College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Week 15's Top 25 Teams

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2013

College Football Rankings 2013: Projecting Week 15's Top 25 Teams

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    Week 14 is the final full slate of games in the college football regular season, making the Week 15 rankings among—if not solely—the most important we will see all year.

    But predicting those rankings is tough. Even outside prestigious rivalries like The Iron Bowl and The Game, a number of other contests could decide divisions and conferences and BCS bids.

    With so many high-profile teams being tested, this could be a week where the rankings descend into chaos. It could also be a week where a rarified Top Five or 10 emerges, while most every other team in the country fades from the pack.

    Here's a look at what the AP Poll might look like come Sunday.

     

Dropped from Rankings

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    Notre Dame

    The Irish are good enough to hang around for four—well, maybe three—quarters at Stanford, but they aren't good enough to win. If Tommy Rees has less than three turnovers in Palo Alto, it would have to be considered a minor triumph.

     

    Duke

    The world might be rooting for David Cutcliffe's plucky Blue Devils, but records be damned, North Carolina is simply the better team. This will not be the first time UNC has broken Duke's heart, but it will be the first time on a football field.

25. UCLA (8-4)

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    Week 14 Opponent: at USC

    UCLA showed a lot of toughness in fighting back against Arizona State, but it also exposed a lot of flaws in falling behind so epically to begin with.

    Last year, the Bruins caught USC when it was reeling, turning the tables on their in-state rival and punishing it in the Rose Bowl. But this year might be the opposite.

    The UCLA offense went just 3-of-12 on third downs last week, which is an unacceptable figure. Unless Brett Hundley and the offense start amending that—sort of how they did as the start of the season—USC's defense should be able to keep it out of rhythm the entire game.

24. Texas (8-3)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Texas Tech

    Texas is not good enough to be a "ranked team" in the abstract sense of the word. That is, in a normal, deeper year, it would not be one of America's 25 best.

    But in 2013, there's a relative paucity of teams that merit ranking. So long as the Longhorns beat Texas Tech on Thursday night, it would be impossible to justify keeping them out of the AP Poll.

    For that, Mack Brown does deserve a semblance of credit. The three defeats have all been painful and ugly, but he has kept this team afloat if nothing else.

    That probably won't save his job, but it's something to be (kind of) proud of.

23. Cincinnati (9-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: BYE

    Cincinnati is the quietest 9-2 team in the country, flirting with joining even last week's AP Top 25, despite generating little-to-no national buzz.

    It's not hard to figure out why. The Bearcats got pasted at Illinois earlier this year, then opened AAC play with an ugly loss to South Florida. Those are not things that a ranked team should do.

    But just like always, Cincy is peaking at the right time, and it has now won six games in a row. The ease with which this team beat Houston was impressive (to say the least).

22. Texas A&M (8-4)

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    Week 14 Opponent: at Missouri

    The book has not yet been written on how to stop Johnny Manziel, but LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has penned the first few chapters of the rough draft.

    The good news for Texas A&M is that its opponent this week is anyone other than LSU; normally, in the Manziel era, that means good things are on the horizon. The bad news for Texas A&M is that Missouri's defense has actually been better than the Tigers defense all year.

    Manziel and the Aggies will find a way to score more than 10 points on Saturday, but their defense still is what it is. Missouri is on a mission, has much more to play for and is generally the better team.

    Unless Mr. Football has something up his sleeve, A&M is going down again.

21. USC (10-3)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. UCLA

    With one more win this weekend, interim boss Ed Orgeron will have legitimately tossed his hat into the conversation for national Coach of the Year. The job he has done this year cannot be overstated with compliments.

    But let's not forget about the players. Sure, they struggled when Lane Kiffin was in charge, but this team is loaded with talent—talent that is finally starting to reach its potential.

    USC has been playing for payback all season, taking out the frustration of a slow start on any team that's gotten in the way. This week, that payback becomes more personal, against a UCLA team that slaughtered the Trojans in 2012.

    Fight on!

