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Week 3 Power Rankings: Defense Makes the Difference in Marquee Games

Saturday night featured a quartet of big games, the results of which had major implications on this week's top 25. Alabama is still on top, but how else do things stand heading into Week 3?

With each passing week, you’ll see these Power Rankings paint a clearer picture as the separation between contenders and pretenders emerges. What you won’t see this week is any movement with the four ranked Florida schools that cancelled their games because of the potential impact of Hurricane Irma.

Oklahoma, Clemson and USC are on the rise in this week’s rankings thanks to their defenses, after each unit shut down a high-quality opponent on Saturday. The Sooners were the biggest surprise, overwhelming Ohio State’s inept offense and in the process showing the nation they are a serious playoff threat. The Trojans got back on track with their lofty preseason expectations by way of a shellacking of Stanford, getting their two-headed running game into gear. And the defending national champion Tigers edged Auburn and sent a message heading into their ACC opener—if they get past Louisville on the road this week, it could largely be smooth sailing until December.

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Now, on to this week’s Top 25:

1. Alabama (2–0)

Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Fresno State, 41–10
Next week: vs. Colorado State

Again, Alabama will stay at this position until it gets beat or puts on a truly discouraging performance. The Tide’s passing game (192 yards on 27 attempts in Week 2) still isn’t anything to write home about, but Jalen Hurts continues to perform and carry the offense. Hurts accounted for 282 total yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Fresno State.

2. Oklahoma (2–0)

Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Ohio State, 31–16
Next week: vs. Tulane

The Sooners have the best non-conference win of the season and it’s not even close. Oklahoma went up to Columbus and manhandled the Buckeyes, especially in the second half. Baker Mayfield threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns, while running circles around the Ohio State defense by extending plays and finding receivers running untouched down the field. Oklahoma has established itself as a firm Big 12 favorite and is in prime position to make a playoff run.

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3. USC (2–0, 1–0 Pac-12)

Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Stanford, 42–24
Next week: vs. Texas

The Sam Darnold that lit up the college football world at the end of last year resurfaced in style on Saturday, throwing for 316 yards and four touchdowns in USC’s demolition of Stanford. The Trojans have won 11 in a row and broke a three-game losing streak against the Cardinal. The Trojans also ran the ball at will, gashing the Stanford defense for 307 yards.

4. Penn State (2–0)

Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Pittsburgh, 33–14
Next week: vs. Georgia State

Playing keep-away from Penn State didn’t exactly work for Pittsburgh, which held the ball for 38 minutes, gained less than 350 yards and coughed up the football three times as Penn State got revenge for last season’s loss. Saquon Barkley put up 88 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards, while Trace McSorley tossed three touchdown passes amid some struggles with accuracy.

5. Oklahoma State (2–0)

Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat South Alabama, 44–7
Next week: at Pittsburgh

The Cowboys wasted no time in dispatching South Alabama, racing out to a 17–0 first-quarter lead before blowing away the Jaguars 44­–7. Mason Rudolph threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns and added another on the ground in a little under three quarters of action. You may be wondering why Oklahoma State went to Mobile to play the Jaguars. In exchange for this trip, South Alabama has to visit Stillwater twice in the coming years (2018 and ’23).

6. Clemson (2–0)

Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Auburn, 14–6
Next week: at Louisville

Clemson’s front seven lived in Auburn’s backfield all night, racking up 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss and holding Auburn to 11 yards rushing. Auburn finished with only 117 total yards and was lucky it didn’t get run out of Death Valley. Junior quarterback Kelly Bryant kept Clemson steady by throwing for 181 yards, rushing for 59 more and scoring the game’s only two touchdowns. Clemson is going to need more of that against Lamar Jackson and Louisville next week.

7. Washington (2–0)

Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Montana, 63–7
Next week: vs. Fresno State

Washington could have played its third-stringers in this game and come away with a 40-point win. Instead, the Huskies did what they were supposed to and routed the Grizzlies. The Huskies have another cakewalk next week against Fresno State before their Pac-12 slate begins on the road against Colorado in a rematch of the conference championship game from last season.

