College football Power Rankings for Week 8

ByChris Low ESPN logo
Sunday, October 25, 2020

Just as we thought.

In a season unlike any other, and with the Big Ten making its debut this week, leave it to Indiana to give us the game of the year so far in college football. The Hoosiers upset Penn State 36-35 in overtime in thrilling (and controversial) fashion, as quarterback Michael Penix Jr. lunged just far enough to reach the goal line on the winning two-point conversion.

The officials on the field ruled that Penix was able to break the plane of the goal line with the ball before it touched the ground. After a lengthy review, the call on the field was upheld, giving the Hoosiers their biggest win in decades and landing them a spot in ESPN's Power Rankings at No. 11.

So, yes, the Big Ten is indeed back, and we still have two more weeks before the Pac-12 joins the party.

The top three teams in the power rankings remain the same this week: Alabama No. 1, Clemson No. 2 and Ohio State No. 3.

And how much have those three teams dominated their conference brethren? Going back to the start of the 2015 season, Clemson is 48-2 against ACC competition, Alabama is 45-4 against SEC competition, and Ohio State is 44-4 against Big Ten competition.

Until proven otherwise, it's the Big Three and then everybody else.

1.Alabama Crimson Tide (5-0)

Talk about a costly win. Alabama's 14th consecutive victory over Tennessee, a 48-17 beatdown Saturday on the road, came at the expense of losing star receiver Jaylen Waddle for the season when he fractured his ankle returning the opening kickoff. Quarterback Mac Jones still passed for 387 yards, and Najee Harris rushed for three touchdowns. But not having Waddle, one of the most explosive playmakers in the country, will be a blow for an Alabama offense that has now scored 35 or more points in 18 straight games since the start of the 2019 season.

Up next: vs. Mississippi State (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

2.Clemson Tigers (6-0)

Clemson has established such a standard of dominance in the ACC that it's easy to get picky. The Tigers looked out of sync at times Saturday in a 47-21 home victory over Syracuse, which has won only one game all season. It was a 27-21 game midway through the third quarter, and even quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw his first career interception that was returned for a touchdown. But in the end, the Tigers pulled away for their 27th straight win over an ACC opponent as Travis Etienne rushed for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Up next: vs. Boston College (Saturday, noon ET, ABC)

3.Ohio State Buckeyes (1-0)

We didn't have to wait long to be reminded why Justin Fields is one of the premier players in college football. He was nearly perfect Saturday in Ohio State's season-opening 52-17 thrashing of Nebraska. Fields was 12-of-13 passing for 233 total yards in the first half and finished 20-of-21 with two touchdowns passing and one rushing. The Buckeyes have now won 16 straight games against Big Ten opponents with an average margin of victory of 27.4 points in those 16 games.

Up next: at Penn State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

4.Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-0)

As the Nov. 7 showdown with Clemson draws closer, Notre Dame continues to expand its repertoire. The Irish, in routing Pittsburgh 45-3 on the road Saturday, got explosive plays in the passing game thanks to Ian Book twice connecting with Ben Skowronek from long distance. They again played suffocating defense and have now held opponents to 13 or fewer points in four of their five games. They even scored a touchdown on special teams thanks to a blocked punt.

Up next: at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

5.Georgia Bulldogs (3-1)

The Bulldogs had an open date after being shut out in the second half a week earlier against Alabama. Coach Kirby Smart is sticking with Stetson Bennett at quarterback after a rough second half against the Tide. The Dawgs are still good enough on defense to beat everybody they play the rest of the way as long as Bennett doesn't turn it over. He threw three interceptions in the loss to the Crimson Tide. Georgia could get another shot at Alabama in the SEC championship game if they win out, and it will be interesting to see if JT Daniels is healthier and gets some snaps in upcoming games.

Up next: at Kentucky (Saturday, noon ET, SEC Network)

6.WisconsinBadgers (1-0)

Wisconsin fans had been eager to see redshirt freshman Graham Mertz at quarterback, and they got a record-setting version of him in his first career start. Mertz broke the school record for completion percentage in a game (20-of-21) and tied the school record with five touchdown passes in a season-opening 45-7 rout of Illinois. Mertz stepped into the starting role after Jack Coan underwent foot surgery. Coan is out indefinitely and might have a difficult time regaining his starting spot if Mertz continues to play the way he did Friday.

Up next: at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

7.Cincinnati Bearcats (3-0)

So much for any rust. The Bearcats hadn't played in three weeks but showed no ill effects from that layoff in the biggest game this season involving Group of 5 teams. They controlled the game from the outset against previously unbeaten SMU and won 42-13 on the road, a victory that puts Cincinnati in prime position for a New Year's Six bowl appearance. The Bearcats' next three games are at home at Nippert Stadium, where they've won 16 straight games. As good as they've been on defense, it was quarterback Desmond Ridder and the Cincinnati offense that set the tone with two first-quarter touchdown drives, and then Ridder put the game away with a 91-yard touchdown run.

