College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Week 9's Top 25 Teams

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2013

College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Week 9's Top 25 Teams

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    Upset Saturday came and went in Week 7, with seven ranked teams losing and a couple of top-10 upsets shaking up the polls.

    Week 8 approaches with the rankings in turmoil, and with a number of high-profile games on the docket, they don't show any sign of restoring to order.

    Florida State heads to Clemson for a battle of top-five teams that could decide the ACC and have major BCS implications. Meanwhile, out west, Stanford looks to save its Rose Bowl hopes by beating unbeaten UCLA in Palo Alto.

    Those and a number of other gripping games will shape how the rankings look by Week 9.

Dropped from Rankings:

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    Auburn will finally come down to Earth at Texas A&M this week. Even if the Tigers keep it close by controlling the line of scrimmage on offense, a loss by any margin will drop it from No. 24 in the AP poll to unranked.

    Florida will still be one of the 25 best teams in America, but its resume won't be able to survive a second-straight loss, this time at Missouri. Already at No. 22, a third defeat of the season will drop it out of the rankings.

    Washington is the same deal as Florida: One of the 25 best teams in America, but victim of a brutal stretch of scheduling. After crazy-physical games against Stanford and Oregon, the Huskies might have nothing left in the tank when they travel to Arizona State this weekend.

25. Oregon State

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    James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 8 Opponent: at California

    Sooner or later, Oregon State will do enough to redeem its Week 1 loss to FCS Eastern Washington and earn the respect of pollsters.

    Since (and even in) that defeat, quarterback Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks have played out their respective minds, leading the nation in almost every volume-related passing metric.

    The Beavers should have no problem moving the ball on Cal's invisible defense in Berkley, and with another huge performance, they would be sitting at 6-1 with one of the scariest units in football.

    Also: An overtime win at Utah looks much better after how Stanford fared last week.

24. Texas Tech

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 8 Opponent: at West Virginia

    Texas Tech could very well fall from the ranks of the unbeaten this week, traveling to the same spot, Morgantown, where Oklahoma State met the same fate in Week 5.

    The Red Raiders struggled to put away Iowa State in Lubbock last week, and more than just that, they have yet to play anyone sans SMU and Kansas on the road.

    West Virginia doesn't set the world on fire, but it has a sound defense and a crowd capable of rattling freshman quarterbacks—whichever one (Baker Mayfield or Davis Webb) ends up getting the call.

    The loss won't send TTU out of the top 25, but it will send them hurtling toward the bottom.

23. Michigan State

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. Purdue

    Michigan State has finally, maybe, sorta found an offense to go with its world-beating defense, scoring 68 points in its two first Big Ten games.

    If it can continue that trend against Purdue this week—which, to be honest, almost every FBS team could—the Spartans will find themselves at 6-1 with just one loss (at Notre Dame) and plenty of momentum behind them.

    That one loss came at the hands of some dubious pass interference calls, and though it's not worth harping over, a few whistles gone the other way might have had MSU undefeated right now.

    Don't sleep on Sparty.

22. Notre Dame

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. USC

    This one is as simple as the transitive property: USC got gutted by Arizona State; Notre Dame beat Arizona State on a neutral field; Notre Dame should be able to handle USC in South Bend.

    That, of course, is not an exact science, and the Irish will have their hands full with the Ed Orgeron-led Trojans.

    But if it wins over a team that's loaded with blue-chip talent (on both sides of the ball), it will be hard to keep Notre Dame—theoretically sitting at 5-2—out of the top 25.

21. Wisconsin

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    Week 8 Opponent: at Illinois

    Wisconsin snuck back into the AP top 25 this past week, and with a win at Illinois, it should stand poised to move ahead of the ranked teams that lost and dropped.

    Saturday's game might be trickier than people realize. The Illini, while far from great, are not the same doormat they were last season. Wisconsin can't sleepwalk for 60 minutes and leave with a win.

    Still, the Badgers seem motivated after losing two early season games, and they should be able to maul Illinois at the point of attack.

    This team is still—probably—the second best in Big Ten country.

20. Northern Illinois

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    Week 8 Opponent: at Central Michigan

    Northern Illinois was playing better football at this time last year, despite having one loss then to zero losses now.

    But what does that matter? Undefeated is undefeated is undefeated. And at 7-0, the Huskies would have a very strong case for inclusion in the top 20.

    Central Michigan just beat Ohio—another good MAC team—at home last Saturday, so there's a chance NIU could be walking into a trap.

    But Jordan Lynch knows how to navigate this conference, and even if it's close, he should be able to will his team to a road victory.

19. Oklahoma State

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. TCU

    The Cowboys lost in Morgantown, but as we might see this Saturday, that's not a season-altering indictment. The Mountaineers are just good enough to feed off that crowd and beat some good teams.

    This may not be the same, high-powered OSU attack of years past, but it's still one of the 20-or-so best in America. And combined with a defense that doesn't feel fluky, this might be one of the most balanced teams Mike Gundy has ever coached.

