In a week largely devoid of consequential games, Clemson took advantage of its primetime game at Louisville to announce that it would be very much a part of the Playoff picture in the post-Deshaun Watson (KB) era. The as-advertised defense paired with a balanced offensive outburst to bury the Cardinals in what many thought might be the Tigers’ most difficult test of the season. As a result, Clemson jumped Oklahoma in the AP poll and even closed the gap on Alabama by picking up 15 of the available 61 first-place votes. Despite the lack of ranked-on-ranked matchups, we still saw a significant shake-up in the bottom half of the poll as four ranked teams - LSU, Kansas State, Stanford, and UCLA - fell on the road to unranked opponents.
1. Alabama (Last Week: 1)
Alabama probably wasn’t as dominant against Colorado State as Nick Saban would prefer, but its game with the Rams was never in doubt. It will probably take a Crimson Tide loss for them to surrender the No. 1 spot in the rankings, but the fallout from Clemson’s decisive win showed that not every voter has “Alabama” written in pen on their weekly submission to the poll.
2. Clemson (Last Week: 3)
Not sure Tiger nation could have asked for a better performance than it got Saturday at Louisville. The braintrust here alluded to Clemson simply being the better team all week, but it’s always hard to discount a player with the talent of Lamar Jackson. Yet the Tigers dominated the game from the outset on both sides of the ball and showed that the program is as hungry as ever. If I had a vote, Clemson would be in my No. 1 slot this week.
3. Oklahoma (Last Week: 2)
Oklahoma rolled as expected against Tulane and will be probably look similarly dominant in its first two Big XII games against Baylor and Iowa State.
4. Penn State (Last Week: 5)
The Nittany Lions disposed of Georgia State and now face a night game at Iowa - an occurrence that shook up the Big 10 title race last season (Hi, Michigan!) - to open conference play.
5. USC (Last Week: 4)
Southern Cal slipped to No. 5 after nearly suffering an embarrassing home loss to Texas in which it needed a game-tying field goal at the fourth-quarter buzzer and a Longhorns fumble on the one-yard line in overtime to escape its own stadium. A win is a win, but Sam Darnold threw two interceptions for the third straight game, and this should be a warning for the Trojans that they have not returned to a level where they can simply show up to a game and win.
6. Oklahoma State (Last Week: 9)
Do the AP voters read this column? I said last week that Oklahoma State should be ranked ahead of Michigan and Ohio State, and - Voila! - the Cowboys magically jumped both teams in this week’s rankings. I guess a 59-21 win at Pitt in which they amassed over 500 yards in the first half helps too, though.
7. Washington (Last Week: 6)
The Huskies are quietly rolling along, but the competition takes a step up this week with a #Pac12AfterDark trip to Colorado.
8. Michigan (Last Week: 7)
The Wolverines showed their vulnerability against Air Force as the teams were locked in a battle into the fourth quarter. The offense thus far has been underwhelming, and the defense hasn’t been significantly challenged (at least not by a multi-dimensional offense). There is still a lot to prove here.
9. Wisconsin (Last Week: 10)
I’ll take the Badgers over Michigan all day, as they once again put together a complete performance - this time in a blowout win at BYU. They now set sail into their incredibly favorable conference schedule as Northwestern visits Madison.
10. Ohio State (Last Week: 8)
The Buckeyes should have several more games to try to right their ship as they don’t play a particularly threatening opponent until they visit Penn State on Oct. 28.
11. Georgia (Last Week: 13)
All of a sudden, the game against Mississippi State this weekend look like it may be Georgia’s toughest test of the regular season. Mississippi State looks like the superior team right now to me.
12. Florida State (Last Week: 11)
The Seminoles will finally take the field this Saturday as they host NC State in what is traditionally a tricky game for them. It will be interesting to see whether they let true freshman quarterback James Blackman throw it around against a weak NC State secondary, or lean more on the running game. That game should be a good look at where Florida State stands in the Atlantic Division race without Deondre Francois.
13. Virginia Tech (Last Week: 16)
The Hokies shook off a lethargic start and ran way from ECU to move to 3-0. They host Old Dominion this week before a monster game against Clemson the following Saturday.
14. Miami (Last Week: 17)
It’s interesting that Miami is rising up the rankings despite not having a body of work to cite. Given the Hurricanes haven’t played since the opening week, they can ill afford to overlook undefeated Toledo. Miami should win, but we will see how much rust there is to shake off.
15. Auburn (Last Week: 15)
The final score of Auburn’s win over Mercer is certainly reason for pause, but the Tigers’ five turnovers turned a statistically dominant game into a nail-biter. I would expect the them to get well at Missouri this week.
16. TCU (Last Week: 20)
With TCU bringing a top-20 offense into Stillwater this week to face Oklahoma State’s third-ranked offense, it would be surprising if we didn’t have a shootout on our hands in the first impactful Big XII game of the season. It’s hard not to like the Cowboys at home, however.
17. Mississippi State (Last Week: NR)
What a performance by the Bulldogs. They left no doubt in a 30-point romp over LSU and have stated an early case as the top challenger to Alabama in the SEC West. I think they follow it up with a road win at Georgia this week. They should be residing in the top 15 right now, if not higher.
18. Washington State (Last Week: 21)
Wazzu destroyed Oregon State and has another tune-up against Nevada before playing host to USC in a massive early-season Pac 12 showdown.
19. Louisville (Last Week: 14)
The Cardinals were overmatched in all facets as Clemson laid down a 26-point beating in Papa John’s Stadium on Saturday night. It’s possible that Jackson alone makes them a top-20 team despite their obvious weaknesses in other areas, but given the manner of loss - along with their struggles to put away Purdue and North Carolina - I’m not sure you can sell me on Louisville as a ranked team at this juncture.
20. Florida (Last Week: 24)
As hard as Florida tried to give the game away against Tennessee, the Vols handed it right back in allowing the Gators to complete a 63-yard prayer on the game’s last play to mercifully end an unwatchable football game. Neither one of those teams deserved to be ranked, and that remains the case, quite frankly.
21. South Florida (Last Week: 22)
South Florida is going to lurk around this area of the poll for the foreseeable future (barring) a loss because they simply don’t play anyone relevant until Houston.
22. San Diego State (Last Week: NR)
An overlooked game this weekend saw San Diego State spring an upset of Stanford. It was no fluke, as the Aztecs appeared to be the better team all night.
23. Utah (Last Week: NR)
With a trip to Arizona and a home date with reeling Stanford next on the docket, it’s not crazy to think the Utes could be undefeated when USC comes to town on Oct. 14.
24. Oregon (Last Week: NR)
The Ducks have been pretty impressive so far, starting 3-0 under Willie Taggart’s direction. They have seemingly winnable games against Arizona State and Cal before hosting Washington State in potential top-25 matchup.
25. LSU (Last Week: 12)
Yikes ... Not sure how you keep the Tigers hanging around after they were drilled by Mississippi State. We’ll see what their motivation level is when Syracuse comes to Baton Rouge this week.