College Football Rankings 2018: Bleacher Report's Week 9 Top 25

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVOctober 21, 2018

College Football Rankings 2018: Bleacher Report's Week 9 Top 25

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    After a slow start to the college football slate in Week 8 as teams went chalk, two undefeated squads fell. Purdue dominated the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes 49-20, while the Temple Owls upset the Cincinnati Bearcats 24-17.

    Clemson and Michigan each had big victories against rivals, setting the tone for the remainder of their seasons. Both look much more comfortable with their personnel compared to early parts of the campaign. 

    Mike Leach's team pulled off an upset at home, too. Washington State's 34-20 win over Oregon was in doubt as the Ducks came back in the second half, but the Cougars' impressive start was enough to secure the victory. The Pac-12 has become convoluted, as Colorado has dropped two straight.

    We're in the heart of the season with Week 9 starting Thursday. 

    Bleacher Report's panel of experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—voted on the action. A first-place vote is worth 25 points, followed by 24 points for second, 23 for third, etc.

    Here is our Week 9 poll:

    1. Alabama (last week: 1)

    2. Clemson (2)

    3. Notre Dame (4)

    4. LSU (5)

    5. Georgia (6)

    6. Michigan (7)

    7. Texas (8)

    8. Ohio State (3)

    9. Oklahoma (9)

    10. Florida (12)

    11. UCF (10)

    12. West Virginia (13)

    13. Kentucky (14)

    14. Washington State (NR)

    15. Penn State (16)

    16. Washington (18)

    17. Texas A&M (17)

    18. Iowa (22)

    19. Oregon (11)

    20. South Florida (23)

    21. Wisconsin (21)

    22. Houston (NR)

    23. NC State (15)

    24. Appalachian State (25)

    25. Virginia (NR)

    Others receiving votes: Stanford, San Diego State, Utah State, Colorado, Texas Tech, Miami, Duke, Mississippi State

Who's Hot: Clemson Hitting Its Stride

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Considering it played close matchups with Texas A&M and Syracuse in September—the two best teams it'd faced entering this week—Clemson was on upset alert against NC State. 

    The Wolfpack seemed to be the most obvious remaining choice to topple the Tigers because of their experience on both sides of the ball. But the last two games have witnessed an awakening for Clemson, as the Tigers stomped Wake Forest 63-3 on Oct. 6 and dominated in a 41-7 victory Saturday.

    Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence outplayed the Wolfpack's sixth-year signal-caller, Ryan Finley, despite not having a decent running game to rely on. Lawrence repeatedly found the soft spots in the defense, hitting deep out routes with a flick of his wrist.  The freshman finished 26-of-39 for 308 yards passing and one touchdown throw against Finley's 21-of-34, 156-yard, two-interception outing.

    This was the breakout performance most were waiting to see from the Tigers. They've built a habit of playing down to competition to the point where it seemed they were a good but not great team. Clemson's silenced those concerns for now.

    The athletic Tigers defense also had a terrific performance.

    Finley appeared out of his depth against the speed and length at every level of the Tigers defense. His two interceptions came at costly times—one ending a promising second-quarter drive and another leading to a field goal near the end of the first quarter. He was flustered by the secondary's ability to close on the ball quickly.

    Without a ranked foe left on their regular-season schedule, the Tigers don't have a major threat remaining. Anything can happen, but they'll be comfortable favorites against their biggest upcoming test, Boston College, on November 10.      

Who's Not: Ohio State Flattened by Purdue

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    On the opening weekend of November 2017, the Iowa Hawkeyes picked apart the Ohio State Buckeyes. The loss cost them a shot at the College Football Playoff, as it was their second defeat. Week 8's 49-20 loss to Purdue was only the Buckeyes' first this year, but Ohio State was the second-best team on the field Saturday.

    Urban Meyer's Buckeyes have shown warning signs for weeks of being a vulnerable, flawed team. Their comeback at Penn State on Sept. 29 overshadowed a mediocre defense. Defensive coaches Greg Schiano and Alex Grinch haven't adjusted to offenses that have picked apart a back seven that lacks a future first-round pick.

    Purdue was fantastic all night, executing whatever it wanted to. The Boilermakers took advantage of the Buckeyes' atrocious linebacker and safety play, moving them with boot action and deception like almost every Ohio State opponent has this year.

