Posted: Tuesday October 2, 2012 12:40PM ; Updated: Tuesday October 2, 2012 4:49PM
Andy Staples
Andy Staples>COLLEGE FOOTBALL POWER RANKINGS

Big matchups in Pac-12, SEC will provide clarity in Power Rankings

Story Highlights

After Washington's upset of Stanford, Pac-12 hierarchy remains a work in progress

Alabama, Oregon maintain the top spots after rolling to wins over conference foes

Georgia-So. Carolina, LSU-Florida will provide a sense of which teams are for real

As I watched Washington shock Stanford Thursday, I began to dread the thought of filling out my AP Poll ballot Sunday morning. The Huskies' win complicated the rankings, but fortunately, the weirdness might not last long.

Because Washington, Stanford and USC have identical 3-1 records and Washington beat Stanford and Stanford beat USC, I had to rank Washington above Stanford and Stanford above USC. When teams have similar records and play similar schedules, I respect head-to-head results. Otherwise, why should they bother playing the games? We could just have computers simulate them all using the players' recruiting rankings. (Sadly, I fear some recruitniks might prefer that method.)

The problem is that on Sept. 8, I watched from the press box at LSU's Tiger Stadium as the Huskies got torn apart like a steak thrown into LSU mascot Mike's cage. There is no shame in losing at LSU, but Washington looked so lifeless in Baton Rouge that it was difficult to imagine the Huskies as a ranked team. Of course, that game might have been an outlier, and Washington's win against Stanford seems to validate that theory. Still, I couldn't fathom ranking the Huskies as high as I had ranked Stanford the previous week, so I decided to bring Washington into the poll at No. 16 and ranked Stanford and USC in the next two slots.

The good news is that Washington plays Oregon this Saturday and USC Oct. 13. That should help clarify things. So should Stanford's game at Notre Dame Oct. 13, which should offer a better idea of where the Cardinal fit in the bigger picture. I imagine at least one of these teams will separate and move back up the rankings. But for now, we'll respect the results on the field and wait for more data.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week: 1
When I visit schools outside the South, I'm always amused at how much people think they care about college football. They couldn't possibly comprehend how much people care about college football in Alabama. Here's an example from the news team at WSFA. Four guys got into a Cessna in Mobile Saturday to fly to Tuscaloosa to attend the Ole Miss game. Over my mom's hometown of Selma, both engines failed. The pilot and co-pilot saw a road cutting through a cotton field below and maneuvered for an emergency landing. The wings hit trees on the way down, but the plane and everyone inside survived the impact. So what did the men do after narrowly escaping death? First, they prayed. Then, when most would have arranged a pickup for their extremely expensive wrecked vehicle, found a ride home and thanked their lucky stars to be alive, they left their plane in the middle of a cotton field and hitched a ride to Montgomery, where they rented a car and drove to Bryant-Denny Stadium to watch Alabama steamroll Ole Miss. No, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 fans, you don't care as much as these people. You never will.

Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 33-14
Next game: Oct. 13 at Missouri
 
2Oregon Ducks
Last week: 3
Some coach finally allowed a kickoff to go to De'Anthony Thomas, and that man's name is Mike Leach. So thank you, coach Leach, for forcing the poorly paid fourth-grader we call the Power Rankings graphic design team to reconfigure the Yards-Per-Touch-O-Meter. Pac-12 play has dropped Thomas' average significantly, but a long touchdown or two will send it soaring again. Besides, Thomas may have the cooler nickname, but he's far from Oregon's only home-run threat. Against Washington State, Kenjon Barner broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run and finished with 195 yards on 20 carries and four scores. Barner may be the workhorse for the Ducks, but that doesn't make him any less a thoroughbred.



Last game: Beat Washington State, 51-26
Next game: Saturday vs. Washington
 
3Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 3
The Seminoles don't have a lot of meat left on their schedule -- though it does get meatier every time Miami wins -- but they shouldn't lack for motivation this week. After surviving a potential trap/letdown game at USF in less-than-inspiring fashion, FSU can run its ACC Atlantic Division record to 3-0 by beating NC State. To prepare for the raucous crowd at Carter-Finley Stadium -- I couldn't type those words with a straight face -- FSU has saved the expense of speakers to pipe in crowd noise. The quarterbacks will just whisper. That's efficiency.

