College Football Rankings: B/R's Top 25 After Week 4

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2019

College Football Rankings: B/R's Top 25 After Week 4

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    Saturday night's slugfest between Georgia and Notre Dame did not disappoint, as both young, talented defenses took shots back and forth in a raucous environment.

    Even though the Fighting Irish held a halftime advantage, the Bulldogs kept wearing them down and eventually ground out a 23-17 win in a game between two teams that look like they belong in the Top 10. UGA survived after coming back and then struggling late in the fourth.

    Notre Dame is beyond moral victories, but with all the injuries in the offensive backfield, it put up a fight before falling to a Dawgs team that should be one of the College Football Playoff entrants.

    Wisconsin dominated Michigan, Auburn captured a massive road win at Texas A&M, and UCF's 27-game regular-season winning streak was snapped at Pittsburgh. All those had ramifications on the rankings.

    Bleacher Report's panel of experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—spread everything out and analyzed where everybody should be after a wacky week. A first-place vote is worth 25 points, followed by 24 points for second, 23 for third, etc.

    Here is our Week 4 poll:

    1. Clemson (Last week: 1)
    2. Alabama (2)
    3. LSU (5)
    4. Georgia (3)
    5. Oklahoma (4)
    6. Ohio State (6)
    7. Wisconsin (10)
    8. Auburn (8)
    9. Texas (13)
    10. Notre Dame (7)
    11. Penn State (14)
    12. Florida (15)
    13. Oregon (19)
    14. Washington (21)
    15. California (22)
    16. Iowa (20)
    17. Boise State (18)
    18. Utah (10)
    19. Kansas State (NR)
    20. Memphis (NR)
    21. SMU (NR)
    22. UCF (11)
    23. Virginia (NR)
    T-24. Appalachian State (NR)
    T-24. Texas A&M (16)

    Others Receiving Votes: Washington State, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Wake Forest

Who's Hot: Wisconsin and Its Heisman Hopeful

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Wisconsin made sure Big Blue is no longer a blue-blood program, at least not this year.

    The Badgers didn't just whip the Michigan Wolverines in Madison on Saturday afternoon; they bludgeoned them, marching 75 yards on their opening drive for a touchdown and never looking back in a shocking 35-14 annihilation of Jim Harbaugh's team.

    No. 11 Michigan was inept offensively and struggled defensively throughout the game. But this was more about what the No. 13 Badgers are than what the Wolverines aren't.

    What they are is at least the second-best team in the Big Ten behind a scorching Ohio State, and they've turned things around after a disappointing 2018.

    If you don't believe elite running back Jonathan Taylor should be a strong contender for the Heisman Trophy, you didn't watch the game. He was the best player on the field Saturday at Camp Randall, and his three-year resume should put him at the top of the watch list.

    The junior runner had 23 carries for 203 yards and two touchdowns. When you throw in first-year starting quarterback Jack Coan as a difference-maker for Wisconsin, you've got a rejuvenated program.

    Alex Hornibrook transferred to Florida State before the season, and recruiting followers may have been clamoring for star prospect Graham Mertz to get the starting gig, but coach Paul Chryst went with Coan, and all he's done is make the coach look like a genius.

    He was sterling again Saturday, completing 13 of 16 passes for 128 yards, managing the game and scoring twice on the ground.

    Oh yeah, and about that defense? The Badgers were dominant, allowing just 299 total yards and 40 rushing yards, and Michigan fell flat on all 10 of its third-down attempts.

    All that added up to yet another win for the Badgers over Michigan, which hasn't won at Camp Randall since 2001. Chryst's team is rugged, balanced and has the star power of Taylor. This Badgers are worth your attention, even if Justin Fields and Ohio State are scary-good too. 

Who's Not: UCF's Playoff Pushers

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    Put that Central Florida College Football Playoff banter to bed.

    You won't need it for another season.

    After the Knights thrashed Stanford when the Cardinal made a cross-country trip to Orlando last weekend, they traveled to Pittsburgh on Saturday and lost to a mediocre Panthers team in dramatic fashion. That won't impress anybody when the committee meets later this season.

    UCF fell behind 21-0, and though it stormed back to take a 31-21 lead, the Knights allowed the Panthers to come back and then were gutted what Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi referred to at the "Pitt Special," which saw Pitt convert a 4th-and-3 for the go-ahead touchdown. The extra point gave them a 35-34 win.

    It was a much-needed victory for a sputtering ACC that is pretty much Clemson and everybody else, and this could jump-start the Panthers, which needed a jolt if they were going to ever defend their spot in the ACC Championship Game from a season ago.

    When you're a Group of Five program, you've got no margin for error if you want a shot at the CFP or even a New Year's Six bowl. UCF had been brilliant, winning 27 consecutive regular-season games.

    Though the Knights have seen a revolving door of quarterbacks over the past couple of seasons, the wins continued to come.

