Winners and Losers: Ranking college football’s 11 undefeated teams after Week 6

With six weeks in the books, we’ve officially reached the halfway point of college football’s regular season. Three previously unbeaten teams lost on Saturday — No. 5 LSU, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 13 Kentucky. That means 11 undefeated teams remain. We decided to rank those teams.

1. Alabama

Is it a surprise whatsoever that Alabama became the first team to clinch bowl eligibility in 2018? The Tide trounced Arkansas 65-31 in Fayetteville on Saturday to improve to 6-0 behind 334 yards and four touchdowns from Tua Tagovailoa on just 10-of-13 throwing. The Tide offense, averaging 56 points per game, has been pretty much unstoppable. It’d be foolish to call any team other than Alabama the favorite to win the College Football Playoff.

2. Georgia

Another week, another blowout win for Georgia. The Bulldogs dominated Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Athens, putting up 560 yards of offense in a 41-13 victory. While the Bulldogs have excelled with Jake Fromm and a deep stable of running backs on offense, the defense has been one of the country’s best. Through six games, the Bulldogs are allowing an average of 283 yards per game. It’s fair to say Georgia hasn’t been challenged to this point in the year, but four ranked opponents — LSU, Florida, Kentucky and Auburn — loom.

3. Notre Dame

Notre Dame moved through the toughest part of its schedule without much resistance. The Irish took care of Michigan in Week 1 and had a few lackluster performances before making a quarterback switch from Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book. It has made a significant difference. In the three games since — wins over Wake Forest, Stanford and Virginia Tech — the Irish offense has averaged 46.3 points per game, compare to 23.3 with Wimbush running the show. Notre Dame figures to be favored in every game it plays moving forward. The path to the College Football Playoff looks smooth.

4. Ohio State

Ohio State survived its post-Penn State game malaise this year. The Buckeyes fell behind Indiana 17-14 in the second quarter, but that deficit didn’t last long in an eventual 49-26 win. Dwayne Haskins threw for 455 yards and six touchdowns in the victory, once again proving to be an upgrade at the position over J.T. Barrett. Now 6-0, the Buckeyes’ one-point win over Penn State is arguably the biggest victory of the season in college football. A path to the Playoff is clear, provided OSU and its leaky defense gets through rival Michigan in the season finale.

5. Clemson

Clemson finally put it all together on Saturday. The Tigers had been underwhelming through five weeks, but now have continuity at quarterback with Trevor Lawrence now the solidified starter. The defense was always the team’s strength, but now the Tigers seem to have found a running game to match. Travis Etienne was the key to the 27-23 win over Syracuse last week. On Saturday in the 63-3 win over Wake Forest, Etienne had 167 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries. The Tigers, as a whole, had a ridiculous 471 rushing yards. That’ll do.

6. West Virginia

West Virginia is off to a 5-0 start for the third time in the Dana Holgorsen era, but Holgorsen probably doesn’t feel too good about the last six quarters of football his team has played. The Mountaineers, in their toughest test of the season, jumped out to a 35-10 halftime lead over No. 25 Texas Tech on the road, but were outscored 24-7 in the second half in an eventual 42-34 win. On Saturday, WVU beat lowly Kansas, but it was by just a 38-22 margin. The Mountaineers turned it over four times, including red zone three interceptions by Heisman candidate QB Will Grier. The Mountaineers have a few weeks to shore things up before a juggernaut November schedule, including a trip to Texas and a visit from Oklahoma.

7. Central Florida

UCF has picked up right where it left off in the transition from Scott Frost to Josh Heupel. Now 5-0, the Knights have an average margin of victory of 31.2 points per game. UCF is the class of the Group of Five thus far, but, from a College Football Playoff perspective, the same argument as last year is going to surface: strength of schedule. UCF has played UConn, South Carolina State, Florida Atlantic, Pittsburgh and SMU. Its game against North Carolina was canceled because of Hurricane Florence. Still, the Knights looked primed to cruise through AAC play — including fellow unbeatens USF and Cincinnati — again. We’ll see if they can sniff the CFP this time around.

