By Stewart Mandel
September 09, 2008
Bless you, USC and Ohio State. Same to you, Georgia and Arizona State.

Thanks to these schools' willingness to challenge themselves out of conference, we will be able to start reducing much of the guesswork in the top 10 these next couple of weeks. Early SEC clashes between LSU and Auburn and Florida and Tennessee (both Sept. 20) will help as well. By the time the Oct. 11 Oklahoma-Texas game gets here, we should have a fairly comprehensive lay of the land.

But first thing's first: Ohio State-USC. A Trojans victory will further solidify their claim to the top spot and will presumably stay that way for as long as they keep winning. A Buckeyes victory should vault them to No. 1 as well. I don't know whether my fellow pollsters feel the same way -- especially after dropping Ohio State to fifth this week -- but it seems like a no-brainer to me. USC has lost one game at the Coliseum in the past six years. Pull that off and you deserve a medal.

The more vexing question is what will happen to Ohio State if it suffers another humiliating rout on the national stage. I've been among the many who've resisted holding OSU's past two BCS-title blowouts against this year's team -- but my patience only runs so thick. There would be no shame in losing a close game at USC, but if the Buckeyes aren't competitive, count on a pretty drastic poll drop.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1 USC Trojans
Last Week: 1
The Trojans' opening-week rout of Virginia lost a little bit of its luster after the Cavaliers proved barely capable of beating I-AA Richmond. USC's young offensive line will face a much stiffer challenge this week.
Last game: Beat Virginia, 52-7.
Next game: Saturday vs. Ohio State.
2 Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 2
The Sooners' domination of Cincinnati drew high praise from Daily Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel, who compared the performance to all those routs by the Jason White-led 2003 team. If so, OU better hope the parallels end in early December.
Last game: Beat Cincinnati, 52-26.
Next game: Saturday at Washington.
3 Georgia Bulldogs
Last Week: 3
I've gotten several e-mails from Georgia fans upset that Knowshon Moreno's highlight-reel hurdle against Central Michigan got no TV time -- so here it is for all to see. Moreno ran for 168 yards and three TDs on 18 carries.
Last game: Beat Central Michigan, 56-17.
Next game: Saturday at South Carolina.
4 Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 4
I don't seem to be nearly as concerned as the rest of the country that the Buckeyes sleep-walked through the first three quarters against Ohio. What does concern me is OSU's offensive line. If you thought Florida and LSU had good pass rushes ...
Last game: Beat Ohio, 26-14.
Next game: Saturday at USC.
5 Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 5
Chase Daniel went 16-of-17 for 245 yards and three touchdowns in a little more than a quarter's work against Southeast Missouri State, which begs the question -- would it have made a difference at all if Southeast Missouri played with no defenders?
Last game: Beat Southeast Missouri State, 52-3.
Next game: Saturday vs. Nevada.
6 LSU Tigers
Last Week: 6
LSU Tigers (1-0)
The Tigers' schedule remains in flux as another hurricane, Ike, bears down on Louisiana. It appears LSU will play North Texas as scheduled on Saturday, but the game could be moved to the Superdome or even Texas Stadium.
Last game: Beat Appalachian State, 41-13.
Next game: Saturday vs. North Texas.
7 Florida Gators
Last Week: 7
The Gators' performance against Miami is drawing mixed reviews, and understandably so. Yes, the defense played well, and yes, Tim Tebow came alive in the fourth quarter, but it appears we're entering yet another year of Non-Tailback U.
Last game: Beat Miami, 26-3.
Next game: Sept. 20 at Tennessee.
8 Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 10
Colt McCoy's stat line through two games: 44-of-58 for 504 yards, seven TDs and one pick. It's no secret who he's looking for most of the time: Quan Cosby caught eight passes for 154 yards and a score against UTEP.
Last game: Beat UTEP, 42-13.
Next game: Saturday vs. Arkansas.
9 Auburn Tigers
Last Week: 9
The good news for Auburn: It's found a starting quarterback, Chris Todd, who went 21-of-31 for 248 yards and no picks against Southern Miss. The bad news: Its offense coughed up four turnovers and sputtered in the second half.
Last game: Beat Southern Miss, 27-13.
Next game: Saturday at Mississippi State.
10 Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 11
The Badgers have outscored their first two opponents 55-7 in the second half, a reflection of their ability to wear people down with their running game. It bodes well for Big Ten season, where the defenses rarely see smash-mouth offenses any more.
Last game: Beat Marshall, 51-14.
Next game: Saturday at Fresno State.
11 Penn State Nittany Lions
Last Week: 16
Where do you begin with the accolades from Saturday's rout? RB Evan Royster showed off speed and elusiveness and a defense playing without star DE Maurice Evans shut down Oregon State. Most impressive of all: The dominance of PSU's offensive line.
Last game: Beat Oregon State, 45-14.
