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Senior College Football Columnist

Dodd Power Poll: Academic bigs Stanford, Notre Dame shine on field

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It was the greatest of days for the Knight Commission.

A judgment day, you might say.

Notre Dame and Stanford proved you can win the right way against the best.

The Knight Commission was likely giddy Saturday because the college sports watchdog group talks about this stuff every day. Its message -- promoting the educational mission -- isn't heard enough.

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It wasn't the first time academic giants made an athletic statement -- Duke seems to do OK in March -- but the way it happened Saturday sent a giant message. There is a sliver of hope that college sports at the highest level is populated by something more than indentured minor leaguers.

The Irish won at Michigan State, starting 3-0 for the first time since 2002. While the temptation is to suggest Brian Kelly is winning with Ty Willingham's players (kidding), there is a solidarity emerging with the Irish. The defense clamped down on Andrew Maxwell (45 throws, only 187 yards) and Le'Veon Bell (77 yards).

Notre Dame suddenly is for real. No, really for real. The last time it had a better defensive performance on the road against a top-10 opponent was 19 years ago. Right now, Manti Te'o is the best story in the country, not only as a linebacker but as a man: He lost both his grandmother and girlfriend this week.

That was him looking up to the heavens in the final seconds with tears in his eyes.

In the meantime, Stanford fans should be scolded for rushing the field after beating No. 2 USC. The Cardinal have beaten the Trojans four consecutive times and five out of the last six.

I would like for everyone in the stadium to not be surprised by [the win]," coach David Shaw said.

Notre Dame has been away too long. Stanford is at the high point of its football existence, having been to consecutive BCS bowls. We're not saying there aren't special admits. We're saying the mission is different in Palo Alto and South Bend. We're saying they're not cutting corners. That we know of, anyway.

There is some purity left. The Knight Commission would be proud. Just check the top 12 of this week's Power Poll.

Parentheses indicate previous rank.

