By Andy Staples
September 11, 2012

Arkansas, Wisconsin and Nebraska played their way out of one major poll but not the other. What does that mean? It means the sportswriters who vote in the AP Poll value current body of work far more than the sports information directors and operations guys who vote in the Coaches' Poll.

Arkansas has done nothing to deserve a ranking. The Razorbacks mucked around for a half in a win against Jacksonville State of the FCS and then mucked around for more than 60 minutes in an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt. Wisconsin? Similar story. The Badgers looked terrible against FCS opponent Northern Iowa and then laid an egg against Oregon State, which has been a Pac-12 doormat the past two seasons. Nebraska, meanwhile, looked pretty good against Southern Miss and then imploded at UCLA.

So why are those programs still ranked in the Coaches' Poll? Probably because coaches don't have to reveal their votes for most of the season. The information age has made it quite easy to access an AP voter's ballot. When we do something stupid -- me accidentally leaving off Ohio State last week, for example -- the people let us know. The coaches vote in the comfort of anonymity until the season's final week, when they vote pretty much strictly along conference lines. Unfortunately, the Coaches' Poll makes up a third of the BCS formula. This is yet another reason why the current system of choosing a national champion can't die soon enough. It's a shame we have to wait until 2014. (I don't say this because I think the AP Poll should be used to determine who plays for the national title. I don't want that evil on me. Reporters shouldn't be part of the story.)

While public pressure has forced the voters in the AP Poll to evolve, Coaches' Poll voters allow their preseason prejudices to influence in-season votes. There is nothing wrong with preseason polls -- which will never go away as long as obsessed readers click on them by the millions. The problem comes when a voter won't admit his preseason guess was wrong and drop a team based on that season's performance. If voters are willing to radically alter the rankings to reflect the action on the field, preseason rankings don't matter. They are nothing more than a summertime diversion designed to sate a football-starved populace.

One of the stupidest questions I get on a weekly basis from fans unhappy with the rankings is this: Well, what are you going to do if Team X beats Team Y? The answer is simple: I'm going to change the rankings. Will Arkansas, Wisconsin and Nebraska be ranked in the AP Poll at season's end? I have no idea. I imagine at least one or two will crack the top 25 again -- if they earn it. For instance, if the prediction of this Arkansas fan comes true and the Razorbacks beat Alabama, 100-3, I'm sure pollsters will find a place on their ballots for Arkansas.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week: 1
Nick Saban may have been a little manipulative with his not-so-extemporaneous rant last week to reporters for not properly respecting Western Kentucky, but Saban had every right to be upset after the game. The final score is misleading. The Crimson Tide hammered the Hilltoppers because they have vastly superior athletes, but their six sacks allowed suggest even Alabama's steadiest unit -- the offensive line -- can be beaten by a motivated opponent. "I think we learned that anytime we don't bring our best, we're pretty average," center Barrett Jones said. To make matters worse, fullback/tailback/h-back Jalston Fowler appears lost for the season with a knee injury. But enough poormouthing. Alabama remains the best team in the country, and even the most consistent team is not going to get up for a Sun Belt opponent the week after playing Michigan and the week before playing Arkansas. Of course, not getting up for a Sun Belt opponent is also how Arkansas landed in its current predicament. If there was any danger of Alabama players not taking Arkansas seriously after the Razorbacks' loss to Louisiana-Monroe, the Western Kentucky film should disabuse the Tide of that notion. And if Saban's critiques get a little too scathing this week, they can click on that Arkansas fan video and be grateful they aren't in the shoes of this week's opponent.

Last game: Beat Western Kentucky, 35-0
Next game: Saturday at Arkansas
2 <a href=LSU Tigers" title="LSU Tigers">
Last week: 2
LSU Tigers (2-0)
After seeing LSU up close against Washington, I'm convinced the Tigers seem just as good as last year. Maybe better. Sure, having cornerback Tyrann Mathieu in the stands instead of on the field hurts depth, but his replacement, freshman Jalen Mills, logged seven tackles and an interception against the Huskies. Meanwhile, quarterback Zach Mettenberger gives LSU's offense the dynamic it lacked last season. Mettenberger already has the luxury of facing mostly man coverage because defenses fear LSU's line and stable of backs, but he can make so many more throws than predecessors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee could. Opponents must respect LSU's passing game now. Everything else, they still have to revere.

