College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Week 12's Top 25 Teams

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2013

College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Week 12's Top 25 Teams

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    It happens every year—at least when we're lucky—and last year, it happened at this precise moment.

    With the 2012 season hurtling toward BCS controversy, Week 11 saw undefeated teams start to drop like flies, breaking the seal for a number of upsets that followed and eventually setting up a BCS National Championship Game that included a team with one loss.

    Alabama lost for the first time in 13 games, falling to some unknown quarterback named Johnny Manziel, and Louisville got thrashed by Syracuse. The following week, Oregon lost to Stanford and Kansas State lost to Baylor—and just like that, there was only one bowl-eligible team, Notre Dame, with zero losses.

    The schedule is set for similar chaos in 2013, with three undefeated teams and national title contenders—Alabama, Oregon and Baylor—all facing, perhaps, their toughest remaining test of the season.

    Will Week 11, once again, be the one that defines the season? Or will chalk continue to reign supreme?

    Here's a guess at what the wreckage might look like.

    Note: Projections are for the Week 12 AP Poll, not the BCS rankings.

Dropped from Rankings

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    Fresno State

    Fresno State has had trouble beating mediocre teams like San Diego State and Hawaii this year, but quarterback Derek Carr has bailed it out. Against Wyoming this week, there's a chance he won't even be the best quarterback on the field. Brett Smith and the Cowboys pull a huge upset at home.

     

    Arizona State

    Arizona State is a very good team, but Utah has already shown the ability to beat a very good team—the Stanford Cardinal—in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The health of Travis Wilson concerns me, but if he's able to play, the Utes should be able to steal this one at home.

25. Ole Miss

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Arkansas

    Ole Miss turned a corner in its upset win over LSU, and now that the three-game midseason losing streak is over, it is in position to get back on track and return to the polls.

    The Rebels got a bye last week and will take to their home field rested for a game against struggling Arkansas. That is a dangerous combination that could easily result in a blowout-type statement.

    Ole Miss' young defense was awfully impressive against the LSU running game, and I expect them to feed off that momentum against a similarly good Arkansas attack. 

     

24. Georgia

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Appalachian State

    So long as it avoids a "2007 Michigan" against Appalachian State this week, Georgia could be poised for a triumphant return to the polls.

    This season obviously hasn't gone as planned for Aaron Murray and the 'Dawgs, but the senior quarterback deserves (a lot of) credit for keeping the ship afloat in the midst of so many injuries.

    The Bulldogs don't control their own fate, but there are still realistic paths they could take to the SEC championship game.

    And from there, they would be just 60 minutes away from crashing the BCS.

     

23. Texas Tech

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Kansas State

    To date, this will be the most important weekend of Kliff Kingsbury's head coaching career.

    Kansas State is a good-not-great opponent that could easily walk into Lubbock and leave with a win. If Kingsbury doesn't get his boys ready to play, they could be in store for a Northwestern-esque collapse after losing their perfect season.

    But unlike the Wildcats, Texas Tech is not ravaged by injuries in addition to being demoralized, and Kingsbury—I think—is too good of a coach to allow his team to crumble.

    It'll be close, but TTU should be able to come out victorious and remain in the poll.

     

22. Notre Dame

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    Week 11 Opponent: at Pittsburgh

    If Notre Dame plays like it did against Navy last week, it could easily (and probably will) lose this game at Pittsburgh—a team that always plays the Irish hard.

    The Panthers have some underrated weapons on the outside, a decent home-field advantage and a defensive tackle in Aaron Donald who might well be the best defender in college football.

    Notre Dame can't afford to look ahead on its schedule, where games against BYU and Stanford lurk. I don't think they will, but if they do, this could be a season-defining loss.

     

21. Northern Illinois

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    Week 11 Opponent: BYE

    Even with the chaos projected to take place on front of them, the Huskies will not be able to make too big of a move up the rankings.

    Not only is NIU on a bye this week—depriving it of a chance to make yet another statement about its abilities—it is genuinely disliked by voters, who seem to have suffered some sort of Northern Illinois fatigue after a second consecutive season of dominance in the MAC.

