By Andy Staples
September 10, 2013
De'Anthony Thomas (6) and Oregon's offense have not missed a beat under new coach Mark Helfrich.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
NCAA Football Power Rankings
1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Las week: 1
Against Texas A&M last November, fans saw something they rarely ever see from Alabama's defense: surprise. Typically, the Crimson Tide are prepared for any eventuality on that side of the ball, but Alabama defenders looked shocked at the speed of Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel. Combine that surprise with a mauling Texas A&M offensive line, and the Aggies had two key ingredients for an upset. 'Bama defenders won't be surprised this year, but that doesn't mean their jobs have gotten easier. Alabama's defense is still built primarily to handle pro-style offenses that pound the ball up the middle. Texas A&M spreads the field with more speed than any team except Oregon, and the Aggies add an elite offensive line. Fortunately for Alabama, linebacker C.J. Mosley is one of the most versatile weapons against a spread offense. He's 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds, and he can work the entire width of the field because his excellent instincts make him seem even faster than he already is. He'll be critical on Saturday. So will cornerbacks Geno Smith, John Fulton and Deion Belue. Texas A&M will run a pair of huge receivers at the Tide. Mike Evans (6-5, 225 pounds) and Ricky Seals-Jones (6-5, 230) are surprisingly fast and big enough to physically dominate most cornerbacks. Alabama's corners will have to be tough and savvy to keep them in check.

Last game: Beat Virginia Tech, 35-10
Next game: Saturday at Texas A&M
2 Oregon Ducks
Last week: 3
Oregon's 31-0 second half in a win at Virginia was impressive enough on Saturday afternoon. Yet on Saturday night, the BYU team the Cavaliers beat the previous week absolutely hammered Texas. At least one of those three games could have been an anomaly, but Oregon's win wasn't. This program hasn't missed a beat after losing former coach Chip Kelly to an NCAA show cause penalty the NFL. Tennessee fans are naturally nervous for this week's matchup after a historic run of Western Kentucky turnovers was the only thing kept their team from crashing against Bobby Petrino's squad. Hopefully, after Oregon gets through with the Volunteers, the faithful will understand how much work Butch Jones has to do to make Tennessee an elite program. After all, programs don't get much more elite than Oregon.

Last game: Beat Virginia, 59-10
Next game: Saturday vs. Tennessee
3 Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 2
In our latest edition of Football Is Easy (If You Happen To Be Someone Probably Capable of Playing Two Different Professional Sports), we spotlight Stanford tailback Tyler Gaffney. Gaffney hadn't played in a football game since the Fiesta Bowl following the 2011 season, opting instead to devote himself in 2012 to playing center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates' single-A affiliate in State College. On Saturday against San Jose State, Gaffney ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns. "The first drive out there, I was light-headed, didn't have my legs under me," Gaffney said. "There were some butterflies, but after that, I started picking up things and felt more comfortable. It was like riding a bike."

Last game: Beat San Jose State, 34-13
Next game: Sunday at Army
4 Ohio State Buckeyes
Last week: 4
Ohio State's worst nightmare is losing quarterback Braxton Miller for a long stretch to an injury, but the Buckeyes are probably breathing easier after watching backup Kenny Guiton replace an injured Miller in the first quarter against San Diego State and lead the offense to six touchdowns. Because of Miller's skill set and because of the way coach Urban Meyer uses Miller in his offense, Miller is going to get dinged. He's a great runner, and he'll have to absorb a lot of hits because of that. But if Guiton can replace Miller with minimal dropoff, it should allow Miller to play and coaches to call plays without fear of what might happen if Miller gets hurt. That's a big mental hurdle to clear for a team with national title aspirations.

Last game: Beat San Diego State, 42-7
Next game: Saturday at Cal
5 Clemson Tigers
Last week: 8
Clemson's season-opening win against Georgia looks even better now. If anything, the way the Bulldogs bullied South Carolina's defense last weekend makes the way Brent Venables' unit stuffed Georgia in the second half in Week 1 that much more impressive. Clemson scheduled well, thumping an FCS team and then allowing itself a bye week before it travels to NC State for a Thursday night ACC opener. The Wolfpack struggled with Richmond on Saturday, but I'll never criticize the Carter-Finley Stadium crowd in this space again. Fat Ray Liotta has learned his lesson.

