By Andy Staples
September 17, 2013
Devin Gardner (98) and Michigan fell in this week's rankings after barely scraping by Akron on Saturday.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
NCAA Football Power Rankings
1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Las week: 1
After getting put through the wringer by Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, Alabama's defense gets to face something a lot more familiar and a lot less potent. Colorado State is coached by Jim McElwain, who ran Alabama's offense from 2008-11. That should give Crimson Tide defenders time to recover from last weekend's shootout. Even though Texas A&M exposed a weakness in Alabama's defense (man coverage against big receivers), not many teams will be able to exploit that weakness because they won't have the necessary talent at quarterback, tailback and along the offensive line. While film study probably hasn't been fun for the Tide, Alabama endured a lot of teachable moments that should help it prepare for its next SEC game. Ole Miss, which comes to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 28, runs a hurry-up spread and has two excellent large receivers (6-foot-3, 226-pound Donte Moncrief and 6-3, 215-pound Laquon Treadwell). Since Dr. Bo Wallace is no Johnny Football, coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart should be able to devise a better plan than leaving the corners alone to get roasted.

Last game: Beat Texas A&M, 49-42
Next game: Saturday vs. Colorado State
2 Oregon Ducks
Last week: 2
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has done almost everything right in his first nine months on the job, but even the smoothest transitions have an occasional bump. On Saturday, Helfrich stepped in it when he said "circumstances" kept tight end Colt Lyerla from playing against Tennessee. In this case, the only circumstance -- according to Lyerla in an interview with The Oregonian -- was a case of the flu. But since Lyerla has previously missed time for personal issues, Helfrich's cryptic explanation sent imaginations into overdrive. Helfrich could have avoided the issue by remaining consistent with team policy to not discuss players' health. That would have saved Helfrich and Lyerla a lot of grief. The lesson here? Don't be weird. If it's something innocent, tell the truth. Or just stick to the policy of not commenting on player health issues. (That second option also covers the coach in case the explanation is not so innocent and the coach is trying to spare the player some embarrassment.) Part of being a head coach is having every decision dissected, so Helfrich will have to get used to this. The good news? The only reason anyone is talking about this situation is the Ducks have been so good that there are no on-field conflicts to discuss. If this is the worst thing Helfrich gets criticized for this season, it means he's doing great.

Last game: Beat Tennessee, 59-14
Next game: Sept. 28 vs. Cal
3 Ohio State Buckeyes
Last week: 4
The old saw is that if a team doesn't have one quarterback, it's got no quarterbacks. That isn't the case for the Buckeyes. Backup Kenny Guiton was excellent starting in place of injured starter Braxton Miller (knee) at Cal, and now coach Urban Meyer has to decide how to deploy both going forward. Meyer proved in 2006 at Florida with Chris Leak and a young Tim Tebow that he knows how to handle having two capable quarterbacks at the same time, but this is a slightly different situation because Guiton and Miller have similar skill sets. This case is more similar to the one at South Carolina, where Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson have each proven themselves capable leaders of the offense. For the Gamecocks, Thompson has dutifully waited his turn and then stepped in admirably when Shaw's rough-and-tumble style has left him injured. Given the way Miller plays, Guiton is an incredibly valuable resource. Since the Buckeyes face Wisconsin next week and then turn around and travel to Northwestern, it might be wise to rest Miller and give Guiton another full game in charge of the offense. That way, both players will be prepared for the Big Ten schedule.

Last game: Beat Cal, 52-34
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida A&M
4 Clemson Tigers
Last week: 5
It stinks to be a road favorite on a Thursday night. Top teams go to a place that doesn't usually get a national spotlight (if it did, the game wouldn't be played there on Thursday), and the fans and players whip themselves into a frenzy because they have an opportunity to make a splash with the entire country watching. They have nothing to lose. In this case, the Tigers have everything to lose. Things couldn't set up much better for Clemson. The Tigers get Florida State at home, and the Seminoles appear to be the only ACC team -- on paper, at least -- that can hang with coach Dabo Swinney's squad. South Carolina, which plays Clemson in its regular-season finale, has shown vulnerability. Because an undefeated record with this particular schedule would be good enough to win the ACC Atlantic and SEC East, Clemson will be a serious national title contender if it keeps winning. In other words, this would be the worst possible time to Clemson, but it seems to be the ultimate opportunity to Clemson. (Did I use the term correctly that time, Dan Rubenstein and Ty Hildenbrandt?)

