Posted: Tue October 1, 2013 1:02PM; Updated: Tue October 1, 2013 3:41PM
Andy Staples
Andy Staples>COLLEGE FOOTBALL POWER RANKINGS

Sizing up each contender's toughest tests in Power Rankings

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Carlos Hyde
After beating Wisconsin, Carlos Hyde (34) and Ohio State will face another tough test at Northwestern.
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

I heard some talking head on Saturday suggesting that there might be as many as four undefeated teams at season's end. But that possibility, while fun to debate for BCS title game purposes, isn't likely. The last time more than two teams finished the regular season undefeated was in 2010 (Auburn, Oregon and TCU). The last time four or more teams finished the regular season undefeated was in 2009 (Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State).

The consolidation of conferences has made it tougher to go undefeated, but this year a few teams have schedules that are quite conducive to finishing with zeroes on the right side of the ledger. Alabama got the easiest possible draw of SEC East teams. Ohio State had a soft out-of-conference schedule, and the Big Ten remains inferior to the SEC and the Pac-12. Louisville's schedule -- particularly the nonconference portion -- is wet, hot garbage. Still, there games upcoming for which each of the prospective unbeatens must be on high alert. For the Buckeyes, that week is here. Ohio State faces Northwestern in Evanston on Saturday. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week, and they might be the best team in the Big Ten's Legends Division.

Before we move on to the rankings, let's take a look at the remaining weeks in which the undefeated teams in my top 10 must be on high alert. This exercise give us all a better idea about which teams should finish undefeated, and which teams -- should they run the gauntlet -- might be the most deserving of a shot at the national title.

Alabama

• Best win so far: at Texas A&M
• High alert weeks: Nov. 9 vs. LSU

Oregon

• Best win so far: Cal
• High alert weeks: Oct. 12 at Washington, Oct. 26 vs. UCLA, Nov. 7 at Stanford

Clemson

• Best win so far: Georgia
• High alert weeks: Oct. 19 vs. Florida State, Nov. 30 at South Carolina

Stanford

• Best win so far: Arizona State
• High alert weeks: Saturday vs. Washington, Nov. 7 vs. Oregon

Ohio State

• Best win so far: Wisconsin
• High alert weeks: Saturday at Northwestern, Nov. 30 at Michigan

Florida State

• Best win so far: Pittsburgh
• High alert weeks: Oct. 19 at Clemson, Nov. 30 at Florida

Louisville

• Best win so far: Kentucky (yes, really)
• High alert weeks: Oct. 18 vs. UCF

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Alabama Crimson Tide
Las week: 1
The Crimson Tide looked a lot more like the Alabama of the past few years in Saturday's second half against Ole Miss. The offensive line opened bigger holes against an athletic front seven. The pass rush generated enough pressure to give defensive coordinator Kirby Smart the option to keep two safeties high to cut off big plays. If the Tide can play that way consistently, a third consecutive national title is a distinct possibility. Alabama's toughest opponent in October may be boredom -- the Crimson Tide won't face any team all month that it shouldn't beat by at least three touchdowns. Then, on Nov. 9, LSU will visit Tuscaloosa for the game that likely will decide the SEC West title.

Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 25-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia State
 
2Oregon Ducks
Last week: 2
Even if De'Anthony Thomas doesn't play because of the ankle injury he suffered against Cal, the Ducks likely will play a Parental Advisory game against Colorado on Saturday. If you don't want to see maximum carnage, you should probably wait to tune in until the third quarter, when Oregon's backups will have entered the game. The Ducks will have to wait until next week for any semblance of a challenge. They play Washington in Seattle on Oct. 12. Of course, Stanford may soften up the Huskies a little this week. Whether Thomas will be back at that point is a legitimate question.

Last game: Beat Cal, 55-16
Next game: Saturday at Colorado
 
3 Clemson Tigers
Last week: 4
After Georgia hung 44 points on LSU's defense, Clemson -- which held the Bulldogs to 35 points in Week 1 -- looks even better. Coordinator Brent Venables' defense held Wake Forest to 222 yards last Saturday, and the Tigers dominated the way a team ranked this high should dominate against an inferior opponent. Last year, Clemson's defense couldn't make up for any offensive bobble. This season, the Tigers' defense seems capable of picking up the slack. That will be huge with games against Florida State and Maryland looming.

Last game: Beat Wake Forest, 56-7
Next game: Saturday at Syracuse
 
4Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 5
The Cardinal defense destroys quarterbacks. In the third quarter of Saturday's game against Washington State, linebacker Trent Murphy hit Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday up high, forcing Halliday to loft a pass that Stanford's Jordan Richards intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Halliday returned after the hit, but after a few plays, the pain was too great and he left the game with what appeared to be an injured hip. Moments later, backup Austin Apodaca lay on the turf after he absorbed a hit from Stanford's Kevin Anderson. Very briefly, it appeared the Cardinal had knocked out two quarterbacks in two series, but Apodaca finally rose and finished the game. Stanford had no such quarterback issues. Kevin Hogan threw for 222 yards in the first half. The Cardinal face their toughest test to date on Saturday when Washington comes to Palo Alto, but if Stanford plays like it has the past two weeks, the only opponents that can hang with it are the ones up here in the top five.

