assured that was a message meant more for his nephew Arch.