    Oklahoma State should be able to cruise past surprisingly soft TCU this week and continue its slow ascent back up the rankings.

18. Virginia Tech

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 8 Opponent: BYE

    Shhh. Don't look now, but Logan Thomas has turned into a semi-decent quarterback.

    After becoming a punchline in the first few weeks, Thomas—whose physical talent was never in question—has averaged a rating of 159.7 in his last three games and hasn't thrown a single interception.

    If he can continue to move the offense and not turn the ball over, Virginia Tech can make a run to finish third (or even better) in the ACC. Its defense might legitimately be the best in America, and star cornerback Antone Exum hasn't even played a down yet.

    The only loss on the Hokies' resume came against Alabama, which means they're undefeated against teams that aren't ranked No. 1 in the country. 

17. Oklahoma

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    Week 8 Opponent: at Kansas

    Oklahoma was due for a letdown and was probably never as good as last week's top-10 ranking indicated.

    That the loss came so publicly against a hated rival, though, might make things seem worse than they are. The Sooners aren't great, but they are by no means as bad as they looked against Texas.

    Defensive injuries are a concern going forward, but Bob Stoops & Co. should have a plan and just enough depth to survive them for a run at the Big 12 crown.

    That starts with a statement win at Kansas on Saturday.

16. Fresno State

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. UNLV

    Fresno State has mostly cakewalks on its schedule for the rest of the year, and it should be able to coast undefeated into the new MWC Championship Game.

    Because of that lack of competition, it's not likely to make a big impression in any week and jump other teams that were victorious. Instead, it must simply take care of business by remaining undefeated, then hope for the teams ahead of it to lose.

    This week, the Bulldogs jump from No. 17 to No. 16 on the heels of Texas Tech's upset loss in Morgantown.

    But what will be their ceiling?

15. Georgia

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    Week 8 Opponent: at Vanderbilt

    The Bulldogs get a chance to stop the bleeding at Vanderbilt this weekend, and it's hard to think that they won't find a way to capitalize.

    The Commodores are not the same, plucky bunch they were last year, and even decimated by injuries, Georgia still has Aaron Murray and his will to keep this season on the rails.

    A win in Nashville will get the Bulldogs back on track and keep them squarely in the top 15. But they need to find some answers in the secondary, because Jordan Matthews will not make it easy on them

14. UCLA

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    Week 8 Opponent: at Stanford

    There's never a "good" time to get Stanford, but UCLA might be getting it at a particularly bad one.

    The Cardinal's season is at a crossroads after last week's upset loss at Utah, and coming back home to Palo Alto, they are sure to be playing with passion and fire.

    The Bruins are good enough, potentially, to pull the upset in Stanford Stadium. But Stanford has made a habit of ruining Pac-12 teams' perfect seasons and taking the air out of their national title hopes.

    Just ask Oregon.

13. Baylor

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. Iowa State

    Baylor could (and probably will) make Iowa State look like Wofford in Waco this week but still fall slightly down the rankings.

    If they do, the Bears would be merely a victim of circumstance—suffering the drop because of impressive performances behind them—instead of a team deserving of reprimand.

    Don't expect Bryce Petty & Co. to have the same troubles with Iowa State that they did with Kansas State. Especially at home, they should turn this into one of their signature lopsided affairs.

12. South Carolina

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    Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 8 Opponent: at Tennessee

    Like Baylor (and the next team on this list), South Carolina might fall down one spot even if it looks pretty good on Saturday.

    That might be trickier than people think, though. Tennessee gave Georgia all it could handle in Knoxville a couple of weeks ago, and Butch Jones might finally be turning the Vols into a semi-competitive unit.

    Still, South Carolina proved it could look good on the road last week, taking out some frustration on Arkansas and dropping 52 points in Fayetteville.

    This one might not be a 45-point rout, but it shouldn't stay all that close either.

11. Miami (FL)

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    Week 8 Opponent: at North Carolina

    Miami is stuck in a lose-lose situation this Thursday.

    Either it stumbles at 1-4 North Carolina—which, despite pronounced struggles, does have enough talent to stay close—and everyone talks about what a letdown it was.

    Or, the Hurricanes can make quick work of the Tar Heels, and everyone can talk about their easy schedule and how soft UNC is in 2013.

    No matter what happens, folks are impressed by Miami's undefeated start but still waiting for it to win a big game in convincing fashion. The fluky, turnover-riddled Florida game can only hold up for so long.

10. Stanford

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. UCLA

    There's no rest for the weary in Palo Alto, as Stanford must turn around from back-to-back slugfests with Washington and Utah by hosting undefeated UCLA.

    This is a crossroads moment for David Shaw's team, which once harbored national title hopes but is now laser-focused on getting back to the Rose Bowl.

    With Oregon (among other tough games) still looming on the schedule, the Cardinal cannot afford to drop one against UCLA in Week 8.

