College Football Power Rankings, Week 4: Michigan Is Here, And We Really Mean It This Time

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We talked last week about reloading rather than rebuilding when it came to Ohio State losing so many players to the NFL draft, but continuing their level of excellence under Urban Meyer, but let’s talk about that second option a little bit. Jim Harbaugh’s had to undertake one heck of a rebuilding job at Michigan.

With really only one arguable household name on the roster before his first season started in De’Veon Smith at running back, Harbaugh took a team that was 5-7 in Brady Hoke’s last year and turned them into 9-3 last season with a bowl win to take them to 10-3. This year, he’s got them off to a 4-0 start and they’ve put over 40 points on the board in every game. Now granted, yes, they haven’t played anyone of note yet. But unlike Clemson, they haven’t played down to anyone else’s level yet either. It’s hard to argue the Wolverines don’t show up every week looking to play their very best.

And let’s be honest: the top four teams are probably very fluid. A lot of people were upset that I jumped the Buckeyes over Louisville last week after putting the Cardinals in the top spot the week before when they then went out to destroy Florida State. Now, I don’t have to explain myself to you (that’s the beauty of having the actual power behind the POWER RANKINGS), but I will: very simply, I thought it was a coin flip between Ohio State and Louisville, and while Louisville dismantled FSU at home, the Buckeyes went on the road to Norman and did the same to Oklahoma. We can all agree that Oklahoma and FSU were probably a bit overrated to start the season but are also still decent teams, so in the end I gave the top spot to the team that did the same damage on the road. Simple as that.

Now on to this week! We’re finally getting some clarity on who’s for real in the SEC, helping to clear the 9-13 five-team logjam we had in the Power Rankings last week. The Big 12 continues to eat itself alive, making it all the more likely they’re the Power 5 conference left out of the Playoffs this year. Finally out west, Washington seems like the real deal, while Stanford needed a last-second touchdown to survive UCLA.

So long, September. It’s been lovely getting started. Now it’s time to dial up the pressure. All hail the victors, these are the Week four POWER RANKINGS! Take it away, Michigan’s best:

(Opening Credits)

1. Michigan (4-0)
Last week: 4
Last game: Beat Penn State, 49-10
Next up: Saturday vs. Wisconsin

As we mentioned, it hasn’t taken Harbaugh long to rebuild one of college football’s traditional powers, and really, he hasn’t even started the job yet considering this year’s freshmen are really his first recruiting class. He’s winning with what was left behind. Next week’s test against the Badgers will be the first real challenge his Wolverines have faced this year. It’s time to find out if they’re for real. A word of advice? Watch out for those kickers:

2. Alabama (4-0)
Last week: 1
Last game: Beat Kent State, 48-0
Next up: Saturday vs. Kentucky

With Auburn on a down year, LSU disappointing and firing Les Miles, and Ole Miss already conquered, it’s starting to look like injuries are the biggest threat to Alabama’s return to the SEC Championship. The Tide’s top two running backs, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, both had to leave the game against Kent State due to injuries. While neither injury is serious, the fact that the Alabama Crimson Tide had to finish their game against Kent State with a freshman at running back is a reminder that there are no sure things in college football. They’ll get an easier week against Kentucky to recover, but after that is a three-game streak as tough as anyone in the country: at Arkansas, at Tennessee, and home against Texas A&M. The biggest challenge for Nick Saban this week will be having to answer a thousand questions about whether he wants the LSU job after Les Miles was fired after losing a crazy game against Auburn. (The answer is he shouldn’t, but why do we all own multiple pairs of shoes if not to change things up sometimes?)

3. Ohio State (3-0)
Last week: 1
Last game: Did not play last week
Next up: Saturday vs. Rutgers

Ohio State will be floating somewhere in this 2-5 range the next couple of weeks, as they face Rutgers and then Indiana, neither of whom are expected to challenge the Buckeyes. We’ll catch up with them after their Oct. 15 game against Wisconsin which may prove to be their toughest test of the season so far.

4. Louisville (4-0)
Last week: 2
Last game: Beat Marshall, 59-28
Next up: Saturday at Clemson

Lamar Jackson threw for five touchdowns, ran in two, and yada yada yada, the Cardinals rolled. Now, we’re already on the record as saying that Louisville is a legitimate contender. But this Saturday’s primetime game in Death Valley should go a long way toward convincing anybody who doesn’t believe it yet, win or lose. This might be the most anticipated game of the season so far.

5. Clemson (4-0)
Last week: 10
Last game: Beat Georgia Tech, 26-7
Next up: Saturday vs. Louisville

And hey, look who’s here! Don’t let the score fool you, beating Georgia Tech on a short week is no small feat. It takes a mature, disciplined football team to prep for Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense on just a few days of practice and any win should be considered a good one. Now scheduling Louisville immediately after? That’s just cruel, ACC. Don’t forget about DeShaun Watson, y’all, you know, the guy you put your Heisman bet on before the season started?

