College Football: What Would the Top 25 Look Like If It Started After Week 5?

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIOctober 4, 2013

College Football: What Would the Top 25 Look Like If It Started After Week 5?

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    College football's Top 25 is an interesting animal. There are plenty of unwritten rules that voters seem to follow, even though it may leave some deserving teams out of the first few weeks' rankings.

    For instance, a reigning national champion is generally going to stay in the top slot unless it loses a game. That one at least makes some sense, but it isn't always enforced. On the other hand, teams that start in the Top 25 are also kept there until they suffer at least one loss, even if another undefeated team has actually looked better during the first few games.

    Presumably, the thought process is that the rankings will shake out by the end of the season. However, what if the voters weren't allowed to submit a poll until after Week 5 concluded? How would that look?

    It would still have some heavy bias toward the BCS-AQ conferences, but it would look considerably different from the current Week 6 edition. Here is the prediction of what the Top 25 would look like right now if voters had just submitted their first ballots of the season.

    In the "Others Receiving Votes" slide, teams are presented in alphabetical order.

Others Receiving Votes

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    Auburn Tigers: 3-1 with a 35-21 loss to No. 13 LSU.

    East Carolina Pirates: 3-1 with a 15-10 loss to Virginia Tech.

    Fresno State: 4-0 with a 42-37 win over 0-4 Hawaii.

    Houston Cougars: 4-0 with no high-quality wins.

    Iowa Hawkeyes: 4-1 with a 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois (season opener).

    Nebraska Cornhuskers: 3-1 with a 41-21 loss to No. 15 UCLA

    Northern Illinois: 4-0 with a questionable win over the 1-4 Idaho Vandals

    Notre Dame: 3-2 with losses to No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 18 Michigan

    Oklahoma State: 3-1 with a 30-21 loss to 3-2 West Virginia

    UCF Knights: 3-1 with a 28-25 loss to No. 16 South Carolina

25. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Overall Record: 3-1

    The Ole Miss Rebels started the season off with a gigantic comeback victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores, and they continued on the warpath through the Texas Longhorns. Even though Texas is a bit down this season, it was still a solid win over a Big 12 competitor.

    While the win over Texas definitely didn't put the Rebels in the championship discussion, it proved that they are a respectable team. Even the lone loss against the reigning national championship wasn't that bad.

    Sure, it was a shutout, but Ole Miss held the Crimson Tide to a season-low 25 points. Ole Miss comes in at the bottom of the rankings pending a solid win over a top-tier opponent.

24. Florida Gators

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    Overall Record: 3-1

    Florida has made it through the first third of its season with just one loss—to the No. 9 Miami Hurricanes. That close game with such a highly ranked team puts the Gators in the rankings.

    However, with that 97th-ranked passing attack that yields just 23.8 points per game (93rd), they are on notice that a loss will push them out. If that happened, they'd likely not be heard from again this season.

    In fact, the buying power of the SEC is probably the biggest reason that they're even in here in the first place.

23. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Overall Record: 3-2*

    Wisconsin is being treated as a one-loss team for the purposes of the Top 25, as should be the case (see footnote). Wisconsin's only straightforward loss through Week 5 was to a Top 10 Ohio State squad by just seven points.

    The Badgers are averaging over 500 yards of total offense, including over 300 on the ground. Wisconsin may not be a Big Ten or national champion when the last game is finished, but there's not much doubt that the Badgers should be ranked.

    *Wisconsin's first loss of the season resulted in sanctioned Pac-12 referees who completely botched what should have been an attempted game-winning field goal.

22. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Overall Record: 3-1

    The Arizona State Sun Devils have played three quality FBS teams so far this season, though USC's quality is more than a little dubious at the moment. Their only loss so far is to Stanford, which is definitely ranked amongst the elite.

    As a side note, the Sun Devils beat the Trojans so badly that USC fired its head coach after the debacle. This is the only team in the country to accomplish that feat so far. The perch may be unstable, but ASU is definitely in the rankings following Week 5.

21. Maryland Terrapins

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Maryland's closing argument leading to the hypothetical first release of rankings was a 37-0 shutout of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Fortunately for the Terrapins, the Mountaineers demolished Oklahoma State in Week 5 to help legitimize the Maryland program.

