NCF Nation: power rankings 091613

The debate is over, at least for now. Ohio State affirmed itself as the Big Ten's top team by putting on an offensive show against Cal, despite missing its top quarterback and top running back.

There's more doubt about whether Michigan or Northwestern is No. 2 after the Wolverines' surprising struggles Saturday against Akron. For now, we have Michigan ahead by a nose hair, thanks to its win against Notre Dame.

Wisconsin might have moved up to the No. 2 line if the officials had given the Badgers a chance to win the game against Arizona State. We like most of what we saw from Gary Andersen's crew on Saturday night. The same can't be said for Nebraska, which takes a tumble after folding the tent against UCLA, and Penn State, which caved defensively against UCF.

Week 3 was mostly rough for the Big Ten, but it had some bright spots. Michigan State found a quarterback, Indiana regained its footing on defense, and Iowa impressed on the ground against Iowa State.

There's not much separation in the league's bottom half, but as we noted Sunday, the Big Ten might not have a truly bad team.

Here's one last look at last week's rankings.

Now, let's get to the rundown ...

1. Ohio State (3-0, last week: 1): It'll take more than injuries and suspensions to slow down the Buckeyes' potent offense. Quarterback Braxton Miller didn't suit up against Cal, but backup Kenny Guiton once again stepped up with 276 pass yards and four touchdowns, to go along with 92 rush yards. Running back Jordan Hall (168 rush yards, 3 TDs) continued his brilliance filling in for the injured Carlos Hyde, who returns this week against Florida A&M.

2. Michigan (3-0, last week: 2): A week after looking like arguably the Big Ten's best team, Michigan backslid with a mistake-ridden performance against Akron. Brady Hoke's crew emerged with a win but also plenty of questions on both sides of the ball. As good as Devin Gardner has looked at times, the first-year starting quarterback must take better care of the football. Michigan also must patch up a vulnerable defense before Big Ten play.

3. Northwestern (3-0, last week: 3): Take away a lackluster first quarter against Western Michigan, and the Wildcats looked impressive on their home field. The offense clearly has improved despite the continued absence of star running back Venric Mark, as stand-in Treyvon Green (158 rush yards, 2 TDs) looks more than capable. Northwestern's defense remains too leaky but covers up yards with takeaways. The Wildcats have positioned themselves well for an Oct. 5 showdown with Ohio State.

4. Wisconsin (2-1, last week: 4): What is there left to say about the Arizona State ending? Wisconsin was far from perfect Saturday night, struggling to protect Joel Stave or stop back-shoulder throws from Arizona State's Taylor Kelly. But the Badgers fought hard in all three phases and received another huge boost from sophomore running back Melvin Gordon. They deserved better. It'll be interesting to see how they bounce back in the Big Ten opener against Purdue.

5. Michigan State (3-0, last week: 8): Look, an offense! And a quarterback! The Spartans finally start moving in the right direction in the rankings after a scoring explosion against Youngstown State. Connor Cook solidified himself as the team's starting quarterback with four touchdown passes and no interceptions, as Michigan State scored 35 first-half points. Sure, it's Youngstown State, but Michigan State needed a starting point on offense. It has one before a tough test at Notre Dame.

6. Nebraska (2-1, last week: 4): The collapses are no longer surprising because they seem to happen so often for Bo Pelini's teams. Sure, Nebraska normally keeps it together at home, and Saturday's third quarter was one of the worst in team history. But this is who these Huskers are under Pelini, a fragile team prone to blowout losses in big games. Nebraska falls off the national radar for a while but still could contend in the mediocre Big Ten.

7. Minnesota (3-0, last week: 7): It was a rough Saturday for the Gophers, who lost starting quarterback Philip Nelson to a hamstring injury and head coach Jerry Kill to another seizure. Minnesota also had a slow start against FCS Western Illinois until the offense caught fire in the fourth quarter behind running back David Cobb and backup quarterback Mitch Leidner, who was efficient in relief of Nelson. The Gophers face a test this week as San Jose State comes to town.

8. Penn State (2-1, last week: 6): It'll be a long week for defensive coordinator John Butler and a unit that surrendered 507 yards in the loss to UCF and had no answers for Knights quarterback Blake Bortles. After a final non-league tuneup against Kent State, Penn State opens Big Ten play against four potent offenses: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois. Wide receiver Allen Robinson is a beast, but Penn State needs more balance.