8. Colorado

Nobody would have predicted Colorado to be the last undefeated team from the Pac-12. The Buffs were expected to finish toward the bottom of the South division, but are now 5-0 thanks to a win over Arizona State on Saturday. Steven Montez has been impressive at quarterback, as has Virginia Tech transfer Travon McMillian at running back. But the unquestioned star of Colorado is wide receiver Laviska Shenault. Against ASU, he accounted for all four of his team’s touchdowns and now has 51 catches for 708 yards and six scores on the year.

9. NC State

NC State lost a bunch of talent on both sides of the ball, but with NFL prospect Ryan Finley at quarterback, the Wolfpack has kept pace with Clemson in the ACC Atlantic. Finley threw two picks in Saturday’s win over Boston College, but is up to 1,621 yards and 10 touchdowns on 69.5 percent throwing. Finley and his deep receiving corps (led by Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers) will keep the Wolfpack in games as the season progresses. A trip to Clemson looms in two weeks. The Wolfpack have a bye next weekend.

10. South Florida

The well-traveled Blake Barnett has been an excellent pickup at quarterback for Charlie Strong. The prolific Quinton Flowers was never going to be easy to replace, but Barnett (once of Alabama and Arizona State) has thrown for 1,308 yards and nine touchdowns for the 5-0 Bulls. While the offense has thrived, the defense is still a concern. The Bulls surrendered 42 points and 486 yards of offense in a 16-point win over UMass on Saturday. That defense needs to be shored up before the tougher part of the schedule arrives in late October.

11. Cincinnati

Cincinnati is the third and final undefeated team in the AAC’s East division. The Bearcats are the most surprising team on this list, too. In year two of the Luke Fickell era, nobody expect this big of a jump. There have been some close calls on the way to bowl eligibilty, too. The Bearcats issued Chip Kelly his first UCLA loss with a 26-17 decision in Week 1. In Week 4, Cincy overcame a 24-7 halftime deficit and eventually beat Ohio 34-30 with a touchdown with 3:24 to go. Sophomore running back Michael Warren has been a standout with four 100-yard games.

Here are the winners and losers from Week 6:

Winners

Laviska Shenault: The Colorado receiver is the best player casual fans haven’t heard of this season. Shenault had two rushing touchdowns and 13 catches for 127 yards and two receiving touchdowns in undefeated Colorado’s 28-21 win over Arizona State. Shenault has 51 catches for 708 yards and six touchdowns through the first five games of the season for the Buffaloes. Over a full season that’s 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns. Pretty, pretty good.

Michael Scarnecchia: The senior South Carolina QB got the first start of his career against Missouri and the Gamecocks won a wild game against the Tigers 37-35. Most of the second half was played in pouring rain and the game was delayed for lightning with two minutes to go and Missouri driving for a potential game-winning score. The Tigers got a go-ahead field goal but SC kicker Parker White made his third field goal of the game with two seconds left for the win. Scarnecchia finished 20-of-35 passing for 249 yards and three touchdowns.

Brock Purdy: The freshman Iowa State QB accounted for five touchdowns as Iowa State beat No. 25 Oklahoma State 48-42. Purdy didn’t start the game but came in after the first series for Zeb Noland, who was starting the game in place of the injured Kyle Kept. Oklahoma State took an early 7-0 lead and never led again as Purdy led the ISU offense to six touchdowns and the Cyclones’ first Big 12 win of the season.

NC State: It’s time to give Dave Doeren some credit for the program he’s building in Raleigh. The Wolfpack can claim to be Clemson’s top challenger in the ACC Atlantic after a 28-23 win over Boston College. QB Ryan Finley was 25-of-34 passing for 308 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions while Reggie Gallaspy ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns. We’ll have a very good idea about NC State in two weeks when the Wolfpack play at Clemson.

