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College Football

Alabama, LSU maintain top spots; Michigan State surges into top five

We'll start with an announcement.

Those of you who prefer only football with your football can rejoice. Those of you who enjoy the occasional Billy Squier video with your Top 25 are out of luck.

After a season of experimentation, I've decided to write the Power Rankings straight this year. I had hoped that a different theme each week would liven up the incredibly boring exercise of explaining why I ranked one team above another, and the concept did just that. Unfortunately, it also took far longer than I anticipated each week. In order to spend more time with Urban Meyer's family, I'm retiring the gimmick for now. But be warned. I never did write my A Song of Ice and Fire or periodic table themed rankings. I reserve the right to slip those in at some point this season.

As for the rankings themselves, little has changed. They'll mirror my Associated Press poll ballot unless something major -- critical injury news, a coach has a motorcycle accident with a mysterious passenger aboard -- happens between Sunday morning and Tuesday morning. (I also may change something if lack of sleep due to covering a night game caused me to make a boneheaded choice.) When ranking the teams, I don't use any sort of mathematical formula or wacky system. If I have a team ranked No. 3, it means I think that squad would lose to the team ranked No. 2 on a neutral field and would beat the team ranked No. 4 on a neutral field.

The best way to let me know I got the rankings wrong is on Twitter, but understand that you probably won't change my mind. Arguing rankings is a lot like arguing balls and strikes with an umpire. You can kick all the dirt you want, but ultimately we're going to agree to disagree.

On to the rankings...

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1<a href=Alabama Crimson Tide" title="Alabama Crimson Tide">
Preseason rank: 1



This screen grab from ESPN's broadcast explains everything about Alabama's offensive dominance Saturday. This is T.J. Yeldon's 40-yard run in the second quarter. When you hear a football coach talk about "getting a hat on a hat," this is what he sees in his wildest dreams. Most offenses don't block this well against air. Although there is another team in the SEC with a similarly dominant line. Oh look, it's...

Last game: Beat Michigan, 41-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Western Kentucky
 
2<a href=LSU Tigers" title="LSU Tigers">
Preseason rank: 2
...LSU, which picked up right where last year's team left off in terms of rolling over defenses that don't reside in Tuscaloosa. Back Kenny Hilliard started the cavalcade of touchdowns 150 seconds in with a 38-yard run, and the Tigers rolled up 316 yards against the outmanned Mean Green. This week should provide a more intriguing challenge. Though Odell Beckham Jr.'s 70-yard punt return for a touchdown answered one prong of the How-will-LSU-fare-without-Tyrann-Mathieu question, North Texas didn't have the personnel to test LSU's secondary. Washington quarterback Keith Price will test it. In fact, LSU may not see a quarterback near Price's level until it faces AJ McCarron in 2012's Game of the Year of the Decade of the Century of the Millennium.

Last game: Beat North Texas, 41-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Washington
 
3<a href=USC Trojans" title="USC Trojans">
Preseason rank: 3
Just when everything was going so smoothly for USC, more allegations of past impropriety surfaced. Whether Joe McKnight received money while at USC should have little effect on this team as long as NCAA president Mark Emmert -- fresh off ignoring a sordid history of no-show classes at North Carolina -- spins his Wheel-o-Punishment and decides to circumvent his organization's disciplinary process for the second time in two months. (Highly unlikely even if Emmert sees a PR opportunity in it.) Of far more immediate concern is -- don't laugh -- the Syracuse offense. Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for 470 yards in a shootout loss to Northwestern. Of course, the Trojans did hold Hawaii to 79 first-half passing yards Saturday, and linebacker Hayes Pullard returned an interception for a touchdown. So maybe USC will just dare Syracuse to throw, because the Orange will not stop Matt Barkley and the Trojans' offense.

Last game: Beat Hawaii, 49-10
Next game: Saturday vs. Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J.
 
4<a href=Oregon Ducks" title="Oregon Ducks">
Preseason rank: 4
For the second time in two seasons, Oregon upgraded from a quarterback who led it to a conference title the season before. Marcus Mariota showed why Darron Thomas inexplicably turned pro, completing 18-of-22 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, tailback De'Anthony Thomas continued to post mind-boggling numbers. Consider these statistics for Thomas: seven touches, 119 yards, three touchdowns. Seventeen yards a touch is a tough pace to keep up, but Thomas is such a great fit for Oregon's offense that he might be able to pull off 13. As a freshman, Thomas averaged 11.9 yards on 101 touches. For the sake of comparison, Percy Harvin averaged 11.4 yards a touch while helping Florida to a national title as a freshman in 2006, and Reggie Bush averaged 9.4 yards a touch during his Heisman campaign in 2005.