Last game: Beat South Florida, 30-17
Next game: Saturday at NC State
 
4Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 4
Let's not completely trash the Georgia defense after a more-interesting-than-it-should-have-been win over Tennessee. Remember, Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray threw a pick-six, and Georgia fumbles allowed Tennessee to start touchdown drives at the Bulldogs' eight- and 18-yard lines. So just 23 of the Volunteers' 44 points are on the Georgia defense. That still might be too much, especially considering Tennessee ran for 197 yards. If the Vols -- a team that relies on its passing game -- can grind out that many yards on the ground, what will South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw do? Maybe less. Georgia had to respect the big-play ability of Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarelle Patterson. While Shaw has completed 89 percent of his passes in his past two games, South Carolina doesn't have deep threats like Hunter and Patterson. What the Gamecocks have are a ridiculously efficient quarterback and receivers who can get open at short and intermediate range. That won't be fun to defend, either. On the other side of the ball, Georgia's freshman tailback tandem of Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley will try to replicate a day in which they combined to rush 34 times for 294 yards and five touchdowns.

Last game: Beat Tennessee, 51-44
Next game: Saturday at South Carolina
 
5LSU Tigers
Last week: 5
You also don't care as much about college football as LSU fans. This couple got married at a tailgate before the Towson game, because what else are you going to do before a game against Towson? (And because the tailgate wedding was suggested at a ZZ Top concert. Can't make this stuff up.)



But enough wedded bliss. The past two weeks have jacked up the pucker factor in Baton Rouge, and a trip to Gainesville to play an obviously improved Florida team coming off a bye week doesn't help matters. We'll find out a lot about LSU this week. The Tigers should have the firepower to flex and beat the Gators, but if they can't, we'll have to seriously adjust expectations for this season.

Last game: Beat Towson, 38-22
Next game: Saturday at Florida
 
6Kansas St. Wildcats
Last week: 6
It really isn't fair that the Wildcats got two weeks to prepare for Kansas. To make matters worse, Kansas defensive lineman Keba Agostinho tweeted last week about the Jayhawks' all-time advantage in the series. "Wait So We Lead The KU-Kstate Football Series 65-39 and BBall Series 183-91... Seems More Like An A$$ Whoopin Than Rivalry. #JustSayin" Agostinho has since deleted the tweet, presumably so his English professor wouldn't criticize Agostinho's love of capital letters. As for the series, he might want to check the most recent history. In Agostinho's two games against Kansas State, the Wildcats have outscored the Jayhawks 118-28. Just Sayin.

Last game: Beat Oklahoma, 24-19
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas
 
7South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 7
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier spent part of last week trying to get a local newspaper columnist fired. Then the Gamecocks came out flat against the worst team in the SEC and trailed 17-7 at the half. Those events may not be linked, but Spurrier should probably focus the bulk of his attention on Georgia this week. The Gamecocks cannot afford to fall behind against the Bulldogs, because they might not come back so easily. As for Spurrier vs. Ron Morris of The State, both guys are wrong. Morris has repeatedly gone negative at times when there was little negative to be found, and his comparison on a radio show of Spurrier's two-day refusal to take questions from the media to the Penn State situation crossed the line. Spurrier, meanwhile, said enduring harsh -- and often unfair -- criticism isn't part of the job. Spurrier has been a head coach in the SEC for 19 years. Of course it's part of the job. It's part of the reason there are so many zeros at the end of each check. As for punishing the rest of the media because he's mad at Morris, that's silly. You make the entire team run wind sprints when someone screws up because peer pressure can build discipline within a team. But reporters and columnists are all on different teams. Punishing everyone because you're mad at one guy sours your relationship with everyone. Even scarier is the thought that a newspaper might cave to the demands of a football coach. Spurrier is well within his rights to complain, but it's bad business to start firing people because a powerful person disagrees with critical coverage. Football doesn't matter in the grand scheme, but what happens when it's the mayor or the governor making the demands? Does the paper cave then, too?