20. Louisville (10-1)

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    Week 14 Opponent: BYE

    Woe is Louisville, which will likely have to watch UCF clinch the division title on Saturday before suiting up to play a tough road game at Cincinnati the following week.

    What's worse, the Cardinals have to do so knowing that UCF got to avoid Cincinnati on its schedule. In the 10-team American Athletic Conference, that omission hardly seems fair.

    But none of that matters. Teddy Bridgewater & Co. had their shot—on their home field, no less—and blew it by letting UCF come back to win. They made their own bed, and it doesn't seem right for them to complain about having to sleep in it.

19. Oklahoma (9-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: BYE

    Against Kansas State last weekend, Trevor Knight finally looked like a guy who deserved to have won a quarterback competition this fall. Prior to that, the only thing that explained his victory over Blake Bell was...well, Blake Bell.

    If the Sooners can bank on Knight playing coherent football, there's no reason they can't win the Bedlam Game over Oklahoma State. Even on the road, this team has enough talented bodies to play 60 good minutes of football.

    But Knight will be the key. One good game does not a quarterback make. And after seeing what OSU's defense did to Bryce Petty, it's hard to be too optimistic.

18. Northern Illinois (12-0)

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    Week 14 Opponent: Def. Western Michigan (33-14)

    Jordan Lynch rushed for 321 yards in Tuesday night's comfortable win, the most by an FBS quarterback in college football history.

    With the defeat of pitiful Western Michigan, NIU advanced to 12-0 on the year and clinched a perfect regular season. It will likely finish behind Fresno State in the AP Poll once again, but its lead in the BCS standings is all that matters—and that should remain.

    It will play the winner of Bowling Green-Buffalo in the MAC Championship Game, though, and neither of those teams can (nor will) be taken lightly.

     

17. UCF (10-1)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. South Florida

    By virtue of its head-to-head win over one-loss Louisville, UCF can win the conference title this weekend, becoming the first team to clinch a spot in the final BCS.

    All that stands in the way is mighty South Florida!

    Seriously, though, the Bulls are pretty awful, so this is more or less a lock. Plus, even if the Knights did somehow find a way to lose this game, they would still be able to clinch the AAC with a win over SMU the following week.

    George O'Leary is nearly certain to coach in a BCS bowl game, while Notre Dame is likely to finish the year with four losses. Isn't college football the greatest?

     

16. Fresno State (11-0)

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    Week 14 Opponent: at San Jose State

    Only a road game at San Jose State and the conference championship game (likely) against Utah State stand between Derek Carr's Bulldogs and an undefeated season.

    But a new hurdle emerged—or at least become more daunting—this past Sunday, when Northern Illinois got a massive boost in the computer polls and overtook Fresno State in the BCS standings.

    This team might finish the year with zero losses but still be on the outside looking in (with regard to a BCS bowl). Stop me if that sounds too familiar.

15. LSU (9-3)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Arkansas

    Three losses is not the season LSU fans had hoped for (nor come to expect), but a 10-win regular season would be nothing to scoff at—especially after seemingly 100 defensive players from last year's team entered the 2013 NFL Draft.

    That this team was able to beat Texas A&M so thoroughly last week was a testament to its coaches. Coming off a bye, Les Miles, John Chavis and Cam Cameron all collaborated to tailor a picture-perfect game plan.

    It's a shame that this team won't make a BCS bowl, which would have been a fitting end to an era and system that the Tigers have dominated. But a trip to play in the Cotton Bowl (potentially) would still draw a solid paycheck.

14. Wisconsin (10-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Penn State

    Wisconsin braved the tundra of Minneapolis last weekend, taking its show on the road to beat a solid Minnesota team thoroughly (albeit by less than some had expected).

    With a win over Penn State this week, the Badgers would finish the season with two losses and likely inside the BCS top...let's say 12. After losing twice in three weeks back in September, they would have to be content with that standing.

    What's more, having no shot to play in the Big Ten Championship Game might actually be a blessing in disguise for Wisconsin's BCS chances. Should Michigan State lose to Ohio State, this team would almost certainly bypass it for a spot in a signature bowl.