Last game: Beat Arkansas State, 57-34
Next game: Saturday vs. Fresno State
 
5Michigan St. Spartans
Preseason rank: 10
If Michigan State's receivers can start hauling in quarterback Andrew Maxwell's passes, the Spartans will easily be the most complete team in the Big Ten. Tailback Le'Veon Bell, who gained 265 yards on 50 touches, is going to run himself into the Heisman discussion, but the Spartans must be careful not to wear him out like Javon Ringer in 2008. After five games that season, Ringer averaged 37.4 carries and 179.4 rushing yards a game. The rest of the way, he averaged 25.4 carries and 92.5 yards a game. Some of the dropoff was a function of playing better opponents, but some could be blamed on the fact that humans -- no matter how impressively constructed -- simply aren't built to withstand that many full-speed collisions in such a short period of time.

Last game: Beat Boise State, 17-13
Next game: Saturday at Central Michigan
 
6Arkansas Razorbacks
Preseason rank: 12
I dropped Arkansas in my preseason poll based entirely on the coaching change, but upon further review, I've decided to give John L. Smith the benefit of the doubt. This has nothing to do with the fact that Smith personally calls reporters who didn't realize his press conference started early. Arkansas has a lot of playmakers on offense, but we won't really know how good the Razorbacks are -- or how much the firing of Bobby Petrino affected them -- until they play Alabama in Fayetteville on Sept. 15. If they win that, they'll be in the top five. If they get whipped, they won't. These things have a way of working themselves out.

Last game: Beat Jacksonville State, 49-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, Ark.
 
7<a href=West Virginia Mountaineers" title="West Virginia Mountaineers">
Preseason rank: 8
I know I'm not the only one who watched the Friends of Coal Bowl Saturday and wondered, as Fox cameras zoomed in on Dana Holgorsen chugging from a Gatorade squeeze bottle, if Holgorsen's personal bottle contained Red Bull. The Mountaineers' offense certainly seemed energized. It picked up right where it left off at the Orange Bowl, scoring touchdowns on six of its first seven possessions. Holgorsen also was in midseason form on his Statewide Sportsline show Thursday. After you listen to Holgorsen's response to a question about Marshall decoding West Virginia's hand signals, you'll probably tune in again this week.


Last game: Beat Marshall, 69-34
Next game: Sept. 15 vs. James Madison
 
8Florida St. Seminoles
Preseason rank: 11
Defensive end Brandon Jenkins will miss the rest of the season because of a foot injury sustained Saturday. That's a shame for Jenkins, who easily could have gone to the NFL after last season. For the Seminoles, the loss is a blow, but it isn't as bad as it might have been at another position. Bjoern Werner is a terror on the other side, and Florida State has Tank Carradine, Giorgio Newberry and star recruit Mario Edwards Jr. to potentially fill in for Jenkins. Still, for a team that had awful injury luck on offense in 2011, 2012 has not started well in that department on defense. Jenkins' injury and cornerback Greg Reid's dismissal have tested the depth of a unit that still should be dominant despite its losses.

Last game: Beat Murray State, 69-3
Next game: Saturday vs. Savannah State
 
9<a href=South Carolina Gamecocks" title="South Carolina Gamecocks">
Preseason rank: 5
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday that quarterback Connor Shaw could barely lift his throwing arm and is "wait and see" for East Carolina. That isn't surprising. Shaw could barely lift the arm Thursday at Vanderbilt after he sustained a deep bruise on his right shoulder in the second quarter. To Shaw's credit, he gutted out the win. The Gamecocks will need Shaw healthy before they get back to SEC play, but those who criticized Shaw's passing ability before the injury need to realize his main job is not chucking the ball around the field. It's keeping the defense confused as to whether he or tailback Marcus Lattimore has the ball on zone-read plays. Given the confusion from Vandy's defense and from ESPN's cameras before Shaw got hurt, he was doing that job quite well. If Shaw can't play, it might make South Carolina better in the long run. Backup Dylan Thompson's biggest problem Thursday was getting the ball snapped in time. If Thompson can learn to run the offense efficiently against a non-AQ foe, the Gamecocks will be that much deeper when Shaw is healthy.

