By Andy Staples
September 06, 2011

It's difficult to tell much from a debut. Was the season opener an accurate representation of a team's ability? Or was it an anomaly -- for better or for worse?

In that way, season openers are very much like the pilots for new television series. Maybe a team hooks you right away and keeps you glued to the set. Maybe it starts slow and grows on you. Or maybe it starts strong and flounders in later episodes. So with not very much actual football to use as a guide, there were some wild swings in these rankings. And just like the ratings of the new shows that will debut this month, the rankings will level out as the viewers get more episodes to judge.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1 Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 1
The Wire: Now that Jim Tressel is no longer at Ohio State, no coach in America works his corner (conference) better than Bob Stoops, who has won the Big 12 seven times since taking over Oklahoma in 1999. Of course, the Big 12 might not exist much longer, and the Sooners may be the ones getting hauled in by Bunk and McNulty as they investigate the murder. Until he popped off last Friday, Oklahoma president David Boren was realignment's version of Stringer Bell sitting in the back of the courtroom manipulating witnesses in the D'Angelo Barksdale trial in the opening scene of the pilot. Now the world knows Boren (Bell) and Texas president Bill Powers (Avon Barksdale) hold most of the cards.
Last game: Beat Tulsa, 47-14
Next game: Sept. 17 at Florida State
2 LSU Tigers
Last Week: 4
LSU Tigers (1-0)
Twin Peaks: Here's a paragraph from the log of an authority figure. Is it from LSU coach Les Miles, or is it from FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, who was sent to the oddball town of Twin Peaks, Wash., to investigate the murder of double life-leading homecoming queen Laura Palmer? "As W. C. Fields would say, I'd rather be here than Philadelphia. Fifty-four degrees on a slightly overcast day. Weatherman said rain. If you could get paid that kind of money for being wrong sixty percent of the time, it'd beat working. Mileage is seventy-nine thousand three hundred forty-five, gauge is on reserve, riding on fumes here. I've got to tank up when I get into town. Remind me to tell you how much that is. Lunch was, uh, six dollars and thirty-one cents at the Lamplighter Inn, that's on Highway Two near Lewis Fork." It was Cooper, but it could have been Miles. Like the Tigers, Twin Peaks started off strange and beautiful. As it went on, it worked until it didn't -- which also sounds like the LSU teams of the past few years.
Last game: Beat Oregon 40-27
Next game: Saturday vs. Northwestern State
3 Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 2
The A-Team: The A-Team pilot, titled Mexican Slayride, didn't include a cold open like so many pilots. It launched directly into the greatest title sequence in television history. Who wouldn't want to watch an Alabama version of the A-Team with Nick Saban as Hannibal, Courtney Upshaw as B.A. Baracus, A.J. McCarron as Face -- who was played by Tim Dunigan in the pilot, so maybe Phillip Sims might eventually be the Tide's Dirk Benedict -- and Australian juco transfer Jesse Williams as a supersized "Howlin' Mad" Murdock? I can see it now. Ten years ago, a crack commando team was sent to prison by a court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Tuscaloosa underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as members of a college football team. If you have a problem, if no one else can tackle, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ... The A-Team.
Last game: Beat Kent State 48-7
Next game: Saturday at Penn State
4 Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 11
Star Trek: Unless you're a serious nerd, you probably never saw the original Star Trek pilot titled The Cage. It featured a captain named Christopher Pike in command of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a logical second-in-command called No. 1 and a quite human-seeming Spock. People may have watched that show, but it wouldn't have endured the way the revamped version did. The second pilot, called Where No Man Has Gone Before, brought in William Shatner as Capt. James Tiberius Kirk. The rest is geek history. Russell Wilson, who transferred to Wisconsin after graduating from N.C. State, is the Badgers' Capt. Kirk. He took what would have been an above-average offense and made it an excellent one. With Montee Ball and James White (Spock and Scotty; Dr. McCoy didn't appear in the second pilot, either) terrifying defenses on the ground, Wisconsin should have the nation's deadliest play-action passing game.
Last game: Beat UNLV 51-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Oregon State

