College Football Rankings' Next 5: USC Enters The Conversation

LOS ANGELES CA - OCTOBER 16: Head Coach Lane Kiffin and Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans react to a 3rd and 1 conversion against the California Golden Bears during the second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 16 2010 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Assessing the pitfalls and fortunes of the top five teams in the "also receiving votes" category that serves as college football's casting couch. This week: Can the Trojans wreck the Pac-10 superiority train?

• USC
Where They're At: 5-2, and coming off a blowout conference win over Cal. Five votes out of 25th place in AP poll, ineligible in Coaches' Poll.
What Went Wrong: Back-to-back losses of the unexpected (Washington) and expected (Stanford) sorts sent the Trojans tumbling.
What's Next: There's practically half a season still to go, but make no mistake: This next game is It. After a handily-placed bye week, USC hosts No. 2 Oregon in Week 9. No. 18 Arizona follows two weeks later, but a win there will do them little good if they can't make a strong showing against the surging Ducks. Though ineligible for BCS contention, the Trojans still have the potential to ruin quite a few seasons on the West Coast.

• Kansas State
Where They're At: 5-1, riding a bizarro roller-coaster W-L track that's gone like so: Decently-sized win over UCLA, suspicious amount of points allowed to Missouri State, alarmingly close wins over Iowa State and UCF, blown out versus Nebraska, and an answering blowout win over Kansas themselves, just to make things interesting. Forty votes back from USC in the AP Poll; second to Northwestern in the ARV section of the Coaches' Poll.
What Went Wrong: All of the above? Who on earth knows what to do with them now, especially considering what happened to Nebraska in Week 7? There's Daniel Thomas, who's very, very good, but whose production has tapered sharply the past three weeks -- and then there's what the rest of the Wildcats did against the only serious competition they've faced in 2010.
What's Next: A hostile proving ground, with a trip to 5-2 Baylor followed by three straight games against ranked conference opponents (Oklahoma State, Texas, and Missouri). You'd almost feel sorry for the 'Cats if they weren't closing out the season with Colorado and North Texas.

• Nevada
Where They're At: 6-1, reeling from their sixth straight loss in Hawaii. Trailing both USC and K-State in the AP Poll waiting room, and Northwestern and Kansas State in the Coaches' Poll.
What Went Wrong: Mid-major teams have a hard time staying ranked with a loss, particularly when they hail from a conference as polarized as the WAC, and especially when they've just had their signature win (Cal) devalued by USC.
What's Next: The 'Pack won't be busting the BCS this year, but hefty victories over their next four conference opponents could keep them in voters' minds heading into that Nov. 26 showdown with Boise State.

• Michigan
Where They're At: 5-2, but 1-2 in Big Ten play. Way the hell back behind Hawaii in the AP Poll also-rans; trailing three runner-up teams in the Coaches' Poll.
What Went Wrong: A flashy start was followed by back-to-back losses against ranked teams (Michigan State and Iowa), and neither was particularly close.
What's Next: For the love of all that is good and footbally, get Denard Robinson healthy and get him some help on offense. Penn State and Illinois aren't particularly fluffy feathers to add to one's cap, but if the Wolverines can't beat them soundly, they can't possibly expect to contend with their season-ending opponents, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

• Northwestern
Where They're At: 5-1, leading the pack of unwashed unranked in the Coaches' Poll but receiving a scant eight votes from AP.
What Went Wrong: There's a sizable scrum of one-loss teams right now in the Big Ten, and losing to something called "Purdue" (we're told they're in the Big Ten, but they lost to Toledo?) isn't helping the Cats' case for rank recognition.
What's Next: No. 7 Michigan State, current conference leader, comes to town this Saturday. Good luck with that, ye benighted purple felines.

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