NCF Nation: power rankings 90710

SEC power rankings

September, 7, 2010
We spent the last few months dissecting the league and projecting how certain teams would look.

Once the first games are played, there are always a few surprises.

Alabama remained atop the first updated SEC power rankings of the season, but there was considerable movement elsewhere:

1. Alabama: The defending national champion is supposed to make quick work of San Jose State, and that’s what Alabama did in a season-opening 48-3 rout. Sure, the Crimson Tide are missing some talented guys on defense from a year ago, but there’s still nobody in this league that can match Alabama’s overall talent. It’s difficult to find any weaknesses on offense, even with Mark Ingram standing on the sideline.

2. Georgia: Some eyebrows are no doubt raised to see Georgia sitting in the No. 2 spot this week. The Bulldogs can validate this ranking the next two weeks against South Carolina and Arkansas. The defense appears to be much improved under first-year coordinator Todd Grantham. It’s hard to beat the balance on offense, especially if the Bulldogs get A.J. Green back, and the kicking game has few, if any, peers in the country. Until proved otherwise, Georgia is as good a choice as any to hold down the No. 2 spot.

3. Florida: There’s no way the Gators are as bad as they looked last week on offense. But, then, is there any way they can recapture what they had the last few seasons with Tim Tebow running the show? The reality is that it might take a while for this team to find its offensive identity. Some more playmakers need to emerge at receiver, and there’s still not a consistent threat in the running game that the Gators can count on for the tough yards. All of a sudden, third-and-2 looks a little more ominous than it used to in Swamp Land.

4. Arkansas: Bobby Petrino couldn’t quit talking about his defense following Arkansas’ 44-3 season-opening win over Tennessee Tech, and that’s good news to the ears of Arkansas fans. Everybody knows these Hogs can score with anybody. Stopping people has been the problem. The opener was the first time Arkansas has kept an opponent out of the end zone since Willy Robinson has been defensive coordinator. Robinson came when Petrino did. More importantly, this appears to be a faster, more aggressive defense that finishes plays.

5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks get bonus points on a couple of different fronts. They battled through some adversity last week and still won handily over a legitimate team. Their 41-13 victory over Southern Miss was never in doubt, and it’s obvious several newcomers (Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders) are going to make a big impact on this team. South Carolina was also playing without five starters last week and may get some of those guys back this Saturday against Georgia.

6. Auburn: Offensively, Auburn came right out in the opener and looked the part of a genuine contender in the Western Division. Quarterback Cameron Newton was outstanding. He spread it around to his playmakers, and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has a fully stocked arsenal now. The glitch was the defense. The Tigers sill looked vulnerable at times and didn’t tackle especially well in a 52-26 win over Arkansas State.

7. LSU: Had LSU not escaped at the end last Saturday against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Les Miles might not have gotten back into the state of Louisiana. The Tigers nearly blew a 30-10 lead in the final quarter after making one critical error after another. There’s more than enough talent on this team to make a run in the Western Division race. Miles needs to make sure he uses that talent correctly, and the Tigers need to figure out a way to knock teams out when they have them on the ropes. There was no excuse for North Carolina, which was missing 13 players, to still be in that game in the fourth quarter.

8. Mississippi State: Here’s Mississippi State’s chance to shoot up these rankings with Auburn coming to town on Thursday night. Dan Mullen has this program on the move in a lot of different areas. What the Bulldogs need to do now is prove they can win a big game at home. They were very impressive in their season-opening 49-7 blistering of Memphis. And for all the talk about redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Russell tying a school-record with four touchdown passes, Manny Diaz’s defense looks pretty nasty, too.

9. Kentucky: The Wildcats need to figure out a way to bottle their start from last weekend and sustain it for the entire game. They unloaded on Louisville in the first half and looked great in building a big lead, but then had to hold on for a 23-16 victory. Finishing games was a problem last season, too, and missing short field goals and extra points will eventually get you beat in this league. Any offense with Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke has a chance to be outstanding. It’s too early to tell about the Wildcats’ defense.

10. Tennessee: The Vols came up against an outmanned foe in Derek Dooley’s Rocky Top debut and did what an SEC team should do to an outmanned foe. They obliterated Tennessee-Martin 50-0. Now, the real season begins when nationally ranked Oregon visits Neyland Stadium this weekend. The Vols have a promising collection of young players, and a lot of those guys are already playing key roles. This may be the weekend, though, that all that youth and inexperience gets exposed.

