Predicting the Top 10 Teams in College Football Following the Month of September
How might college football’s Top 10 look after September games are complete?
I’ve devised a fairly straightforward way to predict what will happen after the season’s first full month.
First, I consulted the 2013 preseason Coaches’ Poll. 50 teams received votes in this poll, and even accounting for major upsets, it’s likely that the top-10 teams on October 1 will come from this pool of teams.
Second, I looked at their schedules. I didn’t make any upsets; though this is unrealistic, it prevented me from creating off-the-wall scenarios. However, I do run down the games and how each team is likely to perform.
Third, using these predicted records, I re-ranked the teams based on how I think the polls would do it. The top 10 appear on this list. It’s that simple.
You won’t find many teams jumping others in the polls based on strength of schedule. Once the BCS standings come out this might happen more, but I don’t expect the human voters to shake things up on their own.
With that, here’s the top 10.
10. Florida State
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Original Rank: 12
Florida State has been ranked in the AP Top 25 every season since 1977. Though Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles can’t compete with the Bobby Bowden teams of the late 1980s and 1990s, they’re on-par with the early 2000s groups. In 2013, the program hopes to take that next step back into the cream of the college football crop.
The Seminoles begin with a challenge. Pittsburgh, a newly-minted member of the ACC, hosts its inaugural game in the conference. This game will be like an FBS version of Monday Night Football.
Next comes Nevada to Tallahassee. Cody Fajardo is one of college football’s best dual-threat quarterbacks, but the Seminoles are used to dealing with speed. They have a lot of it on their roster as well.
Third, FSU hosts FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats have a notable marching band called “The Pride,” but the Seminoles will march all over them.
September ends with an away game at Boston College. The Seminoles shouldn’t have a problem with this one.
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Original Rank: 9
Louisville should be undefeated once October rolls around, but if all goes according to plan throughout the country, the Cardinals won’t move up in the polls.
Ohio comes to town to open the season for Louisville. The Bobcats have Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship leading the offense, so this could be a trap game right out of the gate. Since this is the first game of the season though, I expect Louisville to be well-prepared.
Second, the Cardinals host FCS team Eastern Kentucky. Even if EKU alumnus Rex Ryan was coaching, the Colonels wouldn’t stand a chance against Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater.
Third, the Cardinals continue their rivalry with Kentucky on the road. Louisville has won the last two Governor’s Cups, and it’s expected to be three straight.
Last, the Cardinals host FIU, one of FBS’ worst teams heading into 2013. One of the best teams versus one of the worst teams? OK then.
8. Notre Dame
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Original Rank: 11
Notre Dame plays against great teams every season, but the Irish themselves form a great team. The losses of Everett Golson and Manti Te’o hasn’t hurt ND in the preseason Coaches’ Poll too much.
The Irish begin their quest for a second straight BCS National Title Game appearance in South Bend against Temple. The Owls present arguably the easiest test for Notre Dame all season.
Second, Brian Kelly and Co. travel to The Big House to play Michigan. This is the second-to-last guaranteed meeting between these historic programs, and both have national title aspirations this season.
Next, Notre Dame visits intrastate opponent Purdue. They do battle for the Shillelagh Trophy, but the Irish have maintained the title since 2008. Expect nothing different in 2013.
Fourth, Michigan State comes to Notre Dame Stadium to play for the Megaphone Trophy. Notre Dame has dominated this series historically, but the two programs have gone back-and-forth in the 21st century. The Irish have won the last two, and they’re supposed to win this one.
Finally, the Irish host the Oklahoma Sooners. Both teams are in the top 20 of the preseason coaches’ poll, and even though they were both top-10 teams when they met in 2012, I expect it to be a closer contest this time.
7. Texas A&M
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Original Rank: 6
If Texas A&M drops its game with Alabama by just a few points, I don’t expect the Aggies to fall much in the polls. They’ll likely be the highest-ranked one-loss team in the country once October comes.
Coming into its date with the Crimson Tide, the Aggies should have polished off Rice and FCS opponent Sam Houston State.
To finish September, A&M visits Arkansas. The Razorbacks brought in former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, but the program is still far from competing in the loaded SEC West, which features the Aggies, Alabama, LSU and (improving) Ole Miss.
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Original Rank: 10
Most last remember Florida getting embarrassed by Louisville in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. The Gators hope that doesn’t happen again in 2013.
Will Muschamp and the team begin the season at home against Toledo. Rockets running back David Fluellen is on the 2013 Maxwell watch list, but Florida’s bread-and-butter is stopping the run, as the Gators allowed just under 95 yards per game on the ground in 2012.
Fluellen might be good, but Florida will face better backs later this season, such as the "Gurshall" combo at Georgia.
Next, the Gators visit intrastate rival Miami. The Hurricanes could have their best team since 2009, when they were 19th in the final AP poll. These two programs are quite familiar with each other; rivalry games like this could go either way.
Third, Florida gets Tennessee at The Swamp. This game has lost some luster recently, but the Volunteers have a new head coach (Butch Jones) and some greater expectations in 2013 (last finished in the AP Top 25 in 2007).