Last game: Beat South Carolina State, 52-13
Next game: Thursday at NC State
5 Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 3
The Cardinal have the Alabama-like habit of thoroughly beating inferior opponents without blowing them out. We're accustomed to Alabama doing this, so it doesn't often affect the Crimson Tide's ranking. We're still getting used to it with Stanford. This week will provide the first real challenge for the Cardinal. If the line can block Sun Devils defensive tackle Will Sutton and the front seven can contain Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, then a four-touchdown victory won't be necessary to impress voters.

Last game: Beat Army, 34-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Arizona State
6 Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 6
My fellow voters and I disagree here. Enough people dropped Texas A&M on their ballots after Saturday's loss to Alabama that the Aggies dropped from No. 6 to No. 10 in the composite AP Poll. I left the Aggies where I had them ranked last week. The No. 6 team is supposed to lose to the No. 1 team by a fairly slim margin. That's why it was ranked No. 6 and not No. 1.

Last game: Lost to Alabama, 49-42
Next game: Saturday vs. SMU
7 Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 7
The Seminoles were playing Nevada, and they were playing at the same time Alabama faced Texas A&M, so hardly anyone saw episode 1.02 of The Jameis Winston Show. The redshirt freshman quarterback lit it up again, completing 15-of-18 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns in an easy win. More interesting, however, was the eight-carry, 110-yard, one-touchdown performance from Karlos Williams, who moved to tailback from safety during Florida State's open date. Why did Williams change positions? Because the Seminoles are loaded at safety. So now he's in the backfield, where Florida State already has Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. That's a scary thought.

Last game: Beat Nevada, 62-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Bethune-Cookman
8 LSU Tigers
Last week: 8
LSU Tigers (3-0)
This week's game against Auburn should help a lot in establishing the SEC pecking order. Coach Gus Malzahn is off to a great start on the Plains, and his players seem to have tossed off the losing attitude that invaded the program last season. LSU struggled with that awful Auburn team last year, escaping Jordan-Hare Stadium with a narrow 12-10 win. Both sets of Tigers are better, but Saturday should provide a better gauge of how much each team improved during the offseason.

Last game: Beat Kent State, 45-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Auburn
9 Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 11
The Bulldogs finally get the early-season creampuff that most of their peers faced two or three weeks ago. Thanks to that and last week's bye, Georgia should be able to work left tackle Kenarious Gates (knee, ankle) and tailback Keith Marshall (knee) back into the lineup in preparation for LSU's visit on Sept. 28. Or not. Georgia should beat North Texas easily without Gates and Marshall if they aren't ready and need extra rest before taking on the Tigers between the hedges.

Last game: Beat South Carolina, 41-30
Next game: Saturday vs. North Texas
10 Louisville Cardinals
Last week: 9
I hate to keep harping on this, but given the relative rancidity of Louisville's schedule, the Cardinals have to put the hammer down on their opponents if they hope to compete for a national title. They didn't do that against Kentucky last week. While this was encouraging news for Kentucky fans looking for on-field proof that coach Mark Stoops and his staff are changing things for the better, it didn't help Louisville at all. Fortunately, the Cardinals now get a visit from FIU, which just lost by three touchdowns to Bethune-Cookman at home because athletic director Pete Garcia -- the guy who once hired Isiah Thomas as his basketball coach -- had the brilliant idea of firing Mario Cristobal and hiring Ron Turner. Teddy Bridgewater could trip and still score a touchdown on Saturday.

Last game: Beat Kentucky, 27-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida International
11 Baylor Bears
Last week: 12
The Bears don't face their first AQ-conference opponent until Oct. 5 against West Virginia, but a game against the Warhawks might give fans some inkling of how Baylor stacks up against one of its conference rivals. Though the transitive property isn't always accurate, it will be interesting to see how Baylor fares against a pretty good mid-major that Oklahoma recently beat 34-0. That's pretty much all we'll have to go on for the Bears until October.