9. Indiana (2-1, last week: 10): The Hoosiers forced a punt against Bowling Green, and they did much, much more in one of their better defensive performances in recent memory. Bowling Green didn't score an offensive touchdown as defensive end Nick Mangieri and the Hoosiers bent but didn't break. Indiana had more than enough offense from quarterback Nate Sudfeld (335 pass yards, 2 TDs) and running backs Tevin Coleman (129 rush yards, 2 TDs) and Stephen Houston (155 rush yards), pulling away for an impressive win.

10. Illinois (2-1, last week: 9): Missed scoring opportunities in the first half doomed Illinois in the final 30 minutes against Washington, which repeatedly gashed a young Illini defense. But Illinois showed plenty of fight, even in the fourth quarter when the outcome seemed decided. Illinois has playmakers on both sides of the ball -- QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB/WR Josh Ferguson, WR Ryan Lankford, LB Jonathan Brown -- and could surprise some Big Ten teams.

11. Iowa (2-1, last week: 11): There's an argument that Iowa should handle Iowa State rather easily, which is what happened Saturday in Ames. But Iowa hasn't handled the Cyclones nearly as often as they should, which is what made Saturday's performance so important. The Hawkeyes needed to win this one to generate some positive vibes, and thanks to a Mark Weisman-led run game and a solid defense, they got it done.

12. Purdue (1-2, last week: 12): The Boilers remain at the bottom, but we feel a lot better about them after the Notre Dame game. Quarterback Rob Henry and the offense looked more comfortable, and the defense contained the Irish run attack. There were still too many mistakes down the stretch, but coach Darrell Hazell can build on this. The problem is the schedule simply doesn't let up, as Purdue visits Wisconsin this week.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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No movement at the top this week, just some reshuffling in the middle and at the bottom.

1. Clemson (2-0, 0-0, ACC last week: 1). The Tigers were off but remain the highest ranked ACC team in the national polls at No. 3. The first conference game of the year awaits Thursday at NC State. Clemson lost the last time it played in Raleigh.

2. Florida State (2-0, 1-0 ACC, last week: 2). The Seminoles crushed Nevada this past weekend, rolling up 62 points on the Wolf Pack in another easy victory. They won't get much of a challenge this weekend, either, against FCS Bethune-Cookman.

3. Miami (2-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 3). The Hurricanes enjoyed a bye week after their big win over Florida. We won't know much more about this team after this weekend, either, because Miami plays FCS Savannah State. Noles fans can fill you in on what to expect.

4. Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0 ACC, last week: 4). Game 1 of a tough four-game Coastal stretch is in the books, and the Jackets looked good in beating up on Duke -- their 10th straight win in the series. Vad Lee threw four touchdown passes, leaving us all wondering whether this is the year Georgia Tech can complement its rushing game with an above-average passing game.

5. North Carolina (1-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 5). The Tar Heels got an extra week to prepare for the Georgia Tech offense. Now we'll see whether the added time was put to good use. Nobody has quite forgotten the defensive debacle that unfolded for both teams in their matchup last year.

6. Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 6). The Hokies squeaked out a victory over East Carolina, with yet another outstanding defensive effort. If they get performances like that every week, they will be a serious threat in the Coastal. Top D in the league and it's not even close.

7. Maryland (3-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 8). We moved the Terps ahead of Virginia this week thanks to their 3-0 start. It didn't look pretty at times against UConn, but they found a way to win. No, they haven't beaten anybody with a winning record yet, but they are unbeaten and that counts in these rankings, too.

8. Virginia (1-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 7). The Hoos were off this past week after a blowout loss to Oregon and get VMI this Saturday. We won't know much more about this team until it plays at Pitt on Sept. 28.

9. NC State (2-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 10). The Wolfpack also were off this past weekend as they prepare to host Clemson. They are going to need a much better performance out of Pete Thomas to have any shot at another upset in the series.

10. Pitt (1-1, 0-1 ACC, last week: 12). The Panthers completely dominated New Mexico and got standout performances from several freshmen, including Tyler Boyd and James Conner. They travel to Duke this weekend with a chance to even up their ACC record.

11. Duke (2-1, 0-1 ACC, last week: 9). The Blue Devils could not muster enough offensively with backup quarterback Brandon Connette running the offense in a loss to Georgia Tech. There is no time to look back, because another important Coastal Division game against Pitt looms.

12. Boston College (2-1, 1-0 ACC, last week: 11). Heather thought the Eagles had a chance to pull the upset, but Lane Kiffin had everybody fooled. BC was unable to keep up with supremely talented USC and got beat soundly. The Eagles are off this week before facing another tough opponent -- Florida State on Sept. 28.

