By Andy Staples
October 22, 2013
Running back I'Tavius Mathers (5) and Ole Miss vaulted up this week's rankings after knocking off LSU.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
NCAA Football Power Rankings
1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Las week: 1
Because college football offers so few data points and relies on a subjective system to determine who plays for the national title, we have to take the intersections we can get. That's why the result of Alabama's game against Tennessee on Saturday could take on outsize importance. On Sept. 14, Oregon throttled Tennessee 59-14 in Eugene. It was never close. With Alabama sitting at No. 1 in the BCS standings and Oregon sitting at No. 3 (with Florida State in between), the folks in the Pacific Northwest will scream if Alabama doesn't dominate the Volunteers in a similar fashion. And they'll probably have a point. At this time next year, this won't be an issue. Even if all three of those teams wound up undefeated -- the odds still suggest they won't -- they would all get a chance to compete for the national title through the four-team playoff. But since we're stuck with the BCS for one more year, the college football world will be watching this one like a hawk trying to find clues about whether Alabama or Oregon is better.

Last game: Beat Arkansas, 52-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Tennessee
2 Oregon Ducks
Last week: 2
Stanford has once again softened up a decent opponent for the Ducks, but given the way Oregon has played in recent weeks, it probably wouldn't matter if UCLA came in with two weeks of rest. Even without star tailback De'Anthony Thomas (ankle), Oregon is playing at a higher gear than even its quality foes. On Saturday, Thomas told the team website that he expects to play against the Bruins.

Last game: Beat Washington State, 62-38
Next game: Saturday vs. UCLA
3 Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 4
Now comes the maturity test for the Seminoles. They conquered Clemson and established themselves as one of the nation's best teams. But how will they handle that hype? Past teams haven't responded well and have lost to the likes of, say, NC State. If this group hopes to play for the national title, it will have to handle praise better. Coach Jimbo Fisher seems to believe these Seminoles are up to the task, and players said all the right things after Saturday's game. The veterans are certainly aware of the issue, and senior center Bryan Stork said he'd make sure the young players don't start celebrating titles they haven't yet won. "I think we'll be all right," Stork said. "But if they do get a little rowdy, I'll put them in their place."

Last game: Beat Clemson, 51-14
Next game: Saturday vs. NC State
4 Ohio State Buckeyes
Last week: 5
Last week, my Twitter feed was filled with Ohio State fans paranoid that some team will jump an undefeated Buckeyes squad for a BCS title game berth because of Ohio State's weak schedule. Stop worrying. Chances are we won't see three undefeated power-conference teams at season's end. If Ohio State is the only undefeated power-conference team, the Buckeyes will be in. If Ohio State is one of two undefeated power-conference teams, the Buckeyes will be in. Instead, Ohio State fans should be more concerned about the Buckeyes coming out of a bye week and having to work hard to beat an average Iowa team.

Last game: Beat Iowa, 34-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Penn State
5 Baylor Bears
Last week: 7
Baylor's offense isn't just marching up and down the field on everyone. On Saturday, the Bears turned two of three turnovers into touchdowns with an average drive distance of 35.5 yards. Levi Norwood returned a punt 52 yards for a score. That's 21 easy points right there. Spot that many to Baylor's offense, and the result is going to be ugly.

Last game: Beat Iowa State, 71-7
Next game: Saturday at Kansas
6 Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 14
Yes, the rest of the SEC East is banged up. Guess what? So is Missouri. Without their starting quarterback (James Franklin) and best cornerback (E.J. Gaines), the Tigers thrashed Florida over the weekend. Now they will face South Carolina with a giant fistful of house money thanks to the Gamecocks' loss at Tennessee on Saturday. To win the SEC East, South Carolina would need to beat Missouri and then would need the Tigers to lose another SEC game. If Missouri beats the Gamecocks, it would likely require an epic collapse to avoid winning the division. The Tigers can rush the passer. They can run the ball. They can throw the ball. Do those things well, and you can win a lot of games.

I completely underestimated Missouri, and I imagine most of you did, too. The Tigers have done better than their SEC East brethren at dealing with injuries at critical positions. Now that I've written this, I've probably jinxed Missouri against the Gamecocks. I'm wrong a lot, but I feel a lot more comfortable in my assertion that the SEC East title will go through Columbia. I don't remember if I said which one. (If I did, don't remind me.)