Last game: Beat Washington, 41-3
Next game: Saturday vs. Idaho
3 <a href=USC Trojans" title="USC Trojans">
Last week: 3
Trojans coach Lane Kiffin hasn't provided any updates on the health of center Khaled Holmes, who was carted off following an ankle injury Saturday. That probably means backup Cyrus Hobbi is in for the Stanford game. Losing the starting center doesn't help an offense that wasn't as consistent as the point total indicates. Still, it's difficult to determine whether USC has legitimate issues or whether the Trojans have simply remained vanilla while saving plays for this week. USC hasn't beaten Stanford since 2008, getting pulverized in the "What's your deal" game and losing squeakers in both meetings with the Cardinal since Kiffin took over. Stanford doesn't have Andrew Luck anymore, but it still has a bruising running game and a physical defense.

Last game: Beat Syracuse, 42-29
Next game: Saturday at Stanford
4 Oregon Ducks
Last week: 4
Oregon will have to adjust to life without two three-year starters. Safety John Boyett, who has led the Ducks in tackles twice in the past three years, will have surgery this week to repair both patella tendons and won't play again this season. Junior Avery Patterson replaced Boyett, who didn't play against the Bulldogs, and from Patterson's comments Monday, it's clear Oregon coaches worked him during the preseason on the assumption that he might be needed to replace Boyett. Meanwhile, guard Carson York said Monday that he also is done for the season because of a knee injury. The good news for the Ducks is that they play a lot of players -- either because of blowouts or defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's "line change" substitution style -- and they have game-tested replacements at most positions. Oregon has one more week to work out any kinks before a visit from Arizona that suddenly looks a lot more interesting.

Last game: Beat Fresno State, 42-25
Next game: Saturday vs. Tennessee Tech
5 Michigan St. Spartans
Last week: 5
After this past weekend, the Spartans must carry the banner for the Big Ten as a nationally competitive conference. Michigan State has already beaten Boise State, but it will need to beat the Fighting Irish to have a chance to be in the national title conversation at season's end. While a one-loss SEC, Big 12 or Pac-12 champ might get the benefit of the doubt, the Big Ten champ likely will have to go 13-0 to have a chance to play in the BCS title game. That's what happens when a league's upper-tier teams lose most of their challenging out-of-conference games. That discussion is a long way off for the Spartans, but it's worth mentioning. Saturday, Michigan State will face a veteran defense that will challenge a passing game that responded well when Central Michigan packed the box to stop Le'Veon Bell. Of course, Central Michigan doesn't have a Manti Te'o on its roster.

Last game: Beat Central Michigan, 41-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Notre Dame
6 <a href=West Virginia Mountaineers" title="West Virginia Mountaineers">
Last week: 7
Hey look, Groupon has a deal on West Virginia-James Madison tickets. The lesson, as always: If you're going to play a neutral site game, play someone good. West Virginia is playing at FedEx Field for recruiting purposes. The District of Columbia, Maryland and northern Virginia are target-rich environments within an easy drive of Morgantown. Unfortunately, recruits don't like empty seats. The other lesson we learned this week? Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen will never resist a chance to take a shot at his in-state rival. On the Big 12 coaches teleconference, Holgorsen twisted the knife on West Virginia's Friends of Coal Bowl victory one more time, suggesting James Madison should instill more fear in the Mountaineers than Marshall did. "We anticipate this being a bigger challenge than what we faced a week ago," Holgorsen said.

Last game: Beat Marshall, 69-34
Next game: Saturday vs. James Madison in Landover, Md.
7 <a href=Georgia Bulldogs" title="Georgia Bulldogs">
Last week: 11
It might be time to crank up the Jarvis Jones-for-Heisman bandwagon. The Georgia linebacker, who led the SEC in sacks last year, essentially took over in the second half of the Bulldogs' win at Missouri. Jones intercepted James Franklin and returned the ball to the one-yard line -- he insists he was robbed of a touchdown -- and later sacked Franklin and forced a fumble that set up another Georgia touchdown. When all suspensions are served and Georgia is back at full strength on defense beginning Sept. 29 against Tennessee, offenses will have even fewer opportunities to focus on Jones. That will make him even more dangerous.

Last game: Beat Missouri, 41-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida Atlantic
8 Florida St. Seminoles
Last week: 8
Since Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher has modeled his program after the one built by former boss Nick Saban, it's time for Fisher to try his first Sabanesque lecture. But instead of chiding reporters to send a message to his team, Fisher needs to attack Las Vegas bookmakers. Florida State opened as a 25-point favorite over Wake Forest, which opened ACC play last week with a win against North Carolina. Such hubris from Sin City will not help the Seminoles, which have lost four of their last six games against the Demon Deacons. Current players were either in middle or high school when Wake Forest hung the 30-0 humiliation on Florida State that forced the end of the Jeff Bowden era, but everyone remembers the 35-30 loss in Winston-Salem last year all too well. Florida State is better than Wake Forest, but being better than the Demon Deacons hasn't always been enough over the past few years. With an Atlantic Division showdown against defending ACC champ Clemson looming on Sept. 22, the Seminoles could easily overlook Wake Forest. The memory of last year's loss should keep that from happening.

