1. Florida State (12-0). Florida State defeated Florida, 37-7, winning back-to-back games in Gainesville for the first time since 1987 and 1989, and just the third time in series history. Florida State was helped in the rankings by Alabama’s loss, vaulting to #1 in the AP Poll for the first time since 2000, and #1 in the BCS rankings for the first time since 1999. This week the Seminoles will head to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game, where they will play Duke, who has never beaten the Seminoles in 18 previous tries. Florida State beat Duke the last two seasons by a combined score of 89-23. However, this Duke program has changed from a punchline to a formidable opponent who has found ways to win close games through the second half of the season. Teams ranked 1st or 2nd in the BCS Standings are 6-5 in games played in the regular season’s final week since 2006, including some big upsets in the past. Florida State may be #1, but they still have to play the game on Saturday to head to Pasadena.
2. Auburn (11-1). Auburn won a game Saturday that wasn’t just the greatest Iron Bowl ever, but one of the best regular season college football games ever. What are the odds of a missed field goal being returned for a touchdown after a second was put back on the clock after being lobbied for by Nick Saban? Furthermore, what are the odds of this entire season for Auburn? It almost unraveled from the start, as it took a very late touchdown to come from behind to beat Mississippi State on September 14. After the loss to LSU, a team that was 3-9 a year ago, and winless in the SEC, has won 8 straight games, including the tipped-pass miracle against Georgia and the crazy Iron Bowl, to win the SEC West and play for an SEC title against Missouri this week. I sure wouldn’t want to be Auburn’s opponent anytime soon, as the Tigers have seemed to always find an unusual, unbelievable way to win and break the hearts of the opposition. I understand why Ohio State is 2nd and Auburn is 3rd in the BCS standings, but I believe Auburn is more deserving to play for a national championship (and secondly, I can’t wait for the playoff next year, when both would be able to play for it on the field).
3. Ohio State (12-0). Ohio State survived their game with archrival Michigan on Saturday, when the Wolverines failed to convert a 2-point conversion after scoring to get within a point with 32 seconds left. This was the biggest scare for the Buckeyes in a season that featured a few games that were closer than the Buckeyes would have wanted. In addition to the occasional game that was too close for comfort, Ohio State’s schedule may be a liability, as they’ve only played 2 ranked opponents, and one of those was ranked at the time in early October before they went 1-7 in conference play. However, the Buckeyes will play Michigan State this week in the Big Ten Championship Game, and the Spartans are clearly the best team that has faced Ohio State. While I have the Buckeyes 3rd, their 2nd in the BCS standings, where it counts, and may control their own destiny to play for a national title (although Auburn may jump them if they beat Missouri, but that’s another conversation).
4. Alabama (11-1). As I begin this post each week, I first type out the teams, 1-10, all the way down, before I fill in information. Today, as I began the list of 10 teams, I found myself typing “1. Alabama” out of habit, before I caught myself. Apparently, the gray area between the shock of Alabama’s stunning defeat and the reality of the probable end of Alabama’s dynastic reign still exists. I put the word probable in that last sentence because there is still a scenario for them to play for the national title. It would take Florida State and Ohio State both losing this week, and is unlikely, but still possible. I didn’t say 2 of the top 3 in that scenario because the SEC champion, whether it is Auburn or Missouri, should be ahead of Alabama in next week’s BCS. This is the first time all year anyone other than the Crimson Tide has been ranked first, and it was honestly hard to put them this low, although each team ahead of them is wholly deserving of their ranking.
5. Missouri (11-1). The Missouri Tigers defeated Texas A&M, 28-21, to clinch their first SEC East division title in just their second year in the conference. While we are all amazed with Auburn’s turnaround from a year ago, Missouri’s turnaround is almost as remarkable. Last year the Tigers were 5-7, and 2-6 in SEC play, and those 2 wins were over Kentucky and Tennessee, who combined for 1 SEC win. This year, the Tigers have only 1 loss, and it was in double overtime to a top 10 South Carolina team. They have beaten 4 ranked opponents, with the game against Texas A&M being the only one that was close. Missouri still has a legitimate, though improbable, national championship scenario. First they will have to beat Auburn in Saturday’s SEC Championship, which would jump them over Auburn, and probably Alabama, leaving them 3rd, and they would need 1 of the top 2 to lose their conference championship game this week. Regardless if that scenario works out or not, it has been a great season for Missouri, and Gary Pinkel has completely earned his spot as a finalist for national coach of the year.