Last game: Beat Vanderbilt, 17-13
Next game: Saturday vs. East Carolina
 
10<a href=Oklahoma Sooners" title="Oklahoma Sooners">
Preseason rank: 9
Credit John Hoover of the Tulsa World for asking Sooners coach Bob Stoops one of the questions on everyone's mind after Oklahoma's lackluster offensive performance at UTEP: Why didn't Roy Finch play a down of offense? Finch, Oklahoma's No. 2 rusher in 2010 and 2011, replaced Dominique Whaley as the No. 1 tailback last season after Whaley broke his ankle. Monday, Hoover asked Stoops why Finch, who has since been moved to slot receiver, didn't see any action. Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman transcribed the exchange, but here are the nuts and bolts. Stoops blew off the question by asking Hoover why he didn't want to know about "the other 90 guys" who didn't get in the game. Hoover fired back that he didn't want to ask about the other guys because none of them were the starting tailback at the end of last season. "OK, well he isn't today," Stoops replied. Stoops need not get bent out of shape when a reporter asks a valid question that many Oklahoma fans wondered about after the UTEP game. Stoops has been doing this long enough to know that this kind of question will come when a formerly high-powered offense carries over its sputtering from the end of the previous season. The only way to end the questions -- and Stoops' aggravation with them -- is to score. Stoops made a valid point Monday that people are far too quick to pass judgment on a team or a unit based on the first game, but almost any question about Oklahoma's offense is valid at this point. Fortunately for the Sooners, they have a warm-up against Florida A&M and an open date before they open Big 12 play against Kansas State on Sept. 22. Any lingering issues will need to be addressed by the time Bill Snyder arrives in Norman.

Last game: Beat UTEP, 24-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida A&M
 
11<a href=Georgia Bulldogs" title="Georgia Bulldogs">
Preseason rank: 7
Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told The Columbia Daily Tribune that he turned off the Georgia-Buffalo game because Georgia's style didn't suit his tastes. "It's like watching Big Ten football," Richardson told the paper. "It's old-man football." Kudos for knowing to press the Big Ten button when trolling an SEC rival, but Sheldon, we've got to talk. If you don't like offensive lines that employ reasonable splits and coordinators who try to ram the ball down their opponents' throat, you're going to be very disappointed in your school's new conference of choice. Georgia's old-man offense looked fine Saturday thanks to young man Todd Gurley. The freshman tailback ran for 100 yards on eight carries and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Now, the Bulldogs head to Columbia -- no, not that one -- to face James Franklin -- no, not that one -- in the first SEC game in Missouri's history. Faurot Field will rock like it did when the Tigers upended No. 1 Oklahoma in 2010. Of particular concern for Georgia is the ankle of cornerback/receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell moved to corner this spring in large part because the Bulldogs would be without suspended starter Sanders Commings for this game, but Mitchell missed the Buffalo game because of the sprain.

Last game: Beat Buffalo, 45-23
Next game: Saturday at Missouri
 
12<a href=Wisconsin Badgers" title="Wisconsin Badgers">
Preseason rank: 6
If Appalachian State-Michigan in 2007 taught us anything, it's this: Do not schedule an elite FCS program for your season opener. If you insist on playing a team below your caste, schedule a bad non-AQ FBS program. Elite FCS programs tend to be well-coached outfits populated by fundamentally sound overachievers capable of playing well over their heads for 60 minutes. They can make a good team look pretty bad, as Northern Iowa did to the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium this past weekend. OK, scheduling lesson over. A visit to Corvallis should give us a better idea whether Wisconsin has serious issues.

Last game: Beat Northern Iowa, 26-21
Next game: Saturday Oregon State
 
13<a href=Nebraska Cornhuskers" title="Nebraska Cornhuskers">
Preseason rank: 18
Taylor Martinez threw five touchdown passes? Against an Ellis Johnson defense? Maybe the Mayans were correct about 2012. If this keeps up, I'll have to bump the Cornhuskers even higher. During a week in which a ton of programs worked out some ugly kinks, Nebraska came out humming. The Blackshirts should get a bit of a test this week against UCLA and quarterback Brett Hundley, who completed 21-of-28 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 68 yards and a score against Rice.