Last game: Beat South Carolina State, 52-13
Next game: Sept. 19 at NC State
6 Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 9
Need proof the Aggies are still new at this SEC thing? This Texas A&M fan bride-to-be scheduled her wedding for Saturday. An Alabama fan would have known the final schedule hadn't been released yet and never would have risked being disowned by scheduling something so trivial as a wedding on such a sacred day. But just because the Aggies haven't quite adjusted to the protocols doesn't mean they can't compete for the league title. Win this game, and A&M becomes the favorite to win the SEC. (And fans all know what that has meant the past seven seasons.) The Aggies kept things buttoned up on offense in easy wins against Rice and Sam Houston State. Manziel has rushed only 13 times. Tight end Cam Clear, a juco transfer by way of getting dismissed at Tennessee, has yet to catch a pass even though the 6-6, 270-pounder could be a unique weapon in the passing game. The Aggies have brought tailback Brandon Williams, an Oklahoma transfer, along slowly following offseason foot surgery. Texas A&M's defense has looked shaky, allowing two inferior opponents to gain 5.9 yards a carry. The Aggies will get linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive end Gavin Stansbury and cornerback De'Vante Harris back from two-game suspensions this week. If their return doesn't help shore up the defense, it may not matter what Manziel and the offense do or how raw Alabama's offensive line is. For all the talk surrounding Johnny Football, it's the Aggies' defense that is the true cause for concern.

Last game: Beat Sam Houston State, 65-28
Next game: Saturday vs. Alabama
7 Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 7
Coach Jimbo Fisher is a bit of a yeller in practice. He's extremely nitpicky in the meeting room. He probably ratcheted those factors of his personality up to 11 this past week to counteract all the praise being heaped on redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston after Winston's stellar debut against Pittsburgh. If that was a representative performance, the Seminoles are in very good shape. Now, Winston will have to demonstrate consistency. Fortunately for Florida State, the schedule will give Winston some time to fine-tune. Nevada should provide some resistance, but Bethune-Cookman will provide none. Then the 'Noles play at Boston College and home against Maryland before entering a showdown with Clemson that likely will decide which of the two teams remains a national title contender.

Last game: Beat Pittsburgh, 41-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Nevada
8 LSU Tigers
Last week: 13
LSU Tigers (2-0)
It was only UAB, but the crispness of LSU's offense on Saturday should give confidence to a team that has been a competent offense away from dominating college football for the past two seasons. If the improvement under first-year coordinator Cam Cameron continues and defensive coordinator John Chavis keeps his young group sharp, the Alabama-Texas A&M game might not be the most important matchup in the SEC this season. The biggest game might come when LSU faces the winner of that clash.

Last game: Beat UAB, 56-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Kent State
9 Louisville Cardinals
Last week: 10
The Cardinals finally take a detour out of non-AQ land this week and face a team from the mighty SEC. Unfortunately, that team is Kentucky. Mark Stoops and his staff may be building for a brighter future, but the Wildcats' present remains pretty dismal. So even if the Cardinals pound Kentucky, don't expect voters reward them too much for it.

Last game: Beat Eastern Kentucky, 44-7
Next game: Saturday at Kentucky
10 Michigan Wolverines
Last week: 15
Michigan boasted some high-quality offense -- with the glaring exception of whatever that was that resulted in Stephon Tuitt's interception in the end zone -- but the Wolverines provided some even higher quality trolling on Saturday. As Notre Dame walked off the field at Michigan Stadium for what could be the last time in a long time, the stadium speakers blared "The Chicken Dance." Earlier this year, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke accused the Irish of chickening out of the series.


Last game: Beat Notre Dame, 41-30
Next game: Saturday vs. Akron
11 Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 14
That is how a team rebounds from a loss. The Bulldogs jumped on the Gamecocks and then stayed up even when it appeared South Carolina would take the lead in the third quarter. Quarterback Aaron Murray was tremendous -- and didn't seem the least bit afraid of Jadeveon Clowney -- as he threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. But let's not forget Murray's offensive line. That group put together a phenomenal drive as the Bulldogs bled the clock and salted the game away in the fourth quarter. I'm not sure which play from this game would have made the best Larry Munson call, but I've narrowed it down to two options. It's either the Murray rollout and touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley or the critical goal-line stand. Let's imagine how Munson would have called that goal-line stand ...

Third-and-goal from just inside the three. We're up 10. We can't give 'em this one. We just can't. If they score here, they're coming all the way back and breaking our hearts. Hunker down, men. Hunker. Down. Shaw takes the snap. C'mon Jordan. Get 'em. Shaw pitches to Davis. Davis thunders toward the goal line and... WE DID IT! WE BURIED HIM! OUR BACKS WERE AGAINST THE WALL, AND WE BURIED HIM! Georgia football. Oh, lord. We're backed up on our own goal line. This seemed so much better five seconds ago.

