Michigan Gets Maced And Kicked In The Balls: 125 FBS Teams, Ranked

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Each week during college football season we put the conventional polls to shame by ranking every FBS team from 1-125, by whatever standard we see fit. As always, last week's rankings were not consulted.


1. ALABAMA (6-0). Part of the assembly-line quality of the Alabama Moment is that Bama never, ever dicks around with inferior teams. Saturday's win over Kentucky was its 41st in a row over unranked opponents dating back to 2007, the 22nd in a row by at least 17 points. (The last team outside of the polls to come within single digits was Auburn in 2009; the last to actually spring an upset was Louisiana-Monroe, near the end of Nick Saban's first season.) Occasionally the offense looks a little sluggish—which it definitely did not against Kentucky, setting a new high for total yards in the Saban era—but the defense is a goddamn Death Star on autopilot. Since 2010, no unranked FBS victim has scored more than 14.


2. OREGON (6-0). 2013 is a "Year of the Quarterback" kind of season, to put it mildly, but if you insist on putting together one of those mid-season All-America teams making the rounds this week…well, first of all, why? We're only seven weeks into a 15-week regular season; some teams that will play 13 or 14 games have only played five. Wouldn't next week make more sense? Secondly, there's really no reason at this point to consider another quarterback aside from Marcus Mariota. With three touchdown passes Saturday at Washington, Mariota extended the best TD-to-INT ratio in the nation, by far—he hasn't thrown a pick in 236 consecutive attempts, the longest active streak—and has accounted for 25 touchdowns in all, tying him with Oregon State's Sean Mannion for most in the country. You might come up with four or five QBs who have been more efficient as passers, and half-dozen or so who are better runners. But the only competition on both fronts is Johnny Manziel, whose routine, Favreian brilliance has yielded too many turnovers. For now, Mariota is the man.


3. CLEMSON (6-0). Is this weekend's visit from Florida State the biggest game in ACC history? Since FSU signed on in 1993, there have only been three other conference games between top-five teams: FSU-North Carolina in 1997; FSU-Miami in 2004, the Hurricanes' first game in the ACC after defecting from the Big East; and Virginia Tech-Miami in 2005. In the meantime, the league has hard enough time keeping even one team at that level. Last year's game between No. 4 FSU and No. 10 Clemson happened to fall on just the third weekend since '05 that two ACC teams were ranked in the top 10 at the same time, period, much less going head to head. So yeah, by ACC standards, Tigers-Noles is absolutely as big as it gets.

4. FLORIDA STATE (5-0). I don't know how much more room there is for Jameis Winston hype after his precocious bid for the September Heisman, but if he manages to outduel Tajh Boyd this weekend, on the road, he may as well book his ticket for the real thing in December.


5. OHIO STATE (6-0). The initial BCS standings aren't exactly a decisive arbiter of a team's fate, but they will give Ohio State a sense of where its dicey strength of schedule stands among the computers. Of the six computer polls incorporated in the BCS formula, all but one (Peter Wolfe's) have public rankings going into this weekend's big reveal; in those five, the Buckeyes are ranked eighth, on average, with a schedule that ranks seventy-fifth. (Thank god this is the last season I ever have to reference the polls again.) It really would have helped the cause to have an undefeated Michigan to look forward to at the end of the regular season, even if that seemed like pipe dream long before the Wolverines' loss at Penn State. As it is, no one on OSU's schedule is currently ranked in the top 20 of either major poll.

6. MISSOURI (6-0). Saturday's ambush at Georgia was Mizzou's first big, validating win as a member of the SEC, establishing the Tigers as bona fide contenders in the East Division, but they remain such outsiders in Ess-Ee-See culture that they can barely get on television. CBS, which has first pick of all SEC games, has already passed on Missouri twice in favor of inferior but familiar alternatives: Before the upset in Athens, the Eye opted for Georgia-Vanderbilt in the early half of this weekend's doubleheader, relegating a far more relevant Florida-Missouri matchup to regional syndication; after the upset, it decided to pick up Alabama-Tennessee on Oct. 26 instead of Missouri-South Carolina, which fell to ESPN2. Even as the new kid on the block, when you're considered less relevant than Vanderbilt and Tennessee (combined SEC record: 0-5), you've got a long way to go.


7. LSU (5-1). If your view of LSU is still of a conservative, cloud-of-dust attack riding the coattails of a blue-chip defense, then the Tigers looked more like themselves in a 17-6 win over Florida than they have all year: The offense ran more than twice as often as it passed, and the Gators didn't come close to scoring a touchdown. If you'd already adjusted to the more shootout-friendly Tigers on display in their other five games, the fact that they're still able to revert to bite-and-hold mode when it suits them is disappointing and terrifying in equal measure.


