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Week 8 Recap: Our College Football Power Rankings Are Here...

Week Recap Template (4)
Hank Greene
Week Recap Template (4)

Sometimes over the course of a year in college football, change doesn’t happen with one big moment, but instead it happens with a few persistent whispers that seem to change the entire trajectory of who we thought might be standing at the end. So it’s been with the 2019 season.

The early favorites in Alabama and Clemson remain undefeated, and have remained statistically dominant through the first eight weeks of play. But it’s been the teams who have wiggled their way alongside those favorites (if not a little past them), who have really made this college football season interesting.

There are exceptions to this feeling of gradual shift, of course. Georgia’s and Wisconsin’s losses in consecutive weeks have taken them from pole position in the College Football Playoff race to, suddenly, on the outside looking in… hoping more chaos can push them back into the mix in the season’s final month. 

But by and large, it feels like 2019 has been about growing the list of contenders, not trimming it - and as the regular season begins to turn towards its final month, here’s where my power rankings sit:

1. Ohio State (7-0)

SEC fans can go ahead and get upset if they want to; Ohio State is the best team in the country. End stop.

Yes, the team that immediately follows on this list has the marquee wins that warrant more than a little discussion for the top spot, but to those who doubt the Buckeyes, I ask: have you actually watched this team? They’re fast (my word are they fast), they’re physical, and, playing in the second-best conference in the country (sorry Big 12) - they just appear so far beyond any other team that we’re already penciling them into a trip to Indianapolis for the championship game.

Where last year their defense (which ended the year a more-than-respectable 26th in the SP+) defanged an offensive juggernaut - this season, that defense is 1st in the country. And their offense? Oh, it just features two of the three most exciting playmakers in the B1G in QB Justin Fields and RB JK Dobbins (the third being Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor), and is averaging over nearly 530 yards per game. They’re the only team in the country to have both their offense and defense ranked in the top five of the SP+, and they’re currently beating opponents by 42 points per game.

We’ll find out if this team really is as head-and-shoulders above the rest of the country this weekend when they take on Wisconsin - who would have their own spot on this list had their not lost to Illinois last Saturday. But as things stand right now, there aren’t many arguments to knock this team off their throne.

2. LSU (7-0)

Ohio State may have passed the eyeball test to get to number one on this list, but LSU climbed their way up the old fashioned way: with key wins that have sufficiently turned heads across the country.

Their victories against Texas and Florida make them the only team in the country to beat two AP top ten teams, and Joe Burrow’s offensive explosion (currently throwing 354.9 yards per game for a passer rating of 216.22, both 2nd in the country), land the Tigers second in the offensive simple rating system, according to Sports Reference.

Such offensive dominance is a welcome change in Baton Rouge, but I’m sure fans wish they could pair it with a more effective defense from the past. LSU’s defense isn’t bad by any stretch - they’re top 30 in any cumulative defense metric you look at - but they’ve dropped from 5th to 26th in the 2019 SP+, and even with their phenomenal wins… that makes it tough to put them above the Buckeyes.

Still, wins win out, and if LSU is able to make it through their upcoming match-ups with Auburn and Alabama unscathed, I don’t care what the stats say: LSU will be sitting on top.

3. Alabama (7-0)

On the flip side of teams raising their national stock with dominant early performances has been Alabama - who has done everything expected of them, and yet still find themselves a few rungs below the excitement level of the teams at the top of this list.

Indeed, the Tide are 3rd in offensive SP+, 7th in defensive SP+, and the eyeball tests have all been there. They once again feature a line-up of absolute game-breakers on offense, behind QB Tua Tagovailoa, RB Najee Harris, and receivers Jerry Jeudy (who might be the best receiver in the country) and Henry Ruggs III (one of the fastest receivers in the country) - all behind an offensive line that ranks 6th in line yards and 28th in sack rate.

But there are a few things that concern me about Alabama right now. First is that Tagovailoa will be out for at least a week or two recovering from a high ankle sprain (though I can’t imagine he’d miss the Tide’s match-up with LSU), and second, the defensive line hasn’t looked close to as dominant as they have been in the past (51st in line yards allowed, 95th in stuff rate, and 72nd in power success rate). While the linebacking core led by Anfernee Jennings has helped keep the Tide’s defense so dominant, Alabama has yet to be tested by a team of significance this season - and so we’re still waiting to see just how things will come together in Tuscaloosa.

4. Oklahoma (7-0)

Oklahoma’s victory over West Virginia last weekend was their 17th consecutive game with at least 34 points, per ESPN (they currently lead the country in points per game with 50.4), and right now Lincoln Riley’s game-breaking offense just looks like an absolute machine. The Sooners are 7-0, won a thrilling Red River Shootout with Texas in week seven, and head into the latter half of the year in the driver’s seat for their third-straight bid to the College Football Playoff. Jalen Hurts looks like a Heisman winner at the moment, and it’s hard to know if any defense - including the ones on this list - have the horses to stop them.

