NCF Nation: power rankings 4
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A bit of shuffling this week despite three teams -- Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan -- that had byes. There's still a lot of mystery after the top three or four squads, and we'll know much more in five days as league play finally begins.
1. Wisconsin -- The bye week came at a good time for the Badgers, who are still dealing with some key injuries (Travis Beckum, Jonathan Casillas, Aaron Henry). It might sound wacky, but Saturday's game at 1-2 Michigan could be a trap game for Wisconsin, which can't look ahead to mega matchups with Ohio State and Penn State the next two weeks at Camp Randall Stadium.
2. Penn State -- The Lions beat Temple 45-3 and called their performance sloppy. Impressive is a better term to describe a team that has capitalized on weak competition and looked great on both sides of the ball. Penn State finally gets a test this week as Illinois visits Happy Valley. Another convincing win could give the Lions the top spot.
3. Ohio State -- The Terrelle Pryor era is under way in Columbus, and the freshman turned in a record-setting performance in his first career start. But the Buckeyes once again didn't look impressive against an inferior opponent, and they'll have to be much better in league play to reclaim the top spot in the rankings.
4. Michigan State -- It's a little unfair to drop Illinois after a bye week, but the Illini don't look like an improved team, while Michigan State does. Running back Javon Ringer has been the Big Ten MVP through the first four games, and the defense is displaying the physical style that head coach Mark Dantonio demands.
5. Illinois -- The good news for the idle Illini is they have a chance to make a huge statement Saturday at Penn State and vault up the list. The offense and defense rarely have played well at the same time, and Illinois will need both units to be clicking in Happy Valley. A veteran defensive front seven faces a huge test in the Spread HD offense, and Juice Williams tries to replicate his big-game road heroics.
6. Northwestern -- At this point in the season, the Wildcats are usually lamenting a bad nonleague loss and a leaky defense. Instead, they find themselves 4-0, thanks to a dominating defense shaped by coordinator Mike Hankwitz. The offense has been the problem so far, and Northwestern will need a lot of improvement from senior quarterback C.J. Bacher to keep this spot.
7. Iowa -- The Hawkeyes have found a running back (Shonn Greene) and several young playmakers on defense, but football still comes down to the quarterback position, and Iowa remains a mystery there. It seems like whoever comes off the bench -- Jake Christensen or Ricky Stanzi -- outplays the starter. Coach Kirk Ferentz might need to just pick a guy already because the rotation isn't working.
8. Purdue -- Staring straight at another crushing loss, the Boilermakers came up big against a solid Central Michigan team. Senior running back Kory Sheets continued to show he can handle the featured role by rushing for the game-winning touchdown. Purdue's playmaking secondary has become one of the team's strengths. A road win against Notre Dame would move the Boilers higher.
9. Minnesota -- I kept the Gophers in the basement after three wins, but a 37-3 win against Florida Atlantic made me a believer. Coordinator Ted Roof has ignited the nation's worst defense in 2007, as an influx of junior college transfers and several holdovers have meshed so far. Minnesota is forcing turnovers on defense and limiting mistakes on offense. Quarterback Adam Weber has been fabulous so far.
10. Michigan -- I'll be surprised if the Wolverines end up here at the end of the season, but it might be awhile before they move up. Wisconsin and Illinois visit the Big House the next two weeks, and Michigan needs an upset to keep its bowl hopes alive. A defense that struggled against Notre Dame must step against Wisconsin's power run game, and both Steven Threet and Sam McGuffie need to take another step forward.
11. Indiana -- Saturday marked the first chance for us to learn something about Indiana, and it wasn't promising. Two cupcake games didn't prepare the Hoosiers for a formidable Ball State team. Indiana's defensive front couldn't stop MiQuale Lewis, and Hoosiers quarterback Kellen Lewis had a rough night throwing the ball. The Hoosiers have a chance to move up by beating Michigan State at home on Saturday, but they deserved to drop.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
1. Oklahoma -- Sooners return from off week against a tough TCU team that was the last opponent to win at Owen Field.
2. Missouri -- Lethargic defensive performance and fumbles will give Gary Pinkel plenty of inspirational fodder during Tigers' off week -- after his trip to the ESPN campus this week.
3. Texas -- Superb defensive effort vs. Rice has Texas cruising into the Arkansas game. But Mack Brown still would have liked to have played the Razorbacks a couple of weeks earlier.
4. Texas Tech -- Could this be the most balanced offensive team that Mike Leach has ever had? If Shannon Woods keeps grinding inside, the Red Raiders might shuck some of their pass-happy tendencies.
