The Athletic

The Athletic 131: Kentucky and Arkansas move into top 10 of each team’s standings

There’s nothing wrong with overcorrections in college football rankings this early in the season.

In more than two weeks of football, there have been many upsets and surprising results. Three top-10 teams lost last Saturday to teams outside the Power 5 conferences. Alabama came close to losing to Texas and its backup quarterback. We don’t know what to expect by the end of the year, but we also have to recognize that some things we expected this season didn’t materialize.

In these rankings, teams are rewarded for big wins. As a result, Kentucky and Arkansas entered the top 10 of Athleticism 131.

Will they be there by the end of the season? Maybe not. But Kentucky just traveled to Florida and held off the Gators in a 26-16 win. A week ago, Utah couldn’t do the same. The Wildcats brought Anthony Richardson’s hype train back to the station, holding it 14 on 35 passes with two interceptions and just four rushing yards (including a sack). Kentucky won 10 games last year and finished second in the SEC East. The Wildcats were chosen to finish second in the East again this year. Florida got a lot of love after Utah’s win and Tennessee appears to be on its way back under Josh Heupel, but don’t forget Kentucky. The Wildcats reminded us of that on Saturday.

Arkansas beat Cincinnati in Week 1, then handled South Carolina 44-30, rushing nearly 300 yards. The Razorbacks jumped up those rankings at the start of the season, then have occasionally slipped back in recent years. It could always happen again. But quarterback KJ Jefferson has looked elite so far, completing 76.6% of his passes for 8.2 yards per attempt, four touchdowns and zero interceptions, plus two rushing touchdowns. The Razorbacks have a tough schedule ahead. After Missouri State this week, they face Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State and BYU, but I’d give them a chance in most of them right now. Maybe Alabama is more vulnerable than we thought. Maybe not. But there’s no reason not to reward winning teams, especially in a time when almost anyone can beat anyone.

A reminder that teams can go up after a loss or down after a win. Teams can get blown just because someone else has won a more impressive victory. They can also be impacted when a previous win or loss looks better or worse with more results. The rankings will solidify further once everyone faces a quality opponent. Head-to-head won’t be the only factor as the year goes on, simply because it can’t be, but it’s heavily emphasized at the start of the year and functions as a tie-breaker between nearby teams.

Here is the week 3 edition of Athleticism 131.

Georgia was already No. 1 in that ranking after Week 1, and that got firmer after Alabama slipped away from Austin with a 20-19 victory. Along with Kentucky and Arkansas, USC and Oklahoma State entered the top 10. The Lincoln Riley-Caleb Williams USC offense looks like the best-case scenario right now, after a 41-28 win at Stanford that was 41-14 heading into the fourth quarter. The defense has been average, giving up 21 points per game, but the Trojans have eight takeaways. Can this continue?

11-25

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11

2-0

21

12

2-0

14

13

2-0

22

14

2-0

17

15

1-1

ten

16

1-1

11

17

2-0

34

18

1-1

15

19

1-1

seven

20

2-0

23

21

1-1

24

22

2-0

32

23

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57

24

1-1

25

25

2-0

26

BYU’s overtime win over Baylor sends the Cougars up, and it’s not unreasonable to start talking about it as a college football playoff contender with a few more wins. Tennessee’s overtime win at Pitt makes the Vols look legit. Kansas State is 2-0 after a dominating 40-12 win over Missouri. I’m surprised the Wildcats aren’t ranked in the polls. Florida falls after losing to Kentucky, but the Gators stay ahead of Utah because they, you know, beat the Utes last week.

Oregon State enters the top 25 after a victory at Fresno State in the last game. The Beavers are 2-0 against two of the best in the Group of 5, in addition to the comfortable victory against Boise State last week. Marshall also cracks the top 25 following their 26-21 win at Notre Dame.

Texas moves up a few spots after nearly toppling Alabama because the Longhorns indeed looked a lot better than expected. But I’ve seen too many losses against TCU and Iowa State to fully believe it, especially with Quinn Ewers sidelined. Texas A&M falls out of the top 10 and into that group after a 17-14 home loss to Appalachia State. That’s behind the Mountaineers, who are trailing North Carolina due to the Tar Heels’ win at Boone last week. Notre Dame also falls out of the top 10 and into that group after the loss to Marshall. The Fighting Irish are short on playmakers and haven’t done much since a moderately successful first half against Ohio State. They no longer have the benefit of the doubt.

Washington State advances after a big win at Camp Randall Stadium against Wisconsin. Texas Tech’s overtime win over Houston also boosts the Red Raiders.

East Carolina followed up its narrow loss to NC State with a solid 39-21 win over Old Dominion. Syracuse’s dominating win over Louisville last week looks even better now after Louisville’s win at UCF. Illinois’ 24-3 win over Virginia might be the quietest Power 5 win against a Power 5 team all season.

Kansas is 2-0 for the first time since 2011 after an overtime win at West Virginia. Has Lance Leipold ever reversed the situation? Duke is 2-0 under the Mike Elko era after a win at Northwestern. Georgia Southern’s 642 yards were the most ever Nebraska allowed at home, and Clay Helton’s team adapted pretty well to the triple-option offense. Virginia Tech rebounded from its loss at ODU with a 27-10 win over Boston College.

UCF’s loss to Louisville came as a surprise for a team that is expected to challenge for the AAC title this season. Georgia State is 0-2 with two competitive losses to South Carolina and North Carolina. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers make noise in the Sun Belt. Southern Alabama was a touchdown underdog but came out of central Michigan with a 38-24 win. Utah State’s 35-7 loss to FCS Weber State was one of the most surprising results of the weekend, and the Aggies fell as a result.

(Photo by Will Levis: James Gilbert/Getty Images)


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