College Football Rankings 2012: Projecting Week 3's Top 25 Teams
After a deck-shuffling Week 2 of the college football season, we fans of the game are left gawking at a Top 25 that is almost unrecognizable.
Arkansas took the second-biggest leap out of the Top 25 in AP Poll history (only bested by Michigan's jump from No. 5 to unranked, following a loss to Appalachian State in Week 1 of 2007).
Nebraska, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State dropped out of the polls as well. (If not for Arkansas' collapse, the biggest upset of the week would have been Oregon State's win over Wisconsin.)
With the Week 3 games on the horizon, there are just as many possible upsets waiting in the lists for us. What will the Top 25 look like after Week 3's games are over?
Here are my projections.
25—Baylor (Previous Rank: NR)
Baylor received nine votes in the preseason AP poll but was not actually voted in. A commanding Week 1 victory over the SMU Mustangs earned Baylor another 29 votes, for a total of 38.
The pandemonium of Week 2's games garnered Baylor 16 more votes without even playing a game (for a total of 54).
In Week 3, the Bears will face Sam Houston State for a likely win. While that win will not put the Bears into the Top 25, the other losers in Week 3 will likely clear out a spot at No. 25.
Weeks 3 and 4 will likely feature the Bears enter the Top 25, even if conference play in Week 5 knocks them right back out of the mix.
24—Notre Dame (Previous Rank: 20)
The Irish are the clear underdogs for their tilt against Michigan State in Week 3. But the Spartans should be on upset alert, as Brian Kelly has proven that he's willing to put whoever he needs into the game for a win.
However, the Irish are beginning the toughest part of their schedule on the road against the Spartans. Of the six Top 25 teams the Irish will face in 2012 (based on current AP Poll), Michigan State is one of the most winnable games.
Even taking that into consideration, the close victory over Purdue wasn't enough to prove that the Irish are quite ready for a Spartan team that is a contender for the Big Ten title.
23—Cincinnati (Previous Rank: NR)
This is one of the gutsiest picks in this slideshow. Cincinnati has been flying under the radar, despite a decisive win over the Pittsburgh Panthers in Week 1.
The bye week that followed for the Bearcats didn't do them any favors, either. Cincy's Week 3 win over Delaware State should be enough to put the team into the rankings, but "should" is a far cry from "will."
In all likelihood, the Week 5 match with Virginia Tech will be the Bearcats' first legitimate opportunity to enter the Top 25.
I still stand by the call that the win over Delaware State, combined with losses from other Top 25 teams, will be enough to put the Bearcats at No. 24.
22—Florida (Previous Rank: 18)
Florida pulled off a 20-17 win over the Texas A&M Aggies in Week 2 and will be facing a Tennessee team that has been up-and-coming for a few years.
Tennessee is so good that even Alabama fans should be nervous about the Volunteers this year.
Are the Gators going to get blown out by the Vols? Unlikely, but it was more unlikely that Louisiana-Monroe would lay Tyler Wilson out so many times that he'd have to leave the game.
Florida will suffer a heartbreaking loss to the Vols but stay in the Top 25, at least until things get sorted out for sure in its game against LSU on Oct. 6.
21—Arizona (Previous Rank: 24)
Arizona will defeat South Carolina State, thereby staying in the rankings (from the rankings in Week 2).
The losses by teams above them in the rankings will propel the Wildcats to 21. The Wildcats need to maintain focus on South Carolina State to avoid an upset this week, but it will be hard not to look past the Bulldogs with a tilt against the Oregon Ducks coming up the following week.
20—UCLA (Previous Rank: 22)
UCLA's rushing attack is second in the nation right now at 343.5 yards per game. The Houston Cougars will come to town Saturday to get mauled by a vastly-improved Bruins squad.
UCLA will reap the same benefits as Arizona and move up two spots to No. 20, (provided that the Bruins are not looking past the Cougars toward the Week 4 matchup with the Oregon State Beavers.)
