NCAA Football Rankings 2015: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 1

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystSeptember 6, 2015

Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
Texas A&M WR Christian KirkThomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

After the appetizer course of Thursday night's action, the college football feast truly began Saturday with a loaded menu of season-opening games featuring some of the nation's top teams.

The first Saturday featured an unbelievable Hail Mary victory, a surprising upset of a Top 25 program looking for a rebound season, several major neutral-site clashes, some obscene offensive stat lines and some good, old-fashioned FCS-on-FBS violence.

Although college football fans get one extra-sweet dessert Monday night with a Labor Day rematch between defending champion Ohio State and Virginia Tech—the last team to beat the Buckeyes—it's time to piece through the weekend's biggest action and predict how next week's AP Top 25 will look.

With Ohio State still occupying its unanimous No. 1 spot, here are the predicted Week 2 rankings and a breakdown of the biggest rises and falls:

Predicted Week 2 Associated Press Poll
TeamPreviousRecordWeek 1 Result
1. Ohio State10-0at Virginia Tech (Monday)
2. Alabama31-0Won vs. Wisconsin, 35-17
3. Baylor41-0Won at SMU, 56-21
4. TCU21-0Won at Minnesota, 23-17
5. Michigan State51-0Won at Western Michigan, 37-24
6. Auburn61-0Won vs. Louisville, 31-24
7. Oregon71-0Won vs. Eastern Washington, 61-42
8. USC81-0Won vs. Arkansas State, 55-6
9. Notre Dame111-0Won vs. Texas, 38-3
10. Georgia91-0Won vs. UL-Monroe, 51-14
11. Florida State101-0Won vs. Texas State, 59-16
12. Clemson121-0Won vs. Wofford, 49-10
13. UCLA131-0Won vs. Virginia, 34-16
14. LSU140-0Canceled game vs. McNeese State
15. Georgia Tech161-0Won vs. Alcorn State, 69-6
16. Ole Miss171-0Won vs. UT-Martin, 76-3
17. Arkansas181-0Won vs. UTEP, 48-13
18. Oklahoma191-0Won vs. Akron, 41-3
19. Texas A&MNR1-0Won vs. No. 15 Arizona State, 38-17
20. Arizona221-0Won vs. UTSA, 42-32
21. Boise State231-0Won vs. Washington, 16-13
22. Missouri241-0Won vs. Southeast Missouri, 34-3
23. Tennessee251-0Won vs. Bowling Green, 59-30
24. Arizona State150-1Lost vs. Texas A&M, 38-17
25. Mississippi StateNR1-0Won at Southern Miss, 34-16
Justin Ferguson

Moving up

Texas A&M

Even though it was unranked, Texas A&M entered Saturday night's Texas Classic in Houston as a slight favorite over No. 15 Arizona State. It left with a true statement victory.

The Aggies snatched the attention from the increasingly hyped Sun Devils and then some with a dominant display of defense—yes, dominant defense at Texas A&M—in a 38-17 victory. (They also strung together some explosive scoring plays through two young quarterbacks, strong running and the breakout performance of freshman Christian Kirk.)

Sep 5, 2015; Houston, TX, USA;  Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) celebrates his sack against Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici (2) (not pictured)in the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-U
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

In veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis' first game with the team, A&M destroyed Arizona State's offensive line to the tune of nine sacks on quarterback Mike Bercovici. The Aggies also held the Sun Devils to 2.2 yards per carry, one of several program-best defensive marks under head coach Kevin Sumlin.

A balanced and complete Texas A&M team, something we haven't quite seen in a while out of College Station, deserves to catapult from its "No. 27" ranking in last week's poll and firmly into the Top 20.

With Arizona struggling against UTSA and Boise State netting a dramatic win over Washington, the Aggies' dominant performance over a Pac-12 power should slide them ahead of those two West programs for the time being.

Alabama

The No. 3 Crimson Tide were double-digit favorites against No. 20 Wisconsin, and the defending SEC champions did more than just cover the spread against the Badgers.

Behind 147 rushing yards from junior running back Derrick "El Tractorcito" Henry and great efficiency from new starting quarterback Jake Coker, Alabama's transitioning offense hung 38 points and 502 yards on Wisconsin.

While the Badgers had one of the nation's toughest defenses last season, Alabama ran right through it inside AT&T Stadium.

By holding run-first Wisconsin to fewer than two yards per carry Saturday, Alabama flexed its strongest muscle up front. Wisconsin's passing game found some early mismatches with the Alabama secondary, but the Tide were able to get a late interception and hold the Badgers to just 228 yards through the air.

A three-touchdown victory over a ranked opponent, combined with TCU's less-than-stellar performance against Minnesota on Tuesday night, should bump Alabama up to a well-deserved No. 2 in the country.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame had one of the most dominant Week 1 performances of any ranked team—including the ones who played Group of Five and FCS programs.

The Fighting Irish held an anemic Texas offense to just 163 total yards and three points in a 38-3 blowout victory in South Bend. Texas' Tyrone Swoopes completed less than one-third of his attempts against an experienced Notre Dame defense that ranked No. 77 nationally against the pass last year.

Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire
Notre Dame QB Malik ZaireMatt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Malik Zaire picked up right where he left off in last season's finale with a masterful performance, going 19-of-22 for 313 yards and three touchdowns against the Longhorns. C.J. Prosise also answered some questions about the state of Notre Dame's running backs with a 20-carry, 98-yard game.

Even though Texas looks like it has a long way to go before its considered a contender for any sort of title, a 35-point victory over a name-brand opponent should boost popular Notre Dame in the polls.

By beginning to answer one of its biggest questions—defensive improvement—don't be surprised if Notre Dame cruises into the Top 10. I'll predict that the Irish move past at least two of the three programs that were just ahead of them heading into the opening weekend.