Last game: Beat South Carolina, 41-30
Next game: Sept. 21 vs. North Texas
12 Baylor Bears
Last week: 16
Baylor's Art Briles seems like the kind of guy who would appreciate Louisiana-Monroe coach Todd Berry's occasional experimentation with two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. Briles is doing fine with just Bryce Petty, who I'm contractually obligated to remind you is the second member -- joining Clemson's Tajh Boyd -- of the Lane-Kiffin-Didn't-Want-Me-At-Tennessee Club. Petty has fit in nicely at Baylor. So far this season, he has thrown for 650 yards and four touchdowns. He hasn't needed to throw much, because Baylor's stable of backs includes Lache Seastrunk (9.3 yards a carry), Shock Linwood (6.1 yards a carry) and Anthony Webb (7.1 yards a carry). Glasco Martin, the bruiser who led the Bears in carries last year, is averaging 4.1 yards a carry while still feeling the lingering effects of a broken ankle suffered this spring.

Last game: Beat Buffalo, 70-13
Next game: Sept. 21 vs. Louisiana-Monroe
13 Miami Hurricanes
Last week: NR
Florida State is the only team remaining on Miami's schedule that has close to the kind of defense the Hurricanes faced on Saturday against Florida. That bodes very, very well for Miami's offense. The 'Canes' defense was the question mark. While it did allow Florida's offense to gain 413 yards, it also forced five turnovers. Those weren't solely Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel's fault. Miami's defense, particularly the front four, helped Driskel make those mistakes. Now, the 'Canes' bye week comes at a particularly fortuitous time. So does the Savannah State game. Miami has a lot of young players who might struggle to handle this kind of win. This break will allow Al Golden to get his team recalibrated for a very manageable stretch leading up to the Hurricanes' visit to Tallahassee on Nov. 2. After Saturday's win, Miami should expect a big season. It has to handle the weight of loftier expectations.

Last game: Beat Florida, 21-16
Next game: Sept. 21 vs. Savannah State
14 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last week: 19
The investigative series reported by SI's George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans began today, but it remains to be seen how -- or if -- the expose will affect the Cowboys on the field. For the players, the series may result in a lot of questions from friends and loved ones, but since nothing puts a current player's eligibility in question, it'll just be a distraction. How the fallout will affect coaches and staffers is less clear. The Oklahoma State administration has pledged to meet any accusations head-on. This situation certainly won't keep Oklahoma State from beating Lamar, and with an open date before the Cowboys open Big 12 play at West Virginia on Sept. 28, things should be back to normal by the next time Oklahoma State plays a meaningful game.

Last game: Beat Texas-San Antonio, 56-35
Next game: Saturday vs. Lamar
15 South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 5
Of all the ways the marquee matchups of the first two weeks could have played out, the way it did kept the most teams alive in the national title hunt. Clemson needed to beat Georgia, because a loss for an ACC team hurts much more than a loss for an SEC team. (I'm not saying this is fair, just pointing out how things work.) Georgia had to beat South Carolina because it has the more unfortunate SEC schedule draw with LSU coming to Athens on Sept. 28. Now the Gamecocks have to regroup and try to do to the Bulldogs what the Bulldogs did to them the past two seasons. The schedule sets up well, but South Carolina needs Georgia to lose twice for the Gamecocks to back into the SEC East title. Oh, and Steve Spurrier's team has to win its next seven conference games. Easier said than done.

Last game: Lost to Georgia, 41-30
Next game: Saturday vs. Vanderbilt
16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 6
The Irish defense may not have to face a quarterback-receiver combo better than Michigan's Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon for the rest of the season, but there are plenty of challenges remaining on a tough schedule. Purdue probably won't be one of them, but the Irish will need to bounce back to prepare for a stretch that includes visits from Michigan State and Oklahoma.

Last game: Lost to Michigan, 41-30
Next game: Saturday at Purdue
17 Northwestern Wildcats
Last week: 22
Just when Wildcats fans were trying to enjoy their team's easier-than-expected win over Syracuse, a couple of big-money programs went splat. Now they have to start worrying about their coach again. Pat Fitzgerald is very loyal to Northwestern. Michigan went after Fitzgerald and he said no. That got Fitzgerald a raise and -- more importantly -- a raise for his assistants as well as a pledge to build a football facility on the shore of Lake Michigan. But USC and Texas may be looking for a new coach by season's end. The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein, who is extremely plugged in at Northwestern, thinks Fitzgerald might consider an opportunity at one of those programs. Most coaches would.