13. Syracuse (1-2, 0-0 ACC, last week: 14). The Orange are finally in the win column thanks to a blowout win over Wagner. Terrel Hunt looks like he is ready to run this offense. Syracuse gets a chance to even up its record Saturday against Tulane before opening conference play against Clemson on Oct. 5.

14. Wake Forest (1-2, 0-1 ACC, last week: 13). The Deacs are officially the biggest disappointment in the ACC after losing to ULM at home. What we can't figure out is how a team so laden with seniors, who vowed not to repeat the missteps from a year ago, is perhaps even worse than that 2012 group.

SEC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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We've gone through three Saturdays in the SEC, and it seems like a billion points have been scored. The times, they are a changin', and so have our Power Rankings:

1. Alabama (2-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 1): Every offense has looked good against Texas A&M, but seeing the Tide win that shootout in College Station, Texas, was very impressive. AJ McCarron is back in the Heisman race, and Alabama remains the team to beat in the SEC and nationally. However, questions still remain on a defense that gave up the most yards in school history (628) Saturday.

2. LSU (3-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 2): Ladies and gentlemen, this might be the SEC's most complete team. The Tigers can throw (Zach Mettenberger is averaging 265.7 yards per game), run (218.7 yards per game) and rank 10th nationally in total defense (267.7). Sure, the last two opponents have been of the cupcake variety, but this offense didn't look this efficient against cupcakes last season.

3. Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 SEC; last week: 3): Yes, this defense isn't SEC quality and might not be FBS quality right now, but when you have Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, you're going to be able to score on anyone. Manziel threw for a school-record 464 yards with five touchdowns, while Evans caught seven passes for a school-record 279 yards and a score. This defense needs major work, but this offense won't be stopped by many.

4. Georgia (1-1, 1-0 SEC; last week: 4): The Bulldogs were off, so the defense didn't give up any points. Georgia gets a tuneup in the form of North Texas Saturday before taking on LSU in two weeks. Expect a lot of Bulldogs points and some much-needed improvement from the Dawgs' defense.

5. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC; last week: 5): The Gamecocks continue to put up points and pile on yards. Through three games, South Carolina has registered 406, 454 and 579 yards, respectively. The Gamecocks let Vanderbilt hang around in their 35-25 win over the Commodores, but the defense turned it up a notch after getting embarrassed by Georgia. South Carolina allowed just 268 yards, and Vandy made just two of 12 third-down conversions.

6. Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 7): A season ago, Bevo ran the Rebels out of the Grove. Saturday night, the Rebels chased Bevo & Co. out of Texas. Last season, the second half was almost a death sentence for the Rebels, but this season, they are outscoring opponents 56-37 and blanked Texas 27-0 in the second half of their 44-23 route of the Longhorns Saturday. As long as the read-option is still legal, the Rebels will be a very dangerous team.

7. Florida (1-1, 0-0 SEC; last week: 6): The Gators were off, which means the staff was probably drilling ball security and execution into its players' brains. Florida is last in the SEC in red zone efficiency (50 percent), and, as a result, the Gators are last in the SEC in scoring offense (40 points in two games). However, the Gators own the SEC's best defense, which also ranks third nationally.

8. Auburn (3-0, 1-0 SEC; last week: 9): Quarterback Nick Marshall really grew up in Auburn's 24-20 win over Mississippi State. He isn't quite Cam Newton, but he looked like a seasoned vet on that last-minute, game-winning drive. The defense still has its issues up front, though. Teams are rushing for almost 160 yards per game against the Tigers and are averaging nearly 5 yards per rush. That defensive line is in for quite the fight this weekend at LSU.

9. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-2 SEC; last week: 8): Yes, the Commodores have two losses, but they're losses to top-25 teams. And the Commodores were very much in both games. Still, if Vandy is going to make progress and take the next step, these close losses have to turn into wins, especially against teams like South Carolina. There are some holes on defense that have to get plugged.

10. Missouri (2-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 10): The offense is healthy and the Tigers even got a nice bye week before they travel to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers. The offense has been impressive through two games, averaging 539 yards and 48 points per game, but the competition has been subpar. Indiana's defense, which is allowing 410 yards and nearly 30 points a game, should keep Mizzou's offensive momentum going.

