It’s all SEC West at the top thanks to USC’s tumble following a loss to Stanford.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide 3-0 —
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Remember in the preseason when Arkansas was actually looking forward to Alabama’s visit? Me too. Florida Atlantic, the Crimson Tide’s next opponent, acquitted itself nicely against Georgia this past weekend, but as we know, Alabama isn’t Georgia.
2. LSU Tigers 3-0 +1
The Tigers did go 13-1 last season, and that has been lost and forgotten in the wake of their anemic offensive effort in the BCS title game against Alabama. Thank goodness for the 2012 season — and yes, LSU can actually throw the football now … on any down. Zach Mettenberger at QB helps cure what previously ailed the Bayou Bengals. They visit Auburn this week, and I don’t believe anyone expects too much of a struggle.
3. Oregon Ducks 3-0 +1
OK, the competition has not been great so far (Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech), but does anyone doubt that the Ducks can run with anyone (and in most cases much faster)? Things jump up a level now, as they welcome RichRod’s Arizona team to Autzen to open Pac-12 play. Fire the starter’s pistol.
4. Georgia Bulldogs 3-0 +1
The Bulldogs came into the season with questions about their running game. Well, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall both topped 100 yards against Florida Atlantic and have run it well all season. Vanderbilt visits this week. Anyone remember how Georgia barely hung on to win last year in Nashville? This will not be an easy out for coach Mark Richt’s crew, but the Bulldogs should be able to hold serve at home.
5. Florida State Seminoles 3-0 +1
Let’s just say that the Wake Forest demons have been exorcised. Another very impressive performance for Florida State, and it was against a team that in recent years has had its number. Running back Chris Thompson’s line: nine carries, 197 yards, TD runs of 74 and 80 yards. It was tremendous tune-up performance for Clemson, which makes its way to Tallahassee this weekend. Can anyone say “big-game atmosphere”?
6. South Carolina Gamecocks 3-0 +1
Congratulations to the “Ol’ Ball Coach,” Steve Spurrier, whose Gamecocks gave him his 200th career win as a head coach Saturday. On the flip side, QB Connor Shaw, who has been dinged much of the season already, hurt his shoulder again. Missouri visits this weekend, and the Tigers can be dangerous.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers 2-0 +1
Essentially a weekend off for the Mountaineers, who hammered overmatched James Madison (I know, I know, the Dukes beat Virginia Tech last year). Heisman candidate QB Geno Smith became the all-time leading passer at West Virginia. He should pump his numbers considerably this week against Maryland.
8. Oklahoma Sooners 2-0 +2
The Sooners had an open week and are putting it to good use in trying to fix some OL and DL concerns. The defensive line will be severely tested this week by Kansas State QB Collin Klein, for my money the most valuable player to his team in the country.
9. Stanford Cardinal 3-0 +15
Did anyone get a chance to watch Stanford wear down and shut down USC on Saturday night? The Cardinal defense, after a tough start, settled in and pressured USC QB Matt Barkley while covering and tackling very well in the secondary. And Stepfan Taylor, the star runner for Stanford, reintroduced himself to the world with a marvelous all-around performance. Coach David Shaw is truly the real deal. He and his team did not view this win as an upset. They have now won four straight against USC and five of the last six, so they have a point.
10. Texas Christian Horned Frogs 2-0 +1
It wasn’t pretty (four lost fumbles), but it was effective, as TCU won its first Big 12 conference game Saturday at Kansas. Wide receiver Brandon Carter had a fun day, racking up eight catches for 141 yards. Virginia got smoked by Georgia Tech on Saturday, and the Cavaliers had better recover fast as they head to Fort Worth this weekend. Can’t see the Horned Frogs being in a very hospitable mood.
11. Kansas State Wildcats 3-0 +1
This team’s identity is always going to be wrapped up in the persona of coach Bill Snyder, and that’s more than OK. It works. This team surprised us all and won 10 games last year. If the Wildcats go to Oklahoma and win this weekend, 10 wins in 2012 might be conservative. They are playing with a great deal of confidence on both sides of the ball. Middle linebacker Arthur Brown is an All-America candidate.
12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 3-0 +9
Before the season, the main worries in South Bend were, “Who’s going to play QB?” and, “Oh, my. That schedule!” The Fighting Irish appear to have found their QB in young Everett Golson, who was not intimidated by one of the best defenses in the country, and that formidable schedule now looks to be more than manageable because Notre Dame has a really good team. Michigan comes calling Saturday, and the momentum is rising under the Golden Dome.
13. USC Trojans 2-1 -11
My preseason No. 1 started fast at Stanford but found the going increasingly tough as the game wore on. An offensive line that was missing its starting center struggled all night to protect QB Matt Barkley. One positive? USC’s defense played at a high level much of the evening before it was worn down late. There’s not much time for the Trojans to lick their wounds, as Cal comes to Los Angeles angry after letting one slip away at Ohio State.