    The overall stubbornness plagued the offense, too.

    Coordinator Ryan Day continued to struggle in the red zone with his play calls. He never committed to the run and refused account for the tight spacing inside the 20-yard line. As the winds limited the deep pass opportunities, the Buckeyes had just six points until quarterback Dwayne Haskins connected with Johnnie Dixon for a 32-yard touchdown with 9:36 to go in the fourth quarter.

    Haskins faced pressure throughout the night and was a mixed bag in those situations. Two red-zone drops on difficult catch opportunities didn't help his cause, nor did the barrage of self-inflicted penalties that cancelled out positive plays.

    Ohio State still mostly controls its destiny. Winning out will get the Buckeyes a strong bid for the playoff unless every other top team runs the table as well, which is unlikely. But it's hard to be optimistic when the Buckeyes were again outcoached and outplayed in a road game.

Fun Fact: Just 5 Unbeatens Remain

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Cincinnati dropped an overtime road game against Temple—and Ohio State lost—so we're down to five unbeaten teams.

    Each of our Top Three has a donut in the loss column, and UCF and South Florida are AAC unbeatens. They'll play each other November 23, so at least one will suffer a loss.

    Alabama has an elite offense capable of naming its own score against any foe. The Crimson Tide are led by a terrific quarterback and deep receiving corps, giving them a variety of ways to overcome any challenge. Alabama will soon face tougher defenses in LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn, though. 

    Clemson and Notre Dame have both flashed high-end potential and sport well-rounded teams, but they haven't been consistent on both sides of the ball. Clemson's close calls against Texas A&M and Syracuse, as well as Notre Dame's performances against Ball State and Pittsburgh, give reason for concern.

    The UCF Knights have the clearest path to finishing undefeated, but it's not an easy one. Each of their remaining games (Temple, Navy, Cincinnati and at South Florida) bring unique identities and personnel. The meat of their schedule is here.

    The next six weeks will be a lot of fun as conference games decide the College Football Playoff picture. Buckle up and get ready for the best time of the football year.    

What to Watch For: A Full Weekend Slate

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    Chris Knight/Associated Press

    Baylor at West Virginia (7 p.m. ET, Thursday)

    The Week 9 schedule starts with an important Big 12 matchup. West Virginia suffered a costly, shocking 30-14 loss against Iowa State on Saturday, but it can still take the conference by winning out. It won't be easy, though. Two of Baylor's three losses were close, and two were to current Top 10 teams. Matt Rhule's Bears will push the Mountaineers to the limit Thursday night.

                      

    South Florida at Houston (TBD)

    The American Athletic Conference boasted three undefeated teams until Cincinnati lost in overtime to Temple this week. Another undefeated is at risk of dropping a road game as USF travels to Houston to take on the 6-1 Cougars. Houston's offense has everything required to defend its home turf, so Charlie Strong's Bulls will need a great effort to stay unblemished.

                       

    Florida at Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET)

    The battle of the two highest-ranked teams to face off this week is important for SEC seeding. The surprising 6-1 Florida Gators have been resilient against more experienced foes, and Georgia is coming off a costly loss to LSU. Both teams had byes in Week 8, so coaching adjustments after time to self-evaluate will be critical. Expect a classic defensive struggle.

                        

    Iowa at Penn State (3:30 pm ET)

    We knew there'd be a Big Ten team to emerge from the second-tier crop, but we didn't know who it would be. So far, it's been Iowa. It has a chance to give Penn State its third loss and vault into the Top 10. The Nittany Lions will need to be as sharp as they were against Ohio State to keep their Top 25 status after facing the talented Hawkeyes.

                 

    Texas A&M at Mississippi State (7 p.m. ET)

    Things have gone south quickly for Joe Moorhead's team as the conference schedule has ramped up, but its battle against Texas A&M is still appointment viewing, as the week lacks other big games. Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher is looking for a fourth consecutive win and to continue to prove he was worth the gigantic $75 million investment the Aggies made in him.

                          

    Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (7:30 p.m. ET)

    The Sun Belt Conference features an enormous matchup next week, as 5-1 Appalachian State faces 5-1 Georgia Southern. Both teams have taken care of business outside one game each against a Top 25 team, meaning the winner of this has a good argument for being ranked. Both are excellent on the ground and boast a quality defense, so this should be a tight game.