11. Arkansas (3-0, 0-0 SEC; last week: 11): It wasn't a very pretty win over Southern Miss, but I'm sure Bret Bielema will take it. The offense had issues here and there when quarterback Brandon Allen left early with a bruised shoulder. He's expected to be back for Saturday's game at Rutgers. The good news is that the running game didn't suffer, as both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins rushed for more than 100 yards for the third straight game.

12. Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 SEC; last week: 12): We knew that cross-country trip to Eugene, Ore., would be tough, and Oregon made sure it was a very uncomfortable stay for the Vols. Before the Ducks built a 30-point first-half lead, fans were already chanting "We want Bama!" I can only imagine what Tennessee players were thinking. Things only got worse, as the Ducks registered 687 yards in their 59-14 drubbing of the Vols. Tennessee limps into its matchup with Florida looking for answers on defense.

13. Mississippi State (1-2, 0-1 SEC; last week: 13): For the second straight week, Dak Prescott played pretty well in place of the injured Tyler Russell, but when the defense had to make a stop late against Auburn, it came up short. After two solid outings, Mississippi State's defense struggled to stop Auburn's passing game, and now people in Starkville, Miss., are getting a little antsy. The Bulldogs have lost seven of their past nine games dating back to last season.

14. Kentucky (1-2, 0-0 SEC; last week: 14): The Wildcats put up a fight in the first half of their 27-13 loss to Louisville, but they just couldn't find any sort of consistency on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith left in the third quarter with a right shoulder injury, while turnovers and dropped passes stalled the offense whenever it made any attempt to threaten Louisville's lead. The defense gave up 242 rushing yards, but it was gassed by the fourth quarter thanks to an offense that went 0-for-13 on third down.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
9:00
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If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

See last week's Power Rankings here.

1. Oregon: The rankings are about reacting to the latest games as well as the cumulative body of work and general perception of butt-kicking ability. The Ducks are now tops in all three. And after witnessing Mark Helfrich's tour-de-force presser following his team's bludgeoning of Tennessee, reporters realized we've still got some Chip Kelly wiseacre to enjoy.

2. Stanford: Stanford falls behind due to style points. Of course, Stanford knows that winning, if continued, will conquer style. The Cardinal just needs to keep doing the former, starting with an interesting visit from Arizona State on Saturday.

3. UCLA: The Bruins now own the highest quality win in the conference with Saturday's emotional 18-point come-from-behind victory at Nebraska. Furthermore, how the Bruins took care of business -- 38 consecutive points? Are you kidding me?! -- was freaking impressive on both sides of the ball. Jim Mora and his staff seem to be pretty good in a halftime locker room.

4. Washington: The Huskies took care of business on the road against a solid Illinois team. After Idaho State, the visit from Arizona on Sept. 28 will present a big test for both teams.

5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils looked like the superior team against Wisconsin, but that doesn't change the fact they nearly blew it and -- let's face it -- got lucky with how things went down at the end with Pac-12 officials Larry, Curly and Moe. Still, it was a good win since the scoreboard says it was. Now, what can the Sun Devils do on the road against Stanford?

6. Washington State: The Cougars should improve to 3-1 on Saturday against Idaho. Then they get Stanford in Seattle, the first of four consecutive games against North Division foes. It's a tough stretch, but it certainly looks closer to a potential 2-2 run than it did in August. And two wins puts the Cougs one win away from bowl eligibility with four games to play.

7. Arizona: The Wildcats have been the quietest team in the conference because they played three nonconference opponents. They have looked pretty good, with an improved defense being particularly noteworthy. But we still don't know these guys and won't until they go to Washington on Sept. 28.

8. Oregon State: That was a big, clutch win at Utah. A potential season-changer. The preseason perception was the Beavers had a good shot at a 7-0 start. It's not unreasonable to be leaning toward ending up 6-1 now, particularly if QB Sean Mannion keeps doing his NFL QB-looking thing. Next up is a visit to a San Diego State team that can't -- please, Beavs, no! -- can't be overlooked.

9. USC: Not unlike Oregon State getting off the carpet, the way USC handled Boston College was enough to suggest it's premature to throw in the white towel for the Trojans' 2013 season. Clancy Pendergast's defense has been dominant, for one. And just maybe the offense is starting to figure things out.

10. Utah: Ouch. So many "what ifs" from the home loss to Oregon State. A great comeback, only to fall in overtime. Again, ouch. It's probably good news that a visit to BYU is up next. That's a big emotional game, and the Utes need to move on from a big emotional game.