5. Kansas -- Lack of ground game has Mangino considering big changes in the offensive line. And he wouldn't mind if one of his backs could find holes, too.
6. Oklahoma State -- Cowboys' loss to Troy last season set up Zac Robinson's promotion and Mike Gundy's infamous rant.
7. Colorado -- Look for another fierce defensive battle as offensively-challenged Buffaloes and Seminoles battle in Jacksonville, Fla.
8. Nebraska -- Cornhuskers have a statement game approaching against Virginia Tech in their most legitimate test to date this season.
9. Baylor -- Strong performance at Connecticut shows that the Bears are for real. Don't be surprised if and when they notch an upset or two once conference play begins.
10. Kansas State -- Lack of a running game and a weak run defense have buzzards lining up around Ron Prince -- despite his contract extension.
11. Iowa State -- Nice comeback from a huge halftime deficit to force overtime against UNLV, but still ended up as Cyclones' 13th straight road loss.
12. Texas A&M -- Jerrod Johnson represents the future. But to get there, the Aggies will have to flounder through a present that looks like it might produce only three or four victories this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Selecting the No. 1 team in this week's SEC power rankings was even more difficult than a week ago. You could make an argument for four teams -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. Ultimately, I opted to keep the Bulldogs on top for a third straight week. Going out West and beating nationally ranked Arizona State on the road will pay dividends for Georgia later on if the Bulldogs continue to take care of business. Of course, the schedule only gets more treacherous from here. Alabama comes to town this weekend in the second battle of top 10 teams in the SEC in as many weeks. LSU took down Auburn last week:
1. Georgia: The Bulldogs are still a bit unsettled in their offensive line, and the inexperience and shuffling could come back to get them. But Matthew Stafford formally introduced himself to freshman receiver A.J. Green in Georgia's 27-10 win at Arizona State, and that's bad news for everybody else the Bulldogs are going to play.
2. LSU: The Tigers get bumped up to No. 2 this week based on their 26-21 win at Auburn, the best win an SEC team has produced this season. Any time you go to a top 10 team's house and win, people are going to notice. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee rallied LSU in the second half. He showed a lot of courage after a poor first half.
3. Florida: A second straight Heisman Trophy might not be in the offing for quarterback Tim Tebow, but the Gators are in as good a position as any to win the Eastern Division crown after going on the road and blitzing Tennessee 30-6 last week. They have a favorable schedule the rest of the way, and their defense and special teams are playing at a championship level.
4. Alabama: The best thing about Alabama right now is how well the Crimson Tide are playing in the offensive and defensive lines. That's where it starts, and Alabama is smothering the opposition up front. The freshmen are also coming along nicely, and we find out for sure Saturday against Georgia if this program is further ahead than anybody could have imagined back in August.
5. Vanderbilt: The Commodores have trailed in every game this season, but they're 4-0 and nationally ranked for the first time since 1984. This is no mirage, folks. This is a good football team that does all of the little things right. The open date this week comes at a good time. Vanderbilt had several players banged up in its 23-17 win at Ole Miss last Saturday.
6. Auburn: The good news is that quarterback Chris Todd came alive in the spread offense, and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said he might even let Todd throw more the rest of the way. The bad news is that Auburn's vaunted defense gave up 398 yards in the 26-21 loss to LSU, which was playing a couple of untested quarterbacks. Auburn's defense is better than it showed on that game-winning drive by LSU.
7. Kentucky: The unbeaten Wildcats were idle last weekend, which was probably a good thing. They had several injuries they were dealing with coming out of their last game against Middle Tennessee. This is the first real SEC defense Kentucky has had under Rich Brooks. The Wildcats should go to 4-0 this weekend against Western Kentucky before traveling to Alabama on Oct. 4.
8. South Carolina: Hard as this is for some to believe, but Steve Spurrier is thinking about making another quarterback change after the Gamecocks' unimpressive 23-13 win over Wofford. He wants to give redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia a shot against UAB. After reading about Garcia in the police blotter for the last two years, it will be nice to finally see if the guy can play.
9. Ole Miss: All of a sudden, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead is struggling after playing lights out to open the season. He had a nightmarish game in the Rebels' 23-17 loss to Vanderbilt and was intercepted four times. He has six interceptions in his last two games. The Vanderbilt loss was a costly one for Ole Miss in its quest to get to a bowl game this season.
10. Tennessee: The Vols have been the biggest disappointment in the SEC through the first four weeks. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton is struggling to find any consistency. Special teams are an embarrassment, and this looks like a 7-5 or 6-6 football team right now. Similar to last season, Phillip Fulmer has his work cut out if the Vols are going to turn it around.