Next game: Saturday at Syracuse.
12 East Carolina Pirates
Last Week: 25
AP and coaches voters were all over the map when it came to the Pirates. The way I looked at it: I'm still 99 percent certain the 11 teams above are better than ECU. I can't say the same just yet about any other teams in the rankings.
Last game: Beat West Virginia, 24-3.
Next game: Saturday at Tulane.
13 Oregon Ducks
Last Week: 14
Another week, another injury for the Ducks. RB Jeremiah Johnson went out on the second play against Utah State with a dislocated shoulder. (Oregon still ran for 275 yards without him.) The good news is he should be ready for Purdue.
Last game: Beat Utah State, 66-24.
Next game: Saturday at Purdue.
14 Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 13
Post-Clemson hangover set in last weekend. QB John Parker Wilson threw for just 73 yards and was sacked four times. 'Bama scored one offensive touchdown. Hey, at least they're not losing to the small Louisiana schools this year.
Last game: Beat Tulane, 20-6.
Next game: Saturday vs. Western Kentucky.
15 Arizona State Sun Devils
Last Week: 17
He's baaack. Having endured a nasty QB controversy and learning a new offense the past two seasons, senior Rudy Carpenter finally looks like freshman Rudy Carpenter. He's completed 76.6 percent of his passes for 733 yards.
Last game: Beat Stanford, 41-17.
Next game: Saturday vs. UNLV.
16 Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 15
It was hard to learn much about the Jayhawks from their early opposition, but Friday night's game at USF will be interesting. Kansas will need a running game to complement Todd Reesing, or the Bulls' swarming defense could tee off on the QB.
Last game: Beat Louisiana Tech, 29-0.
Next game: Friday at USF.
17 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last Week: 8
The Raiders haven't played remotely like a top-10 team thus far, so I dropped them accordingly. Against Nevada, QB Graham Harrell was an uncharacteristic 19-of-46 for 297 yards and two picks, while the "improved" defense allowed 488 yards.
Last game: Beat Nevada, 35-19.
Next game: Saturday vs. SMU.
18 California Golden Bears
Last Week: --
The Bears make this week's highest (and only) debut in the rankings after running for 391 yards (including 200 from Jahvid Best) in a 66-3 road drubbing of Washington State. This on the heels of QB Kevin Riley's sterling performance in a 38-31 win over Michigan State.
Last game: Beat Washington State, 66-3.
Next game: Saturday at Maryland.
19 Brigham Young Cougars
Last Week: 18
Lost in the uproar surrounding the Jake Locker celebration flag: That was one heck of a PAT block by the Cougars. Also worth noting: BYU tight end Dennis Pitta currently leads the nation in receiving yards (361 on 21 catches).
Last game: Beat Washington, 28-27.
Next game: Saturday vs. UCLA.
20 UCLA Bruins
Last Week: 20
If it seems like UCLA and BYU face each other about three times a year -- you are correct. Saturday's game marks the teams' third meeting in the past 53 weeks. So far the series is 1-1, with the Bruins winning in L.A., the Cougars in Vegas.
Last game: Beat Tennessee, 27-24 (OT).
Next game: Saturday at BYU.
21 South Florida Bulls
Last Week: 19
Maybe it was the hostile atmosphere at UCF -- where QB Matt Grothe's family was kept under police protection -- but the Bulls failed to put away the Knights despite Grothe throwing for 346 yards and USF outgaining the Knights 504-226.
Last game: Beat UCF 31-24 (OT).
Next game: Friday vs. Kansas.
22 Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: 21
They're not messing around in Knoxville, where recent headlines on the school's Web site included: "Vols Back to Work on 'Unacceptable' Miscues" and "Loss Still Not Sitting Well With Vols." Priority No. 1: Better protection for QB Jonathan Crompton.
Last game: Lost to UCLA, 27-24 (OT).
Next game: Saturday vs. UAB.
23 Clemson Tigers
Last Week: 22
Last week's news that Tommy Bowden resorted to seeking advice from his recent tormentor, Nick Saban, wasn't exactly a confidence-inspirer. Now comes word that Clemson may be without tackle Chris Hairston following a moped injury.
Last game: Beat The Citadel, 45-17.
Next game: Saturday vs. N.C. State.
24 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Last Week: 23
Every couple of years there comes along a kicker -- Ohio State's Mike Nugent, Colorado's Mason Crosby -- who is his team's most valuable weapon. Wake's Sam Swank, who nailed a game-winning 41-yarder against Ole Miss, is one of those guys.
Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 30-28.
Next game: Sept. 20 at Florida State.
25 Illinois Fighting Illini
Last Week: 24
Should Juice Williams be considered a Heisman candidate? It's tough to say. On the one hand, he's produced 759 yards of offense and eight touchdowns in two games. He's also thrown four picks, including two against Eastern Illinois.
Last game: Beat Eastern Illinois, 47-21.
Next game: Saturday vs. Louisiana Lafayette.
Dropped out: West Virginia.

Don't see your team? Click here for complete rankings of Nos. 26-119.

Stewart Mandel's Power Rankings also serve as his ballot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

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