11. Vanderbilt: The Commodores were right there against Northwestern and showed some signs of improvement on offense. But in vintage Vanderbilt fashion, they were left to wonder “what if” after losing a tough 23-21 decision to the Wildcats. The Commodores didn’t help themselves with a missed extra point, a costly interception and 91 yards of penalties. First-year coach Robbie Caldwell also gambled on a failed two-point conversion try earlier in the game that came back to bite them.

12. Ole Miss: There’s a bylaw somewhere that says if you lose to an FCS school and do so by blowing a 21-point lead, you’re automatically rendered to spending at least three weeks at the bottom of the SEC power rankings. Ole Miss’ 49-48 loss to Jacksonville State was the first time an SEC team had lost to an FCS (Division I-AA) school since Mississippi State was beaten by Maine in 2004.

Pac-10 power rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2010
Some movement after Week 1. To paraphrase Lane Kiffin: If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

1. Oregon: New Mexico isn't very good, but the Lobos' badness doesn't completely account for 72-zip and 720 total yards. The Ducks look athletic and poised on both sides of the ball. Now let's see how they handle a tough road test against Tennessee.

2. Arizona: The Wildcats answered a lot of questions with a 41-2 win at Toledo. They'd put an exclamation point on those answers if they can beat Iowa when it visits on Sept. 18.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers don't go down because they lost on the road to the nation's No. 6 team. Still, the run defense has to be a concern.

4. Stanford: We learned nothing from the Sacramento State game -- we already knew Andrew Luck was a good quarterback. The visit to UCLA should be more revealing.

5. USC: The Trojans offense looked great, the defense pitiful at Hawaii. It wasn't supposed to be like that. Wonder if the defense will redeem itself Saturday in front of the home fans against Virginia?

6. California: The biggest news from the easy win against UC Davis is that freshman receiver Keenan Allen is as advertised. Colorado will be a far better test for the Bears.

7. Washington: The Huskies went to BYU to throw down the gauntlet on their return to relevance. Didn't happen, though it might turn out that BYU is pretty good. The Huskies must avoid a letdown this week against a Syracuse team that is capable of beating them.

8. Arizona State: While whipping Portland State means nothing, and doing the same to Northern Arizona won't either, there was enough on the field last Saturday -- most particularly better offense with quarterback Steven Threet -- to suggest reasons for hope for beleaguered Sun Devils fans.

9. UCLA: The offense wasn't good. The defense wasn't good. Kansas State probably isn't very good. And with this schedule -- Stanford, Houston and Texas over the next three weeks -- the Bruins need to get good fast.

10. Washington State: Those who expected significant signs of WSU improvement at Oklahoma State -- a group that included me -- were surprised by how bad the Cougars looked. A home loss against Montana State, an FCS team, on Saturday likely would ignite "Paul Wulff on the hot seat" talk in earnest.

Big East power rankings, Week 2

September, 7, 2010
1. West Virginia (1-0): The Mountaineers weren't especially impressive on offense versus Coastal Carolina, but their defense pitched a home shutout for the first time since 1997. And with Pitt, UConn and Cincinnati losing, West Virginia moves to No. 1 almost by default.

2. Pittsburgh (0-1): Yes, the Panthers lost and had some problem areas exposed in the process. But falling on the road in overtime to a really good Utah program in the opening week isn't reason to penalize Pitt too much.

3. Connecticut (0-1): The 30-10 loss to Michigan was wildly disappointing. Still, had the Huskies converted a couple of opportunities deep in Wolverines territory, the game would have been a whole lot more interesting. I maintain that the Huskies will have a good season.

4. Cincinnati (0-1): There was almost nothing to like about Cincinnati's performance from about the final three minutes of the first half until the end. Yet I'm going to give the teams that lost on the road in tough spots a break this week. But they'd better improve in a hurry.

5. Rutgers (1-0): The defense looked terrific, but it should look terrific against Norfolk State. The offense took way too long to get going. Not sure how much more we'll know about this team after Week 2 when it plays Florida International.

6. South Florida (1-0): The Bulls scored 59 points. They were also tied 14-14 with Stony Brook at one point. This is an incredibly young and inexperienced team that will show what it's made of this week in The Swamp.

7. Syracuse (1-0): I know, I know. The Orange were the only Big East team to beat an FBS team in the opening week, and they did it convincingly on the road. So why aren't they higher? Well, I'm not convinced that Akron is any good at all, and I want to see more from Syracuse before I vault it up in the rankings. If the Orange pull off the win this week in Washington, they'll do just that.