Mississippi State

With two teams set to move out of the Top 25—more on them later—after this weekend's action, another program should join Texas A&M in becoming the newest addition to the 2015 AP poll.

In the "also receiving votes" category of the preseason poll, Mississippi State was the first one that missed the cut. And with Oklahoma State struggling at Central Michigan, Virginia Tech's fate still yet to be decided and Utah recording only a touchdown victory over Michigan, the Bulldogs should slide into the rankings.

Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott
Mississippi State QB Dak PrescottMichael Chang/Getty Images

Mississippi State overcame a slow start in a late-night road game against in-state foe Southern Miss to record a 34-16 victory. Star quarterback Dak Prescott had 309 total yards and three touchdowns for the Bulldogs, who had to replace the vast majority of their starters from last year's 10-win team.

Now, if Virginia Tech pulls off the big upset over Ohio State on Monday night, the Hokies should climb into the Top 25 heading into Week 2.

But if the Buckeyes take care of business in Blacksburg, Mississippi State looks set to join the rest of its SEC West brethren in the Top 25. This, of course, would happen just in time to set up a ranked clash against LSU in Starkville next Saturday.

Moving down

Stanford

A trendy Pac-12 North pick and—according to one brave ESPN analyst—a dark horse for a championship run, Stanford had an opportunity to put its offensive woes from 2014 behind it with a solid road win at underdog Northwestern.

That didn't even come close to happening for the Cardinal.

Sep 5, 2015; Evanston, IL, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) is sacked by Northwestern Wildcats safety Traveon Henry (2) during the second quarter at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern held Stanford's offense, which returned eight starters this season, to just 240 yards of total offense and forced a pair of turnovers in a 16-6 upset win in Evanston. Numerous receiver drops and a woeful third-down conversion rate hurt senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, and his unit as the Cardinal did not find the end zone in the loss.

"We didn't give ourselves a chance to win," Stanford head coach David Shaw said, per John Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. "I thought we were well prepared, but it didn't show up. We had a lot of opportunities that we let go. We have to coach better, we have to play better ... and go forward."

An inexperienced Stanford defense played well for the most part, but the offense's continued inefficiency will have the Cardinal dropping out of the Top 25 altogether. Simply put, Shaw and his staff have a lot of work left to do with this attack.

Wisconsin

The Badgers weren't expected to knock off Alabama in Arlington on Saturday night, but they were definitely hoping for a better showing as the No. 20 team in the country.

Wisconsin HC Paul Chryst
Wisconsin HC Paul ChrystTim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

"(Alabama) had some big plays, and some of them were clearly missed tackles," Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said, per Jason Galloway of Madison.com. "I think that’s always two things. There’s some things that we can do and control it, and I also think those are pretty good players running through those tackles."

Injuries contributed to Wisconsin's disappointment, too. According to Galloway, running back Corey Clement said he wasn't playing at 100 percent during the game, and top safety Michael Caputo didn't return to the game after suffering a scary head injury on the third play of the contest.

Quarterback Joel Stave's performance, especially early in the game, will be a bright spot for the Wisconsin offense as it heads into the rest of its nonconference schedule.

The Badgers could easily rebound and be ranked again thanks to the way their slate sets up over the next several weeks. But after the big loss to Alabama, Wisconsin is headed for a brief exit in the poll.

Arizona State

Although Arizona State never led against Texas A&M on Saturday night in Houston, the Sun Devils matched up toe-to-toe with the Aggies for the first three quarters of the contest.

Then a 21-3 final stanza happened in favor of the victors.

Sep 5, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici (2) dives in to the end zone for a touchdown during the third quarter as Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Justin Evans (14) defends at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Ta
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

"For Todd Graham and the Sun Devils, it’s disappointing to leave Texas with a loss in a game in which they were competitive for most of the night," Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com wrote. "Defensively, they did a good job of frustrating the Aggies but dropped passes, and an offense that couldn’t seem to get a consistent rhythm going (5-of-18 on third down conversion attempts) got hurt in the end."

Arizona State's weak finish against Texas A&M shouldn't completely knock it out of the Top 25. Considering the losses for No. 20 Wisconsin and No. 21 Stanford—along with some somewhat shaky performances from teams toward the end of the poll—the Sun Devils should stay just inside the cut line heading into Week 2.

The scoreline will be frustrating to Arizona State and its fans, but the 21-point loss doesn't mean the Sun Devils are eliminated from achieving their biggest goals for the season. ASU will have time to recover before the big Pac-12 opener against USC at the end of the month.

TCU

As the No. 2 team in the country, TCU was one of the first ones in the national spotlight this week in a Thursday night game against Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 3: The Minnesota Golden Gophers celebrate a sack as quarterback Trevone Boykin #2 of the TCU Horned Frogs reacts during the first quarter of the game on September 3, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Horned Frogs pulled out a tight 23-17 win over the Golden Gophers, but it was far from pretty. Quarterback Trevone Boykin wasn't back to his Heisman-contending ways in the opener, going 26-of-42 passing for 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception. 

TCU's defense, which is going through a transition of its own at a few positions, held its ground by forcing a pair of turnovers and only allowing a handful of big plays. 

"The performance was spoiled somewhat by a frenetic fourth-quarter drive the Gophers punctuated with a touchdown, but the TCU defense still impressed," Bleacher Report's Brad Shepard wrote. "That's a major building block for a season that could wind up being special despite a bit of a stumble over the first hurdle."

TCU will undoubtedly be happy with getting a grind-it-out victory against a Big Ten team that should go bowling again this year. But the tight victory will most likely cost the Frogs a couple of spots in the poll, especially after Alabama and Baylor's emphatic Week 1 victories.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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