19—Louisville (Previous Rank: 19)
Louisville faces the same UNC team that dropped a one-point decision to Wake Forest last week. The Cardinals are hoping for a conference championship in 2012, and they will hold strong against the Tar Heels and come away with a great reason to remain at No. 19.
I expect Florida will fall below the Cardinals, but Tennessee will jump past them.
18—Tennessee (Previous Rank: 23)
Tennessee will have the biggest jump in the rankings after Week 3 closes. Derek Dooley will outcoach Will Muschamp in a Volunteers victory.
Florida (as previously discussed) will drop four spots, and the Vols will take the Gators' position at No. 18. Dooley has fielded a lot of underclassmen over the last few years while promising them a brighter future.
The two-touchdown win over NC State in the season opener was solid evidence that the Vols are currently on an upward trend toward that bright future.
17—Michigan (Previous Rank: 17)
While Michigan will experience cruise-control in the rankings this week, the Wolverines will still be proving themselves on the field. Even against Massachusetts, which is not on the level of the Big Ten (yet), Michigan will be carrying a chip on its shoulder from the season-opening loss to Alabama.
Michigan will have its chance to move up the rankings in Week 4 against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. This week, it will stay at No. 17. Look for another gaudy performance from Denard Robinson.
16—TCU (Previous Rank: 16)
TCU's only victory so far was against Grambling State. While the Big 12 will be a nightmare for the former Mountain West top dogs, Kansas will fall to the Horned Frogs on Saturday afternoon.
This is not a slight to the Big 12 at all. Simply put, TCU is good. Just like Missouri and Texas A&M will not finish at the bottom of the SEC, TCU will not be last in the Big 12 when December rolls around.
15—Kansas State (Previous Rank: 15)
Kansas State's win over North Texas will do nothing for its position in the polls. It may allow quarterback Collin Klein to display enough offensive prowess to make it into the Heisman conversation, but that's all.
The good news for Kansas State is that doing nothing also means that it should not drop any spots.
Kansas State will be a major contender in the Big 12 this year, and conference play will separate the men from the boys beginning in Week 4 against Oklahoma.
14—Texas (Previous Rank: 14)
While Texas may be overrated at No. 14, Ole Miss is rebuilding in its first season under Hugh Freeze.
The Rebels have wins over Central Arkansas and UTEP so far but are not ready to go toe-to-toe with a program like Texas yet.
Freeze will have his Rebels ready to take advantage of a sleeping Longhorns program, though, and for that, Texas should be on upset alert.
13—Virginia Tech (Previous Rank: 13)
Virginia Tech faces Pittsburgh this week, and Pitt will be playing with some major inferiority issues after starting the season 0-2.
Virginia Tech will be playing with a purpose as well, after narrowly beating (in overtime) a Georgia Tech team that it expected to manhandle.
Virginia Tech is at the mercy of those ahead of it in the rankings and will have to wait a few weeks to make a serious run toward the Top 10.
12—Ohio State (Previous Rank: 12)
For Ohio State, a 15-point victory over Central Florida was a narrow one. While the Buckeyes should make quick work of the California Golden Bears, that may not happen if the Buckeyes are in auto-pilot until the Michigan State game in Week 5.
While Cal is not a national contender this year, the Bears are still not to be overlooked. Ohio State will log another "W" this week and hold at No. 12 for the time being.
11—Clemson (Previous Rank: 11)
Clemson opened the season against Auburn, opting to push its warmup games to Weeks 2 and 3.
The Tigers will take on the Furman Paladins this week and earn nothing but style points. That will be enough to hold steady at No. 11, but not enough for them to jump over the likes of Michigan State.
The Tigers will have a gigantic opportunity to move up the rankings against Florida State next week. For now, No. 11 will have to do.
10—West Virginia (Previous Rank: 9)
West Virginia will face only its second opponent of the year in Week 3, and it will be James Madison.
James Madison is the team that upset then-No. 13 Virginia Tech back in 2010. West Virginia will be on upset alert simply because everyone has been on upset alert against James Madison since the 2010 shocker.
