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College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Top 25 Teams After Week 9

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Top 25 Teams After Week 9

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    After a wild Week 8 that saw nine ranked teams lose and shook up the rankings, order should be restored to college football this coming weekend.

    That, of course, could prove to be totally wrong and blow up in my face. But unlike last Saturday, there just aren't many places where ranked teams might fall.

    The two best games of the weekend take place in Oregon. UCLA travels to Autzen for a game with the Ducks, and Stanford heads to Corvallis to play Oregon State.

    Missouri hosting South Carolina and Oklahoma hosting Texas Tech also provide some intrigue, but beyond all that, the weekend reeks of potential chalk.

    Here's what the AP poll might look like on Sunday morning.

Dropped from Rankings

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    Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

    South Carolina

    The Gamecocks lost a game they should have won at Tennessee last week. Without quarterback Connor Shaw in the lineup, they might suffer the same fate at Missouri. The Tigers are for real and still have dreams of crashing the BCS—if not more.

     

    Nebraska 

    The Cornhuskers might not lose at Minnesota this week, but they could struggle on the road against a team that showed serious fight in a win at Northwestern. Needing a late-game score to beat the Gophers will be enough to expel Nebraska from the bottom of the rankings.

25. Arizona State

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Arizona State has a bye in Week 9, but that just means that the enduring image of blowing out Washington last week will not be tainted.

    Week 10 is the point in the season where having two losses will not be a bad thing. The Sun Devils have been inconsistent in spots, but they also boast wins over Washington, Wisconsin and USC.

    Few teams out there have more quality wins.

24. Notre Dame

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    Notre Dame, like Arizona State, has two losses on the year and boasts a win over USC.

    It also boasts a win over the Sun Devils.

    At least for this week, a potential Tommy Rees injury should not derail the Irish. Air Force is 1-5 and one of the very worst FBS teams. The defense should be enough to carry Notre Dame to an easy win.

    Going forward, though, if they want to stay in these rankings, the Irish will need someone other than Andrew Hendrix under center.

23. Michigan

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Michigan's defense is a mess and its offense—while very good—is too mistake-prone to be trusted.

    But none of that matters so long as it keeps winning.

    It wasn't pretty last week, but beating an improved Indiana team is nothing to scoff at—especially when 63 points are scored in the process.

    The Wolverines get a bye this week and a chance to prepare for a game with not-quite-little-brother Michigan State.

22. Northern Illinois

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    This won't be the week when Northern Illinois forces people to take notice of its undefeated record. Eastern Michigan is among the worst FBS teams, so hardly anything the Huskies can do would truly impress public voters.

    Eventually, though, if Jordan Lynch and Co. keep winning, voters will have to take stock and recognize them as the MAC version of Boise State.

    Blessed with an easy schedule, games against Ball State and at Toledo will be NIU's only tough competition of the regular season, but the conference championship could offer a nice stage as well.

21. Wisconsin

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    Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

    Wisconsin made a strong statement in Jeff Sagarin's ratings, placing at No. 8 in the country—two spots ahead of Ohio State despite losing head-to-head and having two total losses.

    Had Pac-12 refs not jobbed them out of a win at Arizona State, the Badgers would have one loss and probably rank next to teams like Auburn or Virginia Tech. But alas, this is the hand they were dealt.

    Just don't sleep on the Badgers and don't be surprised if they run the table from here. After a bye in Week 9, they travel to Kinnick Stadium for a tricky game with Iowa.

20. Louisville

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    Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    Will Louisville be able to get up for this week's game at USF? After coughing up their hopes at the national title last week, will the Cardinals show a tough chin and bounce back?

    You'd have to think the answer is yes. South Florida—despite being 2-0 in the AAC—has looked awful this year, so the Cardinals won't even need to play their best game to come out on top.

    But the Bulls did play them tough in 2012, so it's not like the precedent hasn't been set. USF might be able to stick around for a quarter or two before fading out.

19. UCF

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    Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    Much ado has been made about UCF's ranking this week, specifically in relation to Louisville.

    The Knights and Cardinals both have one loss, but UCF won the head-to-head (in Louisville) and only lost to SEC giant South Carolina.

    AP voters may not have thought this through before submitting last week's ballot, but after all the backlash it has created, media pollsters should issue a mea culpa and rank the Knights above the Cardinals.

    That will be made easy once UCF drills UConn.

18. Oklahoma State

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    Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    Oklahoma State doesn't have the traditional run 'n' gun Cowboys offense this year, but the defense is better than folks in Stillwater have seen in quite some time.