Last game: Beat Buffalo, 70-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe
12 Miami Hurricanes
Last week: 13
Hurricanes coaches have no need to worry about a letdown after the huge-for-the-program win against Florida on Sept. 7. Miami had a bye last week, and now the 'Canes will face one of the worst programs in the FCS in Savannah State. On Sept. 28, Miami travels to face South Florida, which has gotten creamed at home by McNeese State and Florida Atlantic. By the time Miami opens ACC play against Georgia Tech on Oct. 5, the Hurricanes should have no concerns about a potential letdown.

Last game: Beat Florida, 21-16
Next game: Saturday vs. Savannah State
13 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last week: 14
The Cowboys get a bye week after an easy win over Lamar. The SI series clearly didn't affect Oklahoma State's performance on the field last Saturday, so there is no reason the Cowboys shouldn't be confident heading into Big 12 play at West Virginia next week. Oklahoma State's defense has been excellent, and the quarterback J.W. Walsh-led offense should move the ball efficiently against the Mountaineers' defense.

Last game: Beat Lamar, 59-3
Next game: Sept. 28 at West Virginia
14 South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 15
If rest is the best remedy for the bone spurs plaguing Jadeveon Clowney's aching foot, it will be interesting to see how Clowney performs against UCF after a week off. The Gamecocks will need a solid defensive performance against Knights quarterback Blake Bortles, who completed 20-of-27 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns in UCF's win at Penn State last Saturday.

Last game: Beat Vanderbilt, 35-25
Next game: Sept. 28 at UCF
15 UCLA Bruins
Last week: 21
With Clowney slowed, the nation's most disruptive defensive player might currently be Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr. With Nebraska trying just about everything to slow him, Barr racked up 11 tackles and three forced fumbles in UCLA's comeback win in Lincoln. "He knows he's going to get double-teamed," Bruins defensive coordinator Lou Spanos said on Saturday. "He knows he's going to get chipped. He knows he's going to get cut. He still goes 110 percent." Spanos also said Barr doesn't play up or down to the level of his competition, so don't expect much of a dropoff against New Mexico State in Week 4.

Last game: Beat Nebraska, 41-21
Next game: Saturday vs. New Mexico State
16 Northwestern Wildcats
Last week: 17
All is going according to plan so far for the Wildcats. They have proven their backfield depth in the absence of injured tailback Venric Mark, as Treyvon Green, the No. 3 back, ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns against Western Michigan. Meanwhile, safety Ibraheim Campbell has intercepted a pass in five consecutive games. Northwestern should get an easy win this week against Maine. Then the Wildcats will have a bye week to prepare for a visit from Ohio State on Oct. 5. That game is huge, and not just for the national title implications for the Buckeyes. Northwestern plays in the crowded top section of the Big Ten Legends division, and all schedules are not created equal. Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska all look capable of competing for the division title, but only Northwestern and Michigan have to play Ohio State. Northwestern stealing that game against the Buckeyes would have huge implications both locally and nationally.

Last game: Beat Western Michigan, 38-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Maine
17 Washington Huskies
Last week: 18
The Huskies weren't satisfied with last week's win in Chicago after allowing Illinois to slash a 21-point lead to seven in the second half. That's a promising sign. For the past few years, Washington has struggled to get off a mediocre plateau. The best evidence the Huskies are finally moving up? They get angry after wins like Saturday's because they know they can play even better.

Last game: Beat Illinois, 34-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Idaho State
18 Michigan Wolverines
Last week: 10
When the Wolverines survived Akron's upset bid on Saturday, the mass exhalation swept down from Ann Arbor, through Ohio and Kentucky, hung a hard right in Tennessee, dropped down through Arkansas and wound up making the flags flutter in College Station. That would have been a disastrous loss against a massively overmatched opponent. To put it in perspective, Appalachian State in 2007 was a much better team than Akron is in 2013. The good news for Michigan? It won and everyone will forget that game if the Wolverines keep winning. The bad news? It might take a little while for people to forget, so Michigan will drop in the rankings a bit until it can prove the Akron scare was a fluke.

