Believe it or not, we've already hit the quarter-season mark when it comes to the Associated Press Top 25 rankings. The publication releases 16 every year, beginning with the always-lovely preseason assumptions and concluding after Alabama waxes some poor unsuspecting school in the national title game.
Sunday marked the fourth of those official releases. For all references—future and present—here is how the 2013 college football season has shaped up thus far, courtesy of the Associated Press and Bleacher Report rankings:
Notice anything? Like...how pretty much nothing has changed?
Well, that's because it hasn't.
The first few weeks of the college football season have brought fans numerous down-to-the-wire contests, but apparently "upset" has become a curse word around campuses. There are five teams currently inside the Top 25 that each have one loss; none of them have been tear-down-the-goalpost shockers.
Of the 25 teams ranked in the initial preseason standings, 19 of them remain standing. Texas at No. 15 is the highest ouster, and the Longhorns have seemingly decided to play run defense blindfolded this season.
But for the most part, the first few weeks of this season have been filled with your standard early-season mundanities. Great teams pick on schools just hoping to leave healthy and with checks, while nearly every clash of Top 25 titans has gone the way of the favorite.
Of course, we know this won't last. College football is by and large a series of unpredictable events; I swear preseason rankings only exist for us to look back and realize how foolish they were from the outset.
With Week 4 action quickly approaching, let's look at a few teams that might find themselves on the outside looking in when Sunday rolls around.
No. 19 Florida Gators (vs. Tennessee Volunteers)
As someone who grew up watching college football in the 1990s, it's hard not to view Florida-Tennessee as a top-notch rivalry. Visions of Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer battling for national supremacy still dance in my head, as does the fact that Tee Martin won a national championship while Peyton Manning did not. I'm not from the South, nor do I even have any southern relatives; the game was just cool as a kid.
These obviously aren't my childhood's Gators and Volunteers.
Tennessee has run over the half-decade mark of national irrelevancy, which began as Fulmer started losing his fastball offensively and as a recruiter. Florida still carries a level of national cache, but the halcyon days of Urban Meyer's tenure and the subsequent offensive explosion have long been lost.
Now? The Gators are relying on a quarterback who might want to start looking into his "backup" plan. Jeff Driskel, who signed a pro contract with the Boston Red Sox this summer, has struggled mightily in his latest opportunity to man the starting spot. He threw two critical interceptions in Florida's 21-16 loss to Miami last week, killing critical drives that could have been on their way to scoring opportunities.
These are the same mistakes Driskel made as a sophomore, ones for which the Florida defense had to scramble in order to compensate. The Gators defense is excellent yet again, but "surviving" isn't usually a word you want to use when describing quarterback play.
In the interest of fairness, it's not like Tennessee's level of play is making folks harken back to the Manning days, either.
The Volunteers got whacked 59-14 last week against No. 2 Oregon, allowing 687 total yards and 59 unanswered points between the nine-minute mark in the first quarter and the end of the third.
It was a top-to-bottom embarrassment that made folks forget awfully fast about the two cupcake wins the Vols had to start the season. The nicest thing you could say about Tennessee's quarterback situation is that Justin Worley has avoided turnovers. But when you're dinking and dunking to the tune of 124 passing yards per game, it's tough
If you've been enjoying this newfangled SEC in which teams score points by the boatload, Saturday's game in Gainesville won't be for you. Tennessee will do its best to pound the ball with Rajion Neal and Marlon Lane while Florida just tries to keep its head above water somewhere offensively.
Vegas Insider has Florida as 17-point favorites at home, which is a massive overreach. The Gators offense isn't anywhere near trustworthy enough to garner three-score advantages.
Pound Tennessee with the spread and the under, and don't be surprised if Butch Jones walks away with his first huge win.
No. 22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (vs. Michigan State Spartans)
For about 45 minutes of game time, the Irish looked like they were on the precipice of joining the unranked last week. Playing on the road against a Purdue squad that got trounced by Cincinnati two weeks prior, Notre Dame's offense sputtered.
Tommy Rees and the passing game struggled mightily for most of the first half, leading an opening four drives that covered all of 58 yards. It took until the Irish's final drive of the first half, an 80-yard scamper that ended in a field goal, to get any semblance of momentum going.
When they did, Rees found his groove in the second half. He finished the Saturday-night nail-biter with 309 passing yards and two touchdowns, engineering five 60-plus yard drives in Notre Dame's final seven possessions, including a seven-minute, 22-second game finisher that ripped the heart out of Ross-Aide Stadium.
The running game, though, is still a pretty big concern. None of the trio of Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III has broken out as a lead-back candidate yet. The Irish are averaging a nondescript 4.1 yards per carry as a team and have only hit paydirt twice on the ground. More than anything, it was their ineffective ground game that kept Purdue chugging along.
If the first three weeks are any indication, the Spartans should provide a stout test up the middle. Michigan State has allowed only 12 points per game through the first three weeks, though that number cannot be taken seriously, considering that Spartans' FBS opponents this season are a combined 0-6.
Mark Dantonio is stuck with one of the worst quarterback situations of a borderline Top 25 squad, with neither Connor Cook nor Andrew Maxwell doing much to instill confidence. The ghost of Le'Veon Bell also hangs over the running game. Jeremy Langford has filled the requirement of a powerful back up the middle, but Dantonio is doing his team a disservice if Nick Hill doesn't start getting more work.
The overwhelming likelihood, like in our aforementioned SEC showdown, is that this game is close and the scoring is sparse. Rees wasn't great against Michigan, and the Spartans defense should be on the same level—Michigan State's offense is a near travesty.
When games are low scoring, one score can literally be the difference in the entire game.
No. 23 Arizona State Sun Devils (at No. 5 Stanford Cardinal)
Arizona State has been the talk of college football the entire week, so I'm not going to belabor the controversy any more than I have to.
The fact is that some voters feel that Arizona State shouldn't have even been ranked to begin with. ASU's players and coaching staff don't deserve blame for the incompetence of the officiating crew in the Sun Devils' 32-30 win over Wisconsin last week, but they're very likely 1-1 without said incompetence. Fair or not, these biases play into the minds of voters; it's partially why the Badgers only lost four spots in the rankings.
Alas, Arizona State's time in the sun (sorry) should be short lived. No. 5 Stanford plays host to Todd Graham's squad Saturday evening, in a game that has the Cardinal installed as only 7.5-point favorites.
Yes, my friends, that sound you heard was the teaser-alert alarm going off. Stanford has been less than impressive in its opening two wins, against San Jose State and Army, but not in any sense should that be of concern.
David Shaw's offense is a good but not great bunch led by bruising running back Taylor Gaffney and the intriguing Kevin Hogan, who has made a point to be more aggressive this season.
The defense held one of the nation's most underrated quarterbacks (San Jose State's David Fales) to a QBR of 46.5. Army may have done a nice job running the football, to the tune of 200 yards, but that's not helping anyone when you're a team trying to come from two and three scores down.
The Cardinal, in many ways, are a carbon copy of the squad they were a season ago. Very few wins are going to have an Oregonian backhand quality to them.
Stanford will finish with pro-like scores and two-score margins.
Graham has done a nice job turning Taylor Kelly into a burgeoning star, but color me less than optimistic about the junior signal-caller coming into Palo Alto and pulling off the win.
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