Last game: Beat Southern Miss, 49-20
Next game: Saturday at UCLA
 
14Texas Longhorns
Preseason rank: 21
It was only Wyoming, but the blueprint for the Texas offense seems to be taking shape. After spending two years without an identity following the departure of Colt McCoy, the Longhorns may have morphed into the power running team coach Mack Brown envisioned. Brown continues to preach offensive balance, but if tailbacks Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron can average 7.8 yards a carry, as they did on Saturday, the Longhorns may have a go-to strategy when things get tough. Of course, success in the running game tends to open up the passing game. So does having a quarterback who isn't looking over his shoulder. Saturday, starter David Ash completed 20-of-27 passes. He threw for only 156 yards, but he also didn't throw an interception.

Last game: Beat Wyoming, 37-17
Next game: Saturday vs. New Mexico
 
15<a href=Clemson Tigers" title="Clemson Tigers">
Preseason rank: 16
Clemson baptized a receiver on offense and exorcised the demons of the Orange Bowl on defense in Week 1. What will it do for an encore? Tangle with a MAC team (Ball State) and an FCS opponent (Furman) before a potentially season-defining ACC Atlantic Division showdown against Florida State. This sets up fairly well for the Tigers, who have one game before star receiver Sammy Watkins returns from suspension to develop other playmakers and one game after Watkins returns to work him back into the offense before the trip to Tallahassee.

Last game: Beat Auburn, 26-19
Next game: Saturday vs. Ball State
 
16Kansas St. Wildcats
Preseason rank: 15
Bill Snyder, who would schedule Savannah State for all three nonconference games each year if he could, continues to get hamstrung by successor/predecessor/master negotiator Ron Prince. Just check out this incredible canned quote from Prince on the Kansas State press release when the Miami home-and-home series was signed in 2006: "The addition of the University of Miami to our future schedules is another step toward reaching our goal of balancing the rigors of playing in the Big 12 and competing on a national stage in select out-of-conference games on an annual basis," Prince said. "We are thrilled that the University of Miami has agreed to participate with us in what promises to be an outstanding intersectional matchup." This kind of statesmanship is why the entire Internet has advocated for Prince to be hired for every head-coaching opening since he was fired in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Snyder has merely gone about the business of actually winning games. He beat Miami last year, and he'll do it again this year unless Hurricanes freshman tailback Duke Johnson gets loose for the second consecutive week.

Last game: Beat Missouri State, 51-9
Next game: Saturday vs. Miami
 
17<a href=Baylor Bears" title="Baylor Bears">
Preseason rank: NR
From excellent Baylor sports information guru Heath Nielsen comes the following photo.



Yes, that's Baylor quarterback Nick Florence and the West Virginia Mountaineer at Big 12 media days. Florence is the one in the hat. You may not have recognized him because he wasn't raining passes down on hapless SMU defenders. Sunday, Florence threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns, proving Baylor's offense didn't leave with Robert Griffin III. Florence and his doppelganger will meet again. After all, Florence and West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith may wind up dueling for the title of top passer in the Big 12.

Last game: Beat SMU, 59-24
Next game: Sept. 15 vs. Sam Houston State
 
18<a href=TCU Horned Frogs" title="TCU Horned Frogs">
Preseason rank: 17
TCU will open the renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium Saturday. Athletic director Chris Del Conte hopes it will be "the Camden Yards of college football." Six of the suites cost a cool $15 million each. In any other year, this would allow me to make a joke at the expense of SI.com college football editor Mallory Rubin's beloved Orioles, but not in 2012. As for TCU, Saturday probably won't tell us anything. On Sept. 15, the Horned Frogs open Big 12 play against Kansas -- which might make them forget they ever left the Mountain West.

Last game: None
Next game: Saturday vs. Grambling State
 
19Michigan Wolverines
Preseason rank: 13
Yes, we overrated Michigan in the preseason. But the Wolverines' humiliation by Alabama probably had more to do with the Crimson Tide's dominance than it did with Michigan's shortcomings. Few teams in the country belong on the same field as Alabama, so the loss doesn't mean Michigan stinks. It just means the Wolverines aren't a nationally elite program at the moment. The way to move toward that level is to win the Big Ten Legends Division and the Big Ten title. Those goals remain in play for the Wolverines, and if what we saw from the rest of the Big Ten this weekend is any indication, those goals aren't entirely unreasonable.