Last game: Beat Akron, 28-24
Next game: Saturday at Connecticut
19 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 16
Because I've adjusted Michigan down, I must also adjust down the team that lost to Michigan in Week 2. I had already planned to do this after the Wolverines' escape against Akron, but Notre Dame's sloppy win over Purdue only reinforced the decision. This week, Michigan State's defense will challenge the Fighting Irish offense, so Notre Dame's defense will have to play much better than it did against the Boilermakers.

Last game: Beat Purdue, 31-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Michigan State
20 Florida Gators
Last week: 19
Here's a quarterback stat line: 14-of-20, 219 yards, two touchdowns, eight carries, 81 yards. Is that Johnny Football playing three quarters against a creampuff? Nope. Those are Jeff Driskel's numbers against Tennessee's defense in Florida's 37-20 win last year in Knoxville. So don't read too much into this game if Driskel goes wild. For Tennessee fans looking for any glimmer of improvement after the frustrating win over Western Kentucky and the humiliating loss at Oregon, a respectable defensive performance against the offensively challenged Gators would represent a step in the right direction. If Florida's offense saws through the Volunteers again, it probably says more about Tennessee than it does about Florida.

Last game: Lost to Miami, 21-16
Next game: Saturday at Tennessee
21 Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 20
With quarterback Blake Bell starting in place of the injured Trevor Knight, the Sooners' offense looked more like it did when Sam Bradford and Landry Jones were slinging footballs in Norman. Bell went 27-of-37 for 413 yards and four touchdowns, and his play got him named the starter for next week's trip to Notre Dame. Given Oklahoma's defensive improvement and an offense that appears capable of running and throwing efficiently, the Sooners seem to be in fine shape heading into the meat of their schedule. Plus, fans know what they're going to do in short-yardage situations now.

Last game: Beat Tulsa, 51-20
Next game: Sept. 28 at Notre Dame
22 Ole Miss Rebels
Last week: 24
After a thrilling start to the season, the Rebels are about to find out how good they actually are. Hopefully, they'll rest up this week. Maybe they'll kick back and have some of the house-cured bacon or biscuits and tomato gravy from Oxford's Big Bad Breakfast. Because next week, things gets real for Ole Miss. On Sept. 28, the Rebels begin a schedule stretch that includes road games at Alabama and Auburn and home games against Texas A&M and LSU.

Last game: Beat Texas, 44-23
Next game: Sept. 28 at Alabama
23 Michigan State Spartans
Last week: NR
Congratulations, Spartans. Your four-quarterback nightmare is finally over. Sophomore Connor Cook completed his journey up the depth chart and started this week without the word "OR" affixed next to his name. It was only Youngstown State, but no Michigan State quarterback had thrown four touchdowns in a game since Brian Hoyer in 2007. If Cook can give the Spartans any semblance of an offensive identity, his group should combine with an elite defense to make Michigan State one of the toughest outs in the Big Ten.

Last game: Beat Youngstown State, 55-17
Next game: Saturday at Notre Dame
24 Arizona State Sun Devils
Last Week: NR
Remember how I wrote last week that we would finally learn something about both teams when Wisconsin visited Arizona State? This is why you should never listen to me. We didn't learn squat, except maybe that Pac-12 officials have very little sense of urgency during crucial end-of-game situations. The Sun Devils got gashed by Badgers back Melvin Gordon to the tune of 12.9 yards a carry, so their front seven must tighten up before facing Stanford's 17-tight end offense on Saturday.

Last game: Beat Wisconsin, 32-30
Next game: Saturday at Stanford
25 Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 22
Had current Arkansas coach Bret Bielema stayed at Wisconsin and the same end-of-game scenario played out in Tempe, we might have seen our first in-press conference mooning before a sentence that included the word "kiss" and the phrase "Pac-12 refs." Instead, new Badgers headman Gary Andersen was far more subdued. Of course, had quarterback Joel Stave been a little more demonstrative, the Badgers might not have gotten stiffed out of a potential win.

Last game: Lost to Arizona State, 32-30
Next game: Saturday vs. Purdue

Next five: Fresno State, Auburn, Texas Tech, UCF, Northern Illinois

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

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