Tuesday September 14th, 2010

The rankings are a mess this week. I'll be the first to admit it.

As I sat to formulate this week's Associated Press poll ballot on Sunday morning, I considered sending a question to the AP poll overlords: Can I just leave Nos. 11-17 blank?

The top 10 teams deserve their lofty rankings. In fact, I can envision any of the 10 competing for the national title if things break right this season. After that, it's a Pu Pu platter. Should Utah be ranked No. 12? Probably not, but no one else seemed deserving, either. Ditto for South Carolina at No. 13.

Hopefully, this weekend will provide some clarity. While there aren't many blockbuster games, there are some interesting ones (Iowa-Arizona, Nebraska-Washington, Texas-Texas Tech, Arkansas-Georgia) that should give us a better idea about the national pecking order.

Until then, we've got what basically amounts to guesswork. The messiness of the poll has understandably inspired a slew of e-mails suggesting we delay the start of the poll until after four or five games have been played. As a voter, I would love that. More information is always better than less. But that will never happen, and here's why.

Unless Lane Kiffin announces he's leaving USC to challenge Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012, these Power Rankings will be the most viewed piece of college football content on SI.com this week. Many of you are obsessed with where your team is slotted. Heck, the AP poll doesn't even count for anything, and many of you will be so offended by where your team is ranked (or not ranked) that you'll spend your valuable time writing impassioned e-mails explaining why I placed your team in the wrong slot.

My guess is that if I went to my bosses and suggested waiting until Week 5 to begin publishing the Power Rankings, they'd say this: "As soon as people stop clicking on them, we'll let you wait four weeks to write them."

A few more notes on this week's rankings...

• If you want to know what I think Virginia Tech's loss to James Madison does to Boise State's national title chances, read the third item from Saturday's Snap Judgments. (As for Virginia Tech, I'm establishing a new rule: If you lose to an FCS team, you're automatically out of the poll and you'll have to work your way back in.) Also, a note on Boise State's scheduling: I worded it poorly last week when I said your school's AD should call and schedule Boise State -- if he isn't scared. As we learned last week, Nebraska wasn't scared. Just cheap. I should have included the phrase "fair market value." If San Jose State gets $1 million to get killed by Alabama, then Boise State -- which all but guarantees a national TV appearance for the host school -- is worth at least that much.

• I didn't rank Michigan this week because I still don't know how good the Wolverines are. I know quarterback Denard Robinson is one of the best players in the country, but a win against Notre Dame doesn't reveal anything because we don't know if Notre Dame is any good, either. Though Michigan has cupcakes the next two weeks, the Wolverines could crack the poll next week and climb the following week. If Notre Dame beats Michigan State next week, I'll be satisfied enough to rank Michigan. If the Fighting Irish beat Stanford on Sept. 25, Michigan's win will look even more impressive, and the Wolverines will rise again.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 1
The Crimson Tide will be back at full strength this week with tailback Mark Ingram (knee) and defensive end Marcell Dareus (suspension) returning. That's bad news for the Blue Devils, who gave up 54 points to Wake Forest on Saturday. (Duke also scored 48, but that won't happen against 'Bama.) It's not all bad for Duke, though. By refusing to sell this game to a neutral site, Duke got a significant bump in season ticket sales thanks to Alabama fans snapping up seats. A Duke season ticket costs $200 -- or less than it costs a 'Bama fan to fill his RV for the trip to Durham.
Last game: Beat Penn State, 24-3
Next game: Saturday at Duke
 
2Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 3
The Buckeyes' impressive win against Miami earned them a bump in the rankings. Unfortunately, Ohio State fan Geoff in Columbus didn't have such a good week. Geoff's lack of reading comprehension skills made him the author of this week's Disgrace to the University e-mail of the week. After reading last week's Power Rankings, Geoff wrote: "You're an idiot. How can Boise St. move ahead of the Buckeyes when they both won?" The answer? I didn't move Boise State ahead of Ohio State last week. I'd had Boise State slotted at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 3 since January. This week, however, I placed the Buckeyes above the Broncos because Ohio State looked fantastic against Miami. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor gets all the attention, but Cameron Heyward, Chimdi Chekwa and the rest of the defense deserves a lot of credit for making Ohio State one of the most complete teams in the country.
Last game: Beat Miami, 36-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Ohio
 