14. Florida Gators 3-0 +2
Pretty impressive back-to-back road wins in tough environments for coach Will Muschamp’s Gators. First at Texas A&M in the Aggies’ SEC debut, then at Tennessee, which really felt that it would win and announce to the college football world that it was to be taken seriously again. Florida’s D was the difference, and the Swamp Creatures ran off the last 24 points straight against the Vols. Reeling Kentucky is up next.
15. Ohio State Buckeyes 3-0 -2
Outplayed on the field but winners on the scoreboard were the Buckeyes against Cal. No matter; that’s a formula they’ll accept. The Buckeyes certainly will not give back the win. QB Braxton Miller gets more impressive each week, and coach Urban Meyer and his staff are teaching Ohio State how to fight and win again. UAB probably picked the wrong weekend to head to Columbus.
16. Clemson Tigers 3-0 -2
A monster atmosphere awaits the Tigers in Tallahassee, but QB Tajh Boyd brings not only his considerable game but an old friend, too. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ two-game suspension ended last week, and he will be fully charged for this one. Early Atlantic Coast Conference supremacy is at stake in this one, and new defensive coordinator Brent Venables has his charges playing better.
17. Texas Longhorns 3-0 -2
No more QB decision to discuss. David Ash (as expected by most) has locked down the job, posting his first career 300-yard passing game Saturday at Mississippi as the Longhorns won going away. This week will be one for healing, teaching and reflection. Texas has an open week and then heads to Stillwater to try to exact some revenge on Oklahoma State. The Longhorns are looking more like those Texas teams we saw compete for national titles.
18. UCLA Bruins 3-0 —
They believe in Jim Mora in Westwood! In his first year at UCLA, Mora has the Bruins off to a 3-0 start. Running back Johnathan Franklin and redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley make a dynamic duo. They crushed Houston but have a real test this week as Oregon State makes its way to the Rose Bowl. I really should have ranked the Beavers this week, but that big win over Wisconsin doesn’t look as big to me anymore thanks to the Badgers’ survival against Utah State. Yeah, I know. I should have still ranked them.
19. Michigan State Spartans 2-1 -10
The loss at home to Notre Dame was surprising enough, but the inability to generate any offense really hurt the Spartans and put a lot of pressure on their formidable defense. Eastern Michigan will get the backlash this week.
20. Arizona Wildcats 3-0 -1
The hiring of Rich Rodriguez already has paid big dividends with a home win over a ranked Oklahoma State team and renewed fan enthusiasm. Pac-12 play starts this week, and the Wildcats head to Oregon to really try to prove they’re bona fide. Led by fifth-year senior Matt Scott, the Wildcats believe. This could be an entertaining shootout.
21. Michigan Wolverines 2-1 +1
When given room (and average opponents), QB Denard Robinson is as dangerous and exciting as any player in the country. But this week he heads to Notre Dame, and the Irish have payback on their minds after the big plays he put up on them last year in Ann Arbor. If he puts it to Notre Dame again with some big numbers, his Heisman candidacy could be restored — and Michigan’s overall psyche could be, too. That could truly put the Alabama game in the rearview mirror.
22. Louisville Cardinals 3-0 +1
Get the memo and read it: Louisville has a chance to have a special season. The Big East is, well, the Big East, and the Cardinals were blowing out North Carolina (gotta work on holding those 25-point leads). The job coach Charlie Strong and his staff have done in three short seasons has been awfully impressive. QB Teddy Bridgewater is as good a sophomore QB as there is in the country.
23. Mississippi State Bulldogs 3-0 —
The Bulldogs throttled Auburn at home two weeks ago and then handled the “trap” game at always-tough Troy this past week (ask past good teams at Missouri and Oklahoma State how their visits to Troy went). Coach Dan Mullen must be thinking that with Arkansas and Auburn struggling this year, his Bullies have a good chance to be the third-best team in the SEC West.
24. Northwestern Wildcats 3-0 —
Coach Pat Fitzgerald has to be the absolute best match of head coach and job in the country, right? He’s at home at Northwestern, but he’s not content to just try to win six games each year and go to a bowl. He wants to compete for Big Ten titles, and he’s trying to position his team for a run this year. Love how he’s using his two QBs, Kain Colter and Trevor Simien, and have you seen running back Venric Mark play? If not, do so.
25. Texas Tech Red Raiders 3-0 —
Yes, for a quick minute, I thought my pick of Louisiana-Monroe might hold up for another week, but Auburn survived Todd Berry’s Warhawks. And quietly, Tommy Tuberville’s Red Raiders have gotten off to a 3-0 start, with their offense looking like vintage Mike Leach issue. But it’s not. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown (remember that name) has them running his version of “NASCAR,” and the Raiders beat New Mexico 49-14 with QB Seth Doege (remember that name, too) throwing for 340 yards and six TDs as part of 702 yards of total offense.