• The Buckeyes and Sooners have taken the driver’s seat in their respective conferences as the gap between the true contenders and the average teams widens.
By Scooby Axson
September 30, 2019

Since there was little drama across the country this past weekend, it’s time to assess the contenders for the New Year’s Six bowls as September comes to a close. This doesn’t mean any of these teams are going to hoist the national title trophy in New Orleans. There have been few surprises in 2019 as the usual suspects (namely teams that are in this power rankings’ top eight) continue to pile up wins, while the gap between the great teams and the merely serviceable ones continues to get larger by the week.

So here are the contenders for major bowl games in each conference, and if your favorite team isn’t listed, then enjoy the rest of the season and chances are they will be mentioned sometime in the not-too-distant future. Also, please send all complaints to the “I don’t care about your team” department of SI.com.

In the driver’s seat: Clemson
Contenders: Check back in 2020
Potential fraud: Need not ask

Big 12
In the driver’s seat: Oklahoma
Contenders: Texas, Oklahoma State
Potential frauds: Baylor, TCU

Big Ten
In the driver’s seat: Ohio State
Contenders: Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa
Potential fraud: Minnesota

In the driver’s seat: Oregon, Washington
Contenders: Utah, Arizona State
Potential fraud: Cal

In the driver’s seat: Alabama, LSU, Georgia
Contenders: Auburn
Potential fraud: Florida

Group of Five/Notre Dame
In the driver’s seat: Boise State, UCF
Contenders: Memphis
Potential frauds: SMU, Cincinnati

Now to the rankings:

1. Alabama (5–0, 2–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Ole Miss 59–31
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 12 at Texas A&M

DeVonta Smith tied an SEC record for receiving touchdowns with five and set the school record with 274 yards receiving, leading the Crimson Tide to another SEC West rout. It was the Tide’s nation-leading 29th straight win at home. Tua Tagovailoa continued his shredding of defenses with a 418-yard, seven total touchdown performance, while breaking the career school record for touchdowns responsible for.

2. Clemson (5–0, 3–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat North Carolina 21–20
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 12 vs. Florida State

Trevor Lawrence’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins with nine minutes left led the Tigers to their 20th straight win, in which they needed North Carolina to fail on a two-point conversion with one minute remaining to stay undefeated and on track for another playoff berth. Lawrence had 206 yards and one touchdown as Clemson was held to 331 yards of offense. It was their lowest offensive output since Oct. 13, 2017, which also happens to be the last time they lost in the regular season.

3. Ohio State (5–0, 2–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Nebraska 48–7
Next week: vs. Michigan State

The NCAA-record 371st consecutive sellout at Nebraska saw a treat between the schools that have each won over 900 times in their histories and have 13 combined national championships. Unfortunately for Nebraska fans, that treat ended at kickoff as Ohio State made quick work of the Huskers, led by Justin Fields, who had 284 total yards and four TDs, and J. K. Dobbins, who ran for 177 yards. The defense allowed only 231 yards, forced three turnovers and recorded four sacks.

4.  Oklahoma (4–0, 1–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Texas Tech 55–16
Next week: at Kansas

Oklahoma reached the 900-win plateau in its storied history and eighth consecutive victory over Texas Tech with another dominant performance from Jalen Hurts. Hurts threw for a career-high 413 yards and three touchdowns (all three going to CeeDee Lamb) and added 70 yards on the ground. This was the ninth straight meeting between the schools where the teams combined for 60 or more points.

5. LSU (4–0, 1–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Off
Next week: vs. Utah State

6. Georgia (4–0, 1–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Off
Next week: next game Oct. 5 at Tennessee

7. Auburn (5–0, 2–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Mississippi State 56–23
Next week: at Florida

Bo Nix broke out and became a passing threat, throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns, and the conference’s leading rushing attack added six touchdowns, including three by JaTarvious Whitlow. Bulldogs tailback Kylin Hill, who was the SEC’s leading rusher, finished with 17 carries for 45 yards. Mississippi State left town battered and bruised but at least their live mascot, who was hit by Whitlow out of bounds in the first quarter, will reportedly be fine.

8. Wisconsin (4–0, 2–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Northwestern 24–15
Next week: vs. Kent State

Jonathan Taylor rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown, his ninth straight game of over 100 yards or more. The Badgers were actually outgained 255–243, but held Northwestern to 4 of 19 on third-down conversions and scored two defensive touchdowns, one on a pick-six and the other on a fumble recovery in the end zone. The Badgers had a season-high five sacks and 13 tackles for loss and still haven’t allowed a team to gain over 300 yards this season.

9. Florida (5–0, 2–0 SEC)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Towson 38–0
Next week: vs. Auburn

10. Texas (3–1, 1–0 Big 12)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Off
Next week: at West Virginia

11. Notre Dame (3–1)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Virginia 35–20
Next week: vs. Bowling Green

The Irish defense, which has held its opponents to 30 points or less in 18 consecutive games, went sack happy against Virginia, recording eight of them. Defensive end Julian Okwara had three sacks, two quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles, with both turnovers leading directly to Notre Dame touchdowns. Virginia has lost 11 straight to top-10 teams and came into the game leading the FBS in sacks. They had two sacks on the day.

12.  Penn State (4–0, 1–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Maryland 59–0
Next week: vs. Purdue

Perhaps no team has hit rock bottom after a hot start of the season more than Maryland, and a player falling down while running out of the tunnel should have been foreshadowing for the team’s miserable night. Penn State beat the Terps for the fifth straight time, holding the home team to 128 total yards. Sean Clifford threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns, while leading the team in rushing. The Nittany Lions had 30 first downs and 619 yards of total offense.