11. Colorado: The grudge match with Fresno State was canceled due to major flooding -- unquestionably the right call, by the way -- so the renewed Buffs were on the sideline and again will be off this week. It will be interesting to see how two consecutive weekends without a game will affect the visit to Oregon State on Sept. 28. That's a sneaky interesting game.

12. California: The Bears are the only team in the conference with a losing record, though that is a function of tough scheduling against a pair of ranked Big Ten teams in two of the three weeks. If Cal had played Arizona's schedule, it would be 3-0 and we'd be celebrating new coach Sonny Dykes and true freshman QB Jared Goff. But, as it is, the 1-2 record stands as the only available body of work. And that defense? Pretty yucky so far, injuries or not.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Only because Iowa State and Kansas also lost is Texas not last in this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings:

1. Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 1): While they’ve been in the news plenty lately for other reasons, the Cowboys on the field have quietly lived up to the role of favorite rather well. And with the Nov. 16 trip to Austin no longer looking all that daunting, Oklahoma State should be favored in every game the rest of the way.

2. Baylor (2-0, 0-0 Big 12, last week 2): The Bears are one of only three Big 12 teams that haven’t been forced to play a backup quarterback due to injury, ineffectiveness or the need for a spark. That kind of stability with Bryce Petty is one major reason why Baylor has the look of a viable conference title contender.

3. Oklahoma (3-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 3): Before the weekend, the Sooners had been brilliant in every facet of the game, except for quarterback. Against Tulsa, they were brilliant there, too. Blake Bell gave the passing attack a huge lift, delivering college football’s sixth-highest raw QBR of the week. So far, the OU running game has been dynamic, and the defense has been solid. If the Sooners can also get that level of production from their quarterback, they'll be dangerous.

4. Texas Tech (3-0, 1-0 Big 12, last week 5): Sometimes winning ugly is what’s required. Aesthetics aside, Texas Tech’s victory TCU was huge for the Kliff Kingsbury era. Some of it was TCU’s anemic offense, but Kingsbury had to feel buoyed by the way his defense completely shut down the Horned Frogs. If the Red Raiders keep playing defense, they could emerge into a surprise title contender. Their next four games are very winnable.

5. TCU (1-2, 0-1 Big 12, last week 4): Coach Gary Patterson probably could not have envisioned a worse start to TCU’s season. The Horned Frogs already have two losses, and star defensive end Devonte Fields made little impact in Lubbock after sitting out most of the first two games with a suspension. Now, Fields has an injured foot. Given how lost the Frogs look offensively, they’re probably going to have to win games with defense, at least for now. That won’t be easy with Fields either hobbled, ineffective or both.

6. West Virginia (2-1, 0-1 Big 12, last week 6): After auditioning Paul Millard and bypassing on Clint Trickett, the Mountaineers might finally have uncovered their quarterback in Ford Childress, who had a strong debut showing against Georgia State. These next two weeks will be huge for Childress and the Mountaineers. How they perform against Maryland in Baltimore and conference favorite Oklahoma State in Morgantown will set the tone for the rest of the season, one way or the other.

7. Kansas State (2-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 8): After the stunning loss to North Dakota State, the Wildcats have bounced back nicely, and there’s reason to believe they can keep it going in Austin. The zone-read has been devastating to Texas, and K-State change-of-pace QB Daniel Sams might be the best running QB in the league.

8. Texas (1-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 7): After beating the Longhorns by three touchdowns, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Texas’ defensive scheme was basically the same as last week. The Longhorns played about the same, too, giving up another 272 yards on the ground. That’s 822 rushing yards the Horns have allowed over the past two games. It's not even October, and Texas is already a total disaster. Coach Mack Brown is running out of scapegoats to fire, too.

9. Kansas (1-1, 0-0 Big 12, last week 9): The Jayhawks actually played well defensively in a nine-point loss at Rice. The offense, however, did not; notably, quarterback Jake Heaps, who had a raw QBR of 10.2, the fourth-lowest rating of any FBS quarterback for the week. The Kansas offense has to be -- and should be -- better than this for the Jayhawks to win more than two games.

10. Iowa State (0-2, 0-0 Big 12, last week 10): After two losses to open the year, it’s difficult to see how Iowa State gets to a bowl game. Other than receiver Quenton Bundrage, quarterback Sam Richardson has had virtually no help offensively, and the defense is a notch below what it's been. If Iowa State can’t uncover a running game to take pressure off Richardson, this could end up becoming a long, long year in Ames.

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