8. BAYLOR (5-0). Going into Saturday's back-and-forth, 35-25 win at Kansas State, Baylor was a dismal 3-9 in its last dozen Big 12 road games, with two of those wins coming over rock-bottom editions of Colorado and Kansas. Coming out, the Bears are undisputed frontrunners in the Big 12, which says a lot more about the rest of the conference than it does about the Bears' reliability outside of Waco.

9. UCLA (5-0). The Bruins follow Washington with back-to-back dates against Stanford and Oregon, both on the road, because the Pac-12 is just not really into the whole "dark horse" thing.


10. TEXAS A&M (5-1). Remember when Johnny Manziel was the game's greatest emerging villain? So much for the bad seed. When he went down Saturday with what looked like a serious knee injury at Ole Miss, the reaction on ESPN and online was positively funereal. When he returned to the field like two seconds later (he didn't miss a snap, somehow) it was exultant. Despite a fumble and an interception that kept the Rebels in the game late, Manziel got A&M out alive by turning in the fourth 300-yard passing/100-yard rushing performance of his career. No other major college quarterback, ever, has more than two.


11. STANFORD (5-1).

12. GEORGIA (4-2). I don't take injuries into account in these rankings (see below), but when a team goes into a game minus its top two tailbacks, three of its top four receivers and two starting safeties, it's hard not to notice. Against Missouri, Georgia put the ball in the air 45 times to just 31 runs, the most pass-heavy ratio of Aaron Murray's career as starting quarterback, resulting (not coincidentally) in his worst game of the season. Prior to that, Murray had only attempted 40 passes in a game once, in a 16-of-40 effort against LSU in the 2011 SEC title game, and he couldn't pass the Bulldogs out of a lopsided loss there, either. Todd Gurley may be "real close" to returning from the sprained ankle that's kept him out the last two weeks, but until he's actually in the lineup it's not close enough.



14. MIAMI (5-0). This has to be as quiet as an undefeated Miami outfit with a win over Florida can possibly be. Maybe it will help when we actually find out whether it's actually eligible to compete for the ACC title and whatnot.


15. LOUISVILLE (6-0). Say what you will about Teddy Bridgewater: Halfway through the schedule, the Cardinals lead the nation in scoring defense and rank second in total D.

16. VIRGINIA TECH (6-1). Tech doesn't have the same championship buzz in the ACC as Clemson or Florida State, yet, but in a hypothetical title game the defense is every bit the equal of those offenses. If only the Hokies' offense, aka quarterback Logan Thomas, can do enough to get them there.


17. WASHINGTON (4-2). Is it fair to explicitly compare a college running back to a venerated Hall-of-Famer at the next level? It is not. Is there a college back at the moment more deserving of being described as the "second coming of Emmitt Smith" than Washington's Bishop Sankey? There is not.

18. TEXAS TECH (6-0). Under Tommy Tuberville, this is just about the point in the season where Tech's optimism started to wear thin. In 2011, the Raiders started 5-2 and rose to 19th in the polls following an upset over Oklahoma; from there, they lost their last five by 31 points per game. In 2012, the Raiders started 6-1 and rose to 18th following an upset over No. 5 West Virginia; from there, they dropped four of their last five—the lone victory coming against the worst team in the Big 12, Kansas, in overtime—and Tuberville bailed out before the bowl game. The locals have been much happier with his successor, Kliff Kingsbury, a former Tech quarterback who gives off a Ryan Gosling vibe, but the back half of the schedule is a much steeper slope.


19. OKLAHOMA (5-1). Blake Bell had his first really awful day as a passer against Texas, serving up a pair of interceptions in a one-sided, 36-20 flop, but the really baffling part was his failure as a runner. Or can it be classified as a failure when the subject doesn't even try? The "Belldozer" attempted exactly zero designed runs on Saturday, despite having a) run for four touchdowns off the bench against Texas in 2012, and b) watched running quarterbacks repeatedly eviscerate the Longhorns through the first five games. Instead, he stood in the pocket like a statuesque sitting duck on four Texas sacks, and didn't have a scramble longer than four yards.


20. AUBURN (5-1).


22. MICHIGAN STATE (5-1). One of the great pleasures of the first few weeks of the season was kicking around Michigan State's moribund offense, which for a while there was being consistently outscored by the MSU defense. Alas, the Spartans have hit their stride behind sophomore QB Connor Cook, averaging well over 400 yards and 34 points in his three starts. Opposite this defense, they can probably win most of the rest of their Big Ten games with half that.