As always, however, the question with Oklahoma is their defense. To be fair, they’ve significantly improved from last year, when they ranked 84th in defensive SP+ and gave up over 453 yards per game (114th), and their victory over the Longhorns hinged on them holding Texas to just 310 total yards on the day. But I’m still in wait and see mode to make sure they’re for real, and am therefore skeptical about putting them ahead of the top three teams on the list.

5. Penn State (7-0)

Wisconsin’s loss was the Nittany Lions’ gain this week, as Penn State leapt up after two straight victories over ranked opponents (at Iowa, then at home against Michigan). Suddenly, the rest of the country is circling November 23rd when PSU will take on Ohio State in Columbus.

QB Sean Clifford has looked solid in his first year under center for the Nittany Lions, and, crucially, did not turn the ball over once in his match-ups with the stingy Hawkeyes and Wolverines defense. But it’s been receiver KJ Hamler who’s proven the difference-maker time and time again this season - with 850 total yards this season (32nd in the country), and seven touchdowns. Add that to a defense that has looked absolutely unstoppable thus far in 2019, and Penn State has now gone from a team that’s coming, to a team that’s already here.

They’ll need to win some key road games against Michigan State and Minnesota in the next few weeks - but they’ve proven that they have more than enough talent to get the job done.

6. Clemson (7-0)

I’m anticipating a lot of flack for putting the defending national champs here - but despite their 7-0 record, and a near-lock at getting back to the College Football Playoff based on what's left on the docket for them, their current resume just doesn’t match-up to the other teams on this list.

They’ve yet to beat a single team currently in the top 25 (their only win against a ranked opponent came against Texas A&M, who is now unranked), and their scare against North Carolina combined with some suspect decision-making from Trevor Lawrence this past week against Louisville, has led some to cool on Clemson as one of the country’s front-runners for a title.

Part of this, of course, is a bit of idle hand-wringing; Clemson’s defense is still one of the best in the country (3rd in SP+, 1st in FEI, fifth in total yards allowed per game) - and even with Lawrence’s brief lapse this weekend, playmakers like RB Travis Etienne and WR Amari Rogers still make up a fantastic core of skill positional players.

Clemson will continue plugging along in the ACC for the next few weeks, and it’s unlikely they’ll get any additional juice from the rest of their schedule. But assuming they make the playoff, they’ll get their shot to show just how good this team is… so stay tuned.

7. Whoever Wins Between Florida/Georgia (both have one loss)

Both Florida and Georgia top our list of one-loss teams - but I just couldn’t decide who to put ahead of who. The good news for me is that two weeks from now, I won’t have to - because these two rivals will take the field in Jacksonville in what will serve as a de facto SEC East Championship game for the Gators and Dawgs.

Of course, Florida’s loss to LSU was hardly an upset - unlike Georgia’s loss to South Carolina - but Georgia’s roster is still the one many heralded as the best chance anyone in the SEC had to unseat Alabama, and remains 6th in the SP+.

Either way you slice it, the winner of this game will keep their hopes at a playoff bid alive - and will, I suspect, have a chance to secure their spot in an SEC Championship game down the line.

8. Notre Dame (5-1)

Then there are the Irish, who, despite their one loss to Georgia, remain firmly in the national scene - with a game against Michigan this weekend that could serve as their re-entry into “contender status.”

The defense has been the star thus far for the Irish - especially the pass rush, which has looked absolutely stellar thus far this season. But the offense has shown flashes - albeit a bit inconsistently - and Tony Jones Jr. has emerged as a reliable back, providing great balance for Ian Book. Book, for his part, hasn’t had the type of big time season we all predicted as the year got underway - but he’s nonetheless been solid with 14 passing TDs on a 157.5 passer rating.

Notre Dame will need a few dominoes to fall in front of them - especially if Georgia loses to Florida in two weeks. But if they can stay pat at one-loss, they’ll keep knocking on the door… and will be impossible to write off throughout the home stretch of the season.

Honorable Mention Teams…

  • Auburn (6-1): Their QB situation worries me, but if they beat LSU… they’ll leapfrog a lot of teams on this list
  • Oregon (6-1): They’ve struggled to re-establish themselves nationally after a loss to Auburn, then a series of unconvincing wins in the Pac-12. But those wins keep piling up, and eventually we’ll need to start giving them a serious look.
  • Wisconsin (6-1): An inexplicable loss against Illinois torpedoed their date with destiny, but if they pull off the upset against Ohio State this weekend, they’re right back in it
  • All of the undefeated teams still remaining: Outside of the teams on this list already, Baylor, Minnesota, Appalachian State and SMU all remain unbeaten and in the AP top 25. SMU’s and App State's schedules in the AAC and Sun Belt, respectively, means that it’s possible (if not likely) they run the table, while Baylor and Minnesota will have to prove it against power five competition sooner than later. Still, they’re on our radar…


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About Author

Hank Greene
Hank Greene

Hank Greene is the Content Strategist for Rent Like A Champion, where he writes about travel, college football, and RLAC's offerings across the country. He believes every college football stadium should sell footlong hot dogs, and that every tailgate should include pulled pork sandwiches.

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