Up next: vs. Memphis (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN2)

8.Oklahoma State Cowboys (4-0)

It had been a while since Oklahoma State last played a game (Oct. 3). And while there were a few hiccups along the way for the Cowboys, their defense continues to play at a level typically reserved for the offense in Stillwater. Oklahoma State beat No. 17 Iowa State 24-21 on Saturday and has yet to give up more than three touchdowns in a game. The Cowboys remain the Big 12's lone unbeaten team and get Texas at home next weekend. Oklahoma State lost to Texas a year ago but had won four in a row in the series prior to that.

Up next: vs. Texas (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, Fox)

9.Michigan Wolverines (1-0)

The start certainly wasn't what Michigan wanted. The Wolverines' first possession of the season ended in a blocked punt, leading to a Minnesota touchdown. But after that, Michigan took control of the game and powered past No. 21 Minnesota for a convincing 49-24 road victory. Quarterback Joe Milton, making his first start, passed for 225 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a touchdown, and the Michigan defense turned up the heat in the second half in the kind of complete performance that vaulted the Wolverines into the top 10 after only one game.

Up next: vs. Michigan State (Saturday, noon ET, Fox)

10.BYU Cougars (5-0)

After Texas State scored a touchdown on the first possession of the game, BYU used the rest of the game to show why it is on track to reach a New Year's Six bowl with a thorough domination of the Bobcats. Quarterback Zach Wilson completed 19-of-25 passes for 287 yards and remains in the Heisman Trophy discussion. Through six games, Wilson has tossed 16 touchdown passes with only one interception, and has been one of the most efficient passers in college football.

Up next: vs. Western Kentucky (Saturday, 10:15 ET, ESPN)

11.Indiana Hoosiers (1-0)

When it looked as if there might not be a Big Ten season back in the summer, nobody was lamenting how unfortunate it was that Indiana wouldn't have a chance to factor into the race. Well, hello Hoosiers. In the game of the season so far, Indiana staged a miraculous drive in the final minutes of regulation to tie the score and then won 36-35 in overtime against No. 8 Penn State. How long has it been for the Hoosiers? It was their first win over an AP top-10 team since 1987 and snapped a 42-game losing streak against top-10 opponents.

Up next: at Rutgers (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

12.Texas A&M Aggies (3-1)

The Aggies, who were off this week, head into a telltale part of their schedule that could see them favored, or at least a pick-'em, in every game the rest of the way. Their balance on offense has been what coach Jimbo Fisher is looking for, especially with blossoming sophomore running back Isaiah Spiller rushing for 100 yards in three of his first four games. Texas A&M and Ole Miss were the only two teams in the SEC entering Week 5 averaging more than 250 passing yards and 170 rushing yards per game.

Up next: vs. Arkansas (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

13.Oregon Ducks (0-0)

Sophomore Tyler Shough is working with the first team at quarterback as the Ducks prepare for their season opener against Stanford next month, and even though his offseason didn't include much on-field practice time, he's pumped about the potential and flexibility of this offense. In particular, Shough says he thinks the Ducks will be able to spread the ball around to different players and that there will be a lot of opportunities for explosive plays. And if the situation calls for him to run the ball, he feels as if that could be an added dimension this season to the Oregon offense.

Up next: vs. Stanford (Nov. 7, TBA)

14.Kansas State Wildcats (4-1)

Kansas State has now won four straight games after opening the season with a loss to Arkansas State, and the Wildcats are taking on first-year coach Chris Klieman's hard-nosed, efficient personality a little more each week. They scored three non-offensive touchdowns in the first half Saturday in a 55-14 win over Kansas, including a pair of punt returns for touchdowns by Phillip Brooks. They've scored four non-offensive touchdowns in the past two games.

Up next: at West Virginia (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN/ESPN2)

15.Florida Gators (2-1)

The Gators have been plagued by COVID-19 issues, be it head coach Dan Mullen, multiple assistant coaches or a number of players. They haven't played a game since Oct. 10, a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M, and were supposed to face Missouri this week. But that game was moved back a week after Florida's latest coronavirus outbreak. On the field, the Gators have scored at least 38 points in all three games with quarterback Kyle Trask throwing 14 touchdown passes and only one interception. It's the defense they need to fix (along with their COVID-19 issues) if they're going to make a run at the SEC title.

Up next: vs. Missouri (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

16.Penn StateNittany Lions (0-1)

Wrapping their collective hands around the season-opening 36-35 overtime loss Saturday to Indiana will be difficult enough for the Nittany Lions. They trailed for much of the game, then seemingly had it won and then lost it again in overtime. But with Ohio State coming to Happy Valley next weekend, Penn State now has to find a way to avoid falling to 0-2 and be all but out of the Big Ten race two weeks into the season. Penn State made some clutch plays on offense but not being able to finish that game could be crippling emotionally.

