College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Week 14's Top 25 Teams

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2013

College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Week 14's Top 25 Teams

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    Week 12 looked a little dull on paper, but it proved to be one of the most exciting weekends in college football this season.

    Can Week 13 follow suit?

    This upcoming weekend actually looks pretty nice on paper, headlined by a Top 10 BCS showdown between Baylor and Oklahoma State. The outcome of that game might decide the fate of the Big 12, but it will also speak largely to the national title picture.

    Elsewhere, there's a de facto Pac-12 semifinal between UCLA and Arizona State, a game that could wrap up the SEC East for South Carolina (even thought it's not participating) and a potential shootout between Texas A&M and LSU.

    How will things look after it all plays out? Here's an early look.

    Note: Predictions are for the Week 14 AP Poll, not the BCS Standings.

Dropped from Rankings

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    Oklahoma 

    The Sooners overcame a slow start to beat Iowa State on Saturday, but the state of its quarterback position still leaves much to be desired. Bill Snyder's Kansas State team is hot, and this wouldn't be the first time he's out-coached Bob Stoops.

     

    Ole Miss

    The Rebels are riding high right now, and I expect them to ride that momentum (along with a raucous home crowd) to an early lead over Missouri. But over the course of four quarters, the Tigers will prove their legitimacy and eke out a win in Oxford.

25. Cincinnati

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Houston

    The Bearcats are coming off their most complete game of 2013, a thorough 52-17 beatdown of Rutgers in New Jersey. Brandon Kay threw for 400-plus yards and four touchdowns, helping his team peak, like usual, toward the end of the season.

    If it wins a tricky game at Houston—which is beat up after back-to-back road games at UCF and Louisville—Cincy will improve to 9-2 on the season, with a home game against Louisville looming.

    Even though the two losses (against Illinois and South Florida) are bad, there is a shortage of quality teams this week, so the 'Cats might be able to sneak into the rankings at 9-2.

     

24. Arizona State

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    Week 13 Opponent: at UCLA

    There would be no shame in losing to UCLA; every team the Bruins have faced this year that wasn't Stanford or Oregon has suffered the same fate.

    ASU is good enough to win in the Rose Bowl, and it's capable of beating opponents in multiple ways. UCLA has a very strong front seven, though, and if it can slow down running back Marion Grice, I'm not sure I'd trust Taylor Kelly to win a true road game.

    Win or lose on Saturday, ASU has established some credibility this season—even more so than in a resurgent 2012. This program is headed in the right direction.

     

23. Duke

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Wake Forest

    Just because Duke is in the Top 25 now, it cannot start to take anything—nor anyone—for granted. It is, after all, still Duke.

    Wake Forest has actually been a pretty strong home team this season, and had it caught the Blue Devils earlier in ACC play, it might have been able to pull the upset. But now, without injured star receiver Michael Campanaro, that looks less and less likely.

    Duke knows that it controls its own fate in the ACC Coastal, a position this team would have never dreamed possible at the start of the year. Instead of getting cocky, I expect it to get motivated and play its best game of the season.

     

22. Notre Dame

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. BYU

    Notre Dame has played poorly in each of its past two games, needing a late-game stop to beat Navy at home before losing to Pittsburgh on the road.

    The BYU Cougars are better than both of those teams—though neither Navy nor Pitt is a slouch—which would seem to portend trouble. But I have faith in Brian Kelly to wake his team up off the bye.

    Despite the three losses, few teams in America have more quality wins than the Irish, who have beaten Arizona State, Michigan State and USC this season.

    All three of those squads are ranked in the BCS Top 25.

     

21. USC

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Colorado

    USC has quietly been playing good football all season—quiet because it only ends up on SportsCenter after losses, not wins.

    But the Trojans finally made headlines for the right reasons last Saturday, with the dispatching of Stanford on national TV in what amounts to a season-restoring victory.

    This could be a letdown spot against Colorado, which is also riding high on the heels of its first Pac-12 win over Cal last week. The Buffaloes do enough things well un-horribly enough to stick around for a couple of quarters if the Trojans come out sluggish.

    But over the course of 60 minutes, Coach Ed "O" Orgeron will lead his team to yet another quiet win.

