College Football Rankings: B/R’s Top 25 After Week 9

College Football Rankings: B/R’s Top 25 After Week 9
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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    If you decided to not tune in Saturday because of the lack of marquee showdowns or you were on trick or treat duty, boy, do you regret that decision now. 

    There were plenty of goodies in store to fill a Halloween bag’s worth of excitement.

    No. 1 Clemson roared back from a gargantuan gulf without quarterback Trevor Lawrence to remain undefeated ahead of next week’s trip to South Bend. While neither Alabama nor Notre Dame had any issues, there was still some suspense.

    Oklahoma State’s overtime loss to Texas kept the Big 12’s season of horrors going, and Michigan laid a Big Blue egg at the Big House against rival Michigan State to elevate the heat on coach Jim Harbaugh.

    Coach Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati Bearcats continued to prove they’re for real, easily dispatching AAC contender Memphis a week after embarrassing SMU. In the big prime-time showdown, Ohio State proved too much for Penn State.

    Our five-man panel of expertsDavid Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Joel Reuter and Brad Shepardtried to sort through the madness by submitting a Top 25 ballot for Week 9. A first-place vote is worth 25 points, a second-place vote is worth 24 points, etc.

    B/R Week 9 Top 25

    1. Alabama (Last week: 2)
    2. Clemson (1)
    3. Ohio State (3)
    4. Notre Dame (4)
    5. Georgia (5)
    6. Cincinnati (7)
    7. Wisconsin (T-8)
    8. Texas A&M (T-10)
    9. Oregon (T-10)
    10. BYU (13)
    11. Miami (12)
    12. Florida (14)
    13. Coastal Carolina (17)
    14. Indiana (16)
    15. Oklahoma State (6)
    16. Marshall (18)
    17. Liberty (21)
    18. USC (20)
    19. Army (25)
    20. Northwestern (NR)
    21. SMU (24)
    22. Appalachian State (NR)
    23. Louisiana (NR)
    24. Boise State (NR)
    25. Oklahoma (NR)

    Others receiving votes: Iowa State, Purdue, Texas, Michigan, Auburn, Tulsa

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    It surprises exactly nobody that Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is in midseason Heisman Trophy form, but there’s a big difference in carving up Nebraska’s defense like a Halloween pumpkin and doing it to Penn State.

    The Nittany Lions hung as tough as possible against the Buckeyes on Saturday night, but there was just too much Fields in the end.

    Ohio State beat Penn State 38-25 in Happy Valley, dropping the Lions to an 0-2 to start the season after falling victim to Indiana’s overtime heroics last weekend. If anybody had any doubts about the third-ranked Buckeyes, those should be alleviated.

    Fields finished the game 28-of-34 for 318 yards and four touchdowns, putting his mark on the early 2020 campaign after last year’s first season starting in Columbus ended with him as a Heisman Trophy finalist and his team narrowly losing to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

    If they’re going to play anything like they did on Saturday, the Buckeyes are going to be right back there again this year.

    Don’t just think Ohio State is Fields and a cloud of dust, though. They are far from that.

    Master Teague III sort of busted out of the shadows against Penn State with a quality showing. He’s not at all as flashy as J.K. Dobbins was, but he is definitely capable of being the premier back on a championship-caliber team.

    The offensive line overpowered PSU at times, looking like the nation’s best unit, and the receiving corps has as many weapons as anybody’s in the nation, up there with Alabama’s and USC’s. The defensive line generated five sacks, as well.

    If there’s any concern right now, it would be the rebuilt secondary, which struggled occasionally against Sean Clifford and Penn State. But the game was hardly ever in question, and Ohio State proved it was not only in control Saturday night but should be in the Big Ten, as well.

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    If it seems like there’s a subplot every week talking about the ever-compounding impotence of the Big 12 in the 2020 college football season, it’s because the league finds a way to one-up (one-down?) itself every weekend.

    Just when everybody thought a favorite was materializing in undefeated No. 6 Oklahoma State, the Cowboys strutted out in their stirrups against Texas on Saturday and promptly shot themselves in the foot.

    While there was a questionable pass interference call on Oklahoma State that allowed Texas to score an overtime touchdown in an eventual 41-34 win, coach Mike Gundy’s team did more than enough to earn every ounce of that L.