Last game: Beat Savannah State, 55-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Wake Forest
9 <a href=South Carolina Gamecocks" title="South Carolina Gamecocks">
Last week: 9
There is no quarterback controversy in Columbia. Even though backup Dylan Thompson threw for 330 yards against East Carolina while subbing for injured starter Connor Shaw, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said the job will be Shaw's when Shaw gets healthy. That may not be this week, though. Shaw, who suffered a deep shoulder bruise Aug. 30 at Vanderbilt, might not practice until Wednesday. That could open the door for Thompson to start against UAB.

Last game: Beat East Carolina, 48-10
Next game: Saturday vs. UAB
10 <a href=Oklahoma Sooners" title="Oklahoma Sooners">
Last week: 10
Tailback Damien Williams is only the fourth Oklahoma player to break 100 yards in his first two games as a Sooner. The last guy to do that? Adrian Peterson. That's pretty select company for junior college transfer Williams, who averaged 12.9 yards a carry and scored five touchdowns in wins against UTEP and Florida A&M. Williams has provided a spark for an offense that needed new playmakers to emerge. But can he provide that spark in Big 12 play? The Sooners have a week to fine-tune before they open conference play against Kansas State.

Last game: Beat Florida A&M, 69-13
Next game: Sept. 22 vs. Kansas State
11 <a href=Texas Longhorns" title="Texas Longhorns">
Last week: 14
Texas players have grown a bit tired of hearing how much more physical the SEC is than other leagues. "I know we're physical," safety Kenny Vaccaro told The Dallas Morning News Monday. "If I'm not physical, then I don't know what is." The Longhorns are quite a bit more physical than Ole Miss, which isn't exactly representative of the SEC as a whole; the Rebels haven't won a league game since beating Kentucky on Oct. 2, 2010. The Longhorns don't even have to worry about The Grove and its bevy of sundress-clad temptations. They'll be staying in Memphis and taking a bus into Oxford on Saturday.

Last game: Beat New Mexico, 45-0
Next game: Saturday at Ole Miss
12 Kansas St. Wildcats
Last week: 16
Who says Bill Snyder and the Wildcats are boring? During Kansas State's annihilation of Miami, Snyder sent in a special play with the Wildcats facing third-and-2 from the goal line. Had it worked, quarterback Collin Klein's leaping, behind-the-back toss would have made highlight reels everywhere. Instead, Klein's leaping, behind-the-back toss ended up losing 19 yards and making highlight reels everywhere. "We got too fancy," Snyder said. At Kansas State, fancy is a style in which green beans are cut. That play won't be back, and if the Wildcats keep rolling, they may not need any more trick plays.

Last game: Beat Miami, 52-13
Next game: Saturday vs. North Texas
13 <a href=Baylor Bears" title="Baylor Bears">
Last week: 17
The Bears will break the out-of-conference scheduling rule I made up for last week's Power Rankings. Never schedule an elite FCS program when you can schedule a doormat from one of the lesser FBS conferences. Sam Houston State is exactly the type of program that can shock a good team. Last season's FCS runner-up -- shockingly, a college football playoff was conducted and the world did not explode -- is ranked No. 2 in the FCS this year, and tailback Timothy Flanders set the school's all-time rushing record last week. Flanders' first career carry also came in Waco, a 31-yard gain in garbage time of a Baylor win in 2010. If the Bears want to enjoy garbage time this Saturday, they'll have to take the Bearkats seriously. The following Friday, they'll play that traditional lower-tier FBS also-ran we discussed above. Baylor will play at Louisiana-Monroe. Whoops. The Bears' cupcake platter has teeth.

Last game: Beat SMU, 59-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Sam Houston State
14 <a href=TCU Horned Frogs" title="TCU Horned Frogs">
Last week: 18
Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson passed Dutch Meyer Saturday to become the winningest coach in TCU history, but Patterson's greatest achievement can't be quantified. It's helping lead TCU through the hinterlands of the non-AQ conferences and into the Big 12. Though the Horned Frogs have been official members of the Big 12 since July 1, they'll play their first conference game Saturday in Lawrence.