    Oklahoma State may only appear in the "others receiving votes" category of the rankings, but that shutout against a Big 12 opponent really raised the Terrapins' credibility. For that reason, Maryland sits at No. 21, ready to jump way up the list if it topples the Florida State Seminoles in Week 6.

20. Missouri Tigers

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Missouri benefits from the SEC's reputation and jumps in at No. 20 on the board. The Tigers may or may not be a Top 25 team, but you cannot deny that the voters would have the only undefeated team from the SEC East in the Top 25, even if it isn't near the top.

    Missouri has beaten Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State so far this season, and that 17-point win over Indiana still looks pretty good. (It would look better if Indiana hadn't lost to Navy, but that's just the way things are.)

    The Tigers are on a roll, and they don't face elite competition until Oct. 12. They won't be in the Top 10 without a win or two over the elite, but the SEC's name would surely have them in the Top 20.

19. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    With the implosion of the Oklahoma State Cowboys against West Virginia, Texas Tech became one of only three undefeated Big 12 teams left standing after Week 5. The Red Raiders enjoy the spoils of being an unbeaten squad in a power conference.

    They still have a lot to prove, but their average margin of victory is just over 25 points so far. It's against relatively good (not great) competition too. The Raiders are definitely on the radar for the Big 12 title, and that also puts them in the rankings.

18. Michigan Wolverines

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Michigan hasn't had great showings over the past few weeks, and that hurt the Wolverines a lot. If they had played their cards right and beaten Akron and Connecticut like they should have, then they'd be much closer to the Ohio State Buckeyes' rank.

    However, that did not happen, and Michigan is basically a Big Ten afterthought. There is a chance that this team could be the undefeated champion of its conference, so the voters wouldn't leave it completely out of the picture, but it has a lot to prove before moving anywhere near the Top 10.

17. Northwestern Wildcats

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Northwestern came out of the gate with a solid 14-point win over an upstart California squad. Since then, the Wildcats haven't won by any fewer than 14 points, and they are on their way to a great season.

    Unfortunately, their quality of competition is still lacking as of Week 5's events, and that does hold them back a bit. Alternatively, they face Ohio State in Week 6, which will solve that strength-of-schedule problem.

    The Wildcats have earned a spot among the Top 25, especially since there are only 20 FBS teams sporting the goose egg in the "loss" column.

16. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Overall Record: 3-1

    The South Carolina Gamecocks have lost just one game, and it was to the Georgia Bulldogs by 11 points. Even though Georgia is ranked highly here, South Carolina hasn't done anything to prove that it's worthy of a higher ranking since keeping that match close.

    The Gamecocks nearly lost to Vanderbilt and the UCF Knights in Weeks 3 and 5, and that leaves a lot of doubt. First, there's the question of whether the offense can hang with the best, and then there's the matter of a lackluster defense.

    Without the loss, South Carolina would be ranked much higher, but that loss just casts a long shadow over the past few game results.

15. UCLA Bruins

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    Overall Record: 3-0

    UCLA has three solid wins as of the end of Week 5, and the Bruins scored an incredible comeback over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Sept. 14. UCLA was down 21-3 with more than five minutes left in the first half, and the Bruins outscored the 'Huskers 38-0 over the remaining 35 minutes of the game to end with the impressive win.

    That victory showed that UCLA has talent, guts and the coaches necessary to adjust to nearly anything thrown at them. (Currently, Nebraska has the 15th-ranked scoring offense in the country, which UCLA shut down completely.)

    The Bruins aren't just ranked, they are a legitimate threat to any team in the country. Until UCLA score solid wins over "They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named," it will be relegated to outside the Top 10. However, the Top 15 is perfectly acceptable in the interim.

14. Washington Huskies

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Washington's 4-0 record comprises Boise State, Illinois, Idaho State and Arizona. It's not the strongest early schedule in the country, but it's passable. What's impressive about the whole situation is the stat line that Washington has posted.

