1. Alabama (10-0). The Tide defeated Mississippi State, 20-7, on Saturday, but the game may have been a scare to some of the Alabama faithful. Alabama led 10-0 in the 3rd quarter, when the Bulldogs scored to make the score 10-7. The Tide answered with a touchdown and a field goal to eventually win by 13. The Tide now play Chattanooga, an 8-3 FCS team, in what should be a light test leading into the Iron Bowl on November 30 against Auburn. Auburn’s miracle (see below) kept alive the Tigers’ chances of an SEC West title, meaning that whoever wins the Iron Bowl will win the West. Forget a berth in the national title game; Alabama isn’t guaranteed to win their division yet, and if they do, they will still have to win the SEC Championship game to get to Pasadena.
2. Florida State (10-0). The Seminoles won by a 59-3 score for the second consecutive week, this time victimizing Syracuse. Duke’s big win over Miami may have made Florida State’s road even easier, as they now won’t have to face Miami again unless Duke is upset sometime in the next two weeks (not that I think Miami would beat them, if given the chance, but it’s always tougher to beat a team in a second meeting in a season). Florida State is favored by 57 points against Idaho, which is the largest spread I remember seeing all season, and Idaho isn’t even an FCS opponent (they are a member of the FBS, playing as an independent, with a 1-9 record, although they did lose by just 10 to undefeated Northern Illinois). After their game with Idaho, they will go to “The Swamp” to play Florida, before a trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game. I would be absolutely shocked if the Seminoles aren’t in the National Championship game on January 6.
3. Baylor (9-0). The Bears easily stayed undefeated with a 63-34 win over Texas Tech, although they did trail briefly, early in the game. Those 34 points scored by the Red Raiders are the most points allowed by Baylor all year, although they were naturally offset by the Bears’ 9 touchdowns. While the Bears continue to impress, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, they will face their biggest test this week with a trip to a top-10 opponent when they play Oklahoma State. While a national title is certainly a possibility for Baylor, they haven’t even won the Big 12 yet, and this matchup with the Cowboys will go a long way towards determining who will get the conference’s automatic BCS bowl bid. Even if the Bears can leave Stillwater with a win on Saturday, they will still have to play TCU and Texas in regular season play (the Big 12 has no title game) before they can think about playing for a national title (and they would also need some help ahead of them from not 1, but 2 teams, since they are 4th in the BCS, where it counts).
4. Ohio State (10-0). On the field, on Saturday, the Buckeyes stayed undefeated with a 60-35 road win over Illinois. Off the field, the Buckeyes made headlines on Monday, after coach Urban Meyer called the BCS a “flawed system.” Sorry coach, but out of the 4 undefeated teams in BCS conferences, you and your Buckeyes have played the weakest schedule, and have played the closest games. Although the Buckeyes are currently 3rd in the BCS rankings, they may fall behind Baylor if the Bears win out, so they likely need 2 out of my top 3 to lose at some point if they want to play for a title. The Buckeyes have games left with Indiana, at home, and Michigan, on the road. While they are heavily favored against Indiana, the Michigan game is certainly a game the Buckeyes will have to play well to win. If they win just 1 of those 2 games, they will then play the Big Ten Championship game, likely against Michigan State.
5. Oregon (9-1). The Ducks led Utah just 17-14 at one time in the 3rd quarter on Saturday, before scoring 27 straight points and eventually winning 44-21. This was their first game since their national title hopes likely ended with a 26-20 loss at Stanford. The Ducks are done with matchups against ranked opponents, at least until a potential Pac-12 Championship game, but still play 2 good teams in Arizona and Oregon State. If they win those 2 contests, they will clinch the Pac-12 North division title, and will play either Arizona State, UCLA, or USC in the conference title game. The Pac-12 title game is unique, at least among the BCS conferences, in that it takes place on the campus of the team with the better record. Therefore, that potential title game would likely be on Oregon’s campus (this hasn’t been clinched yet, but may be soon). They wouldn’t be in this position, considering their loss to Stanford, without Stanford’s loss to USC.