8. Louisville (0-1): After Kentucky raced to an early 20-3 lead on Saturday, I thought I was going to have to create a new No. 9 spot for the Cardinals. Give them credit, though. They made adjustments and played much tougher in the second half, losing only by a touchdown. This team will compete hard under Charlie Strong. It will also probably come up short against most good teams on the schedule.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2010
The Big Ten's best looked good against mostly weak competition in Week 1, so no changes up top. Michigan's impressive win comes with a reward, and there's a little shuffling at the bottom.

Let's get started ...

1. Ohio State (1-0): The Big Ten's most complete team delivered a complete performance in dismantling Marshall 45-7 on Thursday night. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor looked more comfortable as he led a surprisingly dynamic offense that got a lot of its weapons involved. The defense continued its opportunistic ways. Aside from a few special-teams miscues, not much to complain about.

2. Iowa (1-0): After living on the edge throughout the 2009 season, the Hawkeyes dominated Eastern Illinois to open a year filled with high expectations. Aside from a leg injury to quarterback Ricky Stanzi that looked scarier than it actually was, Iowa fans could breathe easy Saturday. Stanzi and running back Adam Robinson both stood out, and the defense allowed only one significant drive. Things get tougher the next two weeks with Iowa State and Arizona.

3. Wisconsin (1-0): The Badgers made a few big mistakes early against UNLV, but they pulled away in the second half behind their three-headed running back monster of John Clay, Montee Ball and dynamic freshman James White. Defensive end J.J. Watt made a game-changing forced fumble early in the third quarter, and Wisconsin's power game took over from there. A good performance overall on the road, although the Badgers need to clean up a few things.

4. Penn State (1-0): Joe Paterno has found his quarterback, and (gasp!), he's a true freshman. Rob Bolden answered the call in his first career start, showing good poise in the final three quarters against Youngstown State. Receivers Brett Brackett and Derek Moye stepped up, and Chaz Powell returned a kickoff 100 yards to the end zone. Penn State's offensive line still needs to pick up its play after Evan Royster recorded only 40 rush yards against Youngstown.

5. Michigan State (1-0): After leaning on Kirk Cousins and the pass game too often last season, Michigan State re-established the run in a big way Saturday. Playing without projected starter Larry Caper (hand), the Spartans received big performances from freshman Le'Veon Bell (141 rush yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore Edwin Baker (117 rush yards 2 TDs). Linebacker Greg Jones had a forced fumble and nearly secured his first career interception.

6. Michigan (1-0): Thanks to Denard Robinson and an improved offensive line, Michigan recorded the most impressive victory of Week 1, considering the competition. Robinson has to be careful with all the hits he takes, but if he continues to complement his ridiculous speed with an accurate arm, the Wolverines will win a lot of games this fall. Michigan's defense still concerns me a bit, although I liked the aggressiveness from Craig Roh.

7. Northwestern (1-0): The Wildcats never trailed against Vanderbilt but seemed fortunate to escape Nashville with a victory. New starting quarterback Dan Persa carried the offense, much like predecessor Mike Kafka did in 2009, and showed incredible accuracy (19-for-21 passing, 222 yards, 3 TDs). The run game once again was absent, a concern for Pat Fitzgerald going forward, and Northwestern endured several special-teams miscues.

T-8. Minnesota (1-0): For the first time in a while, you can say Minnesota has an offensive identity. The Gophers held the ball for 45:34 in their come-from-behind win against Middle Tennessee, as Duane Bennett (187 rush yards) led the power rushing attack. Fullback Jon Hoese (3 rush TDs) provided the best story of Week 1, and a new-look defense did enough to hold off a Dwight Dasher-less Blue Raiders team. The Gophers really needed this one.

T-8. Purdue (0-1): A young Purdue team played predictably inconsistent football at Notre Dame. New quarterback Robert Marve looked good at times but made too many mistakes. The secondary did a decent job against Irish star receiver Michael Floyd, but Purdue allowed scores on four consecutive possessions midway through the game. Still, the Boilers had a chance at the end, and they'll get better in the coming weeks.

10. Indiana (1-0): Look out for the Hoosiers' offense this season. IU didn't miss a beat without All-Big Ten wide receiver Tandon Doss, as quarterback Ben Chappell found a rhythm against Towson and Darius Willis (102 rush yards, 2 TDs) led the ground game. The outlook on defense remains much cloudier after the Hoosiers allowed 392 yards to Towson. If the defense doesn't get better by Big Ten play, Indiana will have a tough time winning games.

