UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
College Football

Alabama holds top spot; Oklahoma State impresses after Week 1

Photo: Trask Smith/ZumaPress.com

After replacing Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh racked up 260 total yards and a TD.

When my preseason rankings debuted, Oklahoma State fans let me have it with both of Pistol Pete's barrels. I was the only AP Poll voter to leave the Cowboys off my ballot, and I'm pretty sure a few Eskimo Joe's T-shirts were ripped off as a prelude to a threat of a butt whipping. Nebraska fans were equally vocal over my omission of the Cornhuskers, followed closely by Georgia fans who thought I had the Bulldogs ranked way too low.

After a week of games, I owe it to each fan base to address it individually.

To the Oklahoma State fans, I'm very sorry. I blew it. The Cowboys should have been ranked. They showed it on Saturday against Mississippi State. I wondered how the team would respond to a pair of new coordinators. The defense looked great. The offense -- after a quarterback change -- quickly rounded into form. So as penance, I'm sentencing myself to a series of punishing workouts led by Oklahoma State strength coach Rob Glass. Since I already went through a series of these as a college freshman, I'm declaring puke served. (The puke was my fault for being out of shape. Had I listened more closely to Glass, I'd have been a blocking machine, or at least not so terrible.)

MANDEL: Clemson, Washington make Week 1 statements; more Overtime

To the Nebraska fans, we still don't know who is correct. Yes, your team won 10 games last year and appears to have an easy schedule. But the Cornhuskers' defense allowed 602 yards on Saturday and Nebraska barely escaped Wyoming at home. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence. To make these Power Rankings, I listed all the teams that might be deserving of a spot with no numbers next to their names. Michigan State and Nebraska wound up next to one another, and I had to decide which one to put on top. Michigan State's offense is as bad as Nebraska's defense. Michigan State's defense is as good as Nebraska's offense. So which team do I pick: the team that can score but can't stop anyone or the team that can't score but can stop everyone? I realize Nebraska beat Michigan State last year, but I opted for defense over offense and gave Michigan State the higher ranking. When I added numbers next to the names, Michigan State wound up No. 25, and Nebraska wound up No. 26. So they'll be mad at me again in Nebraska, but that's OK. All the Cornhuskers have to do to climb is play some defense. Beating UCLA on Sept. 14 would probably do the trick.

As for Georgia fans, you'll probably agree after Saturday that I guessed correctly on your team's ranking. This fan probably believes I still have the Bulldogs ranked too high. The catch is that I may still be wrong on the Bulldogs. It may turn out that Clemson is elite, and that a three-point loss on the road to the Tigers may not be so bad. Beat South Carolina on Saturday, and you could hop right into the top 10.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Alabama Crimson Tide
Preseason rank: 1
The Crimson Tide, who had to revamp their offensive line since it was last spotted bulldozing Notre Dame, allowed four sacks and gained only 96 rushing yards against Virginia Tech. There's a PAWWWWWWWWWWWWL in there somewhere, and it's safe to say the nerves are a little frayed in the Yellowhammer State. This is what happens when a fan base has too few actual losses about which to complain. People worry in spite of the fact that their team cruised to a 25-point win against a possibly-slightly-above-average BCS conference opponent. Alabama has earned the benefit of the doubt over the past few years. This performance may have been an anomaly. (Another possibility? Virginia Tech, which is known for fielding very good defenses, has a very good defense.) At any rate, we'll find out exactly how good this Alabama team is the next time it takes the field. That will come on Sept. 14 in College Station. We in the media may have mentioned this game a time or two.

Last game: Beat Virginia Tech, 35-10
Next game: Sept. 14 vs. Texas A&M
 
2Stanford Cardinal
Preseason rank: 2
The Cardinal didn't play last weekend because Stanford biomedical engineering grad students determined the optimum rest interval for a football team in a season with a 15-week playing window begins with a bye in Week 1. OK, I just made that up. But it won't hurt the Cardinal's cadre of superior pass rushers to have an extra week of practice as they prepare to hunt San Jose State quarterback David Fales. In lieu of a breakdown of what happened in Week 1, watch Stanford coach David Shaw's TED talk.



Last game: None
Next game: Saturday vs. San Jose State
 
3Oregon Ducks
Preseason rank: 5
Unlike predecessor Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich didn't have to send out any refunds after his debut as Oregon's head coach. Of course, there is a bit of a difference between playing at Boise State and bringing in Nicholls State for a body-bag game, but as the fine folks in Corvallis will attest this week, those body-bag games aren't always easy. This one was easy for the Ducks, who had three rushers break 100 yards for the first time in school history. Tailbacks De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall and quarterback Marcus Mariota all cracked triple digits, and Thomas believes the Ducks could do the same against tougher competition as well. "I feel like we could have that every game," Thomas told The Register-Guard. "We are going to be better and better every week." Oregon with Helfrich running the show and Scott Frost calling the plays looked a lot like Oregon under Kelly. Helfrich hasn't messed with a good thing, and that's a very encouraging sign.