Last game: Beat Washington State, 55-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Washington
 
5Ohio State Buckeyes
Last week: 3
The Buckeyes beat their toughest Leaders Division opponent this past Saturday, erasing one of only a few roadblocks to an undefeated regular season. Unfortunately, the win came at a price. Safety Christian Bryant broke his ankle on the penultimate play and will miss the rest of the season. The injury hit Ohio State coach Urban Meyer especially hard. "That darn kid has done so much for our program, come so far," Meyer said at his postgame press conference. "Incredible leadership skills. And he's going to be even more valuable outside of football. I love that guy. Doggone it. Hard part of the game." Bryant's formidable physical skills aren't the team's biggest loss. He was a leader on a defense that has some relatively inexperienced players in key roles. In far better news for the Buckeyes, quarterback Braxton Miller came out of the Wisconsin game healthy, and the knee-sprain that forced his two-game hiatus didn't appear to slow him much.

Ohio State will need Miller at peak level on Saturday at Northwestern. Between the Wildcats and the regular-season finale against Michigan, there isn't much on the Buckeyes' schedule to slow them down. A victory over Northwestern would put Meyer's team in an enviable spot. It will be interesting to see how Coaches' Poll voters react going forward if Ohio State wins this game. They already have the Buckeyes ranked No. 3, and the coaches seem far less likely to adjust a team's ranking based on its schedule. Basically, when a team loses, the coaches move that team down and shift the next undefeated team up. With LSU still to come for Alabama and Washington, and UCLA and Stanford still to come for Oregon, it's highly likely that the Buckeyes will hit one of the top two spots in the Coaches' Poll at some point in the next six weeks if they keep winning.

Last game: Beat Wisconsin, 31-24
Next game: Saturday at Northwestern
 
6Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 9
The Bulldogs cleared a huge hurdle this past Saturday. Any thought of South Carolina backing into the SEC East title as Georgia did in 2011 and '12 has all but disappeared. The Bulldogs have a very manageable path now, and they've got a game-in-hand cushion in case something odd happens against an opponent such as Florida or Auburn. Things get much easier for Georgia moving forward, but the Bulldogs have earned the break. No other team played such a challenging first four games.

Last game: Beat LSU, 44-41
Next game: Saturday at Tennessee
 
7LSU Tigers
Last week: 8
The bad part about playing the SEC's toughest schedule is that LSU risks losing games such as the one it just lost between the hedges. The good part is that the Tigers can probably afford to lose one game and still compete for the national title. And the Tigers can definitely lose one game against a cross-divisional opponent and compete for the SEC West title. "Everything is in front of us," LSU coach Les Miles said. "The great thing about losing to an Eastern Division team is that there are examples of what we need to do to accomplish our goals." One example? Play better defense. Even against one of the nation's best offenses, a Tigers defense should not allow 44 points and 494 yards.

Last game: Lost to Georgia, 44-41
Next game: Saturday at Mississippi State
 
8Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 6
While LSU needs to play better defense to win the SEC, Texas A&M needs to start playing some defense, period. The Aggies might have the nation's most explosive offense, but they'll be stuck in closer-than-they-should-be shootouts all season unless coordinator Mark Snyder can shore up his inexperienced D. The offense should be able to outscore almost everyone, but this is a bigger problem now because of LSU's loss at Georgia. By losing to the Bulldogs, the Tigers eliminated the possibility of Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M finishing in a three-way tie atop the SEC West with identical 7-1 league records and losses to one another. That scenario was probably Texas A&M's best chance of reaching the SEC title game. Now, the Aggies need to win all their remaining games and hope for chaos in the other conferences if they want to compete for the national title. To pull that off, they'll also need to score style points. A bunch of forty-something-to-thirty-something wins aren't going to rate very high with poll voters.

Last game: Beat Arkansas, 45-33
Next game: Oct. 12 at Ole Miss
 
9Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 7
In two ACC games, Florida State has fallen behind early before turning on the offensive afterburners. That's fine against Pittsburgh and Boston College, but it might not work against Clemson. The Seminoles' defense, which has more NFL prospects than any other ACC team, should not have been pushed around by the Eagles at any point in the game. A similar lapse at Clemson could put FSU in a hole out of which not even quarterback Jameis Winston can climb. If the Seminoles' defense endures a similar stretch against Maryland -- given how good the Terrapins looked in their last outing -- that Clemson game could be a lot less relevant to the national title race.

