Here's how Michigan football can be ranked No. 1 by Sunday

Wolverines ranked No. 4 in AP poll

Michigan football is off to a strong start in 2016. Jim Harbaugh brought high expectations to Ann Arbor for his second season as head coach, and the Wolverines have picked up two blowout wins since opening as the No. 7 team in the country.

But the Wolverines haven't really proven anything yet. They haven't played a winning team or traveled on the road.

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Regardless of its light work load, Michigan already has an outside chance of emerging from this weekend as the No. 1 team in the country. That's right, Michigan could be at the very top of the AP poll without playing a single Big Ten game.

Here's what would have to happen for Michigan to land on top of the polls Sunday afternoon.

Michigan dominates Colorado

Obviously, if Michigan hopes to move up in the polls, it needs to take care of business at home against Colorado. To stay ahead of teams like Houston and Stanford, which have better wins and more impressive matchups this weekend, simply winning the game isn't enough. Michigan has to jump ahead of Colorado early and make sure the game is never close.

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The Buffaloes are by far Michigan's toughest test in the nonconference season. In the first two weeks, Michigan pounded a Hawaii team that traveled about 20,000 miles in 10 days and cruised past a UCF team that hasn't beaten an FBS opponent since 2014.

Colorado put an impressive pounding on rival Colorado State in its season opener. Sefo Liufau led the Buffaloes to a 44-7 win with 318 passing yards and 66 rushing yards. Phillip Lindsay carried the ball 20 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

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Colorado has a two-dimensional offense and Liufau's mobility could be a major issue for the Wolverines, who struggled to stop UCF's quarterbacks from scrambling and has a history of being dominated by mobile quarterbacks.

Michigan is favored by 20 points. To avoid being jumped by another top 10 team, the Wolverines need to make sure the game isn't close.

Ole Miss upsets Alabama

For any team in the country to have a shot at No. 1, Alabama has to slip up and lose a game. The defending national champions received 56 of 61 first-place votes (Florida State received four and Michigan received one) and have a stronghold on the top spot.

Despite the Crimson Tide's dominance over the last decade, Ole Miss is the one team that has given Nick Saban fits. In 2015, Alabama opened SEC play with a home game against Ole Miss and lost, 43-37. Chad Kelly threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another touchdown to lead the Rebels in the upset win.

READ: Michigan's Wilton Speight wins Big Ten award

The last time Alabama visited Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, quarterback Bo Wallace threw three touchdown passes to lift Ole Miss over the No. 3 Crimson Tide.

Graph: Alabama wins by year under Nick Saban

Kelly will lead a desperate Ole Miss team in this year's matchup as Alabama returns to Mississippi. The No. 19 Rebels already lost a non-conference matchup to Florida State and can't afford to lose Saturday if they hope to contend for a national championship.

If Alabama loses, it will drop out of the top five -- uncharted territory for the perennial playoff participant.

Louisville edges Florida State

This is the biggest road block to Michigan jumping into the No. 1 spot, because there's a good chance the winner of this game will find itself ahead of Michigan either way.

Florida State is currently the No. 2 team in the country, so only a loss would drop the Seminoles below Michigan. But Louisville, which has been extremely impressive on offense and has a budding Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Lamar Jackson, has quickly risen into the top 10 with wins over Charlotte and Syracuse.

The only chance Michigan has to stay ahead of both teams is if Louisville wins in a close, ugly game. The Cardinals are seven spots behind Michigan in the current AP poll, but a win over No. 2 Florida State -- which already beat No. 19 Ole Miss -- looks much more impressive than a win over Colorado.

Voters haven't hesitated to handsomely reward teams for winning big games, as evidenced by Wisconsin's jump from unranked to the top 10 after beating LSU and Texas' huge rise after beating Notre Dame. A win over Florida State would be the most impressive performance yet.

Jackson will also help the Cardinals' case to skyrocket in the rankings, as all superstar players do. Jackson already has 697 passing yards, seven passing touchdowns, 318 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in two games. If he plays hero in a Louisville's upset, the pollsters will fall in love with this team.