6. Auburn (10-1). Auburn found a way to win Saturday, winning what CBS’s Gary Danielson called the “Miracle by Marshall”, 43-38, in one of the SEC’s all-time greatest games. Auburn led 37-17 early in the 4th quarter, before Georgia QB Aaron Murray led 3 straight touchdown drives to give the Bulldogs a 38-37 lead with 1:49 remaining. The Tigers were facing 4th and 18 when QB Nick Marshall threw the ball deep, toward WR Ricardo Louis. A Georgia defender, Josh Harvey-Clemons, deflected the pass, which went straight up after the tip. When it came down, Louis caught it in the open field and scored to give Auburn a 43-38 lead with 25 seconds left. Murray led the Bulldogs back inside the Auburn 25 yard line, but time expired and the Tigers had won the best game I’ve seen all year in football, maybe in any sport. Now Auburn has a bye, giving them an extra week to prepare for top-ranked Alabama, who they will host in the Iron Bowl on November 30. The matchup will be for the SEC West title, making it the first time since 1994 that both teams can win the game to win the division.
7. Clemson (9-1). Clemson fans will always say the Georgia Tech game is one that worries them, as the series tends to always produce close games, regardless of rankings and records of the two teams. This year was an exception, as the Tigers took care of business on Thursday night, winning 55-31. Clemson ranks 12th in points per game, but that’s with 3 games in which they were held to 26 points or less. Looking at their other games so far, it is clear they have one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. In their last 3 games, the Tigers have scored 40, 59, and 55 points. This week should be an easy win for the Tigers, as they host a 5-6 FCS foe, The Citadel, in preparation for a showdown against South Carolina in Columbia on November 30, in a game that could be an elimination game for a BCS at-large berth.
8. Missouri (9-1). The Tigers move up during their bye week, passing Stanford after their loss. Missouri leads the SEC East, and controls their own destiny, but if they want to play in Atlanta on December 7 against the Alabama/Auburn winner, they will have to win two tough games first. This week, the Tigers will travel to Ole Miss. The Rebels have only lost once at home, by just 3 to Texas A&M, and beat LSU at home on October 19. After Thanksgiving, the Tigers will host Johnny Manziel and the Aggies of Texas A&M. Starting QB James Franklin is scheduled to start on Saturday against the Rebels, although some are skeptical of his effectiveness coming off a 6-week break from action with a sprained shoulder. By the way, freshman QB Maty Mauk, who replaced Franklin (remember we all said he couldn’t win against Florida, South Carolina, etc.) was 3-1 as a starter, with the loss coming in double overtime to South Carolina.
9. Oklahoma State (9-1). The Cowboys (of Stillwater, not Dallas) make their first appearance in my rankings this season, following a big 38-13 win at Texas, which gave the Longhorns their first conference loss. To put their season so far into a nutshell, the Cowboys have pretty much blown out all of their opponents, with two exceptions. First was their only loss of the season, which was a September 28 upset loss at West Virginia, 30-21. The following week was their only close win of the season, in a 33-29 victory over Kansas State at home. The Cowboys are 14th in the nation in both points scored and points allowed, having scored 52 or more on 4 occasions this season, while allowing 13 or less 5 times. Some may question their strength of schedule, as they’ve beaten just 2 teams who were ranked when they played, and both teams (Texas Tech, Texas) have since dropped from the rankings. However, their 2 toughest games of the year will be their final 2 regular season contests. This week, the Cowboys will host Baylor, in a matchup of top-1o teams. The winner of this game will control their own destiny in the Big 12 race. On December 7, the Cowboys will play the “Bedlam” rivalry game against Oklahoma, at home.
10. Stanford (8-2). Stanford was upset Saturday night by USC, losing 20-17 at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, and now they fall from 5th to 10th in these rankings. This was the second time this year the Cardinal have been upset, as they also lost at Utah on October 12. Stanford is a puzzling team, because while they’ve lost to two unranked opponents (although USC has since become ranked), they’ve also beaten 5 ranked opponents, including 2 top-10 teams, and another top-15 team (based on rankings at the time of the games). Both top-10 wins were convincing, beating UCLA 24-10, and Oregon 26-20 after leading 26-0. It is this strength of schedule that keeps them here in the top-10 with 2 losses, ahead of other 2-loss teams (particularly those in the SEC). In addition, their defense has not allowed more than 28 points in a game, despite playing in a Pac-12 conference that features a lot of offensive firepower.
Also considered: South Carolina (8-2), Texas A&M (8-2), Michigan State (9-1), Northern Illinois (10-0), Fresno State (9-0), UCLA (8-2), UCF (8-1), Louisville (9-1), Oklahoma (8-2), Wisconsin (8-2), Minnesota (8-2), Duke (8-2).
Fell from rankings: South Carolina (8-2, defeated Florida 19-14, but passed by Oklahoma State).
(Note: I never thought Duke would be included in a football power rankings list, even as an “also considered”. Regardless if they win the ACC Coastal division or not, congratulations to coach David Cutcliffe and his team on what has already been an outstanding season.)