Last game: Beat Syracuse, 48-27
Next game: Saturday vs. Western Michigan
18 Washington Huskies
Last week: 18
Washington's Week 3 game may have looked easy as Huskies coaches watched film on the Illini over the summer, but it doesn't look so easy now. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is flourishing in first-year coordinator Bill Cubit's offense. In Saturday's win against Cincinnati, Scheelhaase threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns. If Washington wants to build on its season-opening romp against Boise State, the Huskies will need to stop Scheelhaase. Washington's offense should also be more dynamic. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was suspended for the season opener because of an offseason DUI arrest, will return to the lineup.

Last game: Beat Boise State, 38-6
Next game: Saturday vs. Illinois in Chicago
19 Florida Gators
Last week: 12
The Gators should be thankful for the SEC's national title streak. Florida started the streak and also won the national title in 2008, so the current Gators should maybe thank their predecessors. Because of that streak -- and the reputation the league has developed over the course of it -- no SEC team is out of the mix after one loss. This is particularly true of an out-of-conference loss. Florida's defense is good enough to keep the Gators in every game, but to win against good teams, the offense will have to give them more. The good news for Florida is that the offense moved the ball well against Miami. The bad news is that the Gators coughed up five turnovers. But the big boys in the SEC East all have a loss -- Tennessee and Missouri are the only ones that remain undefeated -- so Florida still has hope, even if it doesn't feel that way at the moment.

Last game: Lost to Miami, 21-16
Next game: Sept. 21 at Tennessee
20 Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 17
After Blake Bell relieved Trevor Knight at the end of West Virginia game on Saturday, the Sooners may have a quarterback competition flaring up. That's manageable at this point because the bigger story is that Oklahoma's defense appears to have vastly improved since last year. West Virginia doesn't have Tavon Austin or Geno Smith anymore, but this was the same offensive scheme the Mountaineers used to put up 49 points on the Sooners in 2012. Gabe Lynn seems to be adjusting well to the nickel. On Saturday, he had an interception and a fumble recovery. Meanwhile, exquisitely named linebacker Eric Striker has given the Sooners some added versatility as a pass rusher. "I really like this group," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said after the West Virginia win. "I like the players. I like their attitudes. I like their toughness. It's definitely something we can build on."

Last game: Beat West Virginia, 16-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Tulsa
21 UCLA Bruins
Last week: 21
We can talk football later, but for now send your thoughts to the Bruins and the family of UCLA walk-on Nick Pasquale, who died on Sunday morning after he was hit by a car while walking in his hometown of San Clemente, Calif. Pasquale's teammates nicknamed the 5-7 receiver "Pacman" in honor of his exploits on the scout team as a freshman last year. Pasquale was 20.

Last game: Beat Nevada, 58-20
Next game: Saturday at Nebraska
22 Wisconsin Badgers
Last week: NR
The Badgers haven't played anyone of consequence yet, but they've beaten two sacrificial lambs by a combined score of 93-0. What does that tell fans about the smoothness of first-year coach Gary Andersen's transition? Absolutely nothing. We'll finally learn something when the Badgers visit Tempe on Saturday.

Last game: Beat Tennessee Tech, 48-0
Next game: Saturday at Arizona State
23 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Week: NR
The Cornhuskers played much better defensively against Southern Miss, limiting the Golden Eagles to 284 yards and scoring on a 43-yard Stanley Jean-Baptiste pick-six. The improvement may be due to the fact that Southern Miss is still trying to climb out of the hole it dug during last year's 0-12 nightmare. We'll find out exactly how good the Blackshirts are on Saturday, when quarterback Brett Hundley and UCLA come to Lincoln.

Last game: Beat Southern Miss, 56-13
Next game: Saturday vs. UCLA
24 Ole Miss Rebels
Last week: 23
This week in Austin, the Rebels will play a Texas team that got utterly humiliated by BYU last Saturday -- so humiliated that defensive coordinator Manny Diaz got fired. This is also basically the same Texas team that pounded Ole Miss, 66-31, in Oxford last season. That means it will be up to the Rebels to prove they aren't the same squad that Texas saw last September.

Last game: Beat Southeast Missouri State, 31-13
Next game: Saturday at Texas
25 TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 20
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on Sunday that TCU quarterback Casey Pachall could miss at least eight weeks after breaking his non-throwing arm on Saturday. For the second consecutive season, Trevone Boykin will have a compressed time to prepare for his ascension to the starting job. The good news? Unlike last year, he's already playing quarterback, and he'll have five days instead of two to prepare. The bad news? He'll be starting on a Thursday night in Lubbock. That won't be easy.

Last game: Beat Southeastern Louisiana, 38-17
Next game: Thursday at Texas Tech

Next five: Arizona State, Fresno State, Michigan State, Northern Illinois, Auburn

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

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