Up next: vs. Ohio State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

17.Miami Hurricanes (5-1)

It was the kind of rainy evening in South Florida that wasn't conducive for style points, and Miami won't get any in its 19-14 victory Saturday over Virginia. But Manny Diaz's Hurricanes will certainly take the win and now get a week off before back-to-back games on the road against North Carolina State and Virginia Tech.D'Eriq Kingpassed for 322 yards and a touchdown, and Miami's defense has held four of its six opponents this season to 19 points or fewer.

Up next: at N.C. State (Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

18.North Carolina Tar Heels (4-1)

It has been hard to get a read on North Carolina this season. Just when you think the Tar Heels are a legitimate top-10 or top-15 team, they lose to Florida State the way they did a week ago. But on Saturday, they put it all together in a 48-21 battering of rival North Carolina State. For the second time in the past three games, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter each rushed for more than 100 yards. Williams had 160 and Carter 106, and they combined for four touchdowns. North Carolina should be 7-1 when Notre Dame comes to Chapel Hill on Nov. 27.

Up next: at Virginia (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network)

19.USC Trojans (0-0)

Michael Pittman's senior season a year ago stacks up with some of the more productive ones in USC history among receivers. So losing him to the NFL was a blow, but the Trojans are hardly lacking at the position. By all accounts, USC quarterback Kedon Slovis is having a terrific fall camp, and he's making good use of returning receivers Amon-ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Drake London, who combined for 17 touchdown receptions last season. The other receiver turning heads has been redshirt freshman Bru McCoy, a former 5-star prospect who was sidelined last season because of an illness.

Up next: vs. Arizona State (Nov. 7, noon ET, Fox)

20.Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (5-0)

The Chanticleers played their first game as an AP-ranked team Saturday without starting quarterback Grayson McCall, who was sidelined because of an upper body injury. But Fred Payton stepped in and threw three touchdown passes in a 28-14 win over Georgia Southern. Payton was the Coastal Carolina starter for the first six games in 2019 before suffering his own injury. This is the first time the Chanticleers have been 3-0 in the Sun Belt Conference.

Up next: at Georgia State (Saturday, noon ET, ESPNU)

21.Oklahoma Sooners (3-2)

The Sooners jumped out to a 30-7 lead and made that stand up Saturday in a 33-14 road win at TCU to stay alive in the Big 12 race. As much as anything, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley had to like the Sooners' balance on offense. They had a 300-yard passer with Spencer Rattler throwing for 332 yards and two touchdowns along with a 100-yard rusher (T.J. Pledger, 122 yards) and a 100-yard receiver (Marvin Mims, 132 yards).

Up next: at Texas Tech (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox)

22.LouisianaRagin' Cajuns (4-1)

Billy Napier's Comeback Kids did it again. Louisiana posted its fourth comeback victory of the season on Friday night as the Ragin' Cajuns rallied from a 13-3 second-quarter deficit to beat UAB 24-20 on the road. Chris Smith's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown just before halftime completely changed the complexion of the game, and Levi Lewis tossed both of his touchdown passes in the second half to steer Louisiana to its third road win of the season.

Up next: at Texas State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

23.Liberty Flames (6-0)

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, a transfer from Auburn, exploded for a career-high six touchdown passes and ran for another score, as Liberty smashed past Southern Miss for a 56-35 victory Saturday. Southern Miss had pulled to within 35-28 in the third quarter before Liberty reeled off three unanswered touchdowns. Hugh Freeze's Flames matched their best start in school history, but the toughest part of the schedule remains, starting with a trip to Virginia Tech in two weeks. It will be only the second time Liberty has faced Virginia Tech in football.

Up next: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 7, TBA)

24.Marshall Thundering Herd (5-0)

Marshall has weathered two games being postponed this season to get to 5-0. The Thundering Herd are the only unbeaten Conference USA team after coming alive in the second half Saturday to defeat Florida Atlantic 20-9. The Marshall defense has been outstanding all season. The unit has given up only six touchdowns in five games, and two of those touchdowns came late in the game against Western Kentucky after Marshall had already built a commanding 38-0 lead.

Up next: at Florida International (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

25.Boise State Broncos (1-0)

The Big Ten wasn't the only conference opening play this weekend. The Mountain West also cranked it back up, and the Broncos were impressive in a 42-13 blowout win over Utah State on the blue turf in front of no fans. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who was plagued by injuries a year ago, threw three touchdown passes as Boise State raced out to a 28-0 halftime lead. Boise State's defense held Utah State to 45 total yards in the first half, and the Broncos certainly looked the part of the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West.

Up next: at Air Force (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

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