     

13. Arizona State (10-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Arizona

    Be wary the letdown game, Sun Devils. Arizona is good enough to catch you napping.

    But that's unlikely. Even after pasting Oregon in Tucson last week, the Wildcats remain a questionable road team; their last trip away from home resulted in a short five-point win against Cal, which is worse than most 20-point wins.

    Still, Arizona State doesn't have much to play for here except for pride. Its season—at least so far as the BCS is concerned—will boil down to whether or not it can beat Stanford.

    Few could blame them for looking ahead, but the Sun Devils, in a rivalry game, should come out with just enough energy to score their 10th win. 

12. Auburn (10-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Alabama

    "Exposed" isn't the right word for what Alabama is going to do to Auburn this weekend. There's nothing to really expose; this team is exactly as good as it's looked.

    The right term for what Auburn will do in the Iron Bowl is "fall back to Earth." The Tigers are floating on thin air right now, schmoozing among the clouds with the other top-five teams, and the Crimson Tide will facilitate a crash.

    Gus Malzahn will come out with a creative game plan after getting the extra week to prepare, but unless he suddenly conjured up a passing game, this team will be too one-dimensional to get a steady rhythm against Alabama.

    I'll take the Tide to win by a big, crooked number.

     

11. Oregon (10-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Oregon State

    Oregon flatlined against Arizona last week, turning the ball over on the game's first play before watching its season spiral out of control.

    But the Ducks are lucky. They're still the Oregon Ducks; almost any BCS bowl would be happy to accept them (and their huge fellowship) as an at-large team, so long as they are eligible.

    Being eligible would require little more than beating Oregon State this week, and even if Oregon has had some holes exposed, doing so should not be too big of a task. After a hot streak midseason, the Beavers have lost four consecutive games.

10. Clemson (10-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: at South Carolina

    I expect Clemson to push South Carolina to the limits in Columbia this week, and the Tigers could very well prove me wrong by coming out victorious. This team is that good.

    At the end of the day, though, I trust the Gamecocks defense a lot more than Clemson's—especially in what will likely be the last game of Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles' (regular-season) college careers. They will come out ready to play.

    These teams are roughly even. But even in an in-state rivalry, the home team gets a slight nod in that sort of case. The same way Memorial Stadium powered Clemson over Georgia in Week 1, Williams-Brice will do the opposite in Week 14.

     

9. Michigan State (11-1)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Minnesota

    Sans pride, Michigan State has basically nothing to play for on Saturday.

    The Spartans have already clinched a spot in the conference championship game, but if they lose to Ohio State—regardless of their record—they will likely miss out on a BCS bowl. Winning the Big Ten and making the Rose Bowl is their only feasible entry point.

    To that point, I think MSU could struggle to put away Minnesota on Saturday before eventually winning a close one. The Gophers are not nearly in its league, but Mark Dantonio's team can be forgiven for looking ahead.

     

8. Baylor (10-1)

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    Week 14 Opponent: at TCU

    Baylor needs to pull itself up by the bootstraps after last week's humbling (to say the least) blowout at Oklahoma State.

    On paper, TCU appears a perfect opponent to do so against. The Horned Frogs have been a major disappointment this season, stagnant on offense and uninspired in general.

    But Baylor's Week 14 opponent still has one of the best secondaries in college football, led by cornerback Jason Verrett and a host of other all-conference-caliber players. If the Bears come out sloppy or uninspired, there's enough talent across the line to give them some trouble.

    I'll give Art Briles some credit and predict Baylor to win. This team is too good not to. But I think this one might be closer than expected—maybe tied at halftime or something before the Bears pull away late.

     

7. Stanford (10-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Notre Dame

    Notre Dame is good enough to give Stanford some problems, just as it did in wins over Michigan State, Arizona State and USC—three of the better teams in America.

    The Irish are basically a poor man's version of the Cardinal, which is to say that this game will not be aesthetically pleasing to watch. Both teams want to win ugly, both teams have capricious quarterbacks and both teams are loaded with NFL defensive players.