5 Stanford Cardinal
Last Week: 5
The Big Bang Theory: In the Big Bang pilot, Sheldon and Leonard meet their new neighbor, Penny, and ... really, who cares? Like any other show that hopelessly clings to a laugh track, The Big Bang Theory is about as funny as a prostate exam. But it does glorify nerds, and so does the Stanford football team. It may only have been against San Jose State, but the Cardinal didn't appear to have lost any of their mojo in their first game under new coach David Shaw. (If you really want a laugh, listen to the awkward silences during a Big Bang episode with the laugh track removed.)
Last game: Beat San Jose State 57-3
Next game: Saturday at Duke
6 Florida St. Seminoles
Last Week: 7
Heroes: Though the show ultimately became forgettable, the Heroes pilot rocked. Any show that begins with a cheerleader throwing herself off a tower, getting up and snapping her bones back into place is going to earn a spot on the DVR. The Seminoles also started strong in their second season under Jimbo Fisher, but we don't know exactly how good they are. With Charleston Southern coming in this week, it's entirely possible FSU will meet Oklahoma on Sept. 17 without having allowed a point. That matchup will be the 2011 Seminoles' version of the Homecoming episode in Season 1 of Heroes. It was a pivotal moment for the series -- and the episode where things started going off the tracks. The Sooners game will be a pivotal moment for the Seminoles.
Last game: Beat Louisiana-Monroe 34-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Charleston Southern
7 Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week: 19
The OC: The signature moment of The OC premiere featured pretty-boy water polo player Luke beating up bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold Ryan and declaring, "Welcome to the O.C., @#$%&!" It's entirely possible the Hokies will pound every opponent in the regular season -- really, look at the schedule -- and yell "Welcome to Beamerball, @#$%&!" The Hokies' ranking isn't jacked up so much this week solely because of the domination of Appalachian State on Saturday. I experienced deep feelings of remorse after the preseason Power Rankings debut. (About the ranking. Not about comparing the Hokies to Metallica. I stand by that.)
Last game: Beat Appalachian State 66-13
Next game: Saturday at East Carolina
8 Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: 6
The Cosby Show: With their flirtation with the SEC, the Aggies have given college sports fans a 21st century version of the excellent economics lesson Cliff Huxtable gave son Theo in the pilot of the best family comedy of the '80s.
Last game: Beat SMU 46-14
Next game: Sept. 17 vs. Idaho

9 Oregon Ducks
Last Week: 3
24: When 24 debuted, it was like nothing we'd seen on television before. The blistering pace kept the adrenaline pumping for the entire broadcast. Competitors didn't stand a chance. Actually, this sounds a little like Oregon's offense under Chip Kelly. (OK, that run didn't start until Game 2 of the Kelly era in 2009.) As the years went by, the 24 formula didn't seem as novel. Are we seeing the same thing with the Oregon offense? Or did the Ducks just happen to face two ultra-athletic defenses blessed with extended preparation time? I'm guessing it's choice B. At any rate, if he hasn't made an appearance already, Jack Bauer belongs on an Oregon play card.
Last game: Lost to LSU 40-27
Next game: Saturday vs. Nevada
10 South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Week: 8
Magnum, P.I.: In honor of the most star-studded team in South Carolina history, we bring you the two-part Don't Eat the Snow in Hawaii, the most star-studded episode of perhaps the finest television show ever produced. Not only did we get introduced to Magnum, Higgins, T.C., Rick, Zeus and Apollo, we also were treated to guest spots by Robert Loggia as a crime lord and a young Judge Reinhold as dimwitted Seaman Wolfe. In this comparison, infuriating-yet-effective quarterback Stephen Garcia is Thomas Magnum, and Steve Spurrier is a twangier Higgins. But does that mean Spurrier is actually a twangier Robin Masters? For those who missed it, here is the first 15 minutes of the pilot ... dubbed into Russian.
Last game: Beat East Carolina 56-37
Next game: Saturday at Georgia

