Week 9 is always an interesting time for the Associated Press college football rankings. While usually cited as the standard bearer within media and fan circles for the first half of the college football season, the AP rankings begin giving way to the BCS standings come Sunday.
College football's playoff system is still a year away, meaning the confounding computers still serve as our bowl-game overlord. While the two rankings are never all that different, the BCS holds control of the college football landscape until the sweet plus-one salvation comes.
Of course, that's not to say the AP poll suddenly slips our mind. The Associated Press still awards its own national championship each season, which means the possibility of a "split" is always looming in the offing. And as long as the 2013 season continues foraging forward with numerous teams with national-title hopes, paying attention to both polls is a must.
Heading into Week 9, though, the title picture got some much-needed clarity. Six of the nation's 11 best teams went down in last week's slate of games, the first time all season that major upsets were truly in the air.
With those loses come major changes. Oregon and Alabama are safe atop the rankings with their relatively easy victories, and Ohio State will hang on inside the Top Five despite not looking all that great against Iowa.
As for the rest? Well, we'll just have to find out. With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of my projections for the AP Top 25 this week, followed by some key storylines we all should be following.
|Projected Week 9 AP Rankings|
Week 9 Storylines
Does Stanford Still Have a Shot at the National Title?
Most would have answered with an emphatic "no" heading into Week 8. Stanford's loss to Utah is the exact type of unnecessary defeat that has derailed many promising seasons, and it may well do the same to the Cardinal this year.
But with a dominant second-half performance against UCLA on Saturday, it's not out of the realm of possibilities. The Cardinal will find themselves back inside the Top 10 and looking up only at perhaps only Clemson among one-loss teams.
Thus one could very easily argue that Stanford is in the best position of all one-loss teams. That's especially the case with the Cardinal looking at a possible season-defining matchup against second-ranked Oregon coming on Nov. 7. The Ducks have to get through a deflated UCLA, and Stanford needs to defeat Oregon State, but both results seem close to locked down at this juncture.
Stanford hosts the somewhat strange Thursday night showcase, and that could be a huge factor for its hopes of defeating Marcus Mariota and Co. The Ducks lost to David Shaw's club in Eugene last season, and they struggled a bit defensively against Washington before routing the Huskies in the fourth quarter.
It's unlikely Stanford wins, but that off chance keeps its national title game hopes alive. The Pac-12 is probably the second-best conference in the nation, meaning the Cardinal or Ducks (should they lose to Stanford or UCLA) would likely get the nod over a hypothetical one-loss Ohio State, Florida State or Clemson.
Don't go betting your mortgage on Stanford at 100-1 (per Bovada) to win the national title. But just be cognizant of the fact that the Cardinal might not be dead just yet.
Is Ohio State Good? Or Just Lucky to be in the Big Ten?
Because, honestly, I have no idea at this point. Much has been made about Urban Meyer's ongoing 19-game winning streak since taking over in Columbus. But perhaps more should and will be made of how shaky the Buckeyes have looked in some of those victories this season—and whom they've been playing when said shakiness occurs.
Ohio State needed a 24-point second half to come from behind and defeat the upset-minded Iowa Hawkeyes, 34-24. Oh, I should mention they were playing at home. On homecoming afternoon. Against a team that allowed Connor Cook to look like a pretty good collegiate quarterback.
The Buckeyes have developed a reputation this season for just barely getting by. They needed a 21-point fourth quarter to defeat Northwestern a couple of weeks ago and nearly allowed Wisconsin to make a comeback in their Big Ten opener. Coupled with games against Buffalo and Cal that were closer than their final scores, it's hard to find a spot where Meyer's team has looked properly ranked.
Here's the thing: This nonsense will probably keep going. The Big Ten is in what feels like its umpteenth "down" season. Ohio State and Wisconsin are the only ranked teams in the conference, and it's kind of tough to see what the voters see in the Badgers. The remainder of the Buckeyes' schedule is filled to the brim with unranked opponents, though I suspect rival Michigan will come return this week after moving to 6-1.
Respect, though. It's a crazy thing. The Buckeyes are undefeated, and will stay ranked fourth in the nation. But does anyone actually think they're the fourth-best team in the land? With that secondary? I'm not so sure.
Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde were the heroes against Iowa and will probably don a cape once or twice more this season. It's just hard to know whether that's a good thing.
Are We Underestimating Baylor? Or Are They Just Getting Good Schedule Luck?
Because the Bears just continue to astound. The nation's highest scoring offense again coasted over the 50-point mark on Saturday, scoring a 71-7 victory over Iowa State. Baylor has now scored at least 50 points in five of its six games.
Running back Lache Seastrunk continues to establish himself as perhaps the best NFL running back prospect in all of college football. The 5'10" junior added 118 more yards and two touchdowns to his total against the Cyclones, his fifth 100-yard game of the season.
And the crazy thing is he's been the second-best player on his own team. Quarterback Bryce Petty is quietly putting up a 2013 campaign that rivals anything Robert Griffin III did at the school. Petty has cobbled together four games where his QBR is better than 90, and he's been picked off only once in leading Baylor to its 6-0 start.
Schedule luck definitely plays a factor. Baylor has played exactly zero teams with a number next to its school name. It's faced exactly one school with a winning record thus far—a Buffalo team that allowed the Bears to drop 70 points. The Bears are exactly what Ohio State expected to be this preseason.
They aren't exactly likely to see much resistance this coming week against Kansas. The Jayhawks are sitting at 2-4 after losing to Oklahoma on Saturday, their two victories coming against South Dakota and Louisiana Tech. Not exactly powerhouses.
But following next week's assured romp, we'll start getting a good view of how good this team will be. The Bears play Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in successive games starting on Nov. 7, a stretch that will establish them as national title contenders or as cupcake-pulverizing frauds.
The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Just try to contain your excitement when dreaming of a possible Baylor-Oregon national championship game. For now.
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