If not for a failed 2-point conversion attempt, who knows where we’d be five weeks into the college football season?
But Brent Venables’ Clemson defense made the play it had to make, and the defending national champion Tigers survived a 21-20 scare at North Carolina. The beauty of college football is the unpredictability from week to week, and just when you think nobody in the ACC really has a chance against Clemson, something like Saturday’s near miss happens.
So here we are, and the truth is that ranking the top six or seven teams in the country at this point is a crapshoot. Cases could probably be made for all six or seven to be No. 1.
But for the time being, we’ll go with Alabama and Tua Tagovailoa. Air Tua already has thrown 23 touchdown passes with no interceptions, and he tossed a school-record six TDs on Saturday in the blowout victory over Ole Miss.
Five of the top nine teams this week are from the SEC, and if not for Ohio State moving into the No. 2 spot, the top two would have an “Iron Bowl” feel to it.
And what about the Pac-12? There are no unbeaten teams remaining — and it’s not even October.
Here are the updated ESPN Power Rankings after Week 5:
1. Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC)
Maybe DeVonta Smith deserves his own ranking after his record-breaking performance on Saturday in Alabama’s 59-31 demolition of Ole Miss. The Alabama junior receiver caught 11 passes for 274 yards and had four of his five touchdown catches in the first half. The guy throwing him the ball, Tua Tagovailoa, had a pretty good day too, with six touchdown passes. If you want to get picky, Alabama actually trailed in this game late in the first quarter, and defensively, the Crimson Tide gave up 279 rushing yards. This isn’t the Alabama defense of old, especially with the injuries, but the Tide can score with anybody and have now defeated 87 consecutive unranked opponents under Nick Saban, the longest streak in FBS history.
Up next: Open date
2. Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten)
It has almost looked too easy for Ohio State, which won its fifth consecutive game by 24 or more points this season, the latest a 48-7 pummeling of Nebraska on Saturday before what had been an electric Memorial Stadium crowd to start the contest. But that changed in a hurry, as the Buckeyes rolled to a 38-0 halftime lead in the kind of dominant performance that should serve notice to the college football world. There’s not much Ohio State hasn’t done well to this point. The Buckeyes are greatly improved defensively from a year ago and have been scary good on offense. They’ve scored 42 or more points in every game, and quarterback Justin Fields just gets better every week. He has accounted for 23 touchdowns.
Up next: vs. Michigan State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
3. Auburn (5-0, 2-0 SEC)
When you combine a championship-level defense laden with future pros up front and an offense that has rediscovered its groove with Gus Malzahn calling plays and freshman quarterback Bo Nix improving weekly, you get the kind of start that Auburn is off to this season. The Tigers remained unbeaten Saturday with a dominant 56-23 home romp over Mississippi State, and they boast one of the more impressive résumés in college football as we head to October. The question now: Can the Tigers navigate a schedule that is absolutely brutal the rest of the way? Their next three games are all SEC road contests, including trips to nationally ranked Florida and LSU. And then in November, Georgia and Alabama both visit the Plains.
Up next: at Florida (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
4. Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC)
Dabo Swinney probably said it best: Sometimes the team that plays the best doesn’t win. And even though Clemson was “outplayed and outcoached” by North Carolina, according to Swinney, the Tigers managed to escape 21-20 on the road and win their 20th straight game. Clemson has an open date this coming Saturday before returning home on Oct. 12 to face Florida State. The Tigers have more than a few things to clean up, in particular doing a better job of protecting quarterback Trevor Lawrence. They had better get accustomed to getting everybody’s best shot the rest of the way. And given how weak the ACC is, it’s hard to see Clemson losing to a conference foe this season and still getting into the College Football Playoff.
Up next: Open date
5. Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
The Dawgs are coming off of a well-timed open date, following a tough, physical win over Notre Dame. The top of the Power Rankings are laden with SEC teams, and Kirby Smart’s club has been as impressive as anyone with its physicality on both lines of scrimmage despite some injuries in the offensive line. And when you have an experienced quarterback playing with the poise and efficiency that Jake Fromm has since he arrived on campus, that’s all the more heartening for the Dawgs, as they very likely are looking at a 7-0 start heading into the Florida game on Nov. 2.
Up next: at Tennessee (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
6. Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12)
This transfer quarterback thing has worked out just fine for Oklahoma. The Sooners got another big game from Jalen Hurts and blew past Texas Tech in a 55-16 romp that has been the norm for the Sooners this season. They’ve racked up at least 600 yards of total offense in all four of their contests, and Hurts had his first 400-yard passing game of the season. Some tougher tests await, but nobody has even come close to slowing down the Sooners to this point.
