The season is only three weeks old and already we've had some shocking upsets. No doubt, we're going to get many more. It is one of the best things about this sport. It is just so hard to predict how things are going to play out, but that doesn't mean we're not going to try.
1. Louisville: Teddy Bridgewater has blossomed and a bit of buzz is building for Charlie Strong's program. Unfortunately, the perception of the conference the Cardinals play in is abysmal these days. Even if Rutgers wins at Arkansas this week, it wouldn't do much for the Big East. Instead, it'd be dismissed as more evidence of the Hogs freefall. So Louisville is staring at the likelihood of facing zero ranked opponents all season. They do have to visit Florida International this weekend. The Panthers beat the Cards last year, but Mario Cristobal's squad is off to a disappointing start. The likely toughest test: the season finale at Rutgers.
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2. Ohio: The Bobcats got the nation's attention by defeating Penn State in State College in an emotional season opener. Last week, they barely escaped at Marshall . It looks all downhill from here for Tyler Tettleton and Co. They avoid Northern Illinois , Toledo and Western Michigan , arguably the next three most talented teams in the MAC. A mid-November trip to Ball State is probably the most formidable challenge remaining.
3. Alabama: The Crimson Tide, save for some pass-protection issues, have been dominant. In fact, I'm not even sure dominant is a strong enough description for what the Tide have done so far. They've faced two preseason top 10 opponents (one at a neutral site and the other on the road) and won by a combined score of 93-14. The two biggest hurdles left are consecutive games against No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 2 LSU in Baton Rouge. Beyond that, there are road trips to Mizzou and Tennessee and, of course, the Iron Bowl although it's anyone's guess what Auburn might look like by then. I initially had 'Bama tops on this list because I'm sold on Saban's talent on defense and the experience that keys a potent offense, but had to bump the Tide down. Going to Baton Rouge and facing a top-five team is still a momentous challenge.
4. Florida State: Yeah, I know that no program has more of a recent history of being hyped and then fizzling, but the Seminoles seem (magic word) different this year. Their D is exceptionally talented, even without pass-rushing terror Brandon Jenkins. They also have a heady leader in QB E.J. Manual and a gifted collection of skill talent. So far, they've coasted, winning their first three games 176-3 -- although only the game against Wake Forest is worth noting. It gets harder this weekend when an explosive Clemson team visits. The Tigers have firepower, but their rush D has been suspect and they only have three sacks in three games so they might not be able to exploit a young 'Noles' O-line. After Clemson, the only ranked opponent remaining is when No. 14 Florida visits. The Gators are improving fast although a trip to Virginia Tech is probably just as daunting.
5. West Virginia: This is the part of the list where there's some drop-off. The Mountaineers are one of eight undefeated Big 12 teams still left. I give them the edge on the others because they have the most favorable schedule in terms of home field advantage with Oklahoma , TCU and Kansas State all having to come to Morgantown, and because they have the league's most explosive offense. WVU does have to go to Austin to face No. 12 Texas in early October when its' schedule really picks up.
6. Oregon: In many people's eyes this offseason, the Ducks season boiled down to a one-game schedule: Nov. 3 at USC . However, that probably changed with Stanford's impressive win over the Trojans last Saturday night. Still, Stanford has lost its last five trips to Eugene. The Ducks will face another ranked team this Saturday when No. 22 Arizona visits Autzen. The other much improved team in the Pac-12, UCLA , isn't on Oregon's schedule. The downside: the Ducks did, though, lose standout O-lineman (Carson York) and safety John Boyett, their most reliable defender, for the season to injury.
7. Louisiana Tech: Expect fireworks when Sonny Dykes' team hits the field. They're No. 3 in the country in scoring, and that's no fluke. Tech has a good triggerman and some dangerous skill guys to go with an experienced line. Problem is, Louisiana Tech's been woeful on D, ranking last in the country in total defense and third-to-last in scoring defense. Tech does have two real challenges in the next two weeks with consecutive road games at Illinois and Virginia. There's also the make-up game against Texas A&M , which will be considerably tougher than it would've on opening night since the Aggies dynamic freshman QB Johnny Manziel now has some experience. Get though that and the Bulldogs still have to close at a decent San Jose State team.
8. Georgia: Lots to be optimistic about here: The Dawgs have the most favorable schedule in the SEC since they avoid LSU and Alabama. Aaron Murray is off to a strong start. Their two young tailbacks have looked outstanding and the D has been superb, and that bunch should only get nastier now that they've gotten some key players back from their suspensions. The biggest hurdles: They host a capable Tennessee team later this month before visiting No. 7 South Carolina . Toward the end of October, they play rival Florida. The regular-season finale is home against Georgia Tech . The more you think about it, this all sounds quite doable for a program with the personnel Georgia has ... if its' O-line can hold up.
9. LSU: Les Miles' team doesn't have to cope with quite as packed a schedule as it did in 2011, but it's still a real meat grinder. The Tigers have a brutal five- game stretch that begins in early October: at No. 14 Florida; then home for No. 7 South Carolina; then on the road to Texas A&M, before the huge visit from No. 1 'Bama before No. 23 Mississippi State comes to Baton Rouge. The regular season ends with a trip to Arkansas although who knows what shape the Hogs will be in by then.
10. (tie) Stanford: I give the Ducks the edge over Stanford here despite the fact that the Cardinal has already defeated USC and Oregon has yet to visit the Trojans. The reason: Stanford also has to go to Eugene, where the Cardinal has had all sorts of problems. Worse still, Stanford has to go to No. 11 Notre Dame and visit No. 24 UCLA (week after the Oregon trip) too.
10. (tie) Ohio State: Urban Meyer's team had its hands full with Cal last week, but led by Ohio State's terrific young QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes survived. They have no hope of playing in the post-season thanks to NCAA sanctions, but could make a run at boosting the Big Ten's rep if they can run the table where all the other power schools stumbled early and showed some serious flaws. OSU still has games vs. three ranked teams (back to back at MSU and then Nebraska) and the regular season finale vs. Michigan, which comes after a road trip to Madison.