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8. Florida State (0–1)

Previous ranking: 8
This week: Game vs. Louisiana-Monroe cancelled
Next week: Game vs. Miami postponed to Oct. 7, next game Sept. 23 vs. NC State

By the time Florida State plays again it will have had 21 days off. Luckily its next opponent, NC State, ranks in the bottom third of the ACC in passing yards allowed, scoring defense and passing efficiency defense. The Seminoles have beaten the Wolfpack four straight times, averaging a hair over 40 points in those games.

9. Ohio State (1­–1, 1–0 Big Ten)

Previous ranking: 2
This week: Lost to Oklahoma, 31–16
Next week: vs. Army

The Buckeyes may physically dominate most teams they play, but if their offense looks like it did against Oklahoma, it may not matter. J.T. Barrett again struggled to push the ball downfield, and his receivers had issues getting open. The good thing for just about every team in these rankings is that there’s time to fix early issues. Ohio State can work out the kinks against Army, UNLV (which lost to Howard) and Rutgers (which lost to Eastern Michigan) over the next couple of weeks.

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10. Michigan (2–0)

Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Cincinnati, 36–14
Next week: vs. Air Force

Michigan followed up its dominance of Florida with a lackluster performance against Cincinnati, but the defense showed up when it needed to with two pick-sixes and four sacks. Wilton Speight completed 17 of 29 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns and Ty Isaac rumbled his way to 133 yards. Cincinnati left town with a $1.2 million check and the thrill of hanging with a top-10 team for a half.

11. LSU (2–0)

Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Chattanooga, 45–10
Next week: at Mississippi State

It's hard to say what to make of the Tigers, who haven’t played the best competition in the first two weeks of the season. Penalties and the search for a reliable kicker might be issues against SEC opponents moving forward.

12. Georgia (2–0)

Previous ranking: 14
This week: Beat Notre Dame, 20–19
Next week: vs. Samford

Georgia turned Notre Dame into Athens North, and its red-clad fans were treated to a competitive, yet penalty-filled game. The Fighting Irish offense again struggled against top competition, running for only 55 yards and quickly finding out that Georgia isn’t Temple. It’s too early to tell how good Notre Dame is, but surviving this road test makes it almost certain the Bulldogs will compete for an SEC title.

13. Wisconsin (2–0)

Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Florida Atlantic, 31–14
Next week: at BYU

A program known for its history of productive running backs, Wisconsin may have found its next gem. True freshman Jonathan Taylor had his way with FAU, running for 223 yards on 26 carries with three touchdowns. Chris James added 101 yards to round out a rushing attack that made up for some sloppy play from the Badgers, who still rolled up 564 yards, had 29 first downs and held the ball for 38 minutes.

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14. Louisville (2–0, 1–0 ACC)

Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat North Carolina, 47–35
Next week: vs. Clemson

Chalk up another 393 yards passing and 132 rushing for Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in a victory over the Tar Heels. The Cardinals quarterback is the second FBS player ever to throw for 300 and run for 100 in back-to-back games. Expect those passing and running lanes to be quite different against the defending national champions this week. The Cardinals had 705 yards of total offense, the second most so far this season in the FBS.

15. Kansas State (2–0)

Previous ranking: 17
This week: Beat Charlotte, 55–7
Next week: at Vanderbilt

A water bottle was squirted in the direction of Kansas State defensive back Kendall Adams on his way to a scoop-and-score during Week 2’s win over Charlotte. It didn’t stop Adams, who also returned an interception for a touchdown, and it didn’t stop the Wildcats, who went on to an easy victory. After a quiet Week 1, Kansas State got cranking with 304 yards on the ground.

16. Virginia Tech (2–0)

Previous ranking: 19
This week: Beat Delaware, 27–0
Next week: at East Carolina

Virginia Tech spent most of Saturday on defense, but when the offense had the ball it couldn’t do much with it. Tech ran 57 plays and only totaled 302 yards, with 222 of those coming from the arm of redshirt freshman Josh Jackson. The Hokies have a chance to get their offense in gear next week against East Carolina, who have turned out to be one of the worst teams in FBS.