    It's only played one really bad game this year, but unfortunately, unlike some of the undefeated teams ranked ahead of it, OSU was unable to grab victory from the jaws of defeat and lost to West Virginia in Morgantown.

    Which is all a long-winded way of saying that this team might be underrated. Nobody, in my humble opinion, poses a bigger threat to Baylor's Big 12 championship hopes than the Cowboys.

    And they'll continue to prove that with a convincing win at Iowa State this week.

17. Texas Tech

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    Dan Friend-USA TODAY Sports

    This could be the week that Texas Tech finally falls back to Earth, and I predict that it will be.

    Oklahoma is definitely beatable—as Texas made apparent in the Red River Shootout—but the Red Raiders have still yet to face a defensive front seven of that caliber and could have trouble moving the ball with the same ease they have all season.

    And while Blake Bell isn't good enough to pick apart the TTU secondary, he and Brennan Clay are big and strong enough to push around a defense that's yet to be tested by a unit this physical.

    Kliff "Gosling" Kingsbury is still an amazing coach who deserves credit for this first-year turnaround. But his team does not belong in America's top 10.

16. UCLA

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    Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    UCLA might not be the best two-loss team in the country after losing at Oregon this coming Saturday, but it will certainly be the team whose losses look the most forgivable.

    Schedule makers did the Bruins in this year, forcing them to travel from Palo Alto to Eugene in back-to-back weeks for consecutive games with legitimate BCS contenders.

    Don't expect Brett Hundley and Co. to wilt against Oregon, which looked exploitable against Washington State in small doses last weekend. This team is too good to get run off the field by halftime.

    But the Ducks are on a mission this year, so two straight losses seems inevitable.

15. Fresno State

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    Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

    Fresno State should find things easy at San Diego State this year. The Aztecs have been embarrassed by teams like Ohio State and Eastern Illinois this season.

    Then again, the Bulldogs have looked far from elite away from home, struggling to win at Hawaii in their closest thing to a road test.

    Derek Carr and the offense are certainly worthy of a top-15 ranking, but the Fresno State defense has some glaring deficiencies that need to be remedied ASAP.

    Otherwise, if the Bulldogs indeed run the table and crash the BCS, they could be in for a rude and public awakening.

14. Texas A&M

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    So long as Johnny Manziel isn't broken in half, he will find a way to play, and the Texas A&M offense will find a way to score points.

    Teams capable of scoring with the Aggies are capable of beating them. That was the case with Alabama, Auburn and (almost) Ole Miss. It's something that will plague this team all year.

    But in Week 9, at home against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M does not have an opponent capable of scoring with it and should get back to its winning ways.

    At least if Johnny Football suits up.

13. Oklahoma

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Oklahoma catches Texas Tech in a good spot, presenting the Red Raiders with a "rubber meets the road" type of game that it should be able to win at home.

    People are down on the Sooners after watching them lose to Texas, which is fair, but the Longhorns might not be as bad as we think. No matter how bad they've looked in spots, Mack Brown's team is as good on paper as just about any in America.

    Don't sleep on OU—especially with its improved defense—to still make a run toward the BCS. A quality win over Texas Tech would be a good start to that process and would vault the Sooners back near the top 10.

12. Virginia Tech

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    There are better one-loss teams out there than Virginia Tech, but there are none whose sole slip-up is quite as forgivable.

    Despite some ugly offensive performances, the Hokies have yet to lose against any team that wasn't No. 1 Alabama, and their defense could very well be the best in America.

    Sound on every level—especially in the secondary—Virginia Tech's D can keep it close with just about any team in the country. Now that Logan Thomas looks like a viable quarterback, who's to say this team can't win an ACC title?

    The best unit on the field always has a shot to win.

11. LSU

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    Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    Let's not blow that Ole Miss game out of proportion. The Rebels have three losses, sure, but all came against teams (Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M) projected in next week's top-15.

    LSU may have lost to an unranked team last week, but it didn't lose to a bad one.

    Still, there is reason to think twice about QB Zach Mettenberger, who had played near-perfect football all season before taking a big step back and throwing three picks in Oxford. The talent is there, but he can't afford to let one bad game turn into another.

    Furman couldn't be coming to Baton Rogue at a better time.

10. Auburn

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    Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    There are no words to describe the job that Gus Malzahn has done this year, taking a team that hit historic lows last year and lifting it—almost immediately—into a top-10 unit.

    Given the way Auburn's schedule lays out, it might be more than just that.