Last game: Beat Grambling State, 56-0
Next game: Saturday at Kansas
15 Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 20
After quarterback Braxton Miller carried 27 times in a win against UCF, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer discussed trying to limit Miller's carries going forward. That could be a difficult prospect this week, as Ohio State plays without tailbacks Carlos Hyde (knee) and Jordan Hall (foot). Meyer said several of Miller's carries Saturday came because other players made mistakes that caused plays to break down, forcing Miller to try to salvage them with his feet. "Someone goes wrong way, what does he do? He runs for seven yards and gets whacked," Meyer said. "One guy, we have a designed play and we miss two blocks, and instead of pitching a ball, he gets whacked." Miller's talent allows him to turn those negative plays into positive ones, but his body won't survive that many carries on a regular basis. Just ask 2007-vintage Tim Tebow, who played the two worst games of his Heisman season against Auburn (after 27 carries the previous week at Ole Miss) and Georgia (after 20 carries the previous week at Kentucky). Meyer doesn't allow players he doesn't trust to touch the ball often. Right now, he trusts Miller. If the Buckeyes can develop more playmakers to take the pressure off Miller, he could have a special season.

Last game: Beat Central Florida, 31-16
Next game: Saturday vs. Cal
16 Clemson Tigers
Last week: 15
I dropped Clemson a spot this week because of concerns about the Tigers' defense. The concerns didn't pop up in the Ball State game, but rather in the Auburn-Mississippi State game. In Starkville, the Bulldogs held Auburn without an offensive touchdown, and the same offense that moved the ball fairly well against Clemson a week earlier looked quite pathetic. This is one of the problems with ranking teams with a tiny data set. All of the following explanations are possible:

1. Auburn's offense is terrible, and the perception of Clemson's defensive performance in the opener needs to be adjusted accordingly.

2. Auburn simply had an awful game against Mississippi State. It was an outlier and not a representative performance.

3. Mississippi State's defense is awesome, and Clemson's defense is slightly less than awesome but still good.

We'll know more about Auburn's offense after they face giant-killer Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. We won't know much more about Clemson's defense until the Tigers go to Tallahassee on Sept. 22.

Last game: Beat Ball State, 52-27
Next game: Saturday vs. Furman
17 <a href=Virginia Tech Hokies" title="Virginia Tech Hokies">
Last week: 21
The Hokies go from an FCS foe to perhaps the worst team in a BCS AQ league. Pitt tailback Ray Graham should challenge Virginia Tech's defense a bit, while quarterback Logan Thomas should have a chance to work on his accuracy. If Thomas gets more consistent, few teams in the ACC will be able to stop the Hokies.

Last game: Beat Austin Peay, 42-7
Next game: Saturday at Pittsburgh
18 Tennessee Volunteers
Last week: 23
The last time Tennessee beat Florida, Ron Zook coached the Gators and Volunteers coach Derek Dooley was an LSU assistant. Tennessee clinched that 2004 meeting with a 50-yard James Wilhoit field goal with six seconds remaining. If this meeting comes down to a Tennessee field goal attempt, that attempt probably will come from the foot of walk-on Derrick Brodus, who has taken over the starting job after Michael Palardy struggled against Georgia State. Saturday promises to be far less of an adventure than the last time Brodus started for the Vols. That was last year against Middle Tennessee, when two Tennessee kickers went down during warmups and Dooley had to send staffers to fetch Brodus from a frat house. Actual quote from Vols director of football operations Brad Pendergrass when he finally reached Brodus that day: "Are you sober?" Do yourself a favor and read the entire account of Brodus' wild day from the great Wes Rucker of

Last game: Beat Georgia State, 51-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida
19 Michigan Wolverines
Last week: 19
Sometimes, a great individual performance can mask a team's flaws. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has turned in a few of those in his career, but Saturday's might be the most statistically impressive. Against Air Force, Robinson ran for 218 yards and threw for 208 yards. That adds up to 426 yards of total offense for Robinson. Michigan, meanwhile, gained 422 yards of total offense. So Robinson accounted for 100.9 percent of the Wolverines' offense. While that's a fun stat to throw out at parties, it also should serve as a warning sign for Michigan, which needs more production out of its backs.

Last game: Beat Air Force, 31-25
Next game: Saturday vs. UMass
20 Stanford Cardinal
Last week: NR
The Cardinal broke in new quarterback Josh Nunes during an ugly season-opening win against San Jose State, then returned to normal a week later against Duke. The Blue Devils committed to stopping the run, and Nunes burned them for 275 passing yards and three touchdowns. Still, Nunes completed just 16-of-30 passes. He'll need to be more accurate against the Trojans, which probably can achieve the same run-stopping effect with fewer defenders in the box.