Last game: Beat Kentucky, 38-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia
 
8West Virginia Mountaineers
Last week: 9
Coach Dana Holgorsen swears all West Virginia's Big 12 games won't resemble last week's shootout in Morgantown. The Mountaineers may have some control over that. They want opposing offenses to try to keep pace because the West Virginia offense executes so well that most opponents simply can't match the scoring output. As long as quarterback Geno Smith remains accurate and doesn't give the ball away, this will be a possibility every game. But an equal amount of responsibility rests with the West Virginia defense. Texas will want to ram the ball down the Mountaineers' throats with three quality backs and a line that punished Oklahoma State in the fourth quarter of a tight game. If the Longhorns succeed, that means Smith and company will spend a long time on the sideline and could fall out of rhythm. But if West Virginia can make some stops early and take a lead, it will force Texas to throw and work quickly on offense. Attempting to copy the Mountaineers would leave the Longhorns looking right down the barrel of a musket.

Last game: Beat Baylor, 70-63
Next game: Saturday at Texas
 
9Oregon State Beavers
Last week: 20
I get the feeling I'm severely overrating the Beavers here. But I can't help myself. Every time I think of them, I think of animal style double-doubles from In-N-Out Burger, and that makes me happy. It also doesn't hurt when coach Mike Riley tweets about Beaver Juice. But now that they've returned from the road, they won't have the calorie-laden motivation that helped them the past two weeks. They'll just have to beat Washington State fair and square. Considering quarterback Sean Mannion averages 362.7 passing yards a game and Washington State's defense has allowed 310.6 passing yards a game to teams that don't throw nearly as well as Oregon State, that shouldn't be a problem.

Last game: Beat Arizona, 38-35
Next game: Saturday vs. Washington State
 
10Texas Longhorns
Last week: 10
The Longhorns were lucky to escape Stillwater with a win. Replays showed officials might have botched the call on Joe Bergeron's game-winning touchdown when they signaled a score without noticing that Bergeron -- who might not have broken the plane -- also might have fumbled. Just as troubling was the porousness of the Texas defense. The Longhorns allowed 275 rushing yards (including 199 to Joseph Randle) and 301 passing yards. If West Virginia can run at all to keep the Texas defense honest, Smith will light up the Longhorns. They'll need to get a lot better this week.

Last game: Beat Oklahoma State, 41-36
Next game: Saturday vs. West Virginia
 
11Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 12
The Fighting Irish defense has already stoned Michigan State tailback Le'Veon Bell and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Now Notre Dame will face another challenge in Miami freshman tailback Duke Johnson. Johnson, who helped the coaches recruit many of the fellow freshmen and has contributed to the Hurricanes' surprising start, averages 6.9 yards a carry, 9.8 yards a catch and 29.6 yards a kickoff return. Of course, the one time Johnson faced a defense in the class of Notre Dame's he finished with only 19 rushing yards against Kansas State. Still, the Irish must be careful. Johnson popped the Wildcats for a 77-yard kickoff return. Notre Dame's offense is not as good as Kansas State's, so the Irish can't afford to let Johnson run wild for even a second.

Last game: Beat Michigan, 13-6
Next game: Saturday vs. Miami in Chicago
 
12Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 13
This week should tell us everything we need to know about Oklahoma and Texas Tech. The Red Raiders, with a painfully thin defense, went to Norman in 2011 and shocked the Sooners. Now Texas Tech's defense is much deeper, and Oklahoma appears to have regressed. Can Landry Jones find his way back to star level, or was Jones' success partially a function of departed receiver Ryan Broyles, whom the Sooners have not been able to adequately replace? "I just think good players are good players," Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jay Norvell told The Tulsa World. "Sometimes good players have bad games. It's just like Albert Pujols. At the beginning of the year, everybody's asking, 'What's wrong with Pujols?' By midseason he was pretty dang good. I don't expect Landry to play like this consistently. I've seen him play too well for too long. I have every confidence that he's going to get back to his old self." Norvell failed to mention that the improvement of Pujols coincided with the emergence of teammate Mike Trout, who put together possibly the most dominant rookie season in baseball history. Because of Trout, Pujols gets better pitches to hit. Jones needs a Mike Trout. In years past, that guy was Broyles. Now someone new has to emerge.