6. Oklahoma State (10-1). Oklahoma State enjoyed their turkey on Thursday and a great weekend of college and pro football while they rested during a bye week, although considering they play a top 20 opponent and rival in Oklahoma when they play the “Bedlam” game this week, I’m sure Mike Gundy had his team preparing as well. This is a big game for the Cowboys program, as they can win a share of the Big 12 title, and clinch its BCS bowl berth, if they can beat the Sooners. History says that may be a tall task, since the last time the Cowboys won back-to-back home games in the series was 1930 and 1932. Oklahoma State’s game with West Virginia surely haunts them, as they lost to a 4-8 Mountaineers team that was 2-7 in conference play, and it is their only loss of the season, keeping them out of national championship contention.
7. Stanford (10-2). Stanford has been a team of big wins all year long, and that continued Saturday night with a 27-20 defeat of Notre Dame. The win makes Stanford 6-0 against ranked opponents, although they are 4-2 against unranked opponents with losses to Utah and USC. Stanford will play Arizona State on the road this week in the Pac-12 Championship game (Arizona State was 8-1 in conference play, and Stanford was 7-2, and in the Pac-12 the team with the better record hosts the championship) as the Cardinal attempt to reach a BCS bowl game for the 4th straight year, and the Rose Bowl for the 2nd straight year. This is pretty remarkable for a program that didn’t go to a bowl game between 2001 and 2009.
8. Baylor (10-1). Baylor struggled over TCU last week, winning 41-38 on the road in Fort Worth. The game was much closer than a lot of people expected, including me, with Baylor coming off a tough loss the week before and playing a TCU team that is now 4-8. This week the Bears will host Texas, as the two play for at least a share of the Big 12 title. The winner in Waco on Saturday will win the Big 12 in the event of an Oklahoma State loss, and the Cowboys play Oklahoma before the Baylor-Texas game, so these teams will know what’s on the line. A few weeks ago I talked about Baylor’s defense being just as good as their celebrated offense. However, after allowing 34, 49, and 38 over their last 3 games, the defense has dropped to 27th in points allowed, now at 22.2 per game, although the offense continues to lead the nation in points scored, at 55.4 points per game.
9. South Carolina (10-2). The Gamecocks beat their in-state rivals, the Clemson Tigers, by a 31-17 score on Saturday, winning their 5th straight in the series for the first time in history. In a game that was tied at 17 going to the 4th quarter, Clemson’s game full of turnovers caught up with them late, ending any shot they had at coming from behind once the Gamecocks took the lead. I thought about ranking the Gamecocks over Baylor after their win over a top 10 opponent, but left them behind Baylor since, in many ways, Clemson gave them the game Saturday night. The Gamecocks had hoped to be playing in Atlanta against Auburn this week, but instead will have the week off and begin preparing for their bowl game (likely the Cotton or Capital One Bowl).
10. Michigan State (11-1). Michigan State defeated Minnesota, 14-3, to finish their first undefeated, untied Big Ten schedule since 1966. Remarkably, all of the Spartans wins in conference play were by double digits for the first time in school history. The Spartans have one of the best defenses in the nation, allowing just 237.7 yards per game, which leads the nation, and 11.8 points per game, which is 4th. This week, headed into their biggest game of the year in the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State, they enter my rankings for the first time. Their only defeat was a 17-13 loss at Notre Dame early in the season.
Also Considered: Clemson (10-2), Oregon (10-2), Northern Illinois (12-0), Arizona State (10-2), UCF (10-1), Louisville (10-1), LSU(9-3), Oklahoma (10-2), Duke (10-2), UCLA (9-3)
Dropped from Rankings: Clemson (10-2, lost to South Carolina 31-17)