6. Stanford (3-0)
Last week: 5
Last game: Beat UCLA, 22-13
Next up: Friday at Washington

Christian McCaffrey had 138 yards, but was kept out of the end zone for the first time this season and Stanford had to pull out a win by the skin of their teeth. Next week should pose an equal challenge, as they travel to Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies for a battle to declare the top team in the Pac-12 North. We’ve tried to tell you week after week, even making up annoying Christian McCaffrey jingles to get into your head, but if you won’t listen to us, listen to our own Matt Hinton: you really need to watch this kid play.

7. Texas A&M (4-0)
Last week: 10
Last game: Beat Arkansas, 45-24
Next up: Saturday at South Carolina

Behold, the one team that might be good enough to give ‘Bama a game! Texas A&M has a defense that can match up with anyone, and the offense under the stewardship of former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight has started to turn a corner. The Aggies’ week one win against UCLA still looks pretty good, but this performance against Arkansas under the lights is the real proof. Listen: one of Alabama’s advantages over almost anyone they play is pure size; quite simply nobody recruits freaks of nature like Nick Saban. Arkansas’ whole identity is beef, they simply are bigger than anyone they play. But watch this A&M goal line stand against an Arkansas set that’s pure mass:

Texas A&M should feel good about what plays like that say about their chances against Alabama later this season.

8. Houston (4-0)
Last week: 7
Last game: Beat Texas State, 64-3
Next up: Thursday vs. Connecticut

Like Ohio State, Houston’s going to float in this Top 10 area for about the next month, unless they choke. Quite simply, nobody should challenge them in October, and though it’s a long ways off, we’re already focused on their November game against Louisville. Their biggest challenge will be finding enough dump trucks full of money to make sure Tom Herman doesn’t become entranced by the opening at LSU.

9. Washington (4-0)
Last week: 16
Last game: Beat Arizona, 35-28 (OT)
Next up: Friday vs. Stanford

Hot damn, what a game to wrap up Saturday night! We said last week we were making you appointment viewing, Washington, and you did not disappoint. Even though you ALMOST let it slip through your fingers like a Wildcat QB trying to keep his team alive, we’re going to consider you a real threat in the Pac-12.

Next time, though, maybe don’t let them tie it up with 22 seconds left and take you to overtime before you put them away. Can’t let a Stanford hang around like that, that’s for su–oh, and look who’s coming to town this weekend!

We get this game for some wonderful Friday Night Lights action?

10. Tennessee (4-0)
Last week: 11
Last game: Beat Florida, 38-28
Next up: Saturday at Georgia

There are two stories to be written about Tennessee’s win against Florida: the first is a positive, inspiring tale of a team that fell behind 21-3 in the first half and rallied to beat the Gators for the first time in 11 years! The other is a worrying tale of a team that fell behind 21-3 in the first half against a team that has a Purdue transfer at quarterback and lucked out as the Gators gave the game away. We’ll consider it the first one for now, Tennessee, but you’re on watch.

11. Wisconsin (4-0)
Last week: Unranked
Last game: Beat Michigan State, 30-6
Next up: Saturday at Michigan

Now let’s talk about the biggest surprise in the Big Ten! One week after questioning whether Michigan State deserved all the praise heaped their way, the Badgers waltzed into East Lansing and throttled the Spartans. It certainly helps when your defenders have video game buttons:

It’s now officially time to consider Wisconsin as a viable threat to the throne of Michigan and Ohio State.

12. FSU (3-1)
Last week: 14
Last game: Beat South Florida, 55-35
Next up: Saturday vs. UNC

The win against South Florida doesn’t mean much, but the bigger victory is finally seeing Dalvin Cook look like the player we’ve all expected this year. This 75-yard scamper came from the ‘Noles first play from scrimmage (which was actually the second play from scrimmage of the entire game, after South Florida hit an 80 yard bomb on their first play from scrimmage; if you joined in even 30 seconds late, you missed a lot).

267 yards and two touchdowns might just be enough to kick-start his engine for the rest of the season, if he can stay healthy.

13. Utah (4-0)
Last week: 23
Last game: Beat USC, 31-27
Next up: Saturday at California

It came down to the wire but yes, the Utes are for real! Or at least, USC is definitely not worth the paper their pre-season ranking was written on.

14. Nebraska (4-0)
Last week: 18
Last game: Beat Northwestern, 24-13
Next up: Saturday vs. Illinois

Big Red continues their climb up the polls with a win against Northwestern, but let’s not quite put them at the level of Wisconsin just yet. Their resume is not nearly as impressive, but they’ll get their chance to state their case on Halloween weekend in Madison.