Last game: Beat Boston College, 48-34
Next game: Saturday vs. Maryland
 
10Louisville Cardinals
Last week: 10
The Cardinals really didn't try to schedule the absolute worst teams in college football. It just worked out that way. For instance, this weekend's visit to Philadelphia was dictated by the American Athletic Conference slate. This is a big reason Louisville is so happy to be departing the new league for the ACC after this season. Temple lost at Idaho on Saturday. The Owls may actually be worse than FIU, even though it seems impossible that any team could be worse than FIU.

Last game: Beat Florida International, 72-0
Next game: Saturday at Temple
 
11Baylor Bears
Last week: 11
Finally, we get to see Baylor play an AQ-conference opponent. We know we won't be getting a replay of the Bears' 70-63 video-game loss in Morgantown last year for a couple of reasons. First, West Virginia's offense isn't anywhere near as good as it was in 2012. Second, the Mountaineers' defense is much, much better. The unit held Oklahoma to 16 points in a loss in Norman, and held Oklahoma State to 21 points in last Saturday's upset win in Morgantown. If Baylor shreds West Virginia the way the Bears shredded their first three opponents, then they will be the odds-on favorite to win the Big 12. But if the upgrade in competition slows Baylor's offense significantly, it probably means the Big 12 is completely up for grabs.

Last game: Beat Louisiana-Monroe, 70-7
Next game: Saturday vs. West Virginia
 
12Miami Hurricanes
Last week: 12
The Hurricanes will face a legitimate opponent for the first time since beating Florida in Week 2, and it appears that quarterback Stephen Morris will be ready despite leaving last week's game against South Florida in the second quarter with an ankle injury. Morris told The Miami Herald that USF players were trying to injure his ankle in post-play pile-ups. He had some choice words for the Bulls, who might actually be able to compete with FIU, Temple and Miami (Ohio) for the title of the nation's worst team. More importantly, Morris headed off further aggravation of his ankle by getting out of the game. He should be ready to go when the Yellow Jackets visit.

Last game: Beat USF, 49-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia Tech
 
13South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 14
The Gamecocks didn’t make last week's win look easy, but not many teams could have against a good UCF team playing in possibly the most important home game in the program's history. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw may be out this week with a shoulder injury, but the Gamecocks knew Shaw's damn-the-torpedoes style would probably cost him some games. Fortunately for South Carolina, backup Dylan Thompson could start for most programs. The Gamecocks also have the luxury of a dominant running back. Mike Davis is averaging 7.2 yards a carry and has a touchdown of 50 yards or longer in three of South Carolina's four games this season. Gamecocks coaches may have to be somewhat conservative with Davis, though. His backup, Brandon Wilds, is out for two or three weeks with an elbow injury suffered against UCF.

Last game: Beat UCF, 28-25
Next game: Saturday vs. Kentucky
 
14UCLA Bruins
Last week: 15
As long as Iowa State doesn't shock Texas on Thursday and turn the college football news cycle into the Mack Brown employment watch, the Bruins will get a national stage against a quality opponent. UCLA plays a fun brand of football, and now the Bruins can show why quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Anthony Barr are two of the nation's best at their respective positions.

Last game: Beat New Mexico State, 59-13
Next game: Thursday at Utah
 
15Washington Huskies
Last week: 16
Remember the last Pac-12 team to beat Stanford? It was Washington. But that was last September, before Cardinal coaches realized that Kevin Hogan was the quarterback who should have been starting all along. Stanford hasn't shown much mercy against conference rivals since. Hopefully, Washington tailback Bishop Sankey dunked himself in the cold tub following his 40-carry performance in the rain against Arizona. He'll need to be fresh against the Cardinal defense, because if the Huskies can't establish a ground game, Stanford will have carte blanche to attack quarterback Keith Price.

Last game: Beat Arizona, 31-13
Next game: Saturday at Stanford
 
16Northwestern Wildcats
Last week: 17
Northwestern tailback Venric Mark returned to practice during the bye week, and it's possible he'll play for the first time since he injured his leg in the season opener against Cal. If Mark plays and plays well, he adds a new dynamic to a Northwestern offense that already has a number of ways to stretch a defense. This game is huge for the Wildcats. College GameDay will be in Evanston. Ohio State will be on high alert playing its toughest opponent until Michigan. We know the Wildcats have the talent to compete for the Legends Division title. If they want to compete for something more, they have to prove they can win games like this.

Last game: Beat Maine, 35-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Ohio State
 
17Maryland Wolverines
Last week: 18
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Maryland's defensive performance against West Virginia -- which looks even more impressive now that the Mountaineers have beaten Oklahoma State -- is that safety A.J. Hendy earned ACC defensive player of the week honors without even starting. Hendy was beaten out for a starting job in camp by Sean Davis, but he didn't let that deter him. He took advantage of his opportunities, and he wound up with a pick-six, two fumble recoveries and a game ball for his efforts. That the Terrapins have that kind of depth bodes well for the future. In the present, Hendy and the Terps will have to play their best to slow Winston and the Seminoles in Tallahassee.