    Expect them to come out with fire and pull out the win.

9. Clemson

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. Florida State

    Folks have been unimpressed with a couple of Clemson performances this year, most recently a three-quarter sleepwalk—at home—against Boston College on Saturday.

    Yes, the Tigers were looking ahead to this week, but there is still no excuse. Florida State's final game before heading to Memorial Stadium was a 63-0 rout of Maryland.

    On top of the bye week factor that's working in FSU's favor, the Seminoles seem to have a more complete and consistent offense. Clemson's is more explosive, sure, but Florida State's is more efficient from down to down.

    A home loss, however, would not drop Clemson out of the top 10.

8. Missouri

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. Florida

    Even without James Franklin, Missouri should still have the horses—and, more importantly, the home crowd advantage—to beat a reeling Florida team in Columbia.

    So long as Maty Mauk doesn't get over-anxious, fitting the ball into tight spaces and turning it over, his legs and the weapons around him should be enough to post a couple of scores against the Gators.

    If the Tigers' defense, emboldened by what should be a great atmosphere, comes out and plays like it did at Georgia, it's hard to envision Tyler Murphy putting up more than 17-20 points.

    This team is for real.

7. Louisville

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. UCF

    Louisville faces its toughest test of the season on Friday night, squaring off with a UCF squad that won at Penn State and played South Carolina tough at home.

    Under normal circumstances, this might be a game the Cardinals overlooked and dropped. But with almost no other competitive teams on their schedule, this is one they've had circled.

    Teddy Bridgewater plays well in the biggest games—see: the 2013 Sugar Bowl—and this one will be played, at home, like Louisville's Super Bowl.

    UCF is good enough to hang around, but the Cardinals are too good to lose.

6. Texas A&M

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. Auburn

    No matter how bad Texas A&M's defense has looked—and make no mistake, that's pretty bad—Johnny Manziel is Johnny Manziel. He's almost impossible to beat.

    Auburn might be able to move the ball on the ground at Kyle Field this week, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where it can outscore the reigning Heisman Trophy winner for four quarters.

    The Aggies inspire less confidence than most of the other teams in the top 10, but having the best player in college football counts for a lot.

5. LSU

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    Week 8 Opponent: at Ole Miss

    The Tigers head to Oxford to play Ole Miss this week, the last of a pretty tough five-game stretch that also included Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Florida.

    If LSU wins and emerges from that spell 4-1, it will get a chance to (essentially) rest up against Furman before heading to Tuscaloosa to play No. 1 Alabama.

    If not for that fact, there was a chance Ole Miss might have caught LSU napping. It did, after all, almost win in Baton Rogue last year.

    But LSU is focused on the task at hand; when it plays the Tide in three weeks, it wants a chance to tie them in the SEC standings. The cream will rise to the top.

4. Ohio State

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. Iowa

    There's not much for Ohio State to do at this point besides take care of business, stay undefeated, and wait for the teams around it to fall.

    No one will get too excited if/when it beats Iowa in Columbus this week, but the Buckeyes can still make a claim for the BCS National Championship if they remain undefeated all season and teams like Oregon lose.

    Whoever wins the Florida State-Clemson game will, in all likelihood, pass Ohio State in the polls.

    But both of those teams still have an in-state SEC opponent (Florida and South Carolina) left on their schedule, so neither would be assured to stay there all season.

3. Florida State

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    Week 8 Opponent: at Clemson

    Jameis Winston has never seen a road environment like the one he'll see in Clemson on Saturday. But what has he done to make us think he cannot handle it?

    Florida State's offense will be the best unit on the field at Memorial Stadium, and it's defense will probably be the third.

    No matter how good Clemson's defense has looked in recent weeks, there are still exploitable holes in its secondary that Winston, Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin are capable of torching.

    This is a legitimate contender for the BCS National Championship—and after this weekend, it will finally be discussed that way.

2. Oregon

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    Week 8 Opponent: vs. Washington State

    Some might be tempted to put the winner of Clemson-Florida State at No. 2, but what Oregon showed at Washington last week should be enough to keep it firmly entrenched in that spot.

    The Ducks' offense made a very good defense look bad on its home field, and their defense was far from shabby too. This might be the most complete team that's ever played in Eugene.

    Don't expect a letdown against Washington State this week, as Oregon has its eyes squarely on the prize and thinks this might finally be its year to win it all.

1. Alabama

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    Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 8 Opponent: vs. Arkansas

    Alabama is undefeated, as you all know, and hosting Arkansas—a team coming off a 45-point loss—at Bryant-Denny Stadium this week.

    But here's the thing: This is the third hardest game left on its schedule.

    Other than a home tilt with LSU and the Iron Bowl at Auburn, no team Alabama has to play stands a better chance of knocking it off (in the regular season) than the run-first Razorbacks.

    Don't think Alabama doesn't know that. It will not fall asleep at the wheel and let Arkansas hang around. This team is too well-coached for a letdown.