     

20. Louisville

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Memphis

    Louisville needs a couple of massive breaks in order to win the AAC, and it almost caught won last weekend. But with perhaps the catch of the season, UCF's J.J. Worton thwarted Temple's upset bid and further doomed the Cardinals' season.

    Head coach Charlie Smart is now in a tricky spot, needing to get his team ready to play on the heels of that near-miss. It cannot focus on what is going on with UCF; it simply needs to take care of its own business, then hope for the best.

    Against a Memphis team that is much—repeat: much—better than its record, the Cardinals cannot afford to sleepwalk. They are too good of a team to let the Tigers hang around, but if they do, this game could spell trouble.

     

19. Northern Illinois

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Toledo

    Had Northern Illinois not beaten Ball State last week, my money would be squarely on Toledo, which always plays teams difficult at home.

    The Rockets are still (very) capable of pulling off this upset, but Jordan Lynch and the Huskies showed me too much in that fourth quarter to pick against them. Tied with just eight minutes remaining, the quarterback played like a true Heisman candidate and willed NIU to a win.

    The Huskies have now won 21 consecutive conference games, along with 22 consecutive games in the regular season. I've learned my lesson about picking against that.

    NIU wins a close one.

     

18. Texas A&M

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    Week 13 Opponent: at LSU

    Where there's a Johnny Football, there's usually a way; but by no means is it inconceivable for Texas A&M to win in Tiger Stadium on Saturday.

    I just don't like its chances.

    The Aggies defense allowed teams like Rice and Sam Houston State to find success against them—the latter doing so on the ground. Now tasked with stopping LSU, which can beat you in every conceivable way, I don't know how they plan on keeping up.

    Johnny Manziel is a magician, so it's hard to pick against him. But even if he has a career-best day, I think he could still end up on the losing side of this one.

    That's precisely what happened against Alabama, right?

     

17. UCF

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Rutgers

    It's hard to say whether UCF was looking ahead to Rutgers, tired, bored or genuinely just bad against Temple on Saturday; at this point, none of it matters.

    The Knights eked out a win over the Owls, and even though it was ugly, they still have a firm grasp on the AAC race. Unless it loses two of these next three games, UCF is going to a BCS bowl.

    Still, I think that the near-loss to Temple will serve as a wake-up call for the Knights, who will not be so eager to flirt with another loss.

    Rutgers is coming off a soul-crushing blowout against Cincinnati, and things are about to get worse.

     

16. Oklahoma State

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Baylor

    Oklahoma State is the best team remaining on Baylor's schedule; if the Bears win in Stillwater on Saturday, their chances of running the table are astronomically higher.

    Unlike every other game Baylor has played this season, I expect this one to take all 60 minutes. The Cowboys might even take something like a 10-point lead into the break.

    It will not be another 30-point romp.

    But at the end of the day, I trust Bryce Petty and Baylor's playmakers far more than Clint Chelf and OSU's. The Cowboys won't fall far in the rankings after a close loss, but they'll miss their shot at winning the conference. 

     

15. LSU

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Texas A&M

    With a week to prepare for Texas A&M, Les Miles' team will come out with a solid game plan and sufficient energy. The second half against Alabama is a thing of the past, but the frustrations from that game will still be taken out on the Aggies defense.

    On the other side of the ball, Johnny Manziel will likely be able to pick up lots of yardage in big and little chunks. But his turnover problem is a major one, and Tiger Stadium is the last place an interception-prone quarterback wants to play.

    The three losses on its profile will cap LSU from moving even higher, but after this week, folks will be reminded just how good this team can be.

14. Wisconsin

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Minnesota

    Minnesota has been a fantastic, borderline-heartwarming story this year. Despite the health problems of head coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers are 8-2 and control their own destiny in the Big Ten Legends division.

    But this week, they come crashing back to Earth.

    Wisconsin has been, quite simply, one of the 10 best teams in college football all season. It matters not what the record says; there are not 10 other teams one would rather face.

    Minnesota has won all of its last three games with relative ease, but its rush defense has not looked great in any of those wins. Unless that unit plays 10 to 15 times better than it has been, the Badgers will run all over in on Saturday.