3Boise St. Broncos
Last Week: 2
So why did Boise State lose ground while idle? Believe it or not, the drop has nothing to do with Virginia Tech's loss. Ohio State looked so good that I changed my opinion. If the Buckeyes and Broncos met on a neutral field, I now believe Ohio State would win. Boise State doesn't enjoy all the advantages of wealthy programs like Ohio State, but that doesn't mean I can grade on a curve. That's not fair to the other teams. On the other hand, I still believe Boise State can beat all the teams ranked below.
Last game: Beat Virginia Tech, 33-30
Next game: Saturday at Wyoming
 
4Oregon Ducks
Last Week: 5
Oregon reminds me a little of Alabama last year. In 2009, I foolishly started the Crimson Tide at No. 10. This preseason, I ranked the Ducks No. 8. So far, all they've done is utterly annihilate their first two opponents. Granted, they were a terrible New Mexico and a mediocre Tennessee, but Oregon's consistency on defense and ability to score in bunches should give everyone in the Pac-10 pause. This week, the Ducks are No. 4. By the end of the month, they might be No. 1.
Last game: Beat Tennessee, 48-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Portland State
 
5Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 4
The Longhorns have to be nervous heading to Lubbock for the first time since the loss that cost them a shot at the 2008 national title. The defense is as filthy as expected, but the offense hasn't looked sharp yet. Fozzy Whittaker will become Texas' third starting tailback in three games. Whittaker averaged 8.9 yards a carry last week against Wyoming. If Fozzy can keep that up against the Red Raiders, the Longhorns might Wocka Wocka their way to a big win.
Last game: Beat Wyoming, 34-7
Next game: Saturday at Texas Tech
 
6TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 6
This week's opponent, Baylor, has yet to give up a touchdown this season. Horned Frogs quarterback Andy Dalton will change that. But TCU's defense will be tested. Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III could be a one-man upset. If TCU beats Baylor, the Horned Frogs may not be challenged again until they face BYU on Oct. 16.
Last game: Beat Tennessee Tech, 62-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Baylor
 
7Iowa Hawkeyes
Last Week: 7
As the driver of the Adrian Clayborn-for-Heisman bandwagon, I'm disappointed Saturday's game kicks off at 10:30 p.m. That's way past the bedtime of most of the Heisman voters who insist on choosing a quarterback or running back every year. It's also a shame more people won't watch this game, because the Hawkeyes can make a big statement with a road win against an Arizona team that could challenge for the Pac-10 title.
Last game: Beat Iowa State, 35-7
Next game: Saturday at Arizona
 
8Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 8
The Badgers are going to get their 100 yards from tailback John Clay -- who hit the century mark for the eighth consecutive game on Saturday -- but they need more out of quarterback Scott Tolzein as the schedule gets tougher. Tolzein threw an interception and fumbled three times against San Jose State. If Tolzein has gotten the sloppiness out of his system, the Badgers should be fine. If not, they'll be ripe for an upset.
Last game: Beat San Jose State, 27-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Arizona State
 
9Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Week: 10
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini dressed down a team Saturday that averaged 8.8 yards a carry on offense and intercepted five passes (with two returned for touchdowns) in a three-touchdown win. That's a good sign for the Cornhuskers, who still have work to do but should be good enough to beat most opponents while working out the kinks.
Last game: Beat Idaho, 38-17
Next game: Saturday at Washington
 
10Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 12
Everyone is high on Oklahoma again after the Sooners whacked Florida State on Saturday, but don't be too hard on Oklahoma if it squeaks one out this week against Air Force. The Falcons rolled up 409 rushing yards against BYU this past weekend, and their option is difficult to prepare for in a week. Also, Air Force's offense tends to hog the ball, which keeps the opponent's score low. If Oklahoma can survive Saturday, that will be good enough.
Last game: Beat Florida State, 47-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Air Force
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