    Sitting on a lead and forcing Texas to punt on 4th-and-22 in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma State roughed the punter, giving the ‘Horns a first down that they would turn into a go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion to take a 34-31 lead.

    Though a Spencer Sanders-led drive down the field resulted in a game-tying field goal to force overtime, it was Sam Ehlinger’s extra-session heroics that pulled it out in the end.

    Not only did the Cowboys have the massive special teams blunder, they also allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown and lost four turnovers. The Longhorns turned those turnovers into 21 points to keep them in the game throughout, and they ultimately made the plays to win the game.

    Now, it would be a shocker if the College Football Playoff featured a Big 12 participant. If anything, this opens the door for a Pac-12 team or even a Group of Five team like Cincinnati, which is playing exceptional football right now, to squeeze into the fourth spot.

    Anything can happen between now and December, but the Big 12 continues to do itself no favors.

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    Josh Morgan/Associated Press

    It’s hard to imagine that Clemson star running back Travis Etienne could be considered underrated when he has won the conference’s offensive player of the year in back-to-back seasons. But with quarterback Trevor Lawrence getting most of the headlines, it’s true.

    Etienne earned another moment in the sun Saturday as he etched his name in the ACC history books as the conference’s all-time leading rusher, surpassing Ted Brown’s mark of 4,602 yards, which has stood for 42 years.

    Without Lawrence on the field, Clemson needed every bit of Etienne’s heroics on Saturday. The senior ran for 84 yards and a touchdown and grabbed seven more receptions for 140 yards and another score in the 34-28 win. Etienne’s big day wasn’t the only noteworthy fun fact for the Tigers on Saturday, though.

    The Tigers’ win was extremely improbable considering the odds they faced. The 28-13 halftime deficit marked the largest such point differential at the break for a top-ranked team against an unranked opponent dating all the way back to Purdue’s upset of No. 1 Notre Dame in 1950, according to the ABC broadcast.

    The Boilermakers went on to win that game despite going 2-7 that year. The Eagles played brilliantly for much of the game, but they could not maintain their high level. Freshman Bryan Bresee forced BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec into an intentional grounding in the end zone to clinch the game in the final minute.

    Clemson’s win kept its ACC dominance in tact and exorcised some halftime demons for coach Dabo Swinney, who had been 1-11 at Clemson when trailing at the midway mark, according to ESPN.

    The victory means the Tigers keep their home winning streak. They haven’t lost in Death Valley since Nov. 12, 2016 against Pittsburgh, 1,448 days ago. Clemson’s last regular-season loss and last setback in-conference came Oct. 13, 2017 against Syracuse.

    There was nothing dominant about Clemson’s win on Saturday, but survival worked just fine, too.

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    With Clemson coach Dabo Swinney confirming after Saturday’s game against Boston College that quarterback Trevor Lawrence is officially out for next week’s colossal clash between the top-ranked Tigers and No. 4 Notre Dame at South Bend (via ESPN’s Andrea Adelson), things get even more interesting.

    The feeling of invincibility is no longer there.

    After Clemson’s gritty survival victory against Boston College after trailing by 18 points on Saturday, it sets up one of the biggest games of the season next weekend at South Bend.

    Notre Dame did its part to take care of business, handling Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday, thumping the hapless Yellow Jackets.

    The Tigers remain right in the thick of the championship picture, buckling down after falling behind the Eagles by a 28-10 score to rally and win 34-28 with true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei at quarterback.

    Uiagalelei is more than capable of doing big things with his big arm, but it obviously would add to the intrigue and the crucial prime-time national battle for ACC supremacy if Lawrence could play. Everybody is going to be wondering what transpires, but it’s going to be a must-see regardless.

    Overshadowed a bit by that top-four showdown is the rivalry formerly known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party between 10th-ranked Florida and No. 5 Georgia in Jacksonville.

    The Bulldogs plodded along in a 14-3 methodical win over Kentucky this weekend, but they need much more offensive firepower to handle Florida and Kyle Trask. Florida returned to the field after a three-week COVID-related layoff against Missouri on Saturday. That’s the battle for SEC East supremacy.

    Several other showdowns are worth your time, too, beginning with Friday night’s game between No. 11 BYU and No. 25 Boise State. Oklahoma State-Kansas State and Michigan-Indiana have interesting subplots, as well, but they will take back seats to the two biggies.