Last, the Gators go to Kentucky, which also has a new head coach in Mark Stoops. It shouldn’t make a difference, though.
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Original Rank: 5
In 2013, Georgia will be looking for its third consecutive SEC East championship. The Bulldogs are hoping lucky No. 13 will help get them into the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, which should happen if they win the SEC Championship Game.
The first four games won’t make the road any easier, as three of Georgia’s August/September opponents are legitimate national championship contenders as well.
Game No. 1 has the Bulldogs visiting Clemson. The Tigers begin the season ranked eighth in the Coaches’ Poll, which makes them the preseason favorites to win the ACC.
Next, Georgia hosts South Carolina. The Gamecocks begin the season ranked seventh in the Coaches’ Poll. This could be the de facto SEC East Championship game.
Third, the Bulldogs get a breather with a home date with North Texas. Trap game? I think not.
Finally, the four-game stretch comes to a close versus LSU. These Tigers begin the season ranked 13th in the Coaches’ Poll.
A schedule like this should leave UGA IX panting from more than just the September heat.
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Original Rank: 4
The Stanford Cardinal play an old-school style of football built on a power-running game and stout defense. David Shaw leads a team that’ll wear out their opponents. The first four know a good amount about them, but that doesn’t mean victories.
First, the Cardinal host San Jose State. The Spartans were the No. 21 team in the final AP poll in 2012, but they aren’t expected to repeat on that success.
These two teams opened last season at Stanford, and the Cardinal won 20-17. Like I said, the Spartans are worse, and the Cardinal could be better. The 2013 edition should have a bigger win for Stanford.
Next, the Cardinal travel to West Point to take on Army. The Black Knights run the triple-option offense, but they don’t run it to much success. This should be an easy W for Stanford.
This next game is the most difficult of the month. The Arizona State Sun Devils come to Stanford Stadium. Arizona State, led by Bednarik Award candidate Will Sutton at defensive tackle, could also be ranked in the top 25 come September 21.
The month ends for Stanford at Washington State. They meet at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, the home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Mike Leach’s offense will be too predictable (lowest rushing average in FBS in 2012), and the Cardinal will walk away with a win.
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Original Rank: 3
The question most of college football has about Oregon in 2013 is this: Can Mark Helfrich maintain the program’s success under Chip Kelly? The Ducks’ high ranking in the preseason polls suggests yes.
First up, Nicholls State at home. The Colonels hail from Thibodeaux, Louisiana. They’ve put a few guys in the NFL, but they won’t compete with Oregon.
Second, we have the Ducks traveling to Virginia. It’s a rare cross-country nonconference matchup, but I don’t think Oregon will have a problem beating the Cavaliers.
Third, the Tennessee Volunteers come to Autzen Stadium. New head coach Butch Jones should make them more competitive in the SEC, so the Ducks aren’t going to win easily if they do.
Lastly come the California Golden Bears. In Oregon’s first Pac-12 game of 2013, Sonny Dykes visits Eugene with an offense that likes to put up lots of points, not too unlike the Ducks. This one should be a shootout.
2. Ohio State
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Original Rank: 2
Coming off an undefeated 2012 season, Ohio State hopes to turn the trick again. If the Buckeyes do, they’ll play in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.
Urban Meyer and the gang begin 2013 at home against Buffalo. The Bulls have a potential All-American candidate in linebacker Khalil Mack, but one player won’t make a difference. Chalk it up for the Buckeyes.
Game 2 is another at the Horseshoe, and San Diego State comes to town. Adam Muema is one of the better running backs in college football, but he shouldn’t find many running lanes against a defense full of five-star recruits. Plus, the Aztecs have to travel from San Diego to Columbus, which are over 2,200 miles away from each other.
In the third contest of the season, Ohio State makes like San Diego State and travels from Columbus to California. The travel and the new offense for the Golden Bears, led by head coach Sonny Dykes, could make this the biggest challenge for the Buckeyes before October.
Fourth, Ohio State hosts FCS foe Florida A&M. Moving on.
The last game of the month is the first conference one for the Buckeyes. They host Wisconsin and its new head coach Gary Andersen. The Badgers enter 2013 as a top 25 team, so Ohio State must leave everything on the field to win.
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Original Rank: 1
As the top team in the country, Alabama can’t play anyone ranked higher. If the Crimson Tide win all their games, they’ll maintain the top spot.
The Crimson Tide begin the season against Virginia Tech. They meet in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on August 31. Though Alabama should win this game, it won’t be easy.
Two weeks later comes the big game. Alabama visits Texas A&M, the only team that defeated it in 2012. Both teams have spent the offseason getting ready for this one, and anybody who has any interest in college football will watch.
Next comes a home contest with Colorado State. Alabama should cruise to a victory, but there is a silver lining for the Rams: head coach Jim McElwain was the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11. McElwain knows much of Alabama’s roster, so don’t sleep too hard on this one.
The final game in September pits Alabama against Ole Miss. Though the Crimson Tide have dominated this SEC West rivalry, the Rebels are one of college football’s up-and-coming programs under head coach Hugh Freeze. This season’s tilt could be the first since 2009 where both teams are ranked in the Top 25 of the AP poll.