1. Alabama (11-0). The Crimson Tide defeated FCS opponent Chattanooga 49-0 on Saturday, setting up an Iron Bowl for the ages against Auburn. After allowing just 7 last week to Mississippi State, the shutout of Chattanooga means the Tide now have the nation’s best scoring defense, allowing just 9.3 points per game. That number would be even better without a 49-42 win against Texas A&M in September. This week, as mentioned, the Tide will travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium for a huge game with Auburn, not only for in-state bragging rights, but also for the SEC West division title. If Alabama wins, they will still have to win the SEC title game against either Missouri or South Carolina. The Tide still have some work to do just to play in the national title game, much less to win it.
2. Florida State (11-0). The Seminoles demolished the Idaho Vandals on Saturday, by a 80-14 score, as they continue to steamroll their competition. This week, they will travel to Gainesville, usually a tough place for any opponent to play. This year is the exception, however, as Florida has struggled to a 4-7 record, including a loss on Saturday to Georgia Southern of the FCS. While the Seminoles’ undefeated record is at stake against Florida, as it is in any game they play, they will play in the ACC Championship Game on December 7, regardless, against likely Duke or Virginia Tech (although 4 teams still have a chance in the ACC Coastal). I would be shocked if they lost either of these 2 games to fall out of national title contention.
3. Ohio State (11-0). The Buckeyes defeated the Indiana Hoosiers by a 42-14 score on Saturday to remain unbeaten. Looking back on their schedule thus far, there is a touch of irony in the fact that their closest game was against Northwestern, who led much of the October 5 contest but hasn’t won since, now falling to 0-7 in Big Ten play. Ohio State will play their big rivalry game with Michigan this week, and although they are favored by 15, many see the Wolverines as a potential threat to the Buckeyes’ perfect season. Regardless of their outcome against Michigan, they will then have to play a tough Michigan State team in the Big Ten Championship Game. While the Buckeyes will be fans of the opponents of Alabama and Florida State, they will have to play well the next 2 weeks for the national title game to even be an option.
4. Auburn (10-1). Auburn comes off of a bye, still basking in the glory of their miraculous victory against Georgia. Now they will host top-ranked Alabama. This game will be the first time since 1994 that the two have played with the winner earning the trip to Atlanta. Auburn has had a fantastic turnaround after a 3-9 season last year in which they failed to win an SEC game, with their only loss coming early in the year at LSU. Honestly, I think if Auburn played LSU again today, Auburn would probably win, as they have improved throughout the season. That being said, they will obviously face their toughest test this week against Alabama.
5. Clemson (10-1). The Tigers defeated The Citadel, 52-6, in their final tune-up for their big rivalry game against South Carolina this Saturday. The outcome of that game may be determined by which Clemson team shows up. Will it be the team that beat Georgia, and that won ACC conference games by scores of 56-7, 49-14, 59-10, and 55-31? Or will it be the one squeaked over mediocre opponents by scores of 26-14, 24-14, and 40-27, and lost by 37 to Florida State? The fact that Clemson’s only loss is to Florida State helps their ranking out, although their toughest road games thus far have been Syracuse and Maryland, and this week they’ll play a top 10 opponent on the road.
6. Missouri (10-1). The Tigers survived a road test on Saturday, spoiling one of my upset picks with a 24-10 win at Ole Miss. Now Missouri stands a win away from their first SEC East division title, in just their second season in the league. If they want that title, however, they’ll have to earn it, as their final regular season contest is against Texas A&M. This will be the 5th ranked team Missouri has played, although 3 of the first 4 have fallen from the rankings after losses to the Tigers (Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss). The remaining ranked team they have played is South Carolina, who beat the Tigers in double overtime, 27-24.
7. Oklahoma State (10-1). The Cowboys made a statement on Saturday night, beating previously undefeated Baylor, 49-17, to move into first place in the Big 12. They have now beaten ranked opponents in 3 of their last 4 games, all in blowout fashion. Earlier in the season, the Cowboys lost to West Virginia, and had a close call at home against Kansas State. Since, they’ve won convincingly against each of their opponents, showing that right now they are playing as well as just about anybody. This week they have a bye, and can rest over the holiday weekend, before hosting Oklahoma next week in the “Bedlam” rivalry game. If the Cowboys win that game, they will clinch a BCS bowl berth. While most focus their attention on the Cowboys’ offense, which ranks 13th in points scored, their defense is even better, ranking 11th in points allowed per game.
8. Stanford (9-2). The Cardinal won “The Big Game” Saturday against Cal, 63-13, and clinched the Pac-12 North when Oregon was shocked by Arizona. This week, the Cardinal will play their 6th ranked opponent of the season, having beaten the previous 5. While that gives them quite an impressive résumé, they also have 2 losses to unranked opponents, Utah and USC (although USC has since become ranked). While their big game as far as bowl placement will be played in the Pac-12 Championship next week (against Arizona State, in Tempe if ASU beats Arizona, and in Palo Alto if ASU loses to Arizona), they do have a big non-conference contest this week against 25th-ranked Notre Dame. While the game won’t affect their Rose Bowl chances, it will affect their top 10 ranking.
9. Baylor (9-1). Baylor’s national title chances ended on Saturday night with a bad loss at Oklahoma State. In that game, the Bears scored just 17, a season low, and allowed 49, a season high. While the Bears goal for much of the season had been to compete for and even to win a national title, they still have a lot to play for. In the event that Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, Baylor can win out in their games against TCU and Texas to win the Big 12 title. Even if Oklahoma State does win the Big 12, there is still a possibility, if Baylor wins out, of the Bears being invited to a BCS bowl game, or at least the Cotton Bowl. First at hand is the game with TCU, which is on the road for the Bears this Saturday.
10. South Carolina (9-2). South Carolina badly beat a good FCS school in Coastal Carolina, 70-10, in their final game before their big rivalry game with Clemson this week. The Gamecocks season goals most years are to win the SEC East, beat Clemson, and possibly contend for a national title. While losses to Georgia and Tennessee ruined their national title chances, the other two options come down to the final day of the regular season. Naturally, the big goal this week in Columbia is to beat Clemson, as the Gamecocks directly control that based on how they play against the Tigers on Saturday night. But in addition, there will be a little bit of scoreboard watching, because if Missouri loses to Texas A&M, that goal of winning the SEC East will become reality.
Also Considered: Michigan State (10-1), Oregon (9-2), Northern Illinois (11-0), Fresno State (10-0), Arizona State (9-2), Wisconsin (9-2), UCF (9-1), Louisville (10-1), LSU (8-3), Oklahoma (9-2), Duke (9-2).
Fell from Rankings: Oregon (9-2, lost to Arizona 42-16)