Last game: Beat Nicholls State, 66-3
Next game: Saturday at Virginia
 
4Ohio State Buckeyes
Preseason rank: 4
We probably won't get a really good look at the Buckeyes until Week 3 at Cal, but Ohio State developed some secondary depth against Buffalo with Armani Reeves filling in for suspended cornerback Bradley Roby and Corey (Pittsburgh) Brown filling in for safety C.J. Barnett, who sat with an ankle injury. The Buckeyes should have both starters back on Saturday, but expect the backups to get plenty of playing time against a San Diego State team that opened with a loss to Eastern Illinois.

Last game: Beat Buffalo, 40-20
Next game: Saturday vs. San Diego State
 
5South Carolina Gamecocks
Preseason rank: 6
The Gamecocks find themselves on the opposite side of the scheduling coin this season, but they shouldn't let that make them comfortable. Given Georgia's schedule, South Carolina could likely survive a loss to the Bulldogs and still win the SEC East title -- just as Georgia survived losses to the Gamecocks and still won the SEC East in each of the past two years. But since anything can happen, South Carolina shouldn't relax. Georgia has a young defense, and if that group puts things together, the Bulldogs are capable of running the table. South Carolina has a prime opportunity on Saturday. With wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell out for the season, Georgia has one less dynamic target. That might allow South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward to leave more men in the box in an attempt to stop Todd Gurley, who showed at Clemson in Week 1 why he's in the conversation when discussing the nation's best backs. This is what Ward's predecessor, Ellis Johnson, did against Alabama in 2010, and South Carolina held a team that had Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to 38 rushing yards. In that game, the Gamecocks elected to make Greg McElroy beat them. In this game -- with Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton providing the pressure off the edge -- the safer play might be forcing Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray to beat them rather than taking their chances with Gurley and Keith Marshall.

Last game: Beat North Carolina, 27-10
Next game: Saturday at Georgia
 
6Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Preseason rank: 8
I was checking Twitter on Monday when I noticed that a feed dedicated to helping Tommy Rees win the Heisman had followed me. I can't say I have a problem with this. Rees acted counter to today's conventional quarterback wisdom, opting to stay at Notre Dame instead of transferring once it became obvious the Irish would be Everett Golson's team. It's not Golson's team because he got himself suspended for the semester. Uber-recruit Gunner Kiel bailed rather than compete or wait. That left Rees, who has done everything that's been asked of him and earned the respect of his teammates. Now, he just has to help Notre Dame negotiate a bear of a schedule. Rees threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns against Temple. More importantly, he threw zero interceptions. If he continues to take care of the football and helps provide the field position to help the Fighting Irish defense suffocate opponents, that schedule won't be so daunting.

Last game: Beat Temple, 28-6
Next game: Saturday at Michigan
 
7Florida State Seminoles
Preseason rank: 13
Yep, I'm going there. I'm taking a long pull off that garnet-and-gold Kool-Aid after watching quarterback Jameis Winston dismantle Pittsburgh on Monday night. It's way too early to predict a Johnny Football-type breakout for Winston as a redshirt freshman, but Winston certainly seems capable. Jimbo Fisher's play-calling should also inspire confidence. Yes, I wrote that with a straight face. Think about it. After that way-too-cute shovel pass to Kelvin Benjamin on third-and-short on the Seminoles' first possession, Fisher mostly called plays that either put the ball in the hands of stud backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. or gave Winston the freedom to seek out an open receiver. Nothing else looked like an I-have-this-in-the-script-so-I-must-run-this pet play. The offense appeared organic instead of rote. Maybe that's Winston. Maybe that's a changed Fisher. Or maybe it's a mix of both. It was just one game, but the Seminoles looked awfully good.

Last game: Beat Pittsburgh, 41-13
Next game: Sept. 14 vs. Nevada
 
8Clemson Tigers
Preseason rank: 10
Perhaps the most impressive facet of Clemson's win against Georgia in Week 1 was the way the Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage in the second half. The prevailing notion is that Clemson is a soft, pass-happy team, but that wasn't true at the end of last season and it certainly wasn't true on Saturday. The offensive line created some nice openings for tailback Roderick McDowell, who then broke tackles and gained even more yards. On defense, ends Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes all got after Bulldogs quarterback Murray. The 270-pound Crawford even proved he can cover, dropping back and picking off a Murray pass in zone coverage and then scooting like a running back once he had the ball.