17. UCLA (2–0)

Previous ranking: 20
This week: Beat Hawaii, 56–23
Next week: at Memphis

Josh Rosen continued what he started in the second half of the Texas A&M game against Hawaii—he has thrown for 621 yards and a nine touchdowns in his last six quarters of play. The amazing part of the Bruins’ 33-point victory was that they were outgained and gave up 515 total yards.

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18. Miami, FL (1–0)

Previous ranking: 18
This week: Game at Arkansas State cancelled
Next week: Game at Florida State postponed, next game Sept. 23 vs. Toledo

The Hurricanes have an extra week to prepare for their meeting with Toledo after having two weeks of games cancelled or postponed by Hurricane Irma. Toledo has won its first two games, averaging 42 points and possessing the ball for over 35 minutes per contest. The teams haven’t met since 1987, a 24–14 victory by Miami on the way to a national championship that season. 

19. Auburn (1–1)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Lost to Clemson, 14–6
Next week: vs. Mercer

Despite all the hype of its new and improved offense, Auburn came back down to earth with a ragged performance against Clemson. The defense played well enough to win, forcing two turnovers and giving up 284 yards, but quarterback Jarrett Stidham had no time to throw the ball and was sacked 11 times. The running game that was supposed to help Stidham didn’t show up, gaining a total of 38 yards (thanks in large part to all those sacks).

20. Washington State (2–0)

Previous ranking: 21
This week: Beat Boise State, 47–44 in 3OT
Next week: vs. Oregon State

In the last six minutes of regulation, Washington State erased a 21–point deficit thanks in part to a pick-six and a punt that hit the back of a Broncos player and got the Cougars in position to score quickly. Each team’s starting quarterback was knocked out of this wild game, but Cougars backup Tyler Hilinski saved the day in place of Luke Falk, throwing for 240 yards and three scores.

21. Stanford (1–1, 0–1 Pac–12)

Previous ranking: 15
This week: Lost to USC, 42–24
Next week: at San Diego State

The Cardinal gave up 623 yards against USC, the most ever allowed by coach David Shaw during his time at Stanford. While not out of the Pac-12 race by any stretch, the Cardinal know they have to shore up that rushing defense, which allowed USC to put up 6.4 yards per carry. Giving up conversions on 10 of 12 third downs and 12 yards per pass attempt doesn’t bode well for a usually stout Stanford defense.

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22. South Florida (2–0)

Previous ranking: 22
This week: Game at Connecticut cancelled
Next week: vs. Illinois

This Friday may be South Florida's last chance to make any kind of statement as far as playoff aspirations are concerned. Illinois is the last Power 5 school on the Bulls’ schedule, and although the Illini are 2–0 (beating Ball State and Western Kentucky), they haven’t been impressive in racking up those victories.

23. Utah (2–0)

Previous ranking: 23
This week: Beat BYU, 19–13
Next week: vs. San Jose State

The Holy War remains a lopsided battle of late, as Utah won its seventh straight over its in-state rival on Saturday. Tyler Huntley continued to impress in the Utes’ new-look offense, totaling 389 yards (300 passing yards, 89 rushing yards) and scoring the game’s first touchdown. The offense had its way with BYU, but failed to cash in when it needed to. The Utes reached the red zone seven times, but converted those opportunities into four field goals.

24. TCU (2–0)

Previous ranking: N/A
This week: Beat Arkansas, 28–7
Next week: vs. SMU

Is the TCU defense back? Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen only completed nine of his 23 attempts, and the Razorbacks’ power running game was nowhere to be found. TCU quarterback Kenny Hill was steady but not overly efficient, and running back Darius Anderson gave the Horned Frogs a big lift with 106 yards and a touchdown.

25. Florida (0–1)

Previous ranking: 25
This week: Game vs. Northern Colorado cancelled
Next week: vs. Tennessee

Florida has owned Tennessee lately, taking 11 in a row in the series before the Volunteers won by 10 last season. The Gators’ problems on offense are well documented, but their defense is good enough to keep them in most games. The motivating of reasserting dominance over a rival might do them some good.

Who fell out: Boise State. Maybe next week: Maryland, Tennessee, Oregon, West Virginia. By conference: Pac-12 (6), SEC (5), ACC (5), Big 12 (4), Big Ten (4), AAC (1).