11. Arkansas: The race for the bottom spot is a close one. As badly as Arkansas played last week against Alabama in a 49-14 home loss, however, the Hogs were able to escape the cellar ... but barely. The next three weeks could really get ugly. Arkansas travels to Texas this Saturday, comes back home to face Florida on Oct. 4 and then travels to Auburn on Oct. 11.
12. Mississippi State: Where do you start with the beleaguered Bulldogs, who are 1-3 and have yet to beat an FBS team? Their only win was over Southeastern Louisiana. Already this season, Mississippi State has turned the ball over 12 times. But even the defense was AWOL last Saturday, as Georgia Tech rushed for 437 yards in a 38-7 beatdown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
1. Wake Forest (3-0, 1-0 ACC) -- By a thread. The only reason these guys didn't get bumped in favor of Clemson this week after an anemic offensive performance against FSU is because they still got the job done, played amazing defense and are the lone undefeated team remaining in the conference.
2. Clemson (3-1, 1-0) -- The Tigers appear ready to move on and seemed to have gotten everything going in a 54-0 drubbing of South Carolina State. Running back James Davis sparked the offense, but quarterback Cullen Harper needs to eliminate some mistakes that will be more costly in the conference.
3. Maryland (3-1, 0-0) - The Terps have shown significant improvement on offense and made a statement with their authoritative 51-24 win over Eastern Michigan. If everyone stays healthy and Chris Turner stays consistent, Maryland could continue to build off the Cal win.
4. Georgia Tech (3-1, 1-1) -- The only thing keeping the Yellow Jackets from a higher ranking after that impressive and complete game against Mississippi State is their 0-1 division record, which is likely to improve quickly.
5. Miami (2-1, 0-0) -- The Hurricanes are looking better every week and quarterback Robert Marve matured quickly against Texas A&M. But Miami has yet to prove itself against a conference opponent. They'll get that chance this week against UNC.
6. Virginia Tech (3-1, 2-0) -- I know, I know, they're 2-0 in the conference and leading the Coastal, but Miami and Georgia Tech have displayed more productive offenses. Virginia Tech is 10th in the league with 273 yards of total offense and unless they find some production in the passing game (85 ypg), it should catch up to them.
7. North Carolina (2-1, 0-1) -- The Tar Heels blew their chance to assert themselves as one of the top teams in the Coastal Division and it began to unravel before quarterback T.J. Yates got hurt (14 penalties, four turnovers).
8. Boston College (2-1, 0-1) -- Chris Crane was a different quarterback from half to half against UCF, and which one he decides to be will determine how much higher the Eagles can climb.
9. Florida State (2-1, 0-1) -- Three points. Seven turnovers. 'Nuff said.
10. NC State (2-2, 0-1) -- The Wolfpack get bumped up a notch after their 30-24 overtime upset of East Carolina and the fact Russell Wilson looked capable of helping the injury-depleted offense.
11. Duke (2-1, 0-0) -- The Blue Devils will face their first ACC opponent this week in Virginia, and there is a new sort of confidence obstacle to overcome considering Duke is 3-61 against the ACC this decade and the seniors are 1-31.
12. Virginia (1-2, 0-0) -- Not only have they lost two games, but the Cavaliers have also officially lost their quarterback. How much could Al Groh have possibly changed his team during the bye week? Not much unless he was out recruiting.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Honestly, these rankings should have four teams tied for third. But that would be wussing out.
1. South Florida (4-0): When the best team in the league beats Florida International by eight points, that's not good. Chalk it up as a letdown, but the Bulls had better be back up for N.C. State this weekend.
2. Connecticut (4-0): Beating Baylor by three points at home hardly made much of a statement. But the Huskies just keep winning, somehow, some way.
3. Cincinnati (2-1): I really had no idea whom to put in the third spot. I decided to give credit to the Bearcats, whose loss came against the best team anybody in this league has played (Oklahoma). But we probably won't know how good Cincinnati is until Oct. 25, when it begins a three-game stretch at UConn, versus South Florida and at West Virginia.
4. West Virginia (1-2): The Mountaineers can't really be as bad as they look, can they? Their two losses came on the road to probable bowl teams.
5. Pittsburgh (2-1): It was a nice win over Iowa, but Pitt still has a long way to go. The Hawkeyes outgained the Panthers 361-258 and had the ball more than nine minutes longer.