Last game: Beat Georgia, 38-35
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina State
 
9Texas A&M Aggies
Preseason rank: 3
If you're looking for a psychoanalysis of Johnny Manziel's gestures, you'll find plenty of people willing to offer expert commentary. I'm not one of them. If you're looking for an assessment of how coach Kevin Sumlin is handling his star player, I will offer you this one tidbit. Remember when all that stuff came out about what a pain Percy Harvin was at Florida? Well, he was a pain. Remember how many years Harvin played at Florida? The answer is three. Remember how many national titles Florida won those years? The answer is two. Sometimes, extremely talented players pose issues for coaches because they understand quite clearly their importance to the team. Manziel is the most important player on Texas A&M's team. Every coach on the staff knows it, and every player in the locker room knows it. If Texas A&M hopes to win an SEC or national title, it needs Manziel. So everyone clamoring for Sumlin to bring the iron fist down on Manziel needs to keep in mind that Sumlin has a high professional and financial motivation to keep Manziel happy and on the field. Now, if Sumlin wants to try a little attitude adjusting, he probably could tinker with Manziel's playing time against Sam Houston State without dire consequences. But the Aggies don't want to change Manziel's personality. It's part of what makes him the player he is. They just don't want his celebrations costing them 15 yards, because they can't afford to just give yards away when Alabama comes to town on Sept. 14. Still, Manziel probably isn't Sumlin's chief worry this week. A defense that allowed Rice to move the ball fairly easily in the first half is a much thornier problem. The Aggies had five starters missing in Week 1, so the full-strength defense will have to prove it is much better than the light version.

Last game: Beat Rice, 52-31
Next game: Saturday vs. Sam Houston State
 
10Louisville Cardinals
Preseason rank: 7
What the Cardinals did to Ohio on Sunday is exactly what they're going to have to do to every opponent this season if they hope to have a chance at playing for the national title. The League Formerly Known As The Big East is an AQ in name and bowl affiliation only. Louisville's only AQ nonconference opponent in 2013 is lowly Kentucky. Simply winning every game probably won't be enough. The Cardinals will have to annihilate their opponents to earn the respect of voters, who will need to love them extra to compensate for computer rankings that will be dragged down by schedule strength.

Last game: Beat Ohio, 49-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Eastern Kentucky
 
11Texas Longhorns
Preseason rank: 10
The Longhorns' offense looked pretty tentative for almost a half. Then it exploded. The opponent was only New Mexico State, but watching Texas find different ways to get the ball into the hands of its best athlete (Daje Johnson) represents real progress for a team that seemed bereft of offensive creativity in recent years. The most interesting of these was a three-man cluster of backs around quarterback David Ash. Ash handed off to Johnson, who was sprung for a 24-yard touchdown by tailback Johnathan Gray. BYU and Ole Miss will test Texas in its next two games, but this was a promising start for the 'Horns.

Last game: Beat New Mexico State, 56-7
Next game: Saturday at BYU
 
12Florida Gators
Preseason rank: 9
Even without suspended cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and suspended linebacker Antonio Morrison, the Gators' defense looked nasty in Week 1. Toledo may be a MAC team, but it's a good MAC team, and Florida held the Rockets 240 yards below their 2012 average. Florida's offense didn't shock the world, but playing without top back Matt Jones (illness), the Gators averaged a respectable 5.9 yards a carry. In most games, the offense will only need to eat clock, mount a few scoring drives and let the defense do the rest -- just like last year. But if the Gators want to get over the hump and win the SEC East, they'll need something more in big games. Saturday should provide a great test. As good as Florida's defense is, it won't be easy to hold Miami tailback Duke Johnson in check. The offense will have to do its part as well.

Last game: Beat Toledo, 24-6
Next game: Saturday at Miami
 
13LSU Tigers
Preseason rank: 14
The defense looked a lot better than a group replacing so many early NFL departures should, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger looked very comfortable in first-year coordinator Cam Cameron's offense. The offense was without star tailback Jeremy Hill, who dressed but did not play after pleading guilty this summer to sucker-punching a man while on probation for a sex crime. (This guy will play at some point this season -- probably sooner rather than later -- and my hackier brethren are worried about Manziel's hand gestures. So there you go.) LSU should only get better when Hill comes back. I may have seriously underestimated the Tigers in my preseason rankings. The good news for LSU is that it doesn't matter what any of us think in the preseason. They play in the SEC West, and if they win, they'll be in the national title hunt.

