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College football Power Rankings: Can anyone catch Alabama and Clemson?

Sep 3, 2018

  • Mark SchlabachESPN Senior Writer
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    • Senior college football writer
    • Author of seven books on college football
    • Graduate of the University of Georgia

Well, at least we know one thing for sure: Texas and The U aren’t back.

Another near-certainty: Alabama and Clemson are probably still the teams to beat and might be even better with new quarterbacks. The jury is still out on whether Georgia and Oklahoma will be as good as they were last season, although both were dominant against overmatched opponents.

Auburn, LSU and Notre Dame gave their fans plenty of reason to believe in Week 1, while Miami, Michigan, Texas and Washington had their fans already pulling out their hair.

Remember, the Power Rankings are about how you look and who you play each week. Forget the body of work or the brand name. These rankings drip with recency bias.

Here are the rankings after Week 1:


1. Alabama

Week 1 result: Defeated Louisville 51-14

What’s next: vs. Arkansas State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

It’s downright scary to think how much better the defending national champions might be with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.


2. Clemson

Week 1 result: Defeated Furman 48-7

What’s next: at Texas A&M (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence stole the show in his college debut, throwing for three TDs against an FCS opponent. Is he ready for a bigger stage at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field?


3. Auburn

Week 1 result: Defeated Washington 21-16

What’s next: vs. Alabama State (Saturday, 7:30 pm. ET, SECN)

Tap the brakes on a potential Alabama-Georgia rematch in the SEC championship game. Auburn’s ferocious defensive front is going to be a challenge for anyone it plays.


4. Notre Dame

Week 1 result: Defeated Michigan 24-17

What’s next: vs. Ball State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Let’s not get too carried away about Notre Dame’s Week 1 result. Remember Texas’ victory over the Fighting Irish two years ago? But quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s improved passing and a stingy defense might make the Irish a legitimate College Football Playoff contender.


5. Wisconsin

Week 1 result: Defeated Western Kentucky 34-3

What’s next: vs. New Mexico (Saturday, noon ET, BTN)

The Badgers’ new-look defense passed its first test, allowing three points and 305 yards of offense. It will get a few more tuneups before hitting the heart of Big Ten play.


6. Oklahoma

Week 1 result: Defeated FAU 63-14

What’s next: vs. UCLA (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Quarterback Kyler Murray looked great in replacing departed Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, throwing for 209 yards and a pair of TDs. But a bigger reason for optimism: OU’s much-maligned defense derailed the Lane Train.


7. Georgia

Week 1 result: Defeated Austin Peay 45-0

What’s next: at South Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Several new playmakers emerged for the defending SEC champions in a rout of an overmatched FCS foe. Will they be as productive at South Carolina, where the Bulldogs have lost three of their previous four games?


8. Ohio State

Week 1 result: Defeated Oregon State 77-31

What’s next: vs. Rutgers (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Even without suspended coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes piled up 721 yards of offense and quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw for five TDs. OSU’s defense has some work to do, however, before playing TCU on Sept. 15.


9. Stanford

Week 1 result: Defeated San Diego State 31-10

What’s next: vs. USC (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

Bryce Love got off to a slow start, but quarterback K.J. Costello’s stellar play (332 yards, four TDs) will keep future opponents from stacking the box. JJ Arcega-Whiteside has six TD catches in the past two games.


10. West Virginia

Week 1 result: Defeated Tennessee 40-14

What’s next: vs. Youngstown State (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET)

Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier’s Heisman Trophy campaign is off to a rousing start after he threw for 429 yards and five TDs. Sure, the Volunteers are undergoing an extensive makeover, but Jeremy Pruitt is still coaching the defense.


11. LSU

Week 1 result: Defeated Miami 33-17

What’s next: vs. Southeastern Louisiana (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

The Tigers paid defensive coordinator Dave Aranda $2.5 million per year to keep him from going to Texas A&M, and his defense already is paying dividends. The Tigers looked better on offense, but their defense is still going to have to win games.