West Virginia will fall one spot to No. 10 because of the team that is on the next slide.
9—Michigan State (Previous Rank: 10)
Michigan State hosts Notre Dame, giving the Irish their first major test of the 2012 season. Notre Dame barely escaped an upset at the hands of Purdue last week, defeating the Boilermakers by a scant three points.
Michigan State will defeat the Irish, and the Spartans will jump over West Virginia to the No. 9 slot in the polls.
8—South Carolina (Previous Rank: 8)
South Carolina opened the season with a conference game and pushed its usual break-in matches back a week.
The Gamecocks host the UAB Blazers in Columbia on Saturday, which will do nothing for their poll ranking. In fact, if this is a close game, South Carolina may join the club of teams that get jumped by Michigan State.
South Carolina will wreak havoc on the Blazers and hold steady at No. 8.
7—Georgia (Previous Rank: 7)
After Georgia's fourth-quarter performance against the Missouri Tigers last week, the odds of the Bulldogs dropping in the polls are extremely low.
Against an underwhelming Florida Atlantic squad (which will be on a shopping spree for cash in the SEC for the next two weeks), the Bulldogs will maintain course toward continued conference play in Week 4 against Vanderbilt.
Aaron Murray will earn style points for his potential Heisman campaign by putting on a show against the Owls.
6—Oklahoma (Previous Rank: T5)
Oklahoma is locked in a fifth-place tie with the Florida State Seminoles right now, and Week 3 will act as a tiebreaker.
The Sooners will take a week of rest before facing Kansas State in Week 4. As the Sooners watch the Seminoles on television this week, the Seminoles will take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
The Sooners will temporarily slip to No. 6 during the bye week.
5—Florida State (Previous Rank: T5)
Florida State hosts Wake Forest this week and theoretically will win handily.
However, conference games are never as easy to win as they would appear to be on paper.
Look for the Seminoles to take the fifth spot all by themselves, but that's only because Oklahoma has the week off.
4—Oregon (Previous Rank: 4)
The Oregon Ducks are part of a top-four group that are simply a cut above everyone behind them.
The Ducks will have to wait for one of two things to happen to move up:
1) USC gets upset before Nov. 3
2) Oregon defeats USC on Nov. 3
Oregon will fly by Tennessee Tech and will stay at No. 4.
3—LSU (Previous Rank: 3)
LSU is in a similar position as Oregon. Alabama, LSU, USC and Oregon are perceived as better than the rest of the nation, and they have all done nothing to change anyone's mind at this point.
Alabama will travel to LSU on Nov. 3, and the Tide and Tigers will settle the argument then (hopefully).
LSU will hand Idaho a worse loss than it handed Washington last week, and LSU will remain entrenched at No. 3.
2—USC (Previous Rank: 2)
USC is the marginal favorite to win the Pac-12, and Oregon seems to be the only team that will have a say in that matter.
If any other team in the Pac-12 can dethrone USC, it's Stanford. This week could be one of the best weekends of the year, considering the top two matches of the week.
USC at Stanford is one of the most highly anticipated matches of the year, and Stanford looked much better last week against the Duke Blue Devils.
Matt Barkley and the Trojans will go to Stanford to assert their dominance over last year's Pac-12 North runner-up.
Stanford's offseason losses will prove to be too much for the Cardinal to overcome, and USC will walk away with a win and a hold in the rankings.
1—Alabama (Previous Rank: 1)
Originally, the Alabama-Arkansas matchup was tied with the USC-Stanford matchup for the best game of Week 3. Now, that only applies if Tyler Wilson's injury doesn't keep him from suiting up against the Tide.
Another reason that this game has lost a bit of its luster is that Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt) beat Arkansas by applying tons of pressure on Wilson. It seemed as if every time you looked up, Wilson was on his back.
The Tide should be on huge upset alert, as the Razorbacks are now unranked and still pose as one of the biggest threats to Alabama's attempt to repeat as national champions.