     

13. Fresno State

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. New Mexico

    New Mexico has a deceptively good offense, ranking 15th nationally in yards per play against FBS opponents.

    The Lobos won't beat Fresno State, but they have a chance to make this interesting with that attack. Fresno State's defense has been a liability all season, and if its looking ahead to the next two games (at San Jose State and the conference championship), New Mexico might find it napping.

    In the end, as it has all season, Derek Carr and the Bulldogs offense will prove to be too much and pull out the win. It just might not be too pretty.

     

12. Michigan State

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Northwestern

    Michigan State is in a tricky spot this weekend, heading off to Evanston for a game with a team, Northwestern, that is much better than its record indicates.

    The Wildcats must have taken a trip to an ancient Indian burial ground this offseason, because their bad luck spell has been egregious. After a Hail Mary loss at Nebraska, they just lost to Michigan on what can only be described as a Turbo Field Goal.

    Pat Fitzgerald is a great coach, and he will have his team ready to play spoiler. Sparty is too good to lose—especially with the offense (of all things) starting to get on a roll—but it won't be a blowout by any means.

     

11. South Carolina

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Coastal Carolina

    South Carolina has already completed its SEC schedule, ending the year with a couple of fierce in-state rivalries—one admittedly more fierce than the other.

    Before playing Clemson in a blue-chip nonconference game, the Gamecocks get to boost their confidence with what should be an easy win over FCS Coastal Carolina.

    They'll also be doing some scoreboard watching in Week 13. Missouri plays the first of its two difficult remaining games at Ole Miss, and one loss from the Tigers would put South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game.

     

10. UCLA

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Arizona State

    This is the game that will define UCLA's season—much more than road losses at Stanford and Oregon earlier in the year.

    The Bruins welcome ASU to the Rose Bowl for a de facto Pac-12 semifinal; whoever wins will take control of the South Division and likely play Oregon in the conference championship.

    Arizona State doesn't have any discernible holes, so beating it will be a trying task. But with running 'backer Myles Jack on a tear, I think the Bruins red-zone offense will convert chances into touchdowns, which will prove to be the ultimate difference.

    Even with the showdown in Waco, this might well be the Game of the Week.

9. Stanford

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. California

    Nothing soothes the burn of a tough loss like playing Cal at home.

    The Cardinal will bounce back in a big way against Sonny Dykes' woeful Bears team, which has yet to beat an FBS opponent all season.

    Stanford has lost to two teams that, at the time, were not ranked in the AP Top 25. That is not a formula for BCS success.

    But because of its quality wins (Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon) outside of those letdowns, it still has a very real shot of making a signature bowl. It just may need a little help from every team on NIU and Fresno State's schedule.

     

8. Missouri

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Ole Miss

    Ole Miss is a trendy upset pick in this game, and it's not hard to see why.

    The Rebels are peaking at the right time, having won four consecutive games, including a home win over LSU. They also have some sexy names like Bo Wallace (M.D.), Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche—guys even casual fans seem to know about.

    But Missouri is the better team; it's proven that all year. Save one bad quarter against South Carolina, it has played like one of the five best teams in college football this entire season.

    Especially with quarterback James Franklin expected back in the fold, the Tigers will come out and make a statement off the bye week. Their record is no fluke.

     

7. Clemson

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Citadel

    Like South Carolina, Clemson also closes the year with a pair of fierce in-state rivalries, hosting The Citadel before getting its shot at the Gamecocks.

    Despite the ugly nature of its loss to Florida State, Dabo Swinney's team still probably controls its own BCS fate. A one-loss profile with wins over Georgia (when it was healthy) and South Carolina would be hard for any BCS bowl to ignore.

    In order to run this table, though, the offense will need to keep up its current hot streak. That unit has looked stale in certain spots this season, and South Carolina will present a rare challenge.

    This week against Citadel should be a nice warmup.

     

6. Auburn

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    Week 13 Opponent: BYE

    Auburn won in stunning—not to mention iconic—fashion over Georgia last week, keeping alive its hopes of becoming the least likely SEC Champion of the BCS era.