Last game: Beat TCU, 37-27
Next game: Saturday vs. UAB
 
14Georgia Bulldogs
Preseason rank: 12
The Bulldogs left offensive tackle Kenarious Gates one-on-one with Clemson defensive ends for much of the night, and twice (once against Beasley, once against Barnes) Gates was beaten around the edge for a sack. This means there is no way Georgia can leave Gates one-on-one against Clowney in Week 2. He'll need help from a tight end or a back, which means Georgia will have one fewer receiver in the pattern. Most likely, Murray will lose a check-down option, which stinks for the Bulldogs. Because to whom do you throw to avoid a sack? Your check-down option. The Bulldogs' offensive line needs to whip the Gamecocks in the running game. As I wrote above, South Carolina will dare Georgia to run. If the Bulldogs accept that challenge up front, Clowney and Sutton can't hurt them. Georgia's young defenders also need to grow up quickly. There were times on Saturday when the defensive line got pushed around in the running game. South Carolina's Mike Davis may not be Gurley, but he showed against North Carolina that if you give him a hole -- and a defensive back takes a horrendous angle -- he can run for a long time.

Last game: Lost to Clemson, 38-35
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina
 
15Michigan Wolverines
Preseason rank: 18
This is the last Notre Dame-Michigan game in Ann Arbor for a while, and Michigan coach Brady Hoke has accused the Fighting Irish of chickening out of the series. Michigan's Fielding Yost chickened out of the series more than a century ago, so now the programs are even. Still, this should be a good matchup to go out on. We've already discussed Notre Dame. Michigan looked sharp in its opener as well. Tailback Fitz Toussaint came back from a broken leg, and quarterback Devin Gardner was efficient in his first game playing in an offense tailored for him by coordinator Al Borges. Gardner, who threw two interceptions on Saturday, will have to be more careful with the ball, but his ability to run and pass should stretch Notre Dame's defense.

Last game: Beat Central Michigan, 59-9
Next game: Saturday vs. Notre Dame
 
16Baylor Bears
Preseason rank: 17
The Bears once again violated the commandment that forbids scheduling good FCS programs when a lesser one is available. As Oregon State and Kansas State -- which lost to FCS semifinalist Eastern Washington and the FCS national champ North Dakota State, respectively -- learned the hard way, good FCS teams tend to be well coached and tough. So Wofford, which reached the FCS quarterfinals last year, probably wasn't the best choice for Baylor's Week 1 opponent. It didn't matter. The Bears crushed the Terriers. Does this mean we should pencil in Baylor as the Big 12 favorite? Of course not. But it does mean quarterback Bryce Petty looked quite comfortable at the helm of the Bears' offense. Don't be surprised if Baylor is undefeated going into November. Unless Kansas State and Iowa State, which both lost to FCS teams this weekend, get better and provide some resistance, the Bears don't have much standing in their way between now and Oklahoma on Nov. 7. Baylor's last five games are positively brutal, but it should have some confidence heading into that stretch.

Last game: Beat Wofford, 69-3
Next game: Saturday vs. Buffalo
 
17Oklahoma Sooners
Preseason rank: 19
It was only against Louisiana-Monroe, but that goose egg on one side of the scoreboard had to feel good for the Sooners, who got shredded for much of last season. Besides, we know Louisiana-Monroe can move the ball. We know Kolton Browning is an effective quarterback. It didn't make a difference. Oklahoma shut down the Warhawks, holding them to 166 total yards. Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight only passed for 86 yards, but he ran for 103. After years of Sam Bradford and Landry Jones standing still and throwing darts to receivers, Knight's style of play may have felt unusual, but if it works, it works.

Last game: Beat Louisiana-Monroe, 34-0
Next game: Saturday at West Virginia
 
18Washington Huskies
Preseason rank: NR
The Huskies didn't just beat Boise State on Saturday night. They pounded the Broncos. No one has done that since Georgia in 2005, and even if Boise State is finally headed for a down year, it's doubtful anyone will beat the Broncos like that again. Quarterback Keith Price looked as fantastic as the renovated Husky Stadium, and Washington torched Boise State's usually stellar defense even without suspended star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The Huskies have been stuck at slightly above average throughout Steve Sarkisian's tenure. Maybe this is the year they finally move off the seven-win plateau.