A win for Florida State would give the Seminoles one of the strongest resumes in college football. They're off to a 2-0 start under freshman quarterback Deondre Francois, who's completing 69 percent of his passes and has five touchdowns to just one interception.

Oklahoma beats Ohio State

Ohio State is the final team ranked above Michigan, and, like Alabama and Florida State, the Buckeyes will go on the road to play against a ranked team Saturday.

Ohio State has perhaps the toughest matchup of the week, heading to Oklahoma to play a Sooners team that's one loss away from watching its goals evaporate. Oklahoma played in the College Football Playoff last season and had aspirations to do so again in 2016. But a Week 1 loss to Houston put those hopes on life support and another loss to Ohio State would leave the Sooners without a solid non-conference win to lessen the blow of two early losses.

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The Buckeye offense has scored 125 points through two games and will go into a tough environment for its first real test. A young Ohio State team will have to grow up quickly to leave Norman with its perfect record intact.

If Oklahoma pulls off the upset, it will likely jump into the top 10, but has no chance to jump Michigan -- barring a Wolverines loss to Colorado -- because Oklahoma's earlier 10-point loss to Houston.

Could all this really happen? It's extremely unlikely, but it's not often that a team ranked outside the top three plays an unranked team and has a legitimate chance to take over the top spot.

Michigan has a chance, though it would take losses from each of the top three teams in the country.

In today's era of college football, having the No. 1 spot isn't as important as being in the top four and qualifying for the College Football Playoff. Michigan's presence in that grouping shows how far the program has come under Harbaugh.

Other games to keep an eye on:

Clemson vs. South Carolina State: Clemson fell from No. 2 to No. 5 with a sloppy showing against Troy, but the Tigers played in the national championship game last season and could jump Michigan if the Wolverines struggle against Colorado.

Houston at Cincinnati: Many people might not realize it, but Houston has an inside track to the College Football Playoff. The Cougars jumped into the top 10 after beating Oklahoma, and the only tough game left on their schedule is a home date with Louisville on Nov. 17. A solid road victory over Cincinnati Saturday could push them even higher up the rankings.

Stanford vs. USC: Though Stanford is on the fringe of this group, trailing Houston by more than 100 points in the AP poll, this weekend's matchup with USC is one to watch. USC was clearly overrated when it opened the season in the top 20, but a 46-point thumping at the hands of Alabama quickly erased that ranking. Still, if Stanford pounds a brand-name school like USC, the Cardinal could move up a few spots.

How individual AP poll voters ranked Michigan:

  • No. 1 (1): Scott Wolf
  • No. 2 (3): Nathan Deen, Matt Porter, Jeff Miller
  • No. 3 (5): Chuck Carlton, Jimmy Burch, Jonny Miller, Matt Galloway, Michael Bonner
  • No. 4 (17): Andy Greder, Dana Sulonen, David Briggs, Ed Daigneault, Garland Gillen, Garry Smits, Graham Watson, Jason Galloway, Jerry DiPaola, Josh Kendall, Marq Burnett, Michael Lev, Mike Barber, Mitch Vingle, Ross Dellenger, Sam McKewon, Tony Parks
  • No. 5 (21): Adam Zucker, Bill Landis, Bob Asmussen, Brian Howell, Dave Southorn, Ferd Lewis, Gary Horowitz, Joe Dubin, Joe Walljasper, John Shinn, Keith Sargeant, Kirk Bohls, Mandy Mitchell, Marc Weiszer, Pat Caputo, Patrick Brown, Robert Cessna, Robert Gagliardi, Scott Hamilton, Steve Batterson, Tom Murphy
  • No. 6 (10): Steve Wiseman, Rob Long, Matt Charboneau, Matt McCoy, Joey Knight, John Clay, Ed Johnson, Eric Hansen, Adam Jude, Brent Axe
  • No. 7 (2): Pete DiPrimio, Chris Murray
  • No. 8 (1): Brett McMurphy
  • No. 11 (1): Jon Wilner

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.