Freddie Booth-Lloyd: The Temple defensive tackle now has two carries and two touchdowns this season. That’s a nice stat line. He got his second score of the year in a blowout win over East Carolina.

Nick Fitzgerald: The Mississippi State QB now has 2,999 rushing yards, the most of any quarterback in SEC history. Fitzgerald set the record in MSU’s upset win over No. 8 Auburn on Saturday and surpassed Tim Tebow, who coincidentally was inducted into Florida’s ring of honor during the Gators’ win over No. 5 LSU.

Elon: The Phoenix were four-touchdown underdogs to FCS No. 2 James Madison and beat the Dukes on the road 27-24. The winning score came when Davis Cheek hit Avery Jones for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 1:17 left. The win also broke James Madison’s 20-game CAA winning streak.

Bonus winner:

New Mexico: What do you do after beating UNLV and your plane is delayed? You have some fun in Vegas.

Losers

Bobby Petrino: Louisville got run off the field by Georgia Tech on Friday night. The Yellow Jackets scored nine touchdowns in a thorough beatdown of Petrino’s Cardinals. Louisville’s offense has been dreadful so far this season but the Cardinal defense was what was really terrible against Tech. GT ran for 542 yards and threw for just 12. Petrino’s $14 million buyout may be the biggest obstacle between Louisville and a coaching change at the end of the season.

Navy: The Midshipmen’s chances at a Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy are probably gone after a 35-7 loss to Air Force. Falcons QB Donald Hammond threw for 142 yards and a touchdown and ran for 60 yards and three scores as Air Force scored 21 unanswered points in the second half. Navy is now just 2-3.

Boise State: UCF’s grip on the Group of Five’s spot in the New Year’s Six bowl games is getting tighter and tighter. The Broncos lost at home to San Diego State 19-13. SDSU’s Jordan Byrd scored a 72-yard touchdown and Chase Jasmin added another on the ground. That was plenty. Boise State QBs combined to throw three interceptions. More troubling, Boise State had issues running the ball again. The Broncos had 36 carries for 51 yards.

Michigan State: Any thoughts of the Spartans competing in the Big Ten East can be extinguished. Michigan State’s probably only a spoiler. Northwestern beat the No. 20 Spartans 29-19 on Saturday as Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan State QB Brian Lewerke had 329 yards and a touchdown but the Spartans fell flat after taking a 19-14 lead. The four drives after that five-point advantage went punt, punt, turnover on downs, and turnover on downs as Northwestern scored 15-straight points.

Syracuse: The ACC’s feel-good story hit a speed-bump in an OT loss to pit. Pitt’s Darrin Hall scored to begin overtime and Syracuse QB Eric Dungey threw an interception on Syracuse’s first play of the extra period. Pitt, a team that lost to North Carolina, rushed 47 times for 265 yards on the Syracuse defense as Qadree Ollison had 24 carries for 192 yards. Dungey led Syracuse in rushing as well but threw two interceptions to just one touchdown.

Gus Malzahn: When USA Today’s coaching salary database was released this week Malzahn came in fifth behind Alabama’s Nick Saban and Texas AM’s Jimbo Fisher in the SEC. Malzahn’s team is now fifth in the SEC West after losing to Mississippi State on Saturday. Auburn went to the SEC Championship Game in 2017 and needs a ton of things to happen to make a trip back in 2018 a possibility. Trawling Auburn message boards this week will be fun.

Eastern Michigan: It must be torture to be an EMU football fan. The Eagles fell to 2-4 with a 27-24 loss to Western Michigan. The loss is EMU’s fourth-straight after a shock Week 2 win over Purdue. And it also extends a crazy run by Chris Creighton’s team. The three-point loss means 14 of EMU’s 18 games since the beginning of the 2017 season have been decided by seven points or fewer.

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