23. OREGON STATE (5-1).

24. UTAH (4-2).

25. FRESNO STATE (5-0).

26. FLORIDA (4-2). There was some hope here that quarterback Tyler Murphy offered a new, more productive direction for the offense than his injured predecessor, Jeff Driskel, but with Michigan State's sudden success in the passing game, Florida remains neck-and-neck with Virginia Tech in the race to determine who can create a wider gap between offense and defense. The Gators added some formidable distance to their total at LSU, where Murphy averaged a whopping 4.3 yards per pass, and laid the groundwork for more: Besides Driskel, they're also without their starting tailback, their starting left tackle and their only remotely viable deep threat for the rest of the year.


27. NEBRASKA (5-1).

28. MICHIGAN (5-1). The Wolverines have been flirting with disaster for weeks, but Saturday's quadruple-overtime loss at Penn State was perfectly calibrated to kick their fans in the balls. Michigan didn't just struggle to establish the run; it sent its starting tailback into the line 27 times for a net of 27 yards*. It didn't just blow a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter; it allowed a true freshman quarterback to drive 80 yards in the final minute with no timeouts. It didn't just play conservatively in overtime to set up a pair of decisive field goal attempts; it missed them both. (Including a missed 52-yarder at the end of regulation, kicker Brendan Gibbons was 0-for-3 with the victory on the line.) As a group, Michigan fans tend more than other bases to suspect the universe is setting them up for especially scrotum-wracking moments like these, many of them having calculated the Anticipated Pain Quotient down to the thousandth decimal. It only hurts more because you never really see it coming.


(*Take a second to put this incredible statistic in context. Think about the commitment it takes to get a running back to 27 carries in a game when he's running well. Before Saturday, Fitzgerald Toussaint had only hit that number twice, going for 192 yards against Illinois and 138 against Nebraska in consecutive weeks in 2011. Calling 27 runs for a guy averaging one yard per carry is like some new kind of water torture. It's grounds for a clinical diagnosis.)

29. NOTRE DAME (4-2).

30. ARIZONA STATE (4-2).

31. WISCONSIN (4-2). Here's how I do the rankings each week. I start with three big, defining numbers—winning percentage, strength of schedule (according to Jeff Sagarin) and Sagarin's "Predictor" Rating—that quantify different aspects of each team's resumé on a 100-point scale. (Technically, on a 1.000-point scale.) The average of those three numbers serves as a baseline. According to the baseline, Wisconsin (for example) comes in this week at No. 33. From there, I make adjustments based on my own assessment of the value of individual wins and losses. I never consider past results, future results, personnel, injuries or my best guess at who would win in a hypothetical game that will never happen.


Of course, the process can feel pretty arbitrary. (If you ever tried to do this yourself, you know that all conceivable processes are arbitrary on some fundamental level, including the ones that rely on "objective" statistical models without any kind of human correction; otherwise, all of the statistical models would always agree on everything.) This week, for instance, the differences between the handful of teams ranked from No. 20 to roughly No. 36 are so opaque that they could be plausibly rearranged in almost any order depending on your priorities. The most logical way to impose some sense of… you know, logic within said group is to defer to head-to-head results wherever possible. So Wisconsin (for example) currently resides at the end of a chain that says Michigan > Notre Dame > Arizona State > Wisconsin, because that's what the scoreboard said. Can't get much more objective that that. I only contradicted this line of thinking a dozen or so times throughout the rest of the poll, which is pretty good, and always for very sound reasons that may or may not stand up to further scrutiny.



34. BYU (4-2).

35. TEXAS (4-2). Alright, what the fuck, Texas? You think you can stagger through the first month of the season like a bunch of zombies, getting entire limbs ripped off by the likes of Taysom Hill and Sam B. Richardson, and then just show up against Oklahoma like, oh, okay, this is the real Texas, proving the doubters wrong? Bullshit. I pegged you for the top 10 before the season, as did a lot of other people who thought a veteran lineup was more compelling than three years of diminishing returns, and you made us all look like out-of-touch morons. Even in the games you managed to win, you still sucked. The oddsmakers who looked at your track record against Oklahoma and thought you'd come within two touchdowns on Saturday were really being too kind. Your own fans were bracing for the worst. You deserved to be doubted and abandoned.