    Realizing those dreams, however, might be easier said than done. After this week's bye, the Tigers would need to beat Alabama at home before winning the conference championship game over either Missouri or South Carolina.

    Georgia's defense had been solid against the run all season, but Auburn still managed to slice it up for 300-plus yards. Its running game is not a product of fortunate scheduling; this team can run on almost anyone.

    But Alabama does not fall into the purview of "almost anyone." It falls into the purview of "Alabama." The Tigers will have to play a near-perfect game to beat it.

     

5. Oregon

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Arizona

    Arizona is always a tough team to beat at home, bolstered by (perhaps) the best running back in the nation, Ka'Deem Carey—a natural fit in Rich Rodriguez's system.

    But Oregon is officially on a mission. It knows it was given a second life after USC beat Stanford, and it will not have another letdown en route to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

    The Ducks are in roughly the same spot that Alabama was in last season, albeit slightly worse. They lost a late conference game to a very good opponent, and now they need some help to make the BCS National Championship Game.

    The cards fell for Alabama last season, and only time will tell if the same happens for Oregon. Until then, the Ducks will leave no doubt in peoples' minds about their worthiness.

     

4. Ohio State

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Indiana

    Indiana has a quality offense and gave Ohio State a lot of trouble last season, eventually losing 52-49 in Bloomington.

    Can the same happen again? Probably not. OSU is peaking at the right time—don't be fooled by the score; it murdered Illinois last week—and wants to make a statement to voters about its talent relative to Baylor.

    If the Bears beat Oklahoma State this week, they will (and deserve to) be ranked ahead of the Buckeyes in the BCS Poll. These are the simple near-facts.

    But if Ohio State can continue to make a strong case by blowing out Indiana, there's a chance it could eventually overtake the Bears later in the season. Unlike Baylor, it has the benefit of a conference championship game.

    A win over Michigan State would be highly impressive.

     

3. Baylor

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    Week 13 Opponent: at Oklahoma State

    In Stillwater this Saturday, Baylor will face its stiffest test of the season—not just to-date, but on the whole. If it wins this game, it will be heavily favored to finish the year undefeated.

    Winning will be tough, though. Oklahoma State's running game has been unstoppable the past few weeks, which means it might be able to control the clock and keep Baylor's offense off the field.

    That is the blueprint Kansas State laid out in Baylor's closest game. Everybody knows that that's how you beat the Bears, but none of their most recent opponents have been able to execute it.

    Oklahoma State will execute it well, but at the end of the day, Baylor will have too much fire-power to go down. It will be close, but Bryce Petty will be the ultimate difference.

    This could be a "Heisman Moment"-type game for Baylor's QB.

     

2. Florida State

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Idaho

    Of the four unbeaten teams that are vying for a spot in the national title game, Florida State has—perhaps by far—the easiest schedule.

    After Idaho, the Seminoles get a battered Florida team that already has six losses. The Gators will come out enthused—knowing the game holds the key to their postseason eligibility—but in all likelihood, they won't have enough healthy bodies to keep up.

    After that comes a date in the ACC Championship Game against the winner of the Coastal Division—a track that Duke currently controls its own fate on. The Blue Devils are a nice story, but FSU would beat them by 50 points.

    So long as Jimbo Fisher's team remains focused in these next three games, it will almost definitely clinch a spot in Pasadena. That starts this week against Idaho, in a game where the starters should be done by the third quarter.

     

1. Alabama

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    Week 13 Opponent: vs. Chattanooga

    Every team is excused one bad road game in conference play, and Alabama used up its mulligan at Mississippi State last week.

    That win was ugly, but it was still a win. For the two-time defending champion, that is all that matters. Style points mean nothing at this point for the Crimson Tide; if they go undefeated, they do not have to worry about the BCS standings.

    Chattanooga will be an easy tune-up game on Saturday, but after that, things will start to get difficult. Alabama still has the Iron Bowl (at Auburn) and potentially the SEC Championship Game left on its schedule.

    If it has any mulligans or turnovers left in the tank, it would be wise to use them against an FCS opponent this weekend. In the weeks that follow, Alabama will need to look much more like Alabama.