NCAA Football Rankings 2016: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 1

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2016

Greg Ward Jr. and Houston made a big statement against Oklahoma.
Greg Ward Jr. and Houston made a big statement against Oklahoma.George Bridges/Associated Press

So, that was fun, right?

The opening weekend of the 2016 college football season was largely regarded as the best opening-weekend slate in the sport’s history. And boy, did it live up to the hype with upsets and wild prime-time games between Notre Dame and Texas and Florida State and Ole Miss. When the new Associated Press Top 25 poll comes out Tuesday afternoon, it will bear little resemblance to the poll that we started with Thursday night.

Six ranked teams fell to defeat, including the nation’s No. 3 and No. 5 teams. That marks the first time that two Top Five teams have lost on the opening weekend since 1972, creating a major poll shakeup.

Meanwhile, a College Football Playoff dark horse made a major statement, and another preseason Top 10 team held on for dear life at home against a Sun Belt underdog, leading to even more movement.  

Our initial projection has 14 teams moving up at least one spot, with six teams moving down and three teams moving completely out of the Top 25. If the rest of the season is like this, however, we’re in for a very exciting 2016 campaign. Here's how we think the Top 25 will look come Tuesday afternoon, with some highlights and lowlights: 

Predicted Week 2 Associated Press Poll
RankTeamPreviousRecordWeek 1 Result
1.Alabama11-0Won 52-6 vs. Southern California
2.Clemson21-0Won 19-13 vs. Auburn
3.Florida State41-0Won 45-34 vs. Ole Miss
4.Ohio State61-0Won 77-10 vs. Bowling Green
5.Michigan71-0Won 63-3 vs. Hawaii
6.Stanford81-0Won 26-13 vs. Kansas State
7.Houston151-0Won 33-23 vs. Oklahoma
8Oklahoma30-1Lost 33-23 vs. Houston
9.Michigan State121-0Won 28-13 vs. Furman
10.TCU131-0Won 59-41 vs. South Dakota State
11.Tennessee91-0Won 20-13 (OT) vs. Appalachian State
12.Washington141-0Won 48-13 vs. Rutgers
13.LSU50-1Lost 16-14 vs. Wisconsin
14.Iowa171-0Won 45-21 vs. Miami of Ohio
15.Notre Dame100-1Lost 50-47 vs. Texas (2 OT)
16.Georgia181-0Won 33-24 vs. North Carolina
17.Ole Miss110-1Lost 45-34 vs. Florida State
18.Louisville191-0Won 70-14 vs. Charlotte
19.Oklahoma State211-0Won 61-7 vs. Southeastern Louisiana
20.UCLA160-1Lost 31-24 (OT) vs. Texas A&M
21.WisconsinNR1-0Won 16-14 vs. LSU
22.Baylor231-0Won 55-7 vs. Northwestern State
23.Oregon241-0Won 53-28 vs. UC Davis
24.TexasNR1-0Won 50-47 (2 OT) vs. Texas
25.Texas A&MNR1-0Won 31-24 (OT) vs. UCLA
Greg Wallace

      

Moving Up

Houston

Sep 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman watches warm up before playing against the Houston Cougars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

2016’s season opener loomed as a crucial spot for Houston’s year and its program as a whole. Coming off a 13-1 record in head coach Tom Herman’s debut, the Cougars are pushing for inclusion in Big 12 expansion and a dark-horse berth in the College Football Playoff.

Oklahoma’s visit to “neutral” NRG Stadium was key on both fronts, and Houston impressed in a 33-23 victory over the No. 3 Sooners. The Cougars took control in the third quarter and were never really challenged the rest of the way. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was impressive through the air, throwing for 321 yards and two touchdowns.

Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle said the Cougars made a strong opening statement.

Houston still faces a tough road to get into the playoff, but this was a great start. The Cougars should be favored in all of their remaining games, including Louisville’s Nov. 17 visit, and if they stay unbeaten, they’ll have an argument for inclusion.

        

Wisconsin

Wisconsin made the first college game at Lambeau Field memorable.
Wisconsin made the first college game at Lambeau Field memorable.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Coming off a 10-win season, Wisconsin was expected to take a step back in Paul Chryst’s second season. Several key pieces from the nation’s top scoring defense—as well as defensive coordinator Dave Aranda—were gone, and the Badgers were breaking in a new starting quarterback in senior Bart Houston.

It wasn’t pretty, but Wisconsin made the first college game at historic Lambeau Field memorable, holding on for a 16-14 upset of No. 3 LSU.