So now you've delivered your best performance in four years at the most unlikely, opportune possible moment, salvaging all the preseason noise re: the Big 12 title and a BCS bowl, and we're supposed to do what with this information? Jump back on the bandwagon? Grant Mack Brown a lifetime pass? Dip Greg Robinson and Case McCoy in bronze? Hell no. You are volatile. You cannot be trusted. It's not the first time you've pulled an encouraging upset out of your ass when things looked bleak, and the failure to capitalize on the last one only made the descent that much bleaker. We knew trashing Oklahoma was possible; at one point, we thought it was likely. Now we have no idea what to think, because anything is possible, against anyone, in any direction. Just pick one already.

36. USC (4-2). The post-Kiffin Trojans are the mother of all wildcards in the Pac-12, an immensely talented team with nothing to lose and no reliable anchor to keep them on track from week to week. Or even quarter to quarter: In their first game since ditching Lane at LAX, they raced out to a 28-3 lead against Arizona, only to be outscored 28-10 the rest of the way in a 38-31 win that only confirmed their inconsistency. This team could still wind up repping the South Division in the conference championship game, or finishing just above Colorado in the conference cellar, and no one would be surprised either way. Probably including the Trojans.


37. PENN STATE (4-2). I've been trying to calculate how high Allen Robinson was on the insane, levitating catch at the end of regulation against Michigan that effectively sent the game to overtime (Penn State scored the tying touchdown from a yard out on the next play), and I arrive at well over ten feet. The cornerback covering him, Channing Stribling, is listed at 6-foot-2; he was a couple feet off the ground on his jump, and extended his arms fully over his head, which would put his reach at close to ten feet even if we're being conservative. The ball hit Robinson's hands at least a half-foot above that. It's the equivalent of touching the top of the square above the rim in basketball, from a standing jump, in pads. Dude was way, way up there.


38. OLE MISS (3-3).

39. BOISE STATE (4-2).


41. HOUSTON (5-0).

42. MARYLAND (5-1).

43. ARIZONA (3-2).

44. IOWA (4-2).

45. BALL STATE (6-1).

46. TCU (3-3).

47. GEORGIA TECH (3-3).

48. PITTSBURGH (3-2).

49. WASHINGTON STATE (4-3). The Cougars were tied with Oregon State, 24-24, in the closing seconds of the third quarter, from which point they proceeded to commit four turnovers on their next six plays en route to a 52-24 loss. The Cougars have come a long way since last season, but not that far just yet.


50. RUTGERS (4-2). I'm not going to say Gary Nova is the worst quarterback in college football, because there are at least 50 teams further down this list that would probably be glad to have him. He's also started 19 consecutive games over the last two years, so obviously his coaches think he's the best option on the depth chart, at least; Rutgers is 13-6 in that span, so they're probably right. But the other contenders for the title tend not to show up on national TV on a semi-regular basis, where Nova tends to put his most turnover-prone foot forward. Last Thursday, he was a one-man fire alarm at Louisville, coming out on the wrong end of eight sacks and four interceptions in a 24-10 loss, just as foretold when he fumbled the first snap from center. Last year, he finished one off the national "lead" with 16 interceptions, closing the season with an especially ghastly turn in an unwatchable loss in the Russell Athletic Bowl. For his career, 33 interceptions gives him more than any active QB with fewer than 1,000 attempts. (Nova is nowhere near that barrier, sitting at 793.) The closer he gets to it, the worse for the Scarlet Knights.

51. BOWLING GREEN (5-2).

52. ILLINOIS (3-2).

53. EAST CAROLINA (4-2). The Pirates put on a clinic Saturday in "How to Lose to an Inferior Opponent," managing to score a single touchdown in eight separate trips inside Tulane's 30-yard line in regulation of a 36-33 loss in triple overtime. Despite outgaining the Green Wave by 233 total yards, ECU's first seven trips into scoring range resulted in six field goal attempts (four good, two missed) and a 99-yard interception return for Tulane's only touchdown of regulation. The Pirates didn't find the end zone themselves until the final two minutes.


54. INDIANA (3-3).

55. DUKE (4-2).

56. TENNESSEE (3-3). The Vols reached a long-awaited agreement last week to play Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016, an ambitious bid for achieving the even longer-awaited Redneck Singularity. According to the @Neyland_Standium Twitter account, college football's largest stadium could fit almost entirely within the infield at Bristol, which is expected to draw a record crowd for American football in the neighborhood of 150,000.



58. MARSHALL (4-2).

59. RICE (4-2).

60. SYRACUSE (3-3).


62. WEST VIRGINIA (3-3).

63. CINCINNATI (4-2). The Bearcats are this week's occupants of the CRATER OF MEDIOCRITY, the depressing hole in the dead center of the rankings. Which is appropriate, because they've had a depressing hole at the center of their team since a season-ending injury to the immortal Munchie Legaux.