6. Louisville (2-1): I debated putting the Cardinals as high as No. 3, but I can't shake the sense that Kansas State just isn't very good. But if Louisville beats UConn on Friday at home, it might move up to No. 2 for next week.
7. Syracuse (1-3): Their first (only?) win of the season gives the Orange a one-week reprieve from the bottom spot.
8. Rutgers (0-3): I don't actually think that Rutgers is worse than Syracuse. But until they win a game, the Scarlet Knights will be living in the basement.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
At this point, the only certainties here are USC and Washington State. The rest feels like a muddle.
1. USC: The Trojans had an off week and gained huge ground on the rest of the conference because Oregon and Arizona State went splat at home. The Trojans might need to be worried about how bad their conference looks.
2. Oregon: Think about this: the Ducks lose at home to a non-BCS team and have huge issues at QB, yet who else should be rated No. 2? Should California be promoted because it had an off-week following its loss at Maryland? Or should Arizona perk up because it beat UCLA a week after losing to New Mexico? Somebody's got to be No. 2, and the Ducks still seem to have the most fire-power.
3. California: By not playing, the Bears had a good week compared to most of the rest of the conference. We're choosing to believe the real Cal is the one that took care of Michigan State, not the one that looked feckless for three quarters at Maryland.
4. Arizona: The Wildcats certainly didn't look like a well-oiled machine while whipping UCLA, but that might actually mean something positive. Perhaps this squad took a first step toward learning how to win.
5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils, a week after losing to 23-point underdog UNLV, looked overmatched against Georgia, in large part because they couldn't run the ball worth a pooh. They figure to use an off-week to try to figure some things out. Of course, it would help if starting tailback Keegan Herring were healthy.
6. Stanford: Solid defense -- eight sacks -- and 23 unanswered points in the victory over San Jose State move the Cardinal up. RB Toby Gerhart returned to form, but the passing game still is lukewarm, at best.
7. Oregon State: The Beavers, off this weekend, will get first crack at USC on Thursday night. Enjoy.
8. UCLA: Got a feeling that UCLA will settle in down here. The Bruins have the unfortunate task of playing host to a very good Fresno State team this weekend, so the WAC figures to take another whack at the Pac.
9. Washington: This is a HUGE weekend for Washington and coach Tyrone Willingham. The Huskies had a bye week to get healthy, which also should have helped them forget the miserable first three games and get ready for Stanford, a team they beat a year ago and could beat again. But a loss at home to the Cardinal could be the last straw for Willingham.
10. Washington State: Even the great news of a dominant performance in a victory -- albeit over a FCS team, Portland State -- came with bad news, with the Cougars top-two QBs going down to injury. Moreover, backup Gary Rogers situation was scary at first: The fifth-year senior is now out for the season with a "stable cervical spine fracture," according to the Seattle Times, but the injury won't require surgery.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
1. BYU: For two consecutive weeks the Cougars have shown their dominance on offense and proved many wrong about their defense. This is the best team in the non-BCS right now.
2. Utah: The offense has been hit-and-miss at times, but when it needs to come through it does. Saturday's last-minute win over Air Force was a big hurdle in the quest to be undefeated by Nov. 22.
3. Boise State: The win at Oregon was huge and will be the most challenging test for the Broncos the rest of the season. There are a couple game that could trip the Broncos up, but they control their fate from here.
4. Ball State: The Cardinals are getting a lot of poll love because they aren't one of the usual non-BCS powers, but this team is as offensively sound as any of the teams above it and the defense made strides against Indiana.
5. TCU: The Horned Frogs tend to revel in playing under the radar, but those days are gone as they head into this weekend's game against No. 2 Oklahoma is huge. TCU wins that one and the MWC gets really interesting.
6. Tulsa: It's going to be weeks - like the end of October - before Tulsa sees an opponent that's going to give it a quality challenge. Unfortunately for Golden Hurricane, that's hurting their ranking.
7. East Carolina: The Tulane game was a precursor to the collapse at N.C. State. East Carolina will rebound to challenge in C-USA, but the conference isn't strong enough to get them into the top 16 nationally.
8. Fresno State: Toledo's decision to go for two on Saturday keeps Fresno State in the Top 10, but barely. I think a letdown was expected, but the Bulldogs better regroup heading to UCLA this weekend.
9. Air Force: The loss to Utah doesn't make the Falcons any less of a threat this season. The Mountain West is loaded and Air Force proved Saturday that it's a force with which to reckon.
10. Troy: Few expected the Trojans to win at Ohio State this past weekend, but they put up a good fight. With the Sun Belt floundering, Troy looks like it's the class of the conference.