Last game: Lost to Kansas State, 24-19
Next game: Saturday at Texas Tech
 
13Florida Gators
Last week: 14
The Gators will try to get linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who broke his thumb at Texas A&M Sept. 8, back for Saturday, but coach Will Muschamp said he won't know if Jenkins can play until Wednesday or later. The return of Jenkins would be a big lift for the defense, but the most important matchup may be between Florida's improved offensive line and an LSU defensive line the Gators simply couldn't block last season. "If you can go block this front, you've done something," Muschamp said. In 2006, Florida's win against LSU foretold the end of a down period and the return to the national stage. The Gators can do the same thing now. If they belong in the national conversation, we'll know by 7 p.m. Saturday.

Last game: Beat Kentucky, 38-0
Next game: Saturday vs. LSU
 
14Clemson Tigers
Last week: 15
Receiver Nuke Hopkins has been stellar at picking up the slack this season. Star Sammy Watkins has missed three games -- two because of a suspension and one because of an abdominal virus -- and in those games Hopkins has averaged 10 catches and 140.3 receiving yards. Watkins will be back for the Georgia Tech game, and Yellow Jackets defensive coordinator Al Groh will have to decide how much help his cornerbacks receive against Watkins and Hopkins. Of course, if Groh devotes too many resources to stopping those two, Georgia Tech may get gashed by tailback Andre Ellington, who is averaging 103 rushing yards a game.

Last game: Beat Boston College, 45-31
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia Tech
 
15Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 17
This week's matchup with Nebraska is probably the toughest game left on Ohio State's schedule. If the Buckeyes win, it may be time for all their beat writers to drive to Akron to ask Zips coach Terry Bowden about his 1993 Auburn team. Don't remember those Tigers? Facing NCAA sanctions thanks to the previous regime, Auburn went undefeated and couldn't play for anything at the end of the season. The biggest difference between the 1993 Tigers and the 2012 Buckeyes? We can still watch Ohio State on television.

Last game: Beat Michigan State, 17-16
Next game: Saturday vs. Nebraska
 
16Washington Huskies
Last week: NR
As I wrote above, I'm not sure the Huskies belong here. Fortunately for those of us who put teams in order, a trip to Autzen Stadium tends to reveal an awful lot about a team. The performance of Washington's defensive line against Stanford's massive offensive line makes more sense after reading about defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi's "six seconds of hell" drill on the team's official website. Lupoi places a ball three or four yards behind the line of scrimmage and then instructs three of his players to act as blockers. The linemen going through the drill must fight through those blockers and reach the ball within six seconds. That's a great drill for preparing for Stanford, but it also works for Oregon. To have a chance at stopping the Ducks, linemen must shed blockers almost immediately. After two seconds, they're probably too late. Shedding three blockers at a time in practice should make shedding one or two much easier.

Last game: Beat Stanford, 17-13
Next game: Saturday at Oregon
 
17Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 8
The Cardinal get a visit from a decent, desperate team Saturday. That's dangerous. Arizona is pretty good -- evidenced by its win against the Oklahoma State team that almost beat Texas -- but a third consecutive loss could send the Wildcats spiraling. They need a win, and Washington exposed many of Stanford's flaws last week. Despite some of the carping after the game, the bulk of the blame should not fall on quarterback Josh Nunes, who was starting his first road game. Nunes didn't drop perfectly thrown balls, but some of his receivers did. If they catch those passes, Arizona can't stack the box to shut down Stanford's running game.

Last game: Lost to Washington, 17-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Arizona
 
18USC Trojans
Last week: 11
It's still unclear whether USC center Khaled Holmes (ankle) will play Thursday against Utah. If Holmes doesn't go, it means a backup will have to face potential No. 1 draft pick Star Lotulelei on obvious passing downs. Of course, Abe Markowitz, the likely replacement for Holmes, is going to see Lotulelei one way or the other. If Holmes plays, Markowitz will play guard and face Lotulelei when he lines up as a three-technique in Utah's base defense. If Holmes is out and Markowitz plays center, he'll see Lotulelei when he shifts to nose tackle in the Utes' nickel and dime packages.