11 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Last Week: 9
#$$% My Dad Says: And Shatner makes his second appearance in the Power Rankings. Sorry for that. But I just imagine 27-year-old Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden sitting in the Oklahoma State locker room, icing his aching joints and dispensing the kind of curmudgeonly wisdom that makes for a hilarious, raunchy Twitter feed and a horrible television show. Who can't see Weeden saying stuff that sounds like the pearls uttered by the father of writer Justin Halpern? "A parent's only as good as their dumbest kid," Halpern's dad once said. "If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you failed." Or maybe, "No. I want the salad ... Live a little? I'm ordering lunch. I don't have a choice between salad or [expletive] skydiving."
Last game: Beat Louisiana-Lafayette 61-34
Next game: Thursday vs. Arizona
12 Boise St. Broncos
Last Week: 10
Freaks and Geeks: This comparison works on a few levels. Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's characters -- be they freaks or geeks -- all were outcasts at their suburban Detroit high school. For the most part, Boise State's players were the outcasts of the FBS recruiting world. How many other schools offered Broncos tailback Doug Martin a scholarship? None. He may as well be the backfield version of Seth Rogen's Ken. Quarterback Kellen Moore's only other offers were from Eastern Washington and Idaho, which probably makes him the signal-caller version of James Franco's Daniel. As TV critic Alan Sepinwall explained so beautifully on his old blog, director Jake Kasdan established nearly everything a viewer needed to know about the show and its characters in the first five minutes of the pilot. Moore established himself as the starter as a redshirt freshman and just keeps winning. Meanwhile, while the show was relatively underappreciated -- it didn't even finish its full run on NBC -- its creators and stars have gone on to superstardom. Ditto for many of the Broncos, who, despite being lightly recruited, have built Boise State into one of the nation's best programs.
Last game: Beat Georgia 35-21
Next game: Sept. 16 at Toledo
13 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Week: 12
Newhart: Bob Newhart, who split sides for years as a therapist on The Bob Newhart Show, returned to prime time in 1982 playing a Vermont innkeeper. The smartest thing Newhart did? He never actually played anyone other than Bob Newhart. He was great at playing Bob Newhart. Why change? For the same reason, Nebraska should always run the option. That's why it was so fantastic to see first-year offensive coordinator Tim Beck running a variation of the option on Saturday. Sure, there were a few hiccups during the Chattanooga game, but quarterback Taylor Martinez and company will smooth out the kinks. By midseason, Big Ten defensive coordinators will have nightmares as they try to gameplan for an offense they see once a year. Because Nebraska is fairly remote, it's quite difficult to recruit a great passing quarterback. Such creatures are rare, and since most of them live in Sun Belt states, they are more likely to choose colleges near home. But there is no shortage of talented athletes who, for one reason or another, don't quite fit a certain mold and are willing to travel a little farther to be a key cog in an offense. Athleticism, toughness and the ability to make snap judgments are the key to being one of the ball-handlers in an option offense. Nebraska can find those players, and it can dominate with that offense.
Last game: Beat Chattanooga 40-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Fresno State
14 Arkansas Razorbacks
Last Week: 13
The Fall Guy: By job-hopping twice in a short span, Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino brought much of the criticism he routinely receives upon himself. Still, the abuse heaped upon Petrino by rival fans has grown a bit tired. Petrino seems content at Arkansas, where he appears to be building something special. Still, he gets beat up so often by media members and by opposing fans that he must feel like stuntman Colt Seavers on certain days.
Last game: Beat Missouri State 51-7
Next game: Saturday at New Mexico

15 Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 14
Night Court: The first episode of Night Court was funny enough. The plot centered on the ascension to the bench of unconventional young Judge Harold T. Stone, who explained that he received his appointment only because he was home on a Sunday and answered the phone. The pilot included future favorites Richard Moll (Bull) and John Laroquette (Dan Fielding), but the series didn't hit its stride until Charles Robinson (Mac), Markie Post (Christine Sullivan) and Marsha Warfield (Roz) joined the cast. The Buckeyes appear to have found their Harry Stone in first-year coach Luke Fickell. They're pretty good now, but they'll only get better when tailback Boom Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Michael Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas return from suspensions on Oct. 8.
Last game: Beat Akron 42-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Toledo
16 Michigan St. Spartans
Last Week: 15
Greatest American Hero: Every time I see Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins, this show's theme song plays in my head. But last Friday, the hero in East Lansing was Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr., a member of the class of 2007 who made his first career start in the season opener against Youngstown State. Why did it take Ray four years to start? He was busy beating bone cancer.
Last game: Beat Youngstown State 28-6
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida Atlantic

17 West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: 20
Boardwalk Empire: Anyone who has seen Fargo, The Big Lebowski or The Sopranos knows Steve Buscemi is one of the finest character actors in Hollywood. But prior to the Martin Scorsese-directed series premiere of Boardwalk Empire, no one knew if Buscemi could carry a series. By the time Buscemi's Nucky Thompson first shares the screen with Irish immigrant Margaret Schroeder, it's clear Buscemi is plenty capable. The same dynamic is at play every time a hotshot assistant becomes a head coach. In West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen's case, his lightning-shortened debut against Marshall only served to reinforce the belief that Holgorsen will make the transition from assistant to CEO with little difficulty.
Last game: Beat Marshall 34-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Norfolk State
18 Mississippi St. Bulldogs
Last Week: 22
Green Acres: A Yankee moves to Hooterville, falls in love with the town and the town falls in love with him. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is a Yankee (he's from New Hampshire) who moved to Starkville. He fell in love with the town, and the town fell in love with him. Mullen's team looked strong on opening night in Memphis. Now the Bulldogs will face Auburn and LSU in a six-day stretch. A split would be nice. Two wins could mean this team is headed for something big.
Last game: Beat Memphis 59-14
Next game: Saturday at Auburn
19 Baylor Bears
Last Week: --
Friday Night Lights: Before he entered the college ranks, Bears coach Art Briles was a real-life Eric Taylor. At Stephenville High (about 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth), Briles won four Class 4A titles in seven years. In the process, quarterbacks Cody Ledbetter (New Mexico State), Branndon Stewart (Tennessee and Texas A&M), Glenn O'Dell (Houston) and Kelan Luker (SMU) became schoolboy stars. Briles never had to deal with anything as drastic as Taylor did in the FNL pilot, when Dillon High quarterback Jason Street was paralyzed during a game and replaced by sophomore Matt Saracen. But in the first game of the 1996 season, starting quarterback Kyle Dempsey separated his throwing shoulder. Dempsey played through the pain, but Briles used a young Luker for longer passes. Luker had a bit of Saracen in him, too. While Saracen went to art school, Luker eventually left SMU to join a rock band called Submersed. The biggest difference between Taylor and Briles? While Taylor left his assistant's job at TMU and returned to Dillon almost as quickly as he had left, Briles remained in college after joining Mike Leach's Texas Tech staff as an assistant in 2000.
Last game: Beat TCU 50-48
Next game: Sept. 17 vs. Stephen F. Austin
20 Arizona St. Sun Devils
Last Week: 23
Baywatch: Within 70 seconds of Baywatch's initial airing, someone -- in this case, star David Hasselhoff -- already was running in slow motion. This would make Baywatch the most popular show in the world. In honor of this, here is a clip that includes a slow motion replay of Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict running before splattering Idaho State quarterback Russell Hill.
Last game: Beat UC Davis 48-14
Next game: Friday vs. Missouri