12. USC

Week 1 result: Defeated UNLV 43-21

What’s next: at Stanford (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

JT Daniels should have been playing high school football on Friday night. Instead, he became the second freshman to start at quarterback in a USC opener, throwing for 282 yards with one TD.


13. Virginia Tech

Week 1 result: Defeated Florida State 24-3

What’s next: vs. William & Mary (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ACC Network)

The Hokies ruined Willie Taggart’s debut in Tallahassee thanks to a dominant defensive effort in a 24-3 win over Florida State. Bud Foster’s defense forced five turnovers, and Josh Jackson threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns.


14. TCU

Week 1 result: Defeated Southern 55-7

What’s next: at SMU (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Now we know why TCU coach Gary Patterson is so excited about quarterback Shawn Robinson. He threw TDs to three different receivers and ran for two scores in one half of action against an overwhelmed FCS opponent.


15. Mississippi State

Week 1 result: Defeated Stephen F. Austin 63-6

What’s next: at Kansas State (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN)

Stephen F. Austin wasn’t much of a test, but the Bulldogs piled up 63 points and 618 yards of offense in coach Joe Moorhead’s debut. And they did it without star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who was suspended for the opener.


16. Washington

Week 1 result: Lost to Auburn 21-16

What’s next: vs. North Dakota (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

The Huskies’ opening loss in Atlanta doesn’t knock them out of the CFP race, but it leaves them little margin for error the rest of the way. Washington’s offense has to get better on third down and inside the red zone.


17. Boise State

Week 1 result: Defeated Troy 56-20

What’s next: vs. UConn (Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

The Broncos look like the Group of 5’s team to beat after a 56-20 victory at tougher-than-you-think Troy. Quarterback Brett Rypien threw for 305 yards and four TDs.


18. Maryland

Week 1 result: Defeated Texas 34-29

What’s next: at Bowling Green (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET)

The Terrapins turned in the opening weekend’s most inspiring performance in knocking out Texas for the second season in a row. The Terps honored their late teammate Jordan McNair with a big upset.


19. Oregon

Week 1 result: Defeated Bowling Green 58-24

What’s next: vs. Portland State (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, PAC12)

Heisman Trophy contender Justin Herbert completed only 10 passes, but five of them were TDs, and he ran for another score in coach Mario Cristobal’s debut.


20. UCF

Week 1 result: Defeated UConn 56-17

What’s next: vs. South Carolina State (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET)

The Knights opened defense of their co-national championship with a rout of UConn, their 14th straight victory, which is the longest winning streak in the FBS.


21. Florida

Week 1 result: Defeated Charleston Southern 53-6

What’s next: vs. Kentucky (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, SECN)

Not to put too much stock in a 47-point rout of an FCS opponent, but the Gators looked pretty doggone good in coach Dan Mullen’s debut. The Gators threw five TDs in the first half. They had 10 TD passes in all of 2017.


22. Penn State

Week 1 result: Defeated Appalachian State 45-38 (OT)

What’s next: at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Everybody expected the Nittany Lions to miss star tailback Saquon Barkley and Moorhead, their former offensive coordinator. We almost forgot they’d have to replace eight defensive starters too, until we saw Appalachian State pile up 38 points and 451 total yards.


23. Michigan State

Week 1 result: Defeated Utah State 38-31

What’s next: at Arizona State (Saturday, 10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

The Spartans survived an early scare, but they’ll have to get more out of their running game and pass rush if they’re going to keep pace in the Big Ten East or beat Arizona State on the road next week.


24. Michigan

Week 1 result: Lost at Notre Dame 24-17

What’s next: vs. Western Michigan (Saturday, noon ET, FS1)

The Wolverines have a new quarterback and offensive philosophy, but it was the same mediocre results in the opener. They are 9-9 in their past 18 games under Jim Harbaugh and haven’t won a road game against a ranked foe since 2006.


25. Miami

Week 1 result: Lost to LSU 33-17

What’s next: vs. Savannah State (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET)

Miami’s resurgence under Mark Richt has hit a serious stumbling block, as the Hurricanes have dropped their past four games dating back to 2017, each by 10 points or more.

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