College Football Rankings Week 9: Separating the Contenders from the Pretenders

David Webber@@davidpwebber21Analyst IOctober 23, 2012

College Football Rankings Week 9: Separating the Contenders from the Pretenders

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    The Week 9 BCS standings were released on Sunday, and as usual, it has its fair share of controversy. Alabama is No. 1, to no one's surprise, but it gets a little murky after that.

    The biggest bone of contention is the impact that strength of schedule has on the standings. Florida ranks ahead of an Oregon team that many people think is the second-best in the country, simply because the Gators play in the SEC. Georgia is ahead of South Carolina despite the fact that the Gamecocks annihilated the Bulldogs just a few weeks ago.

    The overemphasis on strength of schedule often tends to blind the fans and the media. That being said, the computers have definitely overrated some teams, and seemingly cheated others in the latest standings.

    We all know about Alabama and Oregon and the other elite teams of the college football world. Here are the teams on the cusp of success or failure. Let the debates begin. 

Contender: No. 3 Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State is No. 3; of course it's a contender. Right?

    It sure seems that way, but Bill Snyder's club seems to perpetually fly under the radar nonetheless. It doesn't seem like anybody is really taking the Wildcats' success seriously—assuming they'll stumble on their quest for a national title.

    But I don't think it will happen. In fact, Kansas State might have the clearest road to the title game in the nation. Consider this: Alabama still has to play No. 6 LSU; and Oregon still has to play No. 9 USC (possibly twice), No. 17 Stanford and No. 7 Oregon State. Kansas State still has tough games against No. 14 Texas Tech and No. 23 Texas (not to mention a road date with TCU), but the Wildcats should be favored to win those games.

    Add in the fact that K-State doesn't have to play a conference championship game, and you have a recipe for a surprise entrant in the national championship. With Heisman candidate Collin Klein under center and a defense that is 14th in the nation in points allowed, anything is possible in Manhattan.

Pretender: No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    I want to believe in Notre Dame, I really do. South Bend is alive again—hard-nosed football has returned in full, and the Irish are looking to put away memories of years past and finally take the next step.

    It won't happen.

    Notre Dame has the nation's No. 2 ranked defense, but that's about the only thing about it that's impressive. This is a team that can't decide on a quarterback, and when it ultimately comes down to it, you could do much better than Everett Golson and Tommy Rees. The running game is solid, but against teams with huge front sevens, it won't do much good.

    Yes, the Fighting Irish beat Michigan State and Michigan. The problem is, neither of those teams are very good anyway. We're going to learn a lot about this team in this week's matchup with Oklahoma. Bob Stoops' Sooners are 77-3 at home during his reign, so Notre Dame is definitely in line for a very stern test.

    If the Irish win this one, I'll believe. But until then, they are operating under "pretender" status.

Contender: No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners

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    There's a common misconception about the Sooners. People seem to identify Oklahoma with explosive, high-scoring offenses. The opposite is true (this year, at least). 

    While the offense has been very good, it's the defense that has come through and performed surprisingly well. The Sooners' 15.3 points-per-game D held three solid offenses (Kansas State, Texas Tech, Texas) in check.

    In addition, the lone blemish on OU's resume is a 24-19 loss to now-No. 3 Kansas State. There's no shame in that, even if it was only Coach Stoops' third loss in Norman ever.

    The thing that's dangerous about the Sooners is that they might have the most formidable offense-defense combination in the country. That means they probably match up well with SEC teams and can blow out others. If Oklahoma beats Notre Dame this weekend, it will vault up the standings. From there, their only ranked opponent is No. 19 West Virginia.

    Could it be a magical season in Norman? Despite an early-season loss, Sooner fans have realistic hope that their team can make it back to the title game.

Pretenders: No. 7 Oregon State

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    Like Notre Dame, I want to believe in Oregon State. Picked to finish last in the Pac-12 by most everybody in the preseason, the Beavers have made a complete turnaround from last year's 3-9 campaign.

    Oregon State makes its money on defense, where it ranks 14th in the country in points allowed. But other than that, the Beavers are thoroughly underwhelming. The passing game is hot and cold (though, more hot than cold recently), and the running game is virtually nonexistent.

    Also, Oregon State only has one truly impressive win—a 10-7 victory against then-No. 13 Wisconsin—and it still has to play No. 17 Stanford on the road and No. 4 Oregon in what promises to be the best Civil War game in years.

    The Beavers are an amazing story. We should all want them to win. But based on their overall performance, I'm filing them under "pretenders." That game against Stanford will go a long way toward determining where Oregon State finishes in 2012.

Contenders: No. 2 Florida Gators

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    The Florida Gators are contenders—they're at No. 2! Still, like Kansas State, it seems like they're not getting the love they deserve.

    Last week's 44-11 shellacking of a very good South Carolina team is changing the perception of the Gators, but there's one overriding problem that no one can seem to ignore—Florida can't throw the ball.

    As fans, we seem to have this idea that any team with a capable quarterback is good to go, even if the defense is terrible. If the defense is great and the quarterback is awful, a team, seemingly, instantly becomes underrated.

    And that's the issue with the Florida Gators. Jeff Driskel is the man leading the nation's 118th-ranked passing attack, raising some serious doubts about the squad.

    But I think the Gators are contenders because they do everything else well. They run the ball for over 200 yards a game, and they allow just 12 points per game. They're not pretty to watch, but they get the job done. They aren't No. 2 without a reason.

Pretender: No. 6 LSU Tigers

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    What is it about 4- and 5-star quarterbacks going to LSU? Ryan Perrilloux didn't work out. Russell Shepard didn't work out (although he plays receiver now). Are we about to add Zach Mettenberger to that list?

    Mettenberger has been very shaky since taking over, causing Tiger Nation to wonder when a good quarterback will finally get under center. Remember, quarterback play was LSU's downfall last year. It could happen again this year.

    In many ways, LSU mirrors Florida. Two good defenses. Two good running games. Two struggling passing attacks. The difference is that Jeff Driskel has shown a lot more talent and potential thus far. Oh, yeah, the Gators also beat the Tigers last month, 14-6, holding Mettenberger to 11-of-25 passing in the contest.

    LSU's defense will keep the team in every game, but there's too much inexperience across the board. We could see two or three losses in Baton Rouge before all is said and done on the season.