    It could realistically host Alabama at the end of the year with a one-loss record and a shot to make BCS National Championship-level noise.

    How insane is that?

    The Tigers should have no problem with Florida Atlantic at home this week, and with Texas Tech's projected loss in Norman, that would move them to No. 10 in the rankings.

9. Clemson

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Clemson can still salvage the season by winning out from here, but it will be hard for the Tigers to pick up the pieces after being so vividly embarrassed in their biggest game.

    These next few games rest on the shoulders of head coach Dabo Swinney. The talent is there for this team to win out, but he needs to make sure his team wakes up and comes out motivated to play.

    This week's game at Maryland looked, at the start of the season, like a potential trap game. But now that the Terps' entire roster is injured, Clemson should be able to win with ease.

8. Stanford

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    Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    Stanford has yet another big test on Saturday, traveling to Corvallis for a date with Sean Mannion, Brandin Cooks and the Oregon State Beavers.

    The Cardinal's last road game against a good offense didn't go so well, resulting in a loss at Utah. But after beating down UCLA last weekend, this team appears to be laser-focused on running the rest of the table and getting back to the Rose Bowl.

    Oregon State will make it close, but Stanford should do just enough to squeak out a win.

7. Miami

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    Miami is a little beat-up right now, but it's nothing that a home game against Wake Forest shouldn't cure.

    Because of its schedule—that win against Florida doesn't look as good as it did at the time—and the way it's struggled against teams like UNC, Miami will remain the lowest-ranked squad among the BCS undefeateds.

    But zero losses is still zero losses. And so long as they keep that up, the Hurricanes can continue to dream big.

6. Baylor

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Kansas State laid out the blueprint for stopping Baylor, and eventually—one would have to think—someone will deploy it well enough to catch the Bears sleeping and hand them a loss.

    Kansas will not be that team.

    Baylor has done most of its impressive work in Waco this year, but it should be able to take the show on the road this week and drop a casual 60 or 70 points in Lawrence.

    From there, however, Big 12 play finally starts to heat up.

5. Ohio State

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Ohio State is still undefeated, which is what everyone expected, but it has also looked increasingly vulnerable, which is kind of a shock.

    Penn State won't walk into Columbus and beat the Buckeyes on Saturday, but Bill O'Brien's team is well-coached and talented enough to give them a four-quarter game.

    That holds doubly true if Ohio State sleepwalks for a half like it did against Iowa.

    Undefeated teams don't normally drop a spot after winning—especially this late in the season—but if the Buckeyes struggle again, Missouri will have a chance to hop them.

4. Missouri

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Missouri is for real this year, and it's only a matter of time before people start to take it seriously.

    Yes, the Tigers have enjoyed some luck, catching Georgia, Florida and now South Carolina when they were beaten up and using backups at important offensive positions.

    But Mizzou is also using a redshirt freshman, Maty Mauk, at quarterback after losing James Franklin, and one game into that experiment, he appears to be doing just fine.

    Connor Shaw might have been able to lead his team to a win in Columbia (Mo.). But Dylan Thompson might find it tough.

3. Florida State

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    Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

    Florida State could be in trouble this week.

    N.C. State caught the Seminoles napping in 2012, handing them a 17-16 loss and derailing any dreams they had of playing for a national title.

    This year, the Wolfpack catch FSU in a "letdown-lookahead sandwich" between last week's huge game at Clemson and next week's home tilt with Miami. That's a perfect trap-game situation.

    Jimbo Fisher needs to wake his boys up on Saturday. Otherwise, despite being the much better team, they could be in for a long afternoon.

2. Oregon

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    Alabama has done nothing to relinquish its stranglehold on the No. 1 spot in the polls, but if Oregon keeps looking this good every weekend, it will be hard to keep the Ducks at bay.

    With College Gameday in Eugene for the game against UCLA, don't expect Marcus Mariota and Co. to be caught sleeping for two quarters like they were against Washington State.

    This team will come out hell-bent on making a prime-time statement, and though the Bruins might hang around for a little while, eventually UO's athletes will be too much to handle.

1. Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Alabama should have no trouble with Tennessee this week in Tuscaloosa; the Vols have looked like a completely different team away from Neyland Stadium.

    But the Tide still need to make a statement.

    Oregon played Tennessee in Eugene earlier this year and dismantled it, running up the score in a 59-14 win.

    It's not often that SEC and Pac-12 teams share a common opponent, so this is a chance for Alabama to assert its dominance and quiet some of the "Oregon for No. 1" sentiment.

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