Dodd's Power Poll
RankTeam (Previous)Comment
1Alabama (1)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 1-0
In their most lopsided SEC win since 1979, the Tide call off the dogs early and still eviscerate Arkansas. Eddie Lacy scores three times, but the real curiosity is next-man-up freshman tailback Kenyan Drake (six rushes, 57 yards). Hidden stat: AJ McCarron has now thrown 151 passes without an interception. After losses by USC and Michigan State, the Big Ten is all but out of the championship hunt. The Trojans have a lot of ground to make up. Looks more and more like Alabama-LSU once again.
2Oregon (3)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
After they racked up 1,790 yards and 162 points in three non-conference games, we start to find out what the Ducks are about this week against Arizona. De'Anthony Thomas may be the new Heisman frontrunner after 222 all-purpose yards against Tennessee Tech.
3LSU (4)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
The Tigers' nine touchdowns against Idaho came via pass (two), run (five) and interception returns (two). Up next? How about an underperforming Auburn team on the road.
4Georgia (5)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 1-0
"The best legacy you can leave is winning championships," quarterback Aaron Murray said. His four touchdowns -- two rushing, two passing -- against Florida Atlantic set up entry back into the SEC this week against Vanderbilt.
5Florida (14)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 2-0
Fear the Pants? Fear the Gators, who have outscored opponents 37-6 in the last two second halves. We are watching Will Muschamp and his quarterback Jeff Driskel mature before our eyes.
6Stanford (23)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 1-0
The Cardinal's toughness groove was cut a little deeper vs. USC. They were just bigger and badder. The Harbaugh/Bowlsby/Luck/Shaw axis of excellence gets another member. Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart (who beat Kentucky) is a former Jim Harbaugh assistant.
7Florida State (6)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 1-0
The 'Noles have outscored the competition 176-3. The ACC needs Florida State to run the table, and it just might happen. Huge game Saturday as Florida State hosts Clemson.
8South Carolina (8)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 1-0
Spurrier wins his 200th career game and dedicates it to Phil Fulmer. Just kidding. "This was one of the closest 49-6 games I have been around," he said after beating Alabama-Birmingham. Had QB Connor Shaw (shoulder) stayed healthy, it might have been the closest 63-6 game Spurrier'd seen.
9Texas (15)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
So much for the myth of Ole Miss this season. The Longhorns looked like they could name their score in 66-31 rout. Definition of a blowout: Twelve 'Horns carried the ball, eight caught it. David Ash tossed four TD passes. It's a four-team race in Big 12 between Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas State.
10Oklahoma (7)
Overall: 2-0
Conference: 0-0
Call the Sooners well rested. They got a bye before their Big 12 showdown with Kansas State. Then get another bye.
11USC (2)
Overall: 2-1
Conference: 0-1
You know how Florida fans always remind Peyton Manning he was winless vs. the Gators? Matt Barkley now has to hear it the rest of his life from Stanford. He ends up 0-4 against the Cardinal. The Trojans may recover, win the Pac-12 and still play for the national championship, but there is no tougher team on the West Coast than the Cardinal.
12Notre Dame (NR)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: N/A
If it ever comes to this, remember you heard it here first: From this point on, the Irish play a tougher schedule than either Alabama or LSU. Notre Dame plays four currently ranked teams (Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma, USC). Alabama plays only one (LSU). LSU plays three (Florida, South Carolina, Alabama).
13West Virginia (9)
Overall: 2-0
Conference: 0-0
With USC's loss, Geno Smith and De'Anthony Thomas are in a Heisman battle. Will the tie be broken in the BCS title game? Smith has as many incompletions as passing touchdowns (nine) through two games.
14Clemson (12)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
Sammy Watkins scored his first career rushing touchdown in his first game back. The Tigers wipe their feet on Furman before invading Doak Campbell.
15Kansas State (10)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
No longer a dark horse to win the Big 12, the Cats are a legitimate threat. Look who is suddenly in the top 10 in passing efficiency. Wildcats have 18 total touchdowns. Quarterback Collin Klein has run or passed for half of them (nine). Cats and Klein will have to match up better with Oklahoma than they did last year (58-17 loss).
16UCLA (NR)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
Mora magic continues as Bruins get six turnovers and four TDs against Houston. The Bruins get Oregon State this weekend.
17Ohio State (13)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
Weakness revealed: Cal made Braxton Miller a passer. The Bucks' quarterback fizzled after halftime and Ohio State had to hold on against the Bears.
18Michigan State (11)
Overall: 2-1
Conference: 0-0
We bid a sad goodbye to the Big Ten's national title hopes. The Spartans were the last hope. The Leaders Division's only undefeated team (Ohio State) can't go to a bowl. Northwestern and Minnesota are on top of the Legends Division. Who knew Michigan State's offense was that anemic (237 yards vs. Notre Dame).
19TCU (18)
Overall: 2-0
Conference: 1-0
The Frogs fumbled three times inside the Kansas 24. Casey Pachall was good enough to pass for 335 yards and two touchdowns. TCU doesn't play its second Big 12 game until Oct. 6 (Iowa State).
20Northwestern (NR)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
There are only two undefeated bowl-eligible teams in the Big Ten. Only one of them has defeated three BCS-conference schools. The Wildcats are arguably the most accomplished team in the league after beating Boston College.
21Arizona (21)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
Rich Rodriguez makes quarterbacks. Patrick White to Denard Robinson to Matt Scott. Arizona gets its first real test at Oregon on Saturday.
22Wisconsin (17)
Overall: 2-1
Conference: 0-0
It's no longer a concern, it's an identity. The Badgers just can't get the offense going. They needed a missed field goal at the gun to survive against Utah State.
23La.-Monroe (20)
Overall: 1-1
Conference: 0-0
The Warhawks are 1-1 against the SEC West. Next up? Time to take on the Big 12 as Louisiana-Monroe faces Baylor on Friday night.
24Louisville (19)
Overall: 3-0
Conference: 0-0
Is Charlie Strong No. 1 on Arkansas' wish list? Right now, Louisville is the best team in the Big East, scoring at least 30 points in the first three games.
25Western Kentucky (NR)
Overall: 2-1
Conference: 0-0
Two teams from the Sun Belt in my Top 25. Six sacks against Alabama. Kentucky goes down in overtime. Taggart knows something half the SEC doesn't.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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