Last game: Lost to Alabama, 41-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Air Force
 
20<a href=Ohio St. Buckeyes" title="Ohio St. Buckeyes">
Last Week: NR
Remember how I wrote above that lack of sleep because of night games sometimes wreaks havoc on my AP poll ballot? It happened early Tuesday morning after I covered the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game in Blacksburg. I filed my ballot at 3:34 a.m., and instead of heeding the note I wrote to myself Saturday that said RANK OHIO STATE, I didn't rank Ohio State. So my AP ballot has Louisville at No. 24 and Missouri at No. 25. Sorry, Tigers, but you'll be ranked quite high if you beat Georgia this week. As for the Buckeyes, the fireworks started with the Devin Smith catch and continued for three quarters. Quarterback Braxton Miller is ideally suited to run Meyer's offense, and it showed as he threw for 207 yards and ran for 161 more. If the Buckeyes keep up that pace, they won't slip any pollster's mind again, because they'll be ranked way too high for that.

Last game: Beat Miami (Ohio), 56-10
Next game: Saturday vs. Central Florida
 
21Virginia Tech Hokies
Preseason rank: 19
Despite a few playmakers at receiver and a quarterback who will light up NFL draft workouts next year, Virginia Tech looked like the same old Hokies for most of Monday. Fantastic defense, inconsistent offense. Any team that can hold Georgia Tech to 192 rushing yards and 288 total yards can play some serious D. Linebacker Jack Tyler was everywhere, racking up 17 tackles against the Yellow Jackets. This was nothing for Tyler. In a game for Oakton (Va.) High, he made 36 tackles. "All legit," he said with a smile. It was the final 44 seconds of regulation that suggested Virginia Tech's offense may evolve. First, the line -- which replaced four starters -- blocked well all night and protected especially well on the last-minute, game-tying drive. Second, quarterback Logan Thomas stopped trying to force bombs and allowed receiver Corey Fuller to make a play twice on slants that Fuller turned into big gains. If Thomas can take advantage of Fuller, Dyrell Roberts and speedster Demitri Knowles, and if D.J. Coles can recover from his knee injury enough to contribute, the offense could turn into something special.

Last game: Beat Georgia Tech, 20-17 (OT)
Next game: Saturday vs. Austin Peay
 
22Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Preseason rank: 24
We don't really know anything about Oklahoma State because the Cowboys played what might be the worst team in Division I. We'll know a lot more after the Cowboys visit the House of RichRod this week. Miserable competition aside, at least Oklahoma State got in a dress rehearsal (that counts) to help true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt adjust to the rhythm of the game.

Last game: Beat Savannah State, 84-0
Next game: Saturday at Arizona
 
23<a href=Tennessee Volunteers" title="Tennessee Volunteers">
Preseason rank: NR
While recently dismissed receiver Da'Rick Rogers celebrated his first victory as a Tennessee Tech player, star juco transfer Cordarelle Patterson torched NC State with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown and a 67-yard touchdown run. Meanwhile, first-year coordinator Sal Sunseri's defense shook off some early coverage busts and clamped down on NC State quarterback Mike Glennon. Afterward, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley wisely dismissed the notion that Friday's win means the Volunteers are back to a championship level. "It's one game," Dooley said. "I already know you are going to say we were there, we're on our way. It's one game. It really doesn't mean anything other than we won the first game." Still, that was a promising Week 1 win. If Dooley thinks everyone blew that one out of proportion, just wait and see what happens if the Vols beat Florida on Sept. 15.

Last game: Beat NC State, 35-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia State
 
24<a href=Notre Dame Fighting Irish" title="Notre Dame Fighting Irish">
Preseason rank: NR
Brian Kelly presented a game ball to his offensive line after the Fighting Irish rolled up 293 rushing yards against Navy. That group will probably have to work a lot harder this week against Purdue and defensive tackle Kawann Short. Short, who blocked two kicks in the Boilermakers' season opener against Eastern Kentucky, is a likely future first-rounder. But if the Irish offense continues to roll smoothly against Purdue, the upcoming brutal two-week stretch (at Michigan State, Michigan) won't seem so impossible.

Last game: Beat Navy, 50-10
Next game: Saturday vs. Purdue
 
25Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: NR
They came against Kentucky, so take that for what it's worth. But Louisville's three first-half touchdown drives went for 99, 85 and 93 yards. That's an awful lot of offensive consistency from sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 19-of-21 passes for 232 yards, and backs Senorise Perry (one touchdown) and Jeremy Wright (three touchdowns), who ran for 108 and 105 yards, respectively. Cardinals coach Charlie Strong was quick to point out Monday that Louisville played well against Kentucky last year and then turned around and lost to FIU. A similar lapse won't happen against Missouri State.

Last game: Beat Kentucky, 32-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Missouri State

Next five: Missouri, Georgia Tech, Stanford, Boise State, Washington

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

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