13. Iowa (4–0, 1–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Middle Tennessee State 48–3
Next week: at Michigan

14. Oregon (3–1, 1–0)

Previous ranking: 14
This week: Off
Next week: vs. California

15. Washington (4–1, 1–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat USC 28–14
Next week: at Stanford

Salvon Ahmed broke open a close game in third quarter with an 89-yard touchdown run as part of his career-high 153-yard day, making up for fumbling in the end zone (it was recovered for a Washington touchdown) earlier in the game. The defense picked off USC quarterback Matt Fink three times, but moving forward it’s the run defense that could be a cause for concern. USC lost for just the second time in Seattle in its last seven visits.

16. Utah (4–1, 1–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat Washington State 38–13
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 12 at Oregon State

Tyler Huntley outshined the nation’s leader in total offense, Anthony Gordon, by throwing for 334 yards and two touchdowns and running in two more against a Washington State team hoping to bounce back from blowing 32-point lead against UCLA. The Cougars averaged nearly 500 yards passing before the game, but could only muster 252 against Utah, who played without leading rusher Zach Moss and leading pass catcher Britain Covey.

17.  Boise State (4–0, 1–0 MWC)

Previous ranking: 17
This week: Off
Next week: at UNLV

18. Memphis (4–0, 1–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 18
This week: Beat Navy 35–23
Next week: at UL Monroe

The Memphis offense made the most of its chances in its 21 minutes of possession, scoring four times in 43 plays and adding a kick return TD. But the defense held Navy and its triple-option attack to 81 yards in the second half. Brady White had 196 yards and three second-half throwing scores for Memphis, which is 4–0 for the first time in since 2015 when it won its first eight games.

19. UCF (4–1, 1–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat UConn 56–21
Next week: at Cincinnati

UCF won its 19 straight conference game, sprinting out to a 42–0 halftime lead before coasting to another easy victory. All eight of UCF’s scoring drives took less than 2:30 off the clock and five of those drives lasted less than a minute. Dillon Gabriel threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns. In another expected UConn performance, the Huskies turned the ball over four times, missed two field goals and allowed 610 yards.

20. Michigan (3–1, 1–1 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat Rutgers 52–0
Next week: vs. Iowa

Rutgers seems to be the cure for any team’s offensive woes and Michigan took full advantage as expected. The Wolverines have now beaten Rutgers five straight times with a combined score of 256–37 and it led to their coach Chris Ash being fired before the end of September. Despite the improvement on offense from a week ago, the Michigan running game is still a work in progress. It averaged 3.4 yards a rush against Rutgers, which is about its output for the season so far.  

21.  Oklahoma State (4–1, 1–1 Big 12)

Previous ranking: -
This week: Beat Kansas State 26–13
Next week: at Texas Tech

Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard got back to their dominant ways against Kansas State. Wallace had 145 yards receiving and Hubbard ran for 296 yards and a touchdown, his third 200+ yard effort in 2019. Hubbard now has three of the top six individual rushing performances of this season. The Cowboys held Kansas State to 244 yards, the first time since a win against Kansas in 2017 that they held a conference opponent to less than 250 yards of offense.

22. Arizona State (4–1, 1–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat Cal 24–17
Next week: Off; next game Oct. 12 vs. Washington State

Cal’s streak of holding 11 straight opponents under 24 points came to an end as Eno Benjamin matched his career high with three rushing touchdowns, going for 100 yards in the process. Freshman Jayden Daniels had 174 yards passing and 84 more rushing. The Sun Devils’ defense held Cal to just 11 total fourth-quarter yards, grabbing their second road win against a ranked team and taking down the last remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12.

23. Michigan State (4–1, 2–0 Big 10)

Previous ranking: 24
This week: Beat Indiana 40–31
Next week: at Ohio State

Sparty doesn’t have time to rest after a closer-than-expected victory over Indiana. Michigan State travels to Ohio State on Saturday, then a trip to Wisconsin the following week and then a home game against Penn State. Brian Lewerke threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns, but the defense, which had been the strength, had issues getting Indiana off the field. Ohio State is more explosive than Indiana is and it could get ugly in a hurry at the Horseshoe if the defense struggles.

24. Wake Forest (5–0, 1–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 25
This week: Beat Boston College 27–24
Next week: Off; next game Oct 12 vs. Louisville

Wake Forest, who tied a 75-year-old school record by winning its seventh straight game, is 5–0 for the first time since winning the ACC in 2006 and going to the Orange Bowl. Jamie Newman had 361 total yards and two touchdowns, while Deacons wideout Sage Surratt, who came into the game second in the NCAA in receiver yards, was held to four catches for 31 yards.

25. SMU (5–0, 1–0 AAC)

Previous ranking: —
This week: Beat South Florida 48–21
Next week: at Tulsa

Perhaps the most surprising team to appear in these power rankings in years are Sonny Dykes’ Mustangs, who are enjoying their first 5–0 season in three decades. Shane Buechele, a Texas transfer, threw three touchdown passes for SMU, whose five victories have all come against FBS competition. The Mustangs also made a living in the backfield against a struggling South Florida team, recording 10 sacks by 10 different players.

By conference: Big 10 (6), SEC (5), Pac-12 (4), Big 12 (3), AAC (3), ACC (2) MWC (1), Independent (1).

Dropped out: Cal, Virginia, Kansas State.

Almost famous: Baylor, Colorado, Army, Hawaii, Appalachian State, Missouri, Minnesota.

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