The Badgers D held running back Leonard Fournette relatively in check (138 yards and no touchdowns on 23 carries) and intercepted LSU quarterback Brandon Harris twice. Kicker Rafael Gaglianone was the offensive MVP, making all three field goals he tried, including a 48-yard boot in the second quarter and a 47-yarder in the fourth as the eventual game-winner. The Badgers earned Top 25 inclusion this week.

Texas

After just 11 wins in his first two seasons at Texas, Charlie Strong entered 2016 on the hot seat in Austin. Following an impressive opening game, however, the flames lapping around him got a bit weaker. The Longhorns took a big step toward regaining national relevance, defeating No. 10 Notre Dame 50-47 in a wild double-overtime classic.

True freshman quarterback Shane Buechele was more than ready for the spotlight in new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s Air Raid offense. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 280 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, including a 72-yard scoring strike to John Burt that opened the second half.

And while Brian Kelly struggled with a two-quarterback rotation, Strong found the right mix. Former starter Tyrone Swoopes had a role as a rusher, making 13 carries for 53 yards and three touchdowns. This looks like a vastly improved Longhorns team that will make noise in the Big 12 race.

       

Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin entered 2016 feeling some heat. Following an 11-2 debut season in 2012, Texas A&M has not had a winning record in SEC play, going 11-13 in that stretch. With a new starting quarterback in Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight, Saturday’s opener against No. 16 UCLA felt big.

Although they were shaky at times (blowing a 24-9 fourth-quarter lead), the Aggies rose to the moment, pulling out a 31-24 overtime win. Knight threw for 239 yards, a touchdown and an interception and was a steady hand. It bodes well for a tough road ahead in the SEC West.

     

Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State

Jim Harbaugh showed no mercy versus Hawaii.
Jim Harbaugh showed no mercy versus Hawaii.Tony Ding/Associated Press/Associated Press

The Big Ten East is loaded again this season, with a returning College Football Playoff team in Michigan State and two budding superpowers that just don’t like each other in Michigan and Ohio State. All three teams will make moves upward this week thanks to the chaos above them, but they also all took care of business.

Michigan destroyed a hapless Hawaii team that played in Australia last week, 63-3. Ohio State whipped in-state foe Bowling Green, 77-10, and the Spartans controlled FCS foe Furman, 28-13. For all three, bigger tests are certainly ahead.

     

Stanford and Washington

Stanford and Washington are expected to be the class of the Pac-12 North, and neither did anything to dispel that notion in their openers. The Cardinal faced a salty Kansas State team but maintained control throughout in a 26-13 win, with Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey rushing for 126 yards and two touchdowns (and having a 96-yard punt return score called back by penalty).

Washington ruined Chris Ash’s debut as the Rutgers coach and was never challenged in a 48-13 rout. Both programs should be solidly within the Top 15 this week.

      

Georgia, Iowa and Oklahoma State

Head coach Kirby Smart’s debut was everything that Georgia fans could have hoped for. The Bulldogs gave North Carolina a 24-14 second-half cushion but scored the game’s final 19 points for a 33-24 victory in the Georgia Dome.

Nick Chubb showed no rust in his return from a serious knee injury, carrying 32 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns. And while heralded freshman quarterback Jacob Eason split time with senior Greyson Lambert, he was the more impressive of the two, completing eight of 12 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.

Iowa had no trouble with Miami of Ohio, rolling to a 45-21 victory. Tailbacks Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels combined for 204 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. And the same went for Oklahoma State, which whipped FCS foe Southeastern Louisiana 61-7. Mason Rudolph completed 18 of 26 passes for 188 yards and two scores.

           

Moving Down

Tennessee

Joshua Dobbs and Tennessee held on versus Appalachian State, but it wasn't easy.
Joshua Dobbs and Tennessee held on versus Appalachian State, but it wasn't easy.Wade Payne/Associated Press/Associated Press

This was supposed to be the year Tennessee returned to the college football elite. The Volunteers have steadily improved under Butch Jones’ guidance and returned 18 starters from a nine-win team. They’re the favorite to win the SEC East but certainly didn’t look like it Thursday night.

The Vols were very fortunate to escape with a 20-13 overtime win over Appalachian State. Sure, the Mountaineers return 16 starters from an 11-2 team, but Sun Belt teams aren’t supposed to be competitive in Neyland Stadium.

They led 13-3 in the third quarter before Tennessee rallied to force overtime, with Jalen Hurd falling on a Joshua Dobbs fumble in the end zone for the game-winning score. Dobbs was just average, completing 16 of 29 passes for 192 yards, a touchdown and a poor interception, mirroring his team’s overall sluggishness. The offensive line will have to improve if UT has any hopes of beating Virginia Tech before 150,000 fans in the Battle at Bristol. The Vols will certainly drop out of the Top 10.