Up next: at Kansas (Saturday, noon ET, ABC)
7. LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
Now we know the secret to slowing down Joe Burrow and an LSU offense that has put up at least 45 points in each of its first four tilts: an open date. The Tigers scored 231 points in their first four wins before getting this week off. Burrow already has thrown 17 touchdown passes. For perspective, in the previous five seasons, LSU as a team never threw more than 17 touchdown passes the entire season. Ed Orgeron promised that this LSU offense would be different, but did anybody see this coming?
Up next: vs. Utah State (Saturday, noon ET, SEC Network)
8. Wisconsin (4-0, 2-0 Big Ten)
Not that anybody is really into style points at this juncture of the season, but Wisconsin just keeps finding different ways to win. A week after thumping Michigan, the Badgers remained unbeaten thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns in a 24-15 home win over Northwestern. Of course, it also helps to have a running back the caliber of Jonathan Taylor, who just keeps cranking out 100-yard games. He now has rushed for 100 yards in 26 of his 31 career games.
Up next: vs. Kent State (Saturday, noon ET, ESPNU)
9. Florida (5-0, 2-0 SEC)
This is right where Florida expected to be while exiting September, and there’s reason to be optimistic, especially in the way the Gators have played on defense. They blanked outmanned Towson 38-0 on Saturday, the second straight game in which Florida has not allowed a touchdown. But the real season starts now with a daunting four-game stretch that includes a home game against Auburn next weekend, a trip to LSU the following week and a home matchup with Georgia the first weekend in November. The biggest concern for the Gators is an offensive line that needs to mature and help generate more of a running game.
Up next: vs. Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
10. Notre Dame (3-1)
There might be a lot of debate as to whether the Fighting Irish can play their way back into College Football Playoff consideration following their hard-fought loss at Georgia in Week 4, but there’s no debate about the way Notre Dame’s defense took matters into its own hands on Saturday in a 35-20 triumph over Virginia. The Cavaliers led 17-14 at the half but could muster only a fourth-quarter field goal the rest of the way against a Notre Dame defense that totally controlled the second half.
Up next: vs. Bowling Green (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
11. Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)
After a bit of a shaky win two weeks ago against Pittsburgh, there was nothing shaky about Penn State’s 59-0 dismantling of Maryland on Friday night on the road in the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten opener. Quarterback Sean Clifford was outstanding with 398 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and another rushing touchdown. Granted, it’s still early, but it’s probably wise we don’t forget about James Franklin’s club in the Big Ten race. And with such an offensive explosion, it’s easy to overlook the defensive side of the ball. But in four games now, Penn State still hasn’t given up more than 13 points.
Up next: vs. Purdue (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN)
12. Texas (3-1, 1-0 Big 12)
It’s way too early to eliminate Texas from the College Football Playoff equation, especially if LSU goes on to win the SEC championship. The Longhorns, coming off an open date, need to take care of their business, which they did two weeks earlier in a key home win against Oklahoma State. They go on the road next week against West Virginia, and then comes the annual showdown with Oklahoma. In what is quickly shaping up as the year of the quarterback in college football, don’t forget about Sam Ehlinger. He has accounted for 16 touchdowns and thrown just one interception in his first four games.
Up next: at West Virginia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
13. Oregon (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12)
The Ducks were off after a much-needed road win at Stanford the weekend before, their first conference road victory outside the state since a year ago when they beat Cal. Their next two games are at home against Cal and Colorado, before a key road trip to Washington on Oct. 19. The bye week might help the Ducks get freshman receiver Mycah Pittman back. He was the talk of the preseason until injuring his shoulder, and he was able to return to practice this past week.
Up next: vs. Cal (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox)
14. Iowa (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)
Iowa remained unbeaten with a 48-3 nonconference battering of Middle Tennessee, and it’s not surprising that the Hawkeyes are doing it with defense. They’ve held each of their first four opponents to 18 or fewer points and have given up just four touchdowns along the way. The next two weeks will spell out how important November will be for Iowa in the Big Ten race. The Hawkeyes play at Michigan next Saturday, followed by a home date with Penn State.
Up next: at Michigan (Saturday, noon ET, Fox)
15. Boise State (4-0, 1-0 Mountain West)
The Broncos were off after opening the Mountain West Conference part of their schedule the week before with a 30-19 win over Air Force, albeit a costly one. Sophomore middle linebacker Ezekiel Noa, the team’s leading tackler, tore his ACL and broke his wrist, and he will miss the rest of the season.