11. Illinois (0-1): For a moment, it looked like Illinois would stun Missouri and finally win a game at the Edward Jones Dome. But the second half showed that the team remains a work in progress on both sides of the ball. There were some encouraging signs, particularly running back Mikel Leshoure and defenders Corey Liuget and Ian Thomas, but Illinois needs to put a complete game together. This week's home matchup against Southern Illinois will be huge.

Big 12 power rankings: Week 1

September, 7, 2010
What do you get on a week when the Big 12 goes 11-1? Not a lot of movement in the power rankings. I'm not going to penalize teams for playing cupcakes and I'm not going to reward teams for winning by 100 against an FCS team or the equivalent of one. We're not voting on a BCS champion. We'll get to conference play eventually, and the weekly shakeups will be pretty pronounced. That said, future big wins will be rewarded. Three teams (Oklahoma, Colorado and Iowa State) have opportunities this week.

But I totally agree with all of you, your team deserves to be higher. Except Texas.

And Kansas.

Each team's preseason ranking in parentheses.

1. Texas (1) The Longhorns were unimpressive in Week 1, but not unimpressive enough to fall out of the top spot. Defense would have wowed if the secondary had held on to a couple balls.

2. Oklahoma (2) Might have jumped Texas with a blowout win over Utah State. Utah State is no patsy, but Oklahoma has big problems that need fixing and should have won by at least 15-20. Big test comes for the secondary this week in Christian Ponder & Co. at Florida State.

3. Nebraska (3) Even beating Western Kentucky 115-0 wouldn't have moved Nebraska up. The quarterback situation will be interesting to watch, but we'll see how Bo Pelini really feels about his three QBs the first time the Huskers get caught in a close game. Taylor Martinez has injected even more optimism into an already feverish fan base.

4. Missouri (4) Awful first half, followed by a dominant second half. The Tigers' offense found their stride after 30 minutes, but won't be tested for another month until their conference opener against Colorado on Oct. 9, followed by a showdown in College Station the following week.

5. Texas A&M (5) Jerrod Johnson's deep balls were a little off, but Texas A&M's business-like win over Stephen F. Austin raised few other questions. Solid performance from the offensive line is a good sign.

6. Texas Tech (7) The only team to move up in the rankings this week, Texas Tech lacks a glaring weakness like Kansas State has at quarterback. If Texas Tech's defense can continue to improve, the Red Raiders will be a complete team.

7. Kansas State (6) Feels a little unfair to move the Wildcats down a spot after one of the best wins in the conference over the weekend, but the teams above them didn't do anything to fall a spot, and simply put, Texas Tech would beat Kansas State head-to-head. Daniel Thomas looked pretty difficult to stop on Saturday, but if somebody does it, Kansas State is cooked.

8. Oklahoma State (8) Teams 4-8 in these rankings are very, very close, and you could probably make a solid argument for any order between them, but if Oklahoma State's offense keeps hanging 60 on its weak nonconference opponents, it'll probably move up.

9. Iowa State (9) Got a much-needed win in Week 1, but the Cyclones might be in for a long Saturday. Iowa beat them in Ames 35-3 last year in Iowa State's worst performance of the year. They'll try to atone for the loss this week in Iowa City against the No. 9 Hawkeyes.

10. Baylor (10) Robert Griffin's return was a great sign for the Bears, who have a big chance to throw their name onto the national scene with a game against TCU in Fort Worth in two weeks. But first: Turner Gill-less Buffalo at home.

11. Colorado (11) Buffaloes looked good and lent a little credence to some of the fan optimism in Hawkins' fifth year, but it'll take more than a win over a 3-9 team a year ago with a true freshman at quarterback to move the Buffaloes up. Like, say, a win on the road against Cal this week.

12. Kansas (12) Yikes, guys. Won't get any easier with No. 19 Georgia Tech bringing its option attack to Lawrence. Jayhawks may have to wait another week for their first touchdown.

ACC power rankings: Week 1

September, 7, 2010
Virginia Tech had several chances against Boise State to jump ahead of Miami in this week’s power rankings, but the Hokies made too many uncharacteristic mistakes. Yes, Virginia Tech played a much tougher opponent than the Canes did, but the special-teams miscues, the missed tackles and the inability to run the ball leave Virginia Tech with significant room for improvement before conference play begins. Here’s a look at the ACC power rankings after Week 1:

1. Miami (1-0): The Hurricanes looked sharp in their 45-0 thumping of Florida A&M, and only needed quarterback Jacory Harris for one half. There was no sign of looking ahead to Ohio State, but we’ll find out a lot more about where the program is after Saturday’s trip to the Shoe.

