The Sunday National, 10/28/12: Who's Number Two?

Joe Robbins

Florida excused themselves from the discussion yesterday, while Alabama's remaining challengers continued their respective arguments. Jon breaks it down, and examines this morning's poll data to see where we really stand.

Saturday saw a changing of the guard in the race to catch Alabama, and if all goes as expected Kansas State will be in possession if its highest BCS ranking in the history of the thing (the Cats never actually surpassed #3 in the standings in 1998). Of course, there was a lot of stuff on Saturday, and some of it was very relevant to everyone outside of Tuscaloosa. Let's take a look, shall we?

#1 Alabama Crimson Tide: Finally, Alabama got a legitimate test, and passed it with flying colors. Mississippi State was woefully overmatched by the Tide last night, and Alabama showed that they're operating on Full Team Effort as nobody really put up shiny statistics. A.J. McCarron was efficient, but not spectacular, going 16-23 for 208 and two scores. It's Nick Saban football; just win the game. Unbeaten count: down one, as expected

Alabama 38, Mississippi State 7

#2 Florida Gators: Florida's biggest problem yesterday was that Georgia showed up for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and weren't in the mood to socialize. Instead, they walked onto the field and repeatedly smashed the Gators right in the piehole, forcing a mind-blowing six turnovers against an unspectacular but heretofore methodical offense. The most startling thing about this game isn't the upset, but that even after turning the ball over five times Florida had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter... before fumbling at Georgia's five yard line with two minutes to go. Unbeaten count: down two.

Georgia 17, Florida 9

#3 Kansas St. Wildcats: I'd like to remind everyone that we were worried. We were even worried at the end of the first quarter. And then the Wildcats did what they do best: took a few punches and then said, "Okay, now here's what WE'VE got." A thoroughly dominating win against a pretty good team, and miracle of miracles, the voters seem to have given K-State full credit. More on this in a bit.

Kansas State 55, Texas Tech 24

#4 Oregon Ducks: Look, Oregon's a fantastic team. They can score a reasonable number of points on anyone; heck, I'd count on them to find the end zone a couple of times against a bad NFL team. But. They still have not played a defense, and while I am impressed with the Ducks' own defense, they haven't been tested by anything resembling a true offensive juggernaut either. Oregon will point at the Arizona schools, to which I can only say Arizona shot themselves in both feet repeatedly and Arizona State's gaudy offensive numbers have been posted against no defense at all.

Still: this is a legitimate national championship contender, and can play with anyone. Let's not lose sight of that in the requisite bickering over strength of schedule. (Which I'll add to by noting that Fresno State beat Colorado 69-14, so Oregon proved precisely nothing to anyone yesterday).

Oregon 70, Colorado 14

#5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish: There is no doubt about Notre Dame's defense, although Oklahoma certainly didn't seem inclined to do anything to try and make the Irish look worse. The score is very, very deceptive here. I don't mean to take away from the Irish too much in saying this, but those 30 points were largely the result of Oklahoma's complete offensive meltdown in the fourth quarter, because Landry Jones is Landry Jones. Still: even before the Sooners fell apart, Notre Dame had done to Oklahoma, in Norman, pretty much what K-State did, so there's no suggestion that the Irish aren't on K-State's level here. The Cats and Irish have two common opponents at essentially equal sites -- K-State played Miami in Manhattan, while Notre Dame played them in Chicago which isn't a home game but, you know, really sort of is -- and both teams basically did the same thing to both opponents. The difference between the teams isn't in the common games, but in the rest of them; Notre Dame's been scraping by against okay competition, while K-State has been annihilating a slightly lesser slate thus far. That said, what the Cats did to West Virginia and Texas Tech has to be given credit over anything Notre Dame has done to anyone (or, frankly, will do to anyone, since they've really only got USC left).

Notre Dame 30, Oklahoma 13

#6 LSU Tigers: The Bayou Bengals got the chance of a lifetime this week: they got to spend several extra days preparing to take on the number one team in the country. Next week, we'll see if it did any good at all, but you have to be dubious of the LSU offense facing Alabama's defense.

#7 Oregon St. Beavers: The little team that could, which has survived all season by stopping people when they needed to, finally couldn't. Washington took a 14-0 lead in the first half, and while the Beavers fought back to tie the game twice, they just couldn't stop Washington from answering each time. Unbeaten count: down three.