21 Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 17
Cop Rock: This has nothing to do with the Tigers, but there was no way I was going to feature 25 television pilots without mentioning Steven Bochco's Waterloo.
Last game: Beat Miami (Ohio) 17-6
Next game: Friday at Arizona State

22 Florida Gators
Last Week: --
Lost: The Gators looked great Saturday against Florida Atlantic. But much like in the immediate aftermath of the crash of Oceanic 815, we have no idea where all of this is going. Coach Will Muschamp and coordinators Charlie Weis and Dan Quinn have kept the Gators shrouded in mystery for so long that we aren't even sure if that was the offense and defense they intend to run in the long term. Will they break out the schematic version of Nikki and Paulo when the Gators open SEC play against Tennessee on Sept. 17? Or will they turn everything on its ear with a "We have to go baaaaaaack" masterpiece? Do they have a plan? Or are they making this up as they go along? We'll see.
Last game: Beat Florida Atlantic 41-3
Next game: Saturday vs. UAB

23 South Florida Bulls
Last Week: --
Community: You probably think I'm going to make some cheap commuter school reference here. Au contraire. The Community pilot introduced us to the study group, but it didn't immediately reveal the cast's strengths because it was so bogged down in the Jeff-Britta thing. Over time, we grew to love Annie, Troy, Abed and an incredible cast of ancillary characters that includes Starburns and the irrepressible Magnitude. Community might be the best sitcom on television right now, but it still feels like a well-kept secret among its fans. Give Skip Holtz time in a place where he can fill all his recruiting needs without setting foot on an airplane, and the Bulls could go from well-kept secret to prime-time tentpole. And now, here's a montage of Troy -- played expertly by Donald Glover -- crying.
Last game: Beat Notre Dame 23-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Ball State
24 TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 16
Good Morning, Miss Bliss: This 1988 show was built around one known commodity. Hayley Mills played the titular Miss Bliss, who taught a class populated by young actors named Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Lark Voorhies and Dustin Diamond. Her boss was a busybody principal named Richard Belding. This all should sound quite familiar to anyone in their 30s. After 14 episodes, the show was canceled, bought by NBC and brought back as Saved By the Bell. So don't despair over the Horned Frogs' performance against a good Baylor team last Friday. TCU has a bunch of young unknowns trying to find their way. The bad news: The Horned Frogs gave up 47 points in the first three quarters and ultimately lost. The good news: They scored 25 unanswered fourth-quarter points and almost pulled out the win. That's an awfully good sign that there might be some young Zack Morrises on the squad.
Last game: Lost to Baylor 50-48
Next game: Saturday at Air Force
25 Auburn Tigers
Last Week: 18
Dawson's Creek: In the Dawson's Creek pilot, Joey (the future Mrs. Tom Cruise) gets jealous because childhood friend Dawson (the future Jonathan Moxon) is attracted to neighbor girl Jen (future Oscar nominee Michelle Williams). Meanwhile, Pacey (future Fringe star Joshua Jackson) is bedding a teacher. It would take six seasons and every possible romantic combination of the main characters to figure everything out. Judging by their defensive performance against Utah State, the Tigers are going to have to try a ton of combinations before they find the correct mix. Auburn has a lot of talented youngsters, but they'll be forced to learn under fire. Mississippi State comes to the Plains on Saturday, and it doesn't get much easier the rest of the way.
Last game: Beat Utah State 42-38
Next game: Saturday vs. Mississippi State

Next five: Maryland, Utah, Notre Dame, Texas, BYU

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

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