64. KANSAS STATE (2-4).

65. OHIO (4-2).

66. NAVY (3-2).

67. VANDERBILT (3-3).

68. MINNESOTA (4-2).

69. WYOMING (4-2).

70. UTAH STATE (3-4).

71. ARKANSAS (3-4).

72. TULANE (5-2). The post-realignment version of Conference USA is the equivalent of the "old" Sun Belt, and therefore inherently vulnerable to a sad-sack outfit like Tulane getting hot at the right time. Who's better than the Green Wave in the West Division? At the moment, they're in a first-place tie with Rice at 3-0 in conference play, and already have head-to-head wins over two of the three teams tied for third. It's happened before, but "Conference USA Champion Tulane" is not a reality I'm prepared to face.


73. BUFFALO (4-2).

74. TOLEDO (3-3).


76. NORTH TEXAS (3-3).

77. SAN JOSE STATE (3-3).

78. SAN DIEGO STATE (3-3).


80. VIRGINIA (2-4). The Cavaliers lost to Maryland Saturday, 27-26, despite outgaining the Terps overall, finishing +3 in turnover margin and amassing a 15-and-a-half-minute advantage in time of possession. How is that possible? When you settle for five field goal attempts inside the opponent's 15-yard line, you can achieve anything, including missing the game-winner as time expires.


81. WAKE FOREST (3-3).

82. N.C. STATE (3-3).


84. NEVADA (3-3).

85. IOWA STATE (1-4).

86. CALIFORNIA (1-5).

87. UNLV (4-2). The Rebels have won four games in a row for the first time since 2000, under head coach John Robinson. Since Robinson left in 2004, they've only won four games in an entire season twice.


88. KENTUCKY (1-5).

89. KANSAS (2-3).

90. PURDUE (1-5).

91. COLORADO (2-3).


93. SMU (1-4).

94. TROY (4-3).

95. TEXAS STATE (3-3).



98. TULSA (2-4).

99. ARMY (3-4).

100. SOUTH ALABAMA (2-3).


102. SOUTH FLORIDA (2-4). The Bulls won Saturday without scoring an offensive touchdown for the second week in a row, returning a fumble for a score in the first quarter of a 13-10 upset at UConn. The final score, along with the fact that USF was actually an underdog against a team playing its first game under an interim head coach, should tell you pretty much all you need to know about both sides.


103. COLORADO STATE (2-4).


105. KENT STATE (2-5).

106. MEMPHIS (1-4).


108. NEW MEXICO (2-4).

109. UAB (2-4).

110. LOUISIANA TECH (2-4).

111. AKRON (1-6).

112. AIR FORCE (1-6).

113. HAWAII (0-6).

114. UTEP (1-5). This feels like the opportune cultural moment to point out that since the 1980s, UTEP's official fight song is actually a reworked version of Marty Robbins's "El Paso" that replaces the narrator's fatal love for his Mexican maiden with an abiding passion for mining. Not the most original choice, maybe, but what would you come up with when the alternative is "Handjobs for the Holidays"?




117. IDAHO (1-6).

118. CONNECTICUT (0-5). So far this season, UConn has lost to an FCS team, blown a fourth-quarter lead against Michigan, fired its head coach and now lost a game in which it held USF without an offensive touchdown. I would say there's nowhere to go but up, but the Huskies still have to play at Temple.


119. TEMPLE (0-6).


121. WESTERN MICHIGAN (0-7). The Broncos were trounced Saturday by Buffalo, 33-0, for their seventh loss in as many weeks, thereby becoming the first team in 2013 to officially earn the distinction of "bowl ineligible."


122. MIAMI (OHIO) (0-6). The RedHawks fired their head coach, then went 1-for-11 on third down conversions in a 17-10 loss to the only team in the nation that averages fewer points per game, UMass.

123. GEORGIA STATE (0-6).

124. NEW MEXICO STATE (0-6).

125. SOUTHERN MISS (0-5). If USM isn't the very worst team—and after extending the nation's longest losing streak against Florida International, it may very well be—then certainly no other team is falling as far short of its potential. Before last year's collapse, Southern Miss had strung together 18 winning seasons in a row with five Conference USA championships; the 2011 team set a school record for wins and landed in the top 20 of the final polls. From that to this is an historic plummet. True, arguably no program has been knocked down as many pegs in the pecking order as a result of realignment, but that only makes the failure to compete even within a watered-down version of C-USA that much more frustrating. Offer up whatever explanation you can muster, there is no excuse to be this far behind the curve.


Matt Hinton writes about college football for Football Outsiders and SB Nation's Football Study Hall. Follow on Twitter, @MattRHinton.