Up next: at UNLV (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
16. Washington (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
Washington won its third consecutive game after losing to Cal in Week 2 with a 28-14 victory over USC at home, a decision that should serve the Huskies well in the Pac-12 race. It was the first meeting between the teams since 2016 and Washington’s first triumph over USC since 2015. Washington got a big lift with the return of running back Salvon Ahmed, who rushed for a career-high 153 yards after missing the game the week before with a leg injury. The Huskies’ next two games are both on the road, at Stanford and at Arizona, before coming back home to face Oregon and Utah.
Up next: at Stanford (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
17. Utah (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
A week after being exposed by USC and looking like a Pac-12 pretender, Utah came storming back with an impressive 38-13 victory over Washington State and looking very much like a Pac-12 contender. The Utes were playing without two of their starters on offense but still were able to play keep-away from a Washington State offense that came into the game leading the country with an average of 499.5 passing yards per game. The Utes, who had lost four straight in this series, were able to keep Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon on the sideline for much of the game and, more important, limited the Cougars to just one touchdown.
Up next: Open date
18. UCF (4-1, 1-0 AAC)
Maybe it’s time for UCF to start a new winning streak. A week removed from its first regular-season loss in 27 games, UCF opened conference play with a 56-21 rout of UConn on Saturday at home. The Knights, with freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel throwing three first-half touchdowns, built a 42-0 halftime lead and never broke a sweat. They might be on the outside looking in when it comes to the College Football Playoff after falling at Pitt, but a New Year’s Six bowl berth is still very much in play.
Up next: at Cincinnati (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
19. Michigan (3-1, 1-1 Big Ten)
Given the blowout loss to Wisconsin the previous week, any win was a good win for Michigan, which took out some serious frustration in a 52-0 drubbing of Rutgers at home. The next month will shape the Wolverines’ season, one way or the other. During that stretch, they will face Iowa at home, Penn State on the road and Notre Dame at home.
Up next: vs. Iowa (Saturday, noon ET, Fox)
20. Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1 Big 12)
The Cowboys were way undervalued in the preseason polls, but they have demonstrated during the first month of the campaign that they will be players in the Big 12 race. Mike Gundy’s club bounced back nicely from its loss at Texas with a 26-13 home victory Saturday over previously unbeaten Kansas State. And if you haven’t already had a chance to watch the running back/receiver combo of Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace play, do yourself a favor and set the DVR for Oklahoma State’s next game. They combined for 441 yards from scrimmage in the win over the Wildcats.
Up next: at Texas Tech (Saturday, noon ET, Fox Sports 1)
21. SMU (5-0, 1-0 AAC)
It has been a while — more than three decades — since SMU has started a season with this much momentum. The Mustangs raced out to a 41-0 lead on Saturday en route to a 48-21 road beatdown of South Florida. This is the first time SMU has been 5-0 since the 1983 season, when it was a member of the old Southwest Conference. Three of the five wins by SMU this season have come away from home.
Up next: vs. Tulsa (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
22. Wake Forest (5-0, 1-0 ACC)
There aren’t any so-called signature victories, but the Demon Deacons are 5-0 for the first time since 2006 after holding off Boston College for a 27-24 road victory on Saturday. That 2006 season was a special one for Wake Forest, which was rewarded with a trip to the Orange Bowl. The best thing the Demon Deacons have done this season is find ways to win. Three of their five W’s have been by six points or fewer, and looking down the schedule, there could be a lot more victories coming. After an open date, the next three games are all at home — against Louisville, Florida State and NC State.
Up next: Open date
23. Colorado (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12)
Coming off an open date after a 34-31 win on the road against Arizona State — a decision that looks even better following the Sun Devils’ victory on Friday night over previously unbeaten Cal — the Buffs get Arizona at home before diving into a difficult three-game stretch against Oregon and Washington State on the road and then USC back home.
Up next: vs. Arizona (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
24. Arizona State (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
In a short week, Arizona State bounced back from a tough 34-31 loss to Colorado by going on the road and beating Cal 24-17 on Friday, as Eno Benjamin got untracked with three touchdowns. The Sun Devils will face a key home test against Washington State on Oct. 12. They already have two wins over ranked teams, counting the one over Michigan State.
Up next: Open date
25. Cal (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
The Golden Bears fell 24-17 at home to Arizona State on Friday in what was their first defeat. They also lost quarterback Chase Garbers, who left the game in the second quarter after injuring his right shoulder. The schedule only gets tougher for Cal going forward, with two of the next three contests coming on the road against Oregon and Utah. The Bears’ passing game really struggled to generate much of anything after Garbers left the game, which could be especially troubling if he is out for an extended period of time.
Up next: at Oregon (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Fox)