15. Baylor (4-0)
Last week: 25
Last game: Beat Oklahoma State, 35-24
Next up: Saturday at Iowa State

We mentioned up top that the Big 12 is looking like the Power 5 conference left out of the Playoffs, and if they have any hope, it lies with Baylor. Art Briles may be gone, but for several reasons, maybe that’s for the best. Don’t look now, guys, but Baylor’s got a defense that doesn’t need them to score 50 points a game.

16. Miami (3-0)
Last week: 19
Last game: Did not play
Next up: Saturday at Georgia Tech

Miami gets the rare bump up after not even playing, but they’re about to enter conference play with games at Georgia Tech and home against Florida State and North Carolina. They’ll sort themselves out rather quickly.

17. Ole Miss (2-2)
Last week: Unranked
Last game: Beat Georgia, 45-14
Next up: Saturday vs. Memphis

Oh Ole Miss, what are we supposed to do with you? You’re 2-2, so clearly you’re out of the conference and Playoff race, but I mean, you’ve lost to two good teams and beaten one team that we thought was pretty good.

18. Arkansas (3-1)
Last week: 9
Last game: Lost to Texas A&M, 45-24
Next up: Saturday vs. Alcorn State

We believed, Bret, we believed! Alas, you’re destined to play the spoiler this season. We’ll see you in two weeks when ‘Bama goes to Fayetteville.

19. Texas (2-1)
Last week: 20
Last game: Did not play
Next up: Saturday at Oklahoma State

Texas gets another break to fall their way by moving up in a week when they didn’t play. The Longhorns’ game next week against the Cowboys of Oklahoma State should be a lot of fun to watch, which I guess is really only important to us, the viewers. No idea whether or not they’ll win, which is what I imagine they *do* care about.

20. TCU (3-1)
Last week: 22
Last game: Beat SMU, 33-3
Next up: Oct. 1 vs. Oklahoma

TCU is this year’s entrant for possible Playoff team that lost but it was early and so maybe we should still include them if everyone else loses? It’ll be a tough call. It’s unfortunate that Oklahoma has continued to fall, because this game looked a lot bigger four weeks ago, but now it might not be considered a high-quality win even if they do beat the Sooners.

21. Arizona State (4-0)
Last week: Unranked
Last game: Beat Cal, 51-41
Next up: Saturday at USC

Hi, Sun Devils! This is the Power Rankings. You’re new here, so why don’t you follow conference-mate Stanford around, they’ll show you where everything is. You’ll get along with them just fine, you can talk about academics. After all, they’re one of the most challenging schools in the country and you guys have a grea–oh.

Seriously though, this a fun team to watch that puts points on the board. The win against Cal was the first somewhat impressive win of the year, and truthfully, even beating USC next weekend might not be the marquee win it used to be this year. But the Sun Devils are 4-0 and the Pac-12 South is theirs for the taking, so let’s see what you’ve got!

22. UNC (3-1)
Last week: Unranked
Last game: Beat Pitt, 37-36
Next up: Saturday at Florida State

Like Stanford, UNC is another team that got a win at the death. While their receivers are putting up the yards and clearly peeved about not being talked about yet (though this metaphor was maybe not the clearest to say it), we’ll say we’ve noticed, but let’s see what you do in Tallahassee this week.

23. Michigan State (2-1)
Last week: 8
Last game: Lost to Wisconsin, 30-6
Next up: Saturday at Indiana

Tsk tsk tsk…Michigan State. You pride yourselves on being disrespected, so now, the week after we actually get ahead of the crowd and talk you up (even though yes, you hadn’t really played anyone) … you blow it? Have fun playing Big Ten spoiler the rest of the year, because that’s about the best you can hope for.

24. Florida (3-1)
Last week: 15
Last game: Lost to Tennessee, 38-28
Next up: Saturday at Vanderbilt

I mean, there are collapses, and then there’s this:

Now look, there’s a lot to be proud about, beating your rival for 11 years is pretty good! But we’re betting you’re going to look back on this game and rue how you let it slip away.

25. Boise State (3-0)
Last week: Unranked
Last game: Beat Oregon State, 38-24
Next up: Saturday vs. Utah State

The Broncos have done the best they can with their schedule, winning the two Pac-12 games they had against Washington State and Oregon State. Unfortunately, the rest of the schedule isn’t too impressive, so I doubt they’ll stay long. Better grab all the free snacks they can carry while they’re here.

Next Five: Georgia, North Dakota State, Oklahoma State, UCLA and the feeling of leaving zero points on your fantasy bench.

So long, Les Miles, until you’re back in charge elsewhere, sometimes we’ll wonder if you ever really existed. I’ll set my clocks back one second this week in your honor. We’ll see you Friday night for Stanford-Washington and try not to look ahead to Clemson-Louisville. For now, the Power Rankings are signing out on the other end of the Michigan spectrum. Sparty, this is for you:

(End Credits)