2. Virginia Tech (0-1): The Hokies showed their youth in a 33-30 loss to Boise State, with uncharacteristic mistakes on -- gasp! -- special teams, and fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter. This program plays its best ball late in the season, though, and the staff will force it to grow up quickly.

3. Florida State (1-0): The Seminoles dominated Samford 59-6 and looked like the best team in the Atlantic Division, but Saturday’s game at Oklahoma will reveal if Jimbo Fisher’s program is a contender.

4. Georgia Tech (1-0): The Jackets handled South Carolina State 41-10, but coach Paul Johnson said on his Sunday teleconference that there were plenty of areas the team needs to improve upon. They still weren’t as efficient in the passing game as he would’ve liked, and if Kansas figures a way to take out the B-back, Joshua Nesbitt will need some more help.

5. North Carolina (0-1): The question isn’t whether UNC would’ve beat LSU if it were full strength on Saturday, it’s by how much? This is a gritty team that can still contend for the Coastal Division title, even if short-handed -- but only if T.J. Yates continues to lead the offense like he did Saturday.

6. Clemson (1-0): The bend-but-don’t-break defense won’t hold up once conference play rolls around, and the Tigers are still looking for a go-to receiver. Clemson was outgained by North Texas 234-228 in the first 30 minutes. The Tigers have one more tune-up -- Presbyterian -- before traveling to Auburn.

7. NC State (1-0): With quarterback Russell Wilson playing like he did, there’s no reason the Pack can’t be a dark horse candidate in the ACC if the defense maintains and builds upon that improved performance. The Pack never allowed Western Carolina into the red zone.

8. Boston College (1-0): The Eagles slip despite their win for one main reason -- quarterback play. Dave Shinskie is still the starter after throwing two interceptions, but Mike Marscovetra is going to get more time. Until that position becomes more dependable, the Eagles have something to prove in the Atlantic.

9. Maryland (1-0): The Terps hung in for the 17-14 Labor Day win over Navy, an important step in turning around last year’s 2-10 season. They have plenty of talent and speed, but it was a sloppy game for both teams. Maryland’s defense was generous the whole game, but Kenny Tate came up with the big stop when the Terps needed it most.

10. Duke (1-0): The Blue Devils jump up because of the impressive play of quarterback Sean Renfree, who is only going to get better. He could be the difference next week when Duke takes on …

11. Wake Forest (1-0): The Deacs’ strength last week against Presbyterian was their running game. Duke’s defense will be tested, as Wake amassed 509 total yards. There was also a blocked extra point and the first defensive two-point conversion in school history. There is life after Riley Skinner.

12. Virginia (1-0): The Cavaliers won their first season opener since 2005 and the offense was clicking, but it will face a much bigger challenge with a road trip to USC on Saturday.

Non-AQ power rankings

September, 7, 2010
Well, Week 2 brings us a decidedly different look to the non-AQ/independent power rankings.

1. Boise State. Huge win over Virginia Tech on Monday night puts the Broncos in position to continue to contend for a spot in the BCS national title game.

2. TCU. Big win over Oregon State also has the Horned Frogs in good position to make another run as a potential BCS national title contender.

3. Utah. The Utes proved they know how to rebuild, and though the game looked sloppy at times, they get credit for beating Pittsburgh, the preseason pick to win the Big East.

4. Houston. The Cougars didn’t lose, so why are they dropping? Because Utah had a more impressive win.

5. BYU. I took a lot of grief for leaving the Cougars off this list to start. So consider this my mea culpa. Beating Washington with a two-quarterback system gets huge props in my book.

6. Notre Dame. The win over Purdue helped answer some questions, but we will know more after Saturday’s big game against Michigan.

7. Fresno State. A hearty welcome into the rankings to the Bulldogs after a very solid win over Cincinnati.

8. Nevada. Sure the Wolf Pack beat an FCS team in Eastern Washington, but they have plenty of potential. After Colorado State this weekend, big games loom against California and then at BYU.

9. Air Force. Falcons have one of the best backfields among the non-AQs. Huge test coming this weekend at home against BYU.

10. East Carolina. So the Pirates had a last-second win over Tulsa, but it was an important win over one of the top teams in the West.

Off the list this week: Navy, SMU, Middle Tennessee, Temple, Northern Illinois. Four of the teams lost, and Temple looked unimpressive in its win.