Last game: Beat West Virginia, 37-0
Next game: Saturday at Florida State
 
18Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 20
Quarterback Blake Bell was fantastic on Saturday at Notre Dame, completing 22-of-30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns in the Sooners' win. Given Oklahoma's improvement on defense, Bell's ability to manage games should make the Sooners a very tough out. I may have Oklahoma ranked far too low here, but the team's resumption of Big 12 play should provide some clarity.

Last game: Beat Notre Dame, 35-21
Next game: Saturday vs. TCU
 
19Florida Gators
Last week: 20
Defensive tackle Dominique Easley may be done for the season with a torn ACL, but his signature accessory made the trip to Lexington on Saturday. Easley's Chucky doll -- a replica of the killer piece of plastic from the Child's Play series -- emerged after the Kentucky win in the arms of defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. Fowler had two sacks against the Wildcats, so maybe Chucky was a good luck charm. (Or maybe Fowler is just one of the best young defensive players in the country.) While Fowler was unkind to Kentucky's quarterback, he took excellent care of Chucky. But he won't be seeking custody from Easley any time soon. "He probably wouldn't let me keep it," Fowler told The Palm Beach Post. "I'm pretty sure he's gonna want to keep this. It's his baby. It's my baby, too. It's my godchild."

Last game: Beat Kentucky, 24-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Arkansas
 
20Arizona State Sun Devils
Last Week: 24
When they meet Notre Dame in Jerry Jones' Football Palace and House of Chicken and Waffles on Saturday, the Sun Devils will sport helmets that appear to be on fire. There is no truth to the rumor that the helmets were set ablaze by being place near the feet of Arizona State back Marion Grice, who leads the nation with 12 touchdowns this season and has scored 31 touchdowns in 17 career games.



Last game: Beat USC, 62-41
Next game: Saturday vs. Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas
 
21 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: 23
Kliff Kingsbury declined to answer questions about Eva Mendes, and Ryan Gosling named a starting quarterback. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it. On Monday, Kingsbury said that Baker Mayfield would get the start this weekend at Kansas. I have no idea if Kingsbury lookalike Gosling said anything about Mendes. Kingsbury should be able to give his defensive staff some very specific pointers this week. When Kingsbury played for the New England Patriots, Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis was the Pats' offensive coordinator.

Last game: Beat Texas State, 33-7
Next game: Saturday at Kansas
 
22Fresno State Bulldogs
Last week: 22
The Bulldogs jumped to a big lead and then avoided an epic collapse over the weekend at Hawaii. Fortunately, the only people who were awake stateside were Lane Kiffin and USC athletic director Pat Haden, who were a little busy discussing other matters. Don't expect nearly as much drama in the Kibbie Dome on Saturday.

Last game: Beat Hawaii, 42-37
Next game: Saturday at Idaho
 
23 Ole Miss Rebels
Last week: 21
The Rebels played toe-to-toe with Alabama for a half, but they couldn't punch the ball into the end zone when they had their chance. If Ole Miss wants to crack the upper tier of the SEC West -- currently occupied by Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M -- they have to break through in one of those games. They also absolutely have to beat Auburn, which has the same goal and is rapidly improving under coach Gus Malzahn.

Last game: Lost to Alabama, 25-0
Next game: Saturday at Auburn
 
24 Wisconsin Badgers
Last week: 25
The Badgers have endured close losses to a pretty good team (Arizona State) and a really good team (Ohio State). Wisconsin has the talent to beat every team remaining on its schedule. Whether that happens is another story, but the Badgers are in a decent spot. The next game might be the toughest, but Wisconsin has a bye week and Northwestern might get softened up by the Buckeyes. The Badgers now need Ohio State to lose twice in order to contend for a fourth consecutive Big Ten title. That isn't likely, but they will try to win their next seven just in case.

Last game: Lost to Ohio State, 31-24
Next game: Oct. 12 vs. Northwestern
 
25Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: NR
Michigan, which didn't play last week, obviously didn't do anything to deserve to jump back into the poll. But no one else seemed deserving, either. So here the Wolverines are. If they play the way they did against Akron and Connecticut, they'll lose to Minnesota. Then the decision to drop them out will be easy. If the Wolverines reproduce the quality of their first two wins, they'll easily beat the Golden Gophers. Then the decision to move them up on the ballot will be just as simple.

Last game: Beat Connecticut, 24-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Minnesota

Next five: Oklahoma State, Auburn, UCF, Northern Illinois, Virginia Tech

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

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