    Still, if Fresno State does actually go down, the Huskies won't care a lick about being disrespected in the AP Poll. So long as they hold off every AAC team in the BCS rankings, they could be in line for another BCS bowl.

20. Miami

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    Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Virginia Tech

    I'm ready for you, Miami fans, most (if not all) of whom have repeatedly called me biased this year despite the fact that I root for your team almost every week and genuinely want it to be good.

    But "want" and "think" are very different things, and especially with Duke Johnson out for the season with a bum ankle, I think Saturday's loss in Tallahassee was not the last on the schedule.

    Virginia Tech is reeling a bit right now, but the Hokies defense is still one of the three or four best in America. Getting the 'Canes in a letdown spot, expect that unit to come out enthused and win ugly in Sun Life Stadium.

19. Oklahoma

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    Week 11 Opponent: at Baylor

    Assuming Oklahoma loses at Baylor—which should by no means just be assumed—the extent of its plummet down the rankings would depend on margin of defeat.

    Having it all the way down here suggests that the loss was a convincing one; Baylor won't blow them off of the field, but it will cover the spread and expose some massive holes in the Sooners' defense.

    Those holes are mostly injury related, and "banged up" is the last thing you want your defense to be when you come riding into Waco. Is Blake Bell really good enough to win a shootout?

18. Wisconsin

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. BYU

    Wisconsin is one of the 15 best teams in America, and that's a conservative estimate.

    If they beat BYU in Madison this week—which, again, should by no means just be assumed—the Badgers will be 7-2 with road losses at Ohio State and Arizona State. 

    Also, if not for an atrocious botched call by the infamous Pac-12 refs, that record would actually be 8-1 with a loss at Ohio State and quality wins over Arizona State and BYU.

    That resume would have Wisconsin flirting with the top 10 and be much more indicative of how good this team actually is. But alas, this is the hand it has been dealt.

17. Louisville

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    Week 11 Opponent: at Connecticut

    Louisville was No. 19 in the country when it lost to Connecticut at home last season, so even though the Huskies are 0-8 and generally one of the worst teams in college football, perhaps it should not take this week's game so lightly.

    The Huskies did, after all, almost beat Michigan in Storrs earlier this year. And even though the Wolverines are far from a powerhouse, what evidence do we have suggesting Louisville is that much better?

    For the most part, I am kidding. The Cardinals should win by at least 40 points. But weirder things have almost definitely happened...right?

16. UCF

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Houston

    An AAC championship might be on the line when UCF hosts Houston this week, as both teams control their own destiny and will take an important lead by winning in Orlando.

    If not for the stacked slate of games in Week 11, people might be more attuned to how big (and potentially exciting) this game will be. Had it taken place n Week 10, it might have gotten some actual mainstream hype.

    But even with most eyes averted elsewhere, UCF should be ready for a dogfight and come out with a quality win. This team is on a crash course with the BCS.

15. LSU

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    Week 11 Opponent: at Alabama

    LSU could easily beat Alabama on Saturday. It really could. I would not be surprised in the slightest if Les Miles and Co. march into Tuscaloosa and leave with a win.

    I just don't want to be the idiot who calls it.

    Still, if the Tigers play Alabama close but lose by a small margin—the most likely outcome of the game—voters will not treat them too harshly in the polls. Even with three losses, LSU would still find itself in America's top 15.

    How many teams could walk into Bryant-Denny Stadium without getting drilled?

     

14. Michigan State

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    Week 11 Opponent: BYE

    Michigan State gets a well-earned bye in Week 11, a chance to bask in the glow of last week's dominant performance and rout of rival Michigan.

    But the Spartans will be on the edge of their collective seat come Saturday, doing the unthinkable by rooting for those Wolverines to beat Nebraska in Ann Arbor.

    A Michigan win would give MSU a two-game lead in the Legends division, essentially assuring it a spot in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State.

    A Nebraska win would instead make Week 12, when Michigan State travels to Lincoln, an essential play-in game for that spot.