Last game: Beat Florida, 36-17
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina
7 Miami Hurricanes
Last week: 10
The NCAA revealed Miami's penalties for the Nevin Shapiro scandal on Tuesday, and they should have little to no effect on the Hurricanes going forward. (USC fans, feel free to be angry. The NCAA stiffed your program because, at the time, popular sentiment still backed the NCAA's fairy tale that amateurism was important and not simply a tax dodge.) Al Golden did a wonderful job recruiting through the scandal, and school president Donna Shalala also deserves credit for making the NCAA aware that if the Committee on Infractions hammered Miami, the school would bury the governing body with a lawsuit that would provide an even deeper look into the NCAA's sausage factory. By backing down -- and truly, the NCAA had no good option -- the NCAA yanked what was left of its fangs. No school will ever fear the NCAA again. Even though that's a towering achievement, it isn't why I ranked Miami this high.

So do the Hurricanes deserve to be ranked this high after surviving a Murphy's Law Thursday night in Chapel Hill? We probably won't know the answer until they go to Tallahassee on Nov. 2, but we do know that Golden has reasons for concern and for happiness. On the negative side, receiver Phillip Dorsett is out four to six weeks after tearing the medial collateral ligament in one knee. On the potentially negative side, tailback Duke Johnson left Thursday's game in the first quarter after taking a blow to the head. On Friday, Golden told The Miami Herald that Miami's medical staff was trying to determine whether Johnson suffered a concussion or whether the hit triggered a migraine reaction. (Golden told the paper Johnson has a history of migraines.) On the positive side, Miami overcame an inspired opponent that might have finally figured some things out and a terrible night from quarterback Stephen Morris and still found a way to win. A year ago, the Hurricanes probably would have lost that game.

Last game: Beat North Carolina, 27-23
Next game: Saturday vs. Wake Forest
8 Clemson Tigers
Last week: 3
The Tigers are not as bad as they looked on Saturday. The result was probably a combination of Florida State being really good and the snowball effect of two early turnovers that resulted in quick Seminoles' touchdowns. Now, can Clemson coaches and players pick themselves up off the canvas and get back to winning? If they can, Clemson could still have a special season. The ACC Atlantic and ACC titles are probably out of reach, but the Tigers can win every game remaining on their schedule. That would all but guarantee a BCS at-large berth. (It also would end Clemson's four-game losing streak against South Carolina.) But if the Tigers stay in the tank, they'll drop at least one more.

Last game: Lost to Florida State, 51-14
Next game: Saturday at Maryland
9 Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 13
After shutting down Brett Hundley and the UCLA offense, the Cardinal defense gets a crack at Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, who leads the nation in total offense. The Beavers have remained off the radar since they lost to FCS Eastern Washington in Week 1, but Mike Riley's team could erase the shine from the Oregon-Stanford game on Nov. 7 and turn the Civil War into the most important matchup in the Pac-12 this year.

Last game: Beat UCLA, 24-10
Next game: Saturday at Oregon State
10 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: 17
After surviving a trip to Morgantown, the Red Raiders will head to Norman in a matchup that should help us better define the upper echelon of the Big 12 this season. Because TCU hasn't lived up to expectations, this is really the first game between top-tier teams in league play. But it's the first of many. Big 12 officials backloaded the conference schedule with the hope of creating maximum drama, and it appears they have succeeded. This one should help answer a few questions. Are the Red Raiders the real deal, or is their success a product of a fortuitous early schedule draw? Is Oklahoma's defense sunk following injuries to linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips?

In his second career start, Texas Tech true freshman quarterback Davis Webb threw for 462 yards and two touchdowns at West Virginia. Meanwhile, tight end Jace Amaro was named the Big 12's offensive player of the week after catching nine passes for 136 yards and two scores. Don't be shocked if Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury has gotten some quality intelligence from his former coworkers at Texas A&M. After Kingsbury left the Aggies in December to take over at Texas Tech, A&M destroyed the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl.

Last game: Beat West Virginia, 37-27
Next game: Saturday at Oklahoma
11 Auburn Tigers
Last week: 20
After winning in College Station on Saturday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said this: "We have not arrived yet." Maybe not, but the Tigers are awfully close. There have been a lot of good coaching jobs around the country this season. Gary Pinkel at Missouri, Art Briles at Baylor and Kingsbury at Texas Tech come to mind. But given how bad the Tigers were last year and how good they are now, Malzahn's restoration of the program in the Loveliest Village on the Plains might be the best. Now, let's take a look at the remainder of Auburn's schedule.

Oct. 26: Florida Atlantic
Nov. 2: at Arkansas
Nov. 9: at Tennessee
Nov. 16: Georgia
Nov. 30: Alabama

Tennessee and Georgia aren't gimmes, but it wouldn't be shocking at this point to see the Tigers go into the Iron Bowl at 9-2 or 10-1. Considering last season's 3-9 record, that's positively mind-blowing.