Last game: Beat Duke, 50-13
Next game: Saturday vs. USC
21 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 24
Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly barred all but two of his players from speaking to the media after the win against Purdue, lest anyone fan the flames of a quarterback controversy. Starter Everett Golson played well and threw for 289 yards, but former starter Tommy Rees came in to run the two-minute drill and led the Irish on the game-winning drive. Golson had injured his hand, but he was healthy enough to play. Kelly simply felt Rees running the two-minute drill gave Notre Dame a better chance to win. That leads to an obvious question: If Rees gives the Irish a better chance to win in the two-minute drill, does he give them a better chance to win while playing the entire game? Kelly insists Golson is his starter, but he hasn't ruled out bringing in Rees again. This is unconventional, and it certainly will generate discussion inside and outside the locker room. But if it works, it works. Besides, anyone who has seen Michigan State's defense in action knows an offense needs as many options as it can get.

Last game: Beat Purdue, 20-17
Next game: Saturday at Michigan State
22 Arizona Wildcats
Last week: NR
When I visited Tucson to shadow Rich Rodriguez during his first 48 hours on the job, there was a moment in a restaurant when Rodriguez ducked away from the crowd and made a phone call. I happened to be walking past when he said "We really need you here." I wasn't 100 percent positive at the time, but I also thought I heard the name "Jeff." I asked Rodriguez whom he had called, and he said he couldn't tell me. It doesn't take brilliant powers of deduction now to figure out the person Rodriguez called was Jeff Casteel, who ran the defense for Rodriguez in West Virginia but did not follow Rodriguez to Michigan. With Dana Holgorsen ready to install his own defensive staff in Morgantown, Casteel made the move to Arizona. Saturday showed how potent the Rodriguez-Casteel team can be. Casteel's defense produced three interceptions -- two by safety Jared Tevis and one returned for a touchdown by cornerback Jonathan McKnight. Meanwhile, Arizona quarterback Matt Scott threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns. The Wildcats can fine-tune any mistakes this week against South Carolina State. The following week, they head to Eugene -- where they'll need to be perfect to pull off the upset.

Last game: Beat Oklahoma State, 59-38
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina State
23 <a href=Arizona State Sun Devils" title="Arizona State Sun Devils">
Last week: NR
How disciplined were the Sun Devils during their demolition of Illinois? They committed exactly one penalty -- and that one was on purpose. Arizona State took a delay of game penalty near midfield to give punter Josh Hubner additional space with which to work. "I love the way our guys are playing disciplined," Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. "Our goal was zero penalties, and the only person who got a penalty was me." Arizona State will need to maintain that focus this week at Missouri, where the Tigers will be desperate to prove last week's fourth-quarter collapse against Georgia was an anomaly.

Last game: Beat Illinois, 45-14
Next game: Saturday at Missouri
24 <a href=Louisville Cardinals" title="Louisville Cardinals">
Last Week: 25
When I tagged along on a six-day bus trip with a South Florida-based 7-on-7 team in 2010, Teddy Bridgewater was the team's quarterback. While on the bus and touring campuses, Bridgewater acted like a typical high school kid. When the players took to a mostly dirt field behind a hotel in Oxford, Miss., for practice, Bridgewater seemed to age 10 years. He commanded the attention of his teammates. He noticed tweaks that needed to be made in the offense. He looked as if he'd been born in front of a huddle. Some quarterbacks simply have the requisite intangibles, and Bridgewater is one of them. Add good blocking and decent skill players, and you get a sophomore in his second season as a starter completing 81.7 percent of his passes while averaging 30 attempts a game. The competition level jumps this week with North Carolina coming to town, but there is no reason to doubt that Bridgewater can handle it.

Last game: Beat Missouri State, 35-7
Next game: Saturday vs. North Carolina
25 UCLA Bruins
Last week: NR
Bruins coach Jim Mora refuses to acknowledge that he or his team has done anything special. According to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, Mora forgot to keep the game ball after his first win as a college head coach Sept. 1. After the Bruins beat Nebraska, Mora declined to assign any deeper meaning to the win. "We're 2-0," Mora said. "It means we are 2-0. It means we beat Nebraska and we are 2-0, and we'll play another game next Saturday." This is probably the best attitude to take with a program that has been irrelevant for so long. UCLA's schedule sets up quite favorably. If Mora can keep the Bruins on an even keel, he might look back after the season and realize he did something amazing.

Last game: Beat Nebraska, 36-30
Next game: Saturday vs. Houston

Next five: Oregon State, Florida, Mississippi State, BYU, Louisiana-Monroe

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

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