Last game: Beat Boise State, 38-6
Next game: Sept. 14 vs. Illinois in Chicago
 
19Oklahoma State Cowboys
Preseason rank: NR
As I wrote above, I was wrong about the Cowboys. I should have ranked them in the preseason, and I apologize for the omission. I wondered how they would respond to two coordinator changes, and the answer -- at least on one side of the ball -- is really, really well. Under Glenn Spencer, who was promoted after Bill Young was pushed out, the Oklahoma State defense stoned Mississippi State. The Bulldogs simply could not move the ball. (Any defensive coordinator who will jump-bump a defensive tackle in celebration has got some serious fire.) Meanwhile, the offense moved quite well once quarterback J.W. Walsh came in for Clint Chelf. Walsh looked an awful lot like Oregon's Mariota when he ran the read option, which has to worry Big 12 defensive coordinators. Head coach Mike Gundy has already named Walsh the starter going forward, so the offense should have a clear identity.

Last game: Beat Mississippi State, 21-3
Next game: Saturday at Texas-San Antonio
 
20TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 16
There is no shame in losing to LSU, but the Horned Frogs will have to pick themselves up off the canvas and move forward. They'll do so with Casey Pachall, who was pulled in favor of Trevone Boykin, as their starting quarterback. Coach Gary Patterson quickly squelched any controversy on Monday, reiterating that Pachall will start and Boykin will likely play at some point. With Boykin essentially running the option, TCU got within three points of the Tigers late. Because the two quarterbacks are so different, it's possible this arrangement could work quite well going forward. It will force opposing defenses to practice essentially against two different offenses.

Last game: Lost to LSU, 37-27
Next game: Saturday vs. Southeastern Louisiana
 
21UCLA Bruins
Preseason rank: 21
After the Bruins rolled up 647 yards against Nevada, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone sang the praises of redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley to the Los Angeles Times. "It looked like he is actually breathing on plays instead of holding his breath like last year," Mazzone told the paper. "Last year, he was just running the plays I called. This year he is understanding. He's asking for things. He's seeing things. That's pretty cool." It's also pretty scary if you're a defensive coordinator who must face UCLA. In a year when every team in the Pac-12 South might take a step forward, the Bruins seem to have the highest ceiling.

Last game: Beat Nevada, 58-20
Next game: Sept. 14 at Nebraska
 
22Northwestern Wildcats
Preseason rank: 22
Did the Wildcats fake injuries at Cal? I don't know. But I do know that Bears fans complaining about a team faking injuries is one piping hot slice of irony pie. At any rate, the Wildcats suffered some very real injuries that could affect them going forward. Cornerback Daniel Jones (knee) is done for the season, while starting quarterback Kain Colter is day-to-day after leaving the Cal game early with a concussion. Quarterback Trevor Siemian finished the game and will start in Week 2 if Colter can't play. Tailback/returner Venric Mark (lower body injury) is also day-to-day. This could be a special year for Northwestern, but that could become much more difficult if the injuries persist.

Last game: Beat Cal, 44-30
Next game: Saturday vs. Syracuse
 
23Ole Miss Rebels
Preseason rank: NR
The Rebels' thrilling win in Nashville was especially sweet because Ole Miss got contributions from several of its hyped freshmen. Usually, players need time to adjust, but receiver Laquon Treadwell (nine catches for 82 yards), defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (tackle for loss, converted fake punt) and cornerback Tony Conner (interception) chipped in right away. Stealing an SEC road win in Week 1 is a great way to start a season. Now, the Rebels get Southeast Missouri State before embarking on a gauntlet that includes consecutive games against Texas, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU.

Last game: Beat Vanderbilt, 39-35
Next game: Saturday vs. Southeast Missouri State
 
24Cincinnati Bearcats
Preseason rank: NR
Coach Tommy Tuberville didn't leave Texas Tech because he couldn't win there. He simply didn't fit. He probably doesn't fit much better at Cincinnati, but he's going to keep on pumping out teams that play better than their on-paper talent would suggest. The Bearcats thumped Purdue on Saturday, and their tour through the dregs of the Big Ten continues on Saturday in Champaign.

Last game: Beat Purdue, 42-7
Next game: Saturday at Illinois
 
25Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: 15
The Michigan State defense outscored the Michigan State offense 14-12 on Friday against Western Michigan. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio would not discuss on Monday whether he planned to change quarterbacks, but I have a better idea that will allow Dantonio to keep from hurting any one quarterback's feelings. Michigan State is set to face South Florida, which just got destroyed at home by McNeese State, so now is the time for experimentation. The first time the Spartans stop the Bulls' offense, linebacker Max Bullough should walk to the referee before the punt and say, "Nah, we're good. They can just keep it." Using this method, which I'm calling All Narduzzi Everything, Michigan State might finally maximize its scoring potential.

Last game: Beat Western Michigan, 26-13
Next game: Saturday vs. South Florida

Next five: Nebraska, Arizona State, Miami, USC, Northern Illinois

Andy Staples' Power Rankings also serve as his ballot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

More College Football

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.