Last game: Beat Texas A&M, 45-41
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida Atlantic
12 UCLA Bruins
Last week: 12
Stanford attacked the Bruins' young offensive line, and Hundley wound up dancing in the backfield for most of the day. A typically productive offense stalled, and the Bruins' defense couldn't keep the Cardinal at bay forever. Undoubtedly, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will try to take advantage of the line's youth as well. The Ducks' defense is designed to create turnovers, and harassing Hundley worked for Stanford, which picked off two of the quarterback's passes. Meanwhile, UCLA may be without leading tackler Eric Kendricks, who left the Stanford game with kidney pain. Bruins coach Jim Mora told the Los Angeles Daily News on Monday that Kendricks is feeling better and that his availability will hinge on the medical staff's ability to manage Kendricks' pain level.

Last game: Lost to Stanford, 24-10
Next game: Saturday at Oregon
13 LSU Tigers
Last week: 6
LSU Tigers (6-2)
Tigers coach Les Miles continued to flog himself on Monday for LSU's loss at Ole Miss. "There's a number of reasons why we don't win that game, but in my opinion it's me," Miles said at a press conference. "I did not get it across to them. I made the points, I spoke the words, but I need to teach better. I challenge myself that way. ... It's hard to admit as the coach of a team that's best, better, that they finished second, and I'm doing that today. And I'm going to tell my team the exact same thing, that in fact I've got to do a better job. I've got to get their attention."

Barring some 2007-level tomfoolery at the top of the polls, the Tigers' national title hopes are dead. Given Alabama's recent dominance, their SEC West hopes don't look so good, either. LSU can only hope to play spoiler now.

Last game: Lost to Ole Miss, 27-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Furman
14 Fresno State Bulldogs
Last week: 19
Louisville's loss last Friday opens the door for Fresno State or Northern Illinois to claim a berth in a BCS bowl. The Bulldogs and Huskies simply have to keep winning. The champion of the American Athletic Conference -- which still has the Big East's automatic-qualifying bid -- will have at least one loss, and if any AQ-conference champ finishes lower than No. 16 in the BCS standings, the highest-ranked non-AQ team at No. 16 or above is automatically in. This is how Northern Illinois made the Orange Bowl last year, and it could be how the BCS gets busted one last time.

Last game: Beat UNLV, 38-14
Next game: Saturday at San Diego State
15 UCF Knights
Last week: NR
The Knights probably wound up ranked a little lower in the AP and Coaches' polls than they would have been had South Carolina kept winning. Why do I have UCF ranked above the Gamecocks when the Knights lost at home to South Carolina? I am quite loyal to head-to-head results as a tiebreaker when all else is equal, but the Knights don't have a loss as bad as the egg South Carolina laid at Tennessee on Saturday.

So if the Knights keep winning, can they bust the BCS? They don't have to. The on-its-deathbed BCS may finally do something nice for UCF or Houston. Both former Conference USA programs are undefeated in league play in their first season in the American Athletic Conference. Louisville will likely jump back into the mix if UCF loses, but if the Knights keep winning, they're in a BCS bowl.

Last game: Beat Louisville, 38-35
Next game: Saturday vs. Connecticut
16 Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 8
Quarterback Johnny Manziel returned from a painful shoulder injury and receiver Mike Evans had a career day, but those two still couldn't save the Aggies from their porous defense. After Manziel bailed out Texas A&M in Oxford, it seemed only a matter of time before his efforts would get undermined by the defense. That took a week. If the shoulder injury keeps Manziel out for any length of time, that defense will have to make a bigger contribution or this season could turn into a nightmare for the Aggies.

Last game: Lost to Auburn, 45-41
Next game: Saturday vs. Vanderbilt
17 Ole Miss Rebels
Last week: NR
I moved the Rebels down from No. 14 -- where I had them on my AP ballot -- because upon further consideration, I realized I ranked them too high. Why is a three-loss team even ranked at No. 17? Let's consider Ole Miss' résumé. It has lost at my No. 1 Alabama (25-0), at my No. 11 Auburn (30-22) and at home to my No. 16 Texas A&M (41-38). The Rebels have also beaten LSU and won at Texas. Those are better wins than any team ranked below Ole Miss has. Oklahoma -- which got thumped by Texas -- certainly can't argue. The Rebels had a tougher first half of the season than any team in the country, and I'm betting they find the second half much easier. The only game they shouldn't win easily is a visit from Missouri, and if they can win that one, they could be sitting at 9-3 at season's end. But I could be wrong. We may find out that Auburn isn't as good as we think. Texas A&M's defense may cost the Aggies more games. The recent surge by Texas may be a mirage. If the teams on the Rebels' schedule prove that their first-half stretch wasn't so tough, I'll adjust the Ole Miss' ranking down even more.