    In the end, the home field should power Stanford to the win, even though it too has little motivation to win (having already clinched its division). Notre Dame's road struggles are enough to give Stanford the big edge.

     

6. South Carolina (10-2)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Clemson

    In what's expected to be Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles' final home game, the South Carolina defense (and crowd) should come out with gusto and play its best 60 minutes of the year.

    Clemson's offense has been firing on all cylinders since the loss against Florida State, but the level of competition has left much to be desired. Against an elite defense, the Tigers can certainly be stopped.

    Regardless of what happens with Missouri, South Carolina needs this game if it wants to make a BCS bowl. With Mike Davis running well and Clowney trying to repeat last year's 4.5-sack performance, the Gamecocks should be able to get there.

     

5. Oklahoma State (10-1)

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    Week 14 Opponent: BYE

    Oklahoma State gets a well-earned bye in Week 14, allowing it a chance to bask in the glow of last week's blowout against Baylor while also preparing for next week's tilt with Oklahoma.

    The Sooners have been up and down all season, but they are capable at functioning at a high level. Especially if Trevor Knight shows up like he did at Kansas State last week, they have an offense capable of challenging this very good Cowboys defense.

    But this OSU team appeared to be on a mission last week, and there's no reason to expect that to stop. With an extra week to get ready, Mike Gundy should have his players ready to go.

     

4. Missouri (11-1)

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    Week 14 Opponent: vs. Texas A&M

    Missouri is still, for some reason, regarded as a fluke by many people around the country, despite having rolled through the SEC with ease in all but one quarter of play this season.

    If not for that collapse against South Carolina, the Tigers would have won every game this season by at least 14 points. True, they've caught some breaks with schedule timing and backup quarterbacks faced, but they also had their own backup QB playing for seemingly half the year. That is no excuse.

    With just one game standing between it and the conference championship game, expect Missouri to once again assert its dominance against a deeply flawed Texas A&M team. Johnny Football might put on a show, but even that won't be enough.

     

3. Ohio State (12-0)

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    Week 14 Opponent: at Michigan

    There was a time, early in the season, unthinkable as it sounds today, when Ohio State-Michigan actually seemed like it might be the Big Ten Championship Game.

    So much for that.

    The Wolverines offense is in a tailspin, and that is putting it lightly. They couldn't even get to 200 yards against Iowa last week, and the past four games combined haven't been much better.

    The Big House will be rocking because, despite the form of their team, Michigan fans always get up for the Buckeyes. That might allow the Wolverines to hang around for a quarter or two.

    But as the game wears on and Carlos Hyde gets rolling, it's hard to imagine the Michigan offense finding a way to keep pace with OSU's. This is a mismatch and then some.

     

2. Florida State (12-0)

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    Week 14 Opponent: at Florida

    If Florida were healthy, this game would have loomed over FSU's season as a potential trap the entire year. But Florida is far from healthy—both physically and spiritually.

    After losing to FCS Georgia Southern last week—in a game where the winning team passed for zero yards—it's hard to imagine how the Gators plan to keep pace with the Seminoles. Jameis Winston will not go 0-of-3 passing, and the FSU running game is far superior to Georgia Southern's.

    Despite the storm cloud circling over Winston's head, the QB has shown no ill-effects of his off-filed distraction thus far. The State will not decide whether to charge him with sexual assault by kickoff, so his head should be in a good place.

    Florida State by roughly 40 points.

     

1. Alabama (12-0)

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    Week 14 Opponent: at Auburn

    Auburn's defense has been shredded by Texas A&M and Georgia, both of which are forgivable offenses, but neither of which bode well before facing Alabama.

    The Crimson Tide are rounding into form on the offensive side of the ball, boasting a traditionally balanced attack that is capable of winning in every conceivable way. Auburn's pass rush might give AJ McCarron a little bit of trouble, but how can the Tigers stop this ground game?

    On the other side of the ball, Nick Marshall will need to play the game of his life—as a passer—if Auburn wants to score points. Alabama will take away the rushing attack at all costs, daring Marshall to beat it with his arm.

    I don't think he is capable of that—at least not at a "Beat Alabama"-type level.