    Pittsburgh put a stop to that Saturday, and now coach Josh Heupel's team needs to find a way to rebound and realize there's still a whole lot to play for. A spot in the playoffs just isn't one of them anymore.

Fun Fact: LSU's Offense Is for Real, and the Tigers Are a Legit SEC Contender

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    For years, it seems, the LSU Tigers have unleashed a championship-caliber defense on the SEC, but the offense couldn't do enough to push them over the top. That was the downfall of the Les Miles regime, and Ed Orgeron hasn't found the magic formula yet, either.

    Until now, that is.

    With Ohio State transfer quarterback Joe Burrow at the helm of Steve Ensminger's offense, the Tigers are a force on that side of the ball.

    On Saturday, Burrow became the first Tigers quarterback ever to throw six touchdown passes in a 66-38 rout of Vanderbilt. He went 25-of-34 for 398 yards and didn't toss an interception. He is the perfect fit for what LSU wants to do this year, and the resume is looking better and better.

    This team already dispatched Texas in Austin, after all. Everybody who's talking about this being a two-team race in the SEC needs to make it three (perhaps four, since Auburn remained undefeated following a strong road win at Texas A&M).

    Alabama has company at the top of the SEC West.

    Just how good is this Tigers offense? It's historic.

    According to ESPN (whose tweet can be updated since LSU wound up scoring more), the Tigers' 231 points through their first four games is the most ever in the annals of the storied conference. This is also the third time since 1936 LSU has scored 40 points in four straight games, according to ESPN.

    The other two times they did that were in 2007 and 2011, and both of those seasons finished with LSU in the BCS national title game. Here's a deeper look at those exceptional numbers, via TigerBait.com's Preston Guy.

    With weapons like receiver Ja'Marr Chase around Burrow, this LSU offense can continue to click. While we're throwing around early-season Heisman contenders, Burrow needs a mention, and all the Tigers are doing is building their confidence for a championship run.

What to Watch For: Searching for Nuggets on a Slim Slate of Select Showdowns

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    There aren't a lot of exciting matchups next Saturday in a fairly "down" week this deep into conference play. But there are a few games worth your time. Others have intriguing storylines.

    And you know we'll have some upsets; we always do.

         

    Arizona State at California

    The Bears went across the country, dealt with the Mississippi heat and humidity and came away from Oxford with a 28-20 win over Ole Miss.

    Herm Edwards' Arizona State Sun Devils are battle-tested with a cross-country win over Michigan State on their resume, too, but a disappointing loss to Colorado this week brought them back down to earth again.

    This is still a game between the Pac-12's two biggest upstart surprises this year.

         

    Penn State at Maryland

    An ugly loss to Temple set first-year Terrapins coach Mike Locksley's program back a little, and Penn State narrowly missed an upset bid by Pittsburgh last week. This is a danger-zone game for the Nittany Lions, though, traveling to College Park.

    Maryland is capable of upsetting James Franklin's team, and at the very least, this should be a good matchup. This is an upset-alert game. 

         

    Virginia at Notre Dame

    The Fighting Irish showed up well in Athens on Saturday night, and they should continue to get their share of headlines despite the loss. 

    This is a team fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball, and it will face another stiff test as it returns home to play coach Bronco Mendenhall's Cavaliers. Notre Dame should win, but this could be a fun battle. 

    UVA dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins could cause any defense issues, even one as savvy as the Irish's. With Mendenhall calling the shots, the Hoos are well-coached on both sides of the ball, and this might be a slobberknocker.

             

    USC at Washington

    It's going to be interesting to see what happens with the Trojans' quarterback situation this weekend after Kedon Slovis left the game in a huge win over Utah. Matt Fink fared very well in relief, however, completing 21 of 30 with 351 passing yards and three touchdowns and one interception.

    Did he earn the right to start regardless of Slovis' status?

    The Huskies are back on track with a convincing road win against BYU, and this is another huge game for Pac-12 supremacy. It is the Trojans' stiffest remaining in-conference test.

         

    Ohio State at Nebraska

    The Cornhuskers are far from the program many thought they would be when they began the year ranked in the preseason AP poll. Scott Frost's team simply isn't ready for prime time.

    But if it can find a way to beat the upstart Buckeyes at home, it could be a program-changer. Don't bet on it, but Ohio State still should be careful. 

         

    Washington State at Utah

    Call it the rebound bowl.

    There are some defensive issues for Kyle Whittingham's Utes, and they were pushed around at times at the line of scrimmage against USC, but this is still a good team.

    If it is going to have a chance to defend the South division, missteps should be limited from here on. A major test comes in Mike Leach's Cougars, who somehow found a way to blow a 32-point lead and allow 50 second-half points in a meltdown loss to UCLA.

    This is a game with major conference championship game ramifications.