13. UCLA

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    Week 11 Opponent: at Arizona

    Vegas isn't bullish on UCLA's chances this weekend, making it a short 1.5-point favorite over the Wildcats in Tuscon, according to VegasInsider.

    But I have a little bit more confidence. Say what you will about year-to-year trends, I can't get the image of last year's Bruins-Wildcats game—a 66-10 UCLA win—out of my head.

    I think the Bruins have improved from last year to this, and I think their defensive front seven is strong enough to keep Ka'Deem Carey in check. The Arizona passing game doesn't scare me one bit.

12. Oklahoma State

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Kansas

    Oklahoma State made a big statement at Texas Tech last Saturday, and as a reward, it gets to unwind with a home game against lowly Kansas—the Big 12 equivalent of sticking your toes in a foot bath after a hard day's work on the ranch.

    But this is the last cupcake on the Cowboys' schedule, which includes games against Texas (in Austin), Baylor and rival Oklahoma to end the year.

    OSU has traditionally been a team defined by passing, using a high-octane offense to mask its defensive deficiencies. This year, however, it has morphed into a run-first offense with a defense that might actually be its strength.

    In a weird year for the Big 12, it's hard to say whether that's a good thing or a bad one.

    I'll vote good.

11. South Carolina

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    Week 11 Opponent: BYE

    The Gamecocks took care of business against Mississippi State last week, and they continue to hold high hopes in the SEC East despite not controlling their own destiny.

    So long as it beats Florida in Week 12, South Carolina would be one loss from Missouri (which still plays Texas A&M and at Ole Miss) and Georgia (which still plays at Auburn) away from swooping in and winning the division without any tiebreakers.

    If Connor Shaw is healthy, this team might be good enough to hang with an SEC West powerhouse in Atlanta—especially if Jadeveon Clowney gets fired up and comes out ready to play.

10. Texas A&M

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Mississippi State

    The Aggies should make quick work of the Bulldogs in College Station, and depending on what happens in Tuscaloosa, they might be able to keep a faint hope of winning the SEC alive.

    Texas A&M has its work cut out for it, though. Manziel and Co. need to win all of their remaining games—including at LSU and home against Mizzou—then hope for Alabama to lose at Auburn in addition to this weekend.

    It doesn't seem likely, but by winning out, the Aggies would still be putting themselves in position for a potential BCS at-large bid. Which bowl wouldn't want Manziel and the massive ratings he would draw to play in their game?

9. Missouri

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    Week 11 Opponent: at Kentucky

    Missouri, while very good, is in no position to take things for granted—even on a road trip to Lexington for a game against woeful Kentucky.

    Assuming they win, though, the Tigers would be setting themselves up for a two-game stretch at the end of November that would have massive implications across the SEC (and, by extension, America).

    Games at Ole Miss and home against Texas A&M would both be very losable for Mizzou, which needs to win out for an assured spot in the SEC Championship Game.

    If they get to Atlanta, no one can say the Tigers didn't earn it.

8. Clemson

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    Week 11 Opponent: BYE

    Clemson gets a bye in Week 11 and a de facto bye against The Citadel in Week 13. But Weeks 12 and 14 will both present an interesting challenge.

    First comes a home game with Georgia Tech, which the Tigers should be able to handle. But the Jackets can really move the ball on the ground and would represent the second-hardest ACC opponent on Clemson's schedule.

    After that, the Tigers end the season in traditional style with a road game against in-state rival South Carolina. We all know the challenges that will present.

    If Clemson wins both, no one would be able to argue its inevitable spot in a BCS bowl. Despite the dizzying nadir it reached against Florida State, this season can still be salvaged.

7. Auburn

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    Week 11 Opponent: at Tennessee

    Auburn catches a break this week, heading into Knoxville to play a Tennessee team that is down its starting quarterback, Justin Worley.

    The Vols have been very frisky at home this season, and there's a chance that they are again on Saturday. But with freshman Joshua Dobbs starting under center, it's hard to imagine they put up enough points to score an upset over Auburn.

