The Athletic

The Athletic 131: Kentucky, Arkansas surge into top 10 in rankings of every team

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

Through two-plus weeks of football, there have been numerous upsets and surprising results. Three top-10 teams lost this past Saturday to teams outside the Power 5 conferences. Alabama nearly lost to Texas and its backup quarterback. We don’t know what to expect by the end of the year, but we should also recognize that some things we expected this season haven’t broken out.

In these rankings, teams are rewarded for big wins. As a result, Kentucky and Arkansas have moved into the top 10 of The Athletic 131.

Will they be there by the end of the season? Maybe not. But Kentucky just went to Florida and pushed around the Gators in a 26-16 win. One week ago, Utah couldn’t do the same. The Wildcats brought the Anthony Richardson hype train back to the station, holding him to 14-for-35 passing 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 picked to finish second in the East again this year. Florida got a lot of love after the Utah win and Tennessee appears to be on the road back under Josh Heupel, but don’t forget Kentucky. The Wildcats made us remember that on Saturday.

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

A reminder that teams can move up after a loss or move down after a win. Teams can get spimply jumped because someone else had a more impressive win. They can also be impacted when a previous win or loss looks better or worse with more results The rankings will solidify more once everyone plays a quality opponent. Head-to-head won’t be the sole factor as the year goes on, simply because it can’t be, but it is emphasized heavily early in the year and works as a tiebreaker between close teams.

Here’s the Week 3 edition of The Athletic 131.

Georgia was already No. 1 in these rankings after Week 1, and that became more firm after Alabama escaped Austin with a 20-19 win. Along with Kentucky and Arkansas, USC and Oklahoma State have moved into 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 going into the fourth quarter. The defense has been average, allowing 21 points per game, but the Trojans have eight takeaways. Can that keep going?

11-25

Rank Team Record Prev

11

2-0

21

12

2-0

14

13

2-0

22

14

2-0

17

15

1-1

10

16

1-1

11

17

2-0

34

18

1-1

15

19

1-1

7

20

2-0

23

21

1-1

24

22

2-0

32

23

2-0

57

24

1-1

25

25

2-0

26

BYU’s overtime win against Baylor vaults the Cougars up, and it’s not unreasonable to start talking about them as a College Football Playoff contender with a few more wins. Tennessee’s overtime win at Pitt has the Vols looking legit. Kansas State is 2-0 after a dominating 40-12 win against Missouri. I’m surprised the Wildcats aren’t ranked in the polls. Florida drops after its loss to Kentucky, but the Gators stay ahead of Utah because they, you know, beat the Utes last week.

Oregon State moves into the top 25 after a win at Fresno State on the final play. The Beavers are 2-0 against two of the best in the Group of 5, coupled with the comfortable win against Boise State last week. Marshall vaults into the top 25 as well after its 26-21 win at Notre Dame.

Texas moves up a few spots after nearly knocking off Alabama because the Longhorns did indeed look a lot better than expected. But I’ve seen too many losses to TCU and Iowa State to fully believe in them yet, especially with Quinn Ewers sidelined. Texas A&M falls out of the top 10 and into this group after a 17-14 home loss to Appalachian State. It’s behind the Mountaineers, who are behind North Carolina due to the Tar Heels’ win in Boone last week. Notre Dame also falls out of the top 10 and into this group after the loss to Marshall. The Fighting Irish lack playmakers and haven’t done much since a moderately successful first half against Ohio State. They don’t get the benefit of the doubt anymore.

Washington State moves up after a big win at Camp Randall Stadium over Wisconsin. Texas Tech’s overtime win against Houston results in the Red Raiders jumping up as well.

East Carolina followed up its narrow loss against NC State with a sound 39-21 win against Old Dominion. Syracuse’s dominant win against Louisville last week looks even better now after Louisville won at UCF. Illinois’ 24-3 win against Virginia might be the quietest Power 5 win over 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 already turned this thing around? Duke is 2-0 in the Mike Elko era after a win at Northwestern. Georgia Southern’s 642 yards were the most ever allowed by Nebraska at home, and Clay Helton’s team has adjusted out of the triple-option offense quite well. Virginia Tech rebounded from its ODU loss with a 27-10 win against Boston College.

UCF’s loss against Louisville was a stunner for a team that’s supposed to contend 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. South 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 tumble as a result.

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

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