Last game: Beat Cal, 27-9
Next game: Thursday at Utah
 
19Baylor Bears
Last week: 16
The Bears have an extra week to figure out how they managed to have three 100-yard receivers, score 63 points and lose, but the bottom line is Baylor must play better defense. Geno Smith may be one of the nation's best quarterbacks, but TCU's Casey Pachall is also a future pro who can make all the throws. The Bears have a bye week to straighten things out, and if they can't, they should just get used to shootouts.

Last game: Lost to West Virginia, 70-63
Next game: Oct. 13 vs. TCU
 
20Michigan State Spartans
Last week: 19
The bad news for Michigan State? The Spartans have lost to the two best teams on their schedule. The good news? They have yet to play a Legends Division game, so a Big Ten title remains within fairly easy reach if Michigan State can get tailback Le'Veon Bell moving again after a brutal day against Ohio State. How can Michigan State make more room for Bell? By completing some passes. Tight end Dion Sims' 112-yard day against Eastern Michigan is the only 100-yard receiving game a Spartan has posted all season. If that stat doesn't improve, that Legends Division title will get tougher to reach every week.

Last game: Lost to Ohio State, 17-16
Next game: Saturday at Indiana
 
21TCU Horned Frogs
Last week: 18
TCU coach Gary Patterson summed up his team's ugly, soggy win against SMU perfectly. "Whoever didn't screw it up was going to win this game," Patterson told The Associated Press. "I'm not sure we didn't screw it up more and just didn't get lucky." The slopfest was the Horned Frogs' second hideous win in three weeks. While wins aren't something to complain about and while the rain certainly was a factor in the SMU game, Patterson knows his team will have to improve as it enters a stretch of eight consecutive Big 12 games. Plus, the schedule-makers did TCU no favors. The Horned Frogs have already played Kansas, and this week they get Iowa State. The road gets much bumpier after that.

Last game: Beat SMU, 24-16
Next game: Saturday vs. Iowa State
 
22Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last week: 21
When the SEC's leaders huddled to hammer out a schedule to accommodate new members Missouri and Texas A&M, they gave Mississippi State the best draw a team that has to play Alabama and LSU could have possibly asked for. The Bulldogs face league doormat Kentucky this week, followed by a somewhat challenging game against Tennessee in Starkville, followed by a nonconference game against Middle Tennessee. In spite of the Blue Raiders' rout of Georgia Tech, this is a relatively easy draw at a time when many SEC teams are hitting the teeth of their schedules. Don't be shocked if the Bulldogs enter the Oct. 27 game at Alabama with a 7-0 record.

Last game: Beat South Alabama, 30-10
Next game: Saturday at Kentucky
 
23Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: NR
I may have underestimated the Aggies. First-year starting quarterback Johnny Manziel is setting records -- he threw for a school-best 453 yards against Arkansas -- behind an athletic, veteran line, and Texas A&M's defense is performing better than expected. Also, the loss to Florida Sept. 8 might not look too shabby depending on what the Gators do against LSU Saturday. Texas A&M should beat Ole Miss, a team which does a lot of the same things as the Aggies -- just not as well.

Last game: Beat Arkansas, 58-10
Next game: Saturday at Ole Miss
 
24Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 22
Take a look at this photo from the Louisville-Southern Miss game.



The fact that the Cardinals barely escaped the winless Golden Eagles is irrelevant. I like a Slip 'n' Slide game as much as the next guy, but it doesn't say much about a team. The Cardinals should count themselves lucky they left Hattiesburg with a win and no major injuries.

Last game: Beat Southern Miss, 21-17
Next game: Oct. 13 at Pittsburgh
 
25Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Last week: 23
Rutgers had a chance to claim a share of the Big East title on the last day of the 2011 season, when it got creamed by UConn. "That one hurt a lot,'' Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Green told The Asbury Park Press. "I hate losing in general but that was hard for me to shake that one off. That was a stinging one, definitely. ... It's funny because I was talking with [defensive coordinator] Coach [Robb] Smith and he's still trying to figure out what was going on in that game. In a nutshell, that wasn't us.'' If the actual Scarlet Knights show up Saturday, they should get their second Big East win.

Last game: Beat Arkansas, 35-26
Next game: Saturday vs. Connecticut

Next five: Arizona, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Northwestern, Cincinnati

Andy Staples' Power Rankings also serve as his ballot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

 
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