    The Huskies are scoring 39.8 points per game off 500-plus total offensive yards, and they are allowing just 10.8 points per game. The Huskies may not get the respect that Oregon does, but they've played awfully similarly...except with more balance. (Oregon is still a run-first offense, of course.)

    The question isn't whether Washington belongs in the Top 25, it's whether it belongs higher in the rankings.

13. LSU Tigers

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    Overall Record: 4-1

    This is an example of how poll voters work in the minds of fans. While LSU is a power team from a power conference, the voters seem to forget one simple double-check question: Would X team beat Y team head-to-head?

    LSU has scored four good wins, including one over the TCU Horned Frogs, and its only loss is to the reigning SEC East champion by three points. The Tigers have earned a spot in the rankings without a doubt. The question that Washington fans would be asking is: Do you guys really thing LSU would beat Washington?

    Fans may never know exactly how the minds of AP Poll voters work, but this is exactly the type of situation that makes them scratch their heads.

    *Without a couple of these instances, an AP prediction piece would be completely invalid.

12. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Overall Record: 4-1

    Texas A&M's lone loss this season was to the reigning national champion by one touchdown. The Aggies are still in the hunt for almost anything at this point. However, this is a one-loss team, and nobody has the benefit of being ranked in the preseason in this scenario.

    The Aggies have an incredible offense that's averaging almost 50 points per game, but their defense is still a giant question mark. It's allowing more than 30 points per game, and that isn't going to get them into the elite ranks at all.

    A&M still has time to iron out kinks, but if the initial poll of the season came out after Week 5, it would be lucky to be even this high. It did compete with the current champion, though, so that's a big part of this No. 12 spot.

11. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Overall Record: 3-1

    Georgia's schedule wouldn't have nearly as many "#XX" tags beside its opponents on the past portion of the schedule if this were the first poll released, but it would have the benefit of seeing three of its opponents on this very list.

    According to the rankings here, Georgia is 2-1 against teams ranked in the Top 16 (South Carolina is the lowest-ranked). The Bulldogs have lost only to Clemson, and that was by a scant three points.

    If undefeated status didn't play so well into voters' minds, the Bulldogs would be well inside the Top 10. However, they will have to settle for being within striking distance of the Top 10. Honestly, that's extremely good for a one-loss team.

10. Louisville Cardinals

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Louisville appears this highly for a combination of various reasons:

    1. The American Athletic Conference has AQ status.
    2. Louisville is the undefeated favorite to win the conference title.
    3. Louisville beat then-No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl in January of 2013.

    Some of those reasons aren't good enough, and the "Will this team beat that team?" question gets raised once again here. However, predicting how 60 other people would vote is a little tricky.

    The bottom line is that Teddy Bridgewater is still a top-five Heisman candidate, and his team would be near the top of the rankings if it weren't for the SEC's presence in preseason polls.

    Whether voters want to admit it publicly or not, preseason babies get special treatment. Louisville's ranking here makes sense, given its easy schedule, and that's all there is to it.

    Innocent until proven guilty, and ranked until proven unworthy.

9. Miami Hurricanes

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Miami comes in just above Louisville because its schedule has been more difficult than the Cardinals' so far. Miami has three gargantuan games that it must win in order to be considered for anything resembling a national title: Florida, Florida State and the ACC title game.

    So far, the Hurricanes have won one of those games, because they've played just one of them as of Week 5. Miami is doing everything it can by winning decisively, and the voters would gladly give the Hurricanes an upper ranking as a reward.

8. Baylor Bears

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    Overall Record: 3-0

    Baylor has done everything in its power to earn respect. The Bears are ranked inside the top five in all four major categories (passing, rushing, scoring offense and scoring defense), and their margin of victory is nearly nine touchdowns.

    That's right, not nine points, nine safeties or nine field goals...nine touchdowns. Baylor hasn't faced any tough competition yet, but there is little reason to believe that a 70-point offense couldn't keep up with anyone.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but elite-ranked Oregon outranks Baylor in just one category: rushing. The Bears more than make up that difference in their passing game.

7. Florida State Seminoles

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Florida's freshman quarterback, Jameis Winston, made a statement (92.6 percent completion) against Pittsburgh in the season opener, and the Seminoles have rolled over all their opponents since then.

