2012 College Football Rankings and Polls: Alabama, USC, LSU, Oregon Rule Week 1

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 01:  (L-R) Head coach Brady Hoke of the Michigan Wolverines talks with Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide before a game at Cowboys Stadium on September 1, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Week 1 of the college football season has given the voters in AP and USA Today Coaches polls plenty to think about. Alabama and USC staked their claims to be No. 1, while LSU and Oregon showed why they will be national title contenders as well.

The national championship is not won in Week 1, but it can be lost.

So which team at the moment is most worthy of the No. 1 ranking? And which teams were eliminated as true contenders?

Here's my Top 10.

1. USC

2. Alabama

3. LSU

4. Oregon

5. Georgia

6. Florida State

7. Oklahoma

8. Arkansas

9. West Virginia

10. South Carolina


Alabama vs. USC: Who is No. 1?

The defending national champs crushed Michigan 41-14. Most impressively, the Alabama defense shut down Heisman hopeful Denard Robinson.

Memo to all offenses: the Crimson Tide defense is still big and fast. It will take a special quarterback and receivers to move the ball against them.

Is Alabama being disrespected by not being voted No. 1? Go ask Michigan.

The media lovefest with USC begins and ends with quarterback Matt Barkley and his superstar sidekicks, wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. They are an NFL-like corps capable of piling on passing yards and points as if it were a video game.

USC also has the size and speed to compete with the best teams in the SEC, something Pac-12 power Oregon has struggled to do. The biggest question will be the USC's depth. The Trojans must remain healthy and rest their starters often in the fourth quarter.

For now, USC lived up to its billing, but Alabama was able to prove its greatness against arguably a Top-10 opponent. Could Alabama's current run be a match for the dynasties of the Miami Hurricanes in the late 1980s, the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the mid-1990s and Pete Carroll USC Trojans?


LSU or Oregon: QB Questions and Answers

Last year’s Cowboys Classic set the tone for LSU's run to the SEC title and a spot in the BCS Championship game. Their convincing win over Oregon also eliminated the speedy Ducks from serious title consideration.

This year, both LSU and Oregon have young starters at quarterback. For LSU, the questions will continue, even though Zach Mettenberger turned in a solid performance in a win over North Texas.

In short, the jury is still out on Mettenberger, who should face a much stiffer challenge against the Washington Huskies in Week 2, even though the Huskies' defense has been atrocious the past few years.

The real examination will be watching the LSU defense take on Washington’s Keith Price and his talented offense.

Oregon, on the other hand, appears to have found its next superstar in freshmen quarterback Marcus Mariota. He is tall, speedy and has both poise and accuracy. In racing to a 50-10 lead at halftime against Arkansas State, Mariota looked to pass first rather than scramble to create yards in Chip Kelly's high-octane offense. He utilized several receivers in a unit that hopes to be better than a year ago.

The Oregon defense also posted an impressive first half with repeated pressure and aggression. However, the Ducks lost intensity on defense in the second half as players were rotated in and out on  each series. They will need to buckle down for 60 minutes against Pac-12 opponents.


Best of the Rest and Still Contenders

The Oklahoma Sooners struggled to get past UTEP and once again may not have the consistency or athletic prowess to truly compete with the elite teams. They do not pass like USC, run like Oregon or play defense like the SEC. By season’s end, flourishing Oklahoma State may prove to be the perennial power of the Big 12.

Georgia flexed its muscles behind freshman running back Todd Gurley, who had 100 yards on only eight carries and added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Bulldogs will need to reinforce its defense with players returning from injuries and suspensions.

Florida State and Oklahoma State ran up cartoon-like numbers on their overmatched opponents, while West Virginia and Ohio State showed explosiveness that could carry them to conference titles.

In the all-powerful SEC, Arkansas and South Carolina are likely a cut below LSU and Alabama. South Carolina, in particular, looked its usual ugly self in eking out another win more reminiscent of leather-helmet football.


Goodbye Michigan and Big 10

Like Oregon last year, Michigan has been officially eliminated as a legitimate national title contender. Such is the nature of college football when every week is a playoff.

There is plenty of time for a Wolverines to regroup and win the Big Ten. But to lose in such a lopsided fashion to another title contender rules them out of the BCS title chase, short of absolute chaos. This is not 2007.

Michigan State, Clemson, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Texas all appeared to lack the championship make-up needed to win the BCS title. They will be Top-10 contenders and spoilers at best.


The Long and Winding Road

Even for USC and Alabama, there will be challenges from conference foes. USC could tangle with Oregon twice this year, and conference sleepers like Utah and Arizona State are capable of pulling off an upset on a good day. UCLA also has a chip on its shoulder about a certain billboard.

Alabama may have lost several members of its championship defense, but it certainly did not drop its level of motivation. Even now, Saban may be telling his team that nothing is won in sunny September.

The trees will be bare and snow will be flying before we know who will still be standing in this year's version of "College Football BCS Survivor."


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