Last game: Beat LSU, 27-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Idaho
18 Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 23
In their next two games, the Sooners can prove the loss to Texas was an aberration. Or they can prove that their Red River beatdown was a sign of weakness in the program. Their choice. By beating Texas Tech and Baylor, Oklahoma could reestablish the natural order of things in the Big 12. Lose one or both, and it's a brave new world.

Last game: Beat Kansas, 34-19
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas Tech
19 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last week: NR
The way quarterback Clint Chelf replaced J.W. Walsh in Saturday's win over TCU looked like a bizarre version of the way Walsh replaced Chelf in Oklahoma State's season-opening win over Mississippi State. In that first game, Walsh sparked the Cowboys' offense. On Saturday, Chelf provided the spark. So now what? Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy doesn't plan to announce a starter this week, which -- given the circumstances -- makes sense. When a coach refuses to name a starter between two quarterbacks with similar skill sets, it's just silly. But there is a strategic benefit to keeping the starter's identity a secret when one (Chelf) is a better passer and one (Walsh) is a better runner. That forces the opponent to devote practice reps to both.

Last game: Beat TCU, 24-10
Next game: Saturday at Iowa State
20 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last week: 21
Quarterback Taylor Martinez (foot) returned to practice on Monday, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll start on Saturday. Bo Pelini said Cornhuskers coaches would make that determination later in the week. Minnesota is riding high after a win over Northwestern. As the Huskers' three-week stretch (Northwestern, at Michigan, Michigan State) that will help decide the Legends Division approaches, the 5-2 Golden Gophers look a lot less like a warm-up opponent and a lot more like a real threat.

Last game: Beat Purdue, 44-7
Next game: Saturday at Minnesota
21 Michigan Wolverines
Last week: 24
The Wolverines will transition from an opponent that plays no defense to one that plays only defense, but at least they'll have a bye week to prepare. Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon may need that long. He had to be worn out after torching Indiana for 369 receiving yards. (No, that's not a typo.)

Last game: Beat Indiana, 63-47
Next game: Nov. 2 at Michigan State
22 South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 11
The Gamecocks have now lost two games in each season of the Jadeveon Clowney era. If they don't want to collect any more, they'll have to show up for both halves this Saturday against Missouri. Clowney played his best statistical game against Tennessee with 2.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries, but the rest of the defense faltered down the stretch. The offense had finally started clicking when quarterback Connor Shaw injured his knee. (His availability for the Missouri game is unknown at the moment.) Even coach Steve Spurrier outsmarted himself, wasting two timeouts before a fourth down when everyone in Neyland Stadium knew the Gamecocks were going to forgo any trickery and punt. If the Arkansas game was South Carolina at its best, the Tennessee game was South Carolina at its worst. In Columbia (west) this weekend, where the Gamecocks fall on the continuum between their Arkansas and Tennessee performances will determine whether they still have a chance in the SEC East race.

Last game: Lost to Tennessee, 23-21
Next game: Saturday at Missouri
23 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 25
How important is quarterback Tommy Rees to the Fighting Irish? Just look at what happened after he hurt his neck against USC. Notre Dame managed only two first downs, went three-and-out three times and lost a fumble. This is one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for lessons. The fan base had begun grousing about Rees, but now it would be thrilled to hear he's healthy enough to play.

Last game: Beat USC, 14-10
Next game: Saturday at Air Force
24 Arizona State Sun Devils
Last week: NR
The Sun Devils put it all together on Saturday against Washington, and UCLA's loss at Stanford suggests the Pac-12 South is going to be up for grabs. Tailback Marion Grice scored two more touchdowns last weekend. He now leads the nation with 18, and his points-per-game average (15.4) leads the next-best scorer (Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks) by 3.4 points.

Last game: Beat Washington, 53-24
Next game: Oct. 31 at Washington State
25 Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: NR
As the Badgers enter a bye week, they can get excited about the future. The remaining schedule suggests 10-2 is a real possibility. Ohio State probably isn't going to lose twice, so the Big Ten title is probably out of the question. But so is the possibility of a loss in the Big Ten title game. BCS bowls love at-large teams with huge fan bases that finish the season on seven-game win streaks. If the Badgers don't fall asleep down the stretch, that sentence could describe them.

Last game: Beat Illinois, 56-32
Next game: Nov. 2 vs. Iowa

Next five: Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Oregon State, Louisville

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

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