        

Oklahoma

Oklahoma began 2016 with hopes of a second consecutive College Football Playoff appearance following 2015’s 11-2 record and Big 12 title. Those hopes aren’t dead, but they took a serious blow in a 33-23 loss to No. 15 Houston. Oklahoma was only outgained 410-393, but the Sooners coughed up a pair of turnovers and couldn’t stop the Cougars and Ward.

They lost five starters from a nasty 2015 defense, including linebackers Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker, cornerback Zack Sanchez and defensive end Charles Tapper. It showed, too. Baker Mayfield threw for 323 yards and two touchdowns, but vaunted backfield tandem Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined for 71 yards on 12 carries.

This could wind up being a good “quality” loss, but it leaves OU with no room for error in its quest for a playoff berth. The Sooners will definitely slide in the rankings.

           

LSU

Les Miles and LSU had a frustrating day versus Wisconsin.
Les Miles and LSU had a frustrating day versus Wisconsin.Morry Gash/Associated Press/Associated Press

Last fall, Les Miles survived a disastrous three-game November losing streak to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss with the understanding that 2016 would be different. After all, the Tigers returned 18 starters, including a rolling ball of destruction in junior tailback Leonard Fournette, and upgraded from Kevin Steele to Aranda to lead a solid defense.

So this was going to be different, right? Right? So far, no. The Tigers rallied from a 13-point third-quarter deficit but couldn’t close the deal in a 16-14 loss to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field. This was not expected to be a vintage Wisconsin team; the Badgers were slated for the middle of the pack in a weak Big Ten West.

Ron Higgins of NOLA.com said this was one of LSU's most embarrassing losses in recent memory. 

"I told (our team) the opportunity to be a good football team and a contender is in front of us, that sometimes you play a marquee team at the beginning of the season and you finish second," Miles said. "The experience, as hard as it is, propels you and gets you ready to play."

The Tigers had only one offensive touchdown, and junior quarterback Brandon Harris was largely ineffective, throwing for 131 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. If that trend continues, LSU fans will run out of patience with both him and Miles, if that hasn’t already happened.

         

UCLA

Josh Rosen and UCLA had a tough day in College Station, Texas.
Josh Rosen and UCLA had a tough day in College Station, Texas.Sam Craft/Associated Press

UCLA faced a tough challenge in its opener at Texas A&M. The Bruins returned just four starters and must replace their leading rusher and receiver, although sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen is a budding star. Making matters worse, coach Jim Mora Jr. was forced to match wits with former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who bolted to A&M following the 2015 season.

The Bruins showed some heart in erasing a 24-9 fourth-quarter deficit and forcing overtime but couldn’t match A&M’s score in overtime and fell, 31-24. Rosen threw a 62-yard strike to Kenneth Walker III and converted the ensuing two-point conversion to tie the game, but that was the highlight of an otherwise uneven day.

He threw for 343 yards but also had three interceptions. UCLA’s road doesn’t get any easier from here; the Bruins host UNLV next week before traveling to BYU and hosting Stanford. Their stay in the Top 25 could prove brief.

Notre Dame

If you’re looking for positives from Sunday’s 50-47 double-overtime loss to Texas, it’s this: Brian Kelly found himself a quarterback. Notre Dame had spent all spring and summer waiting for either DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire to establish themselves as the starting quarterback.

It took actual game action and some alternating drives, but Kizer showed he’s the guy. He completed 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions, while adding 77 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Meanwhile, Zaire completed two of five passes for 23 yards and didn’t play in the second half.

The Irish showed they have issues with up-tempo schemes and now face an uphill battle to make the College Football Playoff, but they have a quarterback who can lead them there and lead a successful season.

    

Southern California and Florida

Southern California officials were so pleased with the job that Clay Helton did as interim coach that they stripped the tag after the Trojans won the Pac-12 South last fall. But after a 52-6 loss to No. 1 Alabama at AT&T Stadium, they might have a little case of buyer's remorse.

The defending national champions outclassed the Trojans, who never put up much of a fight, getting rolled by the Crimson Tide’s balanced attack piloted by none other than former Trojans coach Lane Kiffin. It was the Trojans’ worst loss in 50 seasons; Alabama outgained them 465-194.

Junior Max Browne was ineffective in his first career start, completing 14 of 29 passes for 101 yards and an interception. Following a winnable game against Utah State, tough road trips to Stanford and Utah loom. The Trojans could easily be staring at 1-3 to start October.

Florida won its opener 24-7 over UMass but held only a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter over a Minutemen team that won three games last season. That's not enough to keep them in the poll given the other unranked teams that enjoyed impressive victories this weekend. 

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