    The Seminoles are in an AQ conference that has as much depth as almost any other conference in the country, and their winning ways have earned them a spot in the Top 10. Though they've been ousted as the conference favorite due to Clemson's win over Georgia, they'll have the opportunity to make their season eventually.

    For now, Florida State is a Top 10 team with legitimate title hopes.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Overall Record: 5-0

    Ohio State has won the most games of any team in the country so far, as the Buckeyes have yet to take a week off. They've faced two strong teams in California and Wisconsin, and they performed well enough in those games.

    However, there is a question of defense. The Buckeyes are scoring an average of 48.2 points per game and allowing 17 points per game. The issue is that they do struggle against the good teams.

    That is to be expected to a point, but you're not getting into the Top Five off a seven-point win over a two-loss (sort of—full explanation in Wisconsin slide) Badgers squad.

5. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Per, Oklahoma is the most overrated team of the past five years, and the Sooners have already shown that they have no problem replacing Landry Jones at quarterback. They are undefeated, and they have good wins over solid opponents.

    That includes a Notre Dame squad that just made it to a national title game last season. (FYI: Oklahoma was 1-9 in the series before the 2013 meeting.) Oklahoma has earned a spot in the rankings quite handily.

    This is the Big 12 favorite following the Week 5 events, and Oklahoma is normally overrated. Therefore, it stands to reason that the voters would put the Sooners this high a little sooner than warranted.

    Oklahoma may deserve this rank before the end of the season, but it's basically just a place-holder for the undefeated Big 12 champion. If there isn't one of those, then this spot will belong to someone else.

4. Stanford Cardinal

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Much like the previous slide, this is a place-holding spot for a conference champion. Though the complete bias of the preseason rankings would be absent from an initial Week 5 ballot, it's still too early in the season to call shots on the "true" Top Five.

    Most teams have played two conference matches or fewer, and the limited amount of information simply gives a slightly clearer order for the elite teams.

    Stanford is 4-0 with mostly decisive victories in its wake. The one questionable one was over the Army Black Knights (34-20), in which the Cardinal had some trouble with stopping the run. The Cardinal are still alive for the Pac-12 title, but as you'll see from the next slide, there is a Pac-12 team that has better odds at winning the crystal football.

3. Clemson Tigers

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Clemson opened the 2013 season with a major win over the 2012 SEC East champion, the Georgia Bulldogs. That was the Tigers' second victory in a row over a power team from the SEC, and it was a single home run for Clemson's 2013 season.

    The Tigers have plenty of brutal games left against Florida State, South Carolina and others in between, but that first win over Georgia was crucial. It's one of the best wins of the sport this season, and it's helped legitimize the ACC.

    The Tigers are one of the title hopefuls from the conference, and until someone else steps up and knocks down a title contender, Clemson would remain right here...assuming the preseason polls weren't around making people vote for other teams.

2. Oregon Ducks

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Oregon's quarterback is the current Heisman leader, and the Ducks are ranked nationally in the top four in all but one major aspect of the game. The Ducks are scoring just shy of 60 points per game and allowing only 11.

    They have made teams as disparate as Nicholls State, Virginia, Tennessee and California look equally bad by winning in almost identical fashion over four straight games. When you are so good that everyone in the country, even FCS schools, look exactly the same, you're just playing on a different level.

    Oregon is at No. 2 solely because of the general sentiment that an undefeated reigning national champion should be ranked No. 1 until it loses if it is coached by Nick Saban. (Yeah, it's a weird rule.)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Overall Record: 4-0

    Alabama is the reigning national champion, the Crimson Tide have won three of the last four national titles, their quarterback from the last two titles is still under center and Nick Saban is still the head coach.

    Alabama is also undefeated as of Week 5, and the Tide already won the revenge game against Texas A&M 49-42, proving that their offense is more than good enough to make up for their slow-starting defense.

    Speaking of defense, even with that 42-point game included, Alabama is allowing a paltry 14.5 points per game. This appears to be another Kirby Smart-quality defense, and the voters would not bet against the back-to-back champions unless they actually lost a game.

    Alabama's here until someone directly pushes it off the top of the mountain.