    Still, the Tigers would be wise to tread carefully, as that Neyland Stadium crowd has given fits to both Georgia and South Carolina this year. This will be a good test of resolve for a young team that needs it.

6. Oregon

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    Week 11 Opponent: at Stanford

    I think Oregon is a better team that Stanford; that is, there are a handful of teams that Oregon could beat on a neutral field that Stanford simply could not.

    But the Cardinal match up better with Oregon than any other team in the country, getting superior line play on both sides of the ball, which allows them to throw a wrench into almost everything the Ducks do.

    Marcus Mariota will have to play the game of his life against a Cardinal secondary that is big, physical and deep. He will not have his usual spate of wide-open receivers streaking open down the field.

    And as for Mark Helfrich: How can we be sure about his coaching in close, late-game situations? When has he ever had to demonstrate that skill?

    I think that this game is a coin-flip, and I would not be "shocked" if Oregon won by a couple of touchdowns. But in a crazy Week 11, I would be even less shocked to see it lose outright.

     

5. Stanford

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Oregon

    After beating up on undefeated Oregon—arguably the best team in America—the Cardinal are handsomely rewarded by...moving up one measly spot?

    That seems a bit unfair, but moving Stanford any higher would be even more unfair to the quartet of still-undefeated teams above it. That's the price you pay for losing at Utah.

    Still, Stanford will have positioned itself very well with a win over Oregon, and it would without question have the strongest profile among one-loss teams.

    If chaos ensues above them, the lurking Cardinal might be able to steal a trip to Pasadena that isn't for the Rose Bowl.

4. Ohio State

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    Week 11 Opponent: BYE

    Say what you will about Ohio State's schedule—almost all of it will be justified. Compared to the other undefeated teams from power conferences, they have had to face hardly any tribulation.

    But if Wisconsin and Michigan State continue to win out, then Ohio State beats Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, there's a very good chance the Buckeyes could finish the year with two wins over top-15 teams.

    Last year, they finished with zero.

    Having outscored their last two opponents 119-14, the idle Buckeyes would likely be able to hold off one-loss Stanford in the AP Poll, even after the Cardinal theoretically beat Oregon.

3. Baylor

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Oklahoma

    Baylor begins the week at No. 5 in the AP Poll, but with a sterling performance against Oklahoma on Thursday—at least in this scenario—there's a good chance the Bears would hop Ohio State and move all the way up to No. 3.

    Oklahoma is not a bad football team and it's a very interesting test for a Baylor squad that has yet to truly be tested. On both sides of the ball, Bob Stoops' team seems equipped to give the Bears the same headaches that Kansas State did.

    But what Art Briles' offense has done in Waco this year is impossible to ignore. Go to sleep for one second defensively, and the next thing you know, Tevin Reese is skating down the sideline for an 90-yard touchdown.

    Buoyed by what should be a raucous atmosphere, expect the Bears to come out guns-a-blazin' and roll to a comfortable victory.

2. Florida State

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. Wake Forest

    If Oregon loses to Stanford on Thursday, the shock waves will resonate all throughout college football, benefiting folks in Columbus and Waco alike. But nowhere would the impact of that upset be felt more than Tallahassee.

    Even a close Oregon win would probably propel the Seminoles into this spot, as they currently sit just nine points behind in the AP Poll and have four more first-place votes.

    But an outright Ducks loss would allow FSU to control its own BCS fate, putting it in a situation where running the table would almost certainly result in a shot at the national title.

    All Seminole eyes will be on the TV this Thursday.

1. Alabama

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    Week 11 Opponent: vs. LSU

    Alabama has scarcely been tested in 2013, having coasted along with relative—if not remarkable—ease since beating Texas A&M by seven points back in mid-September.

    That will change in Week 11, when Les Miles and the LSU Tigers, who have always given Nick Saban trouble, come marching into Tuscaloosa with a plan to derail the Tide's season.

    LSU has lost twice this season, and even though its defense is a far cry from years past, it always seems to get up for games against its modern rival.

    I think it'll win, but would anyone be shocked to see 'Bama go down this week?