Washington 20, Oregon State 17

#8 Oklahoma Sooners: Hey, thanks for nothing, Land Thieves. Once again, we got to see what Landry Jones is really made of under duress, and I think we can close the file on that one for good. Forced into a comeback attempt, his throws were sloppy and lacked touch; just as an example, the infamous interception by Manti Te'o may have looked entirely like it was the fault of the receiver, but Jones put too much on that ball and it wasn't entirely on target.

#9 USC Trojans: Everything was going so well. With nineteen minutes remaining, the Trojans had a 15-point lead. And then Arizona scored 26 points, and Oregon's strength of schedule took a nosedive (though the net effect may be that they don't have to play USC twice now; a Pac-12 championship game against UCLA would be of more benefit at this point). The killer for USC: Marqise Lee had 345 receiving yards, and the Trojans still lost.

Arizona 39, Southern California 36

#10 Georgia Bulldogs: Was the drubbing by South Carolina an anomaly? Probably not, as there are still those dubious wins over Tennessee and Kentucky which make it clear that Georgia's capable of playing with anyone, but also perfectly able to let bad teams hang around. Luckily for the Dawgs, though, the rest of the regular season is clear sailing; you can argue whether next week's game against Ole Miss or the season finale against Georgia Tech is the sternest test remaining before a potential date with Alabama (or LSU).

#11 Mississippi St. Bulldogs: Well, it was fun while it lasted, CLANGA. There's probably at least one more loss ahead, too, as LSU and A&M await.

#12 Florida St. Seminoles: This game was a microcosm of the ACC as a whole. Florida State's not "back" yet, really, but they're still pretty good. Duke, meanwhile, is still tied for the Coastal Division lead even after this loss, which tells you all you need to know about how bad the ACC really truly is.

Florida State 48, Duke 7

#13 South Carolina Gamecocks: Ignore the score of this game, because it's just not important. The Gamecocks held on to win after a crushing blow when Marcus Lattimore went down with what very well may be a career-ending knee injury, and when I say that I don't just mean his college career. Lattimore really is a wonderful kid and one of the greatest people in college football, as poignantly evidenced by the classy reaction of the Tennessee players to the injury (for which the Vols deserve proper credit), and this was just a devastating blow to the entire college game. South Carolina scored just after the incident to go up 14, and then basically just held on for the win; I refuse to criticize them for letting Tennessee back into the game because I'm not a jackass.

South Carolina 38, Tennessee 35

#14 Texas Tech Red Raiders: My only comments here, aside from a hat tip to a quality opponent, are these: Mr. Tubberville, complaining about a couple of bad calls when you lost by 31 points is bad form, especially when there were a "couple of bad calls" that went your way, too. The officials had no impact whatsoever on your loss; you got beaten, badly, by a better team. No shame in that. As for the small minority of Tech fans who decided to whine about K-State "running up the score" on the final TD -- a shovel pass with 7:10 to go with K-State leading 48-17 which broke for a touchdown, for crying out loud -- may I remind you that your team threw an actual pass for a touchdown when leading West Virginia 42-7 with 8:10 to go? Hypocrisy is never attractive.

#15 Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Seven turnovers. That will put a damper on your efforts, I think. What's interesting to me, though, is to look at this game through the lens of the last two seasons. Last year, Kansas State manhandled the Golden Flashes -- indeed, beat them as badly as Alabama did. In retrospect, that almost looks like a quality win now, as the pieces were in place for this year's Kent State squad already. That would be a Kent State squad who is now 7-1 and in complete control of the MAC East race. Unbeaten count: down four.

Kent State 35, Rutgers 23

#16 Louisville Cardinals: Despite Cincinnati's loss last week, they're still a pretty good team if not a great one. So it's no real surprise that the bitter rivals had to go to overtime on Friday. Louisville showed a lot of heart, coming back from ten-point deficits twice to force the issue. It could easily have gone the other way, though; trying to ice John Wallace on the Cardinals' game-winning field goal, Butch Jones called timeout. Had he kept his mouth shut, Cincinnati would have benefitted from a bad snap which sailed through the holder's hands...

Louisville 34, Cincinnati 31 (OT)

#17 Stanford Cardinal: If anyone's going to knock off Oregon, it may well be the Cardinal, who didn't do a lot offensively yesterday but recorded ten sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown to escape the clutches of the Cougars. That's the sort of thing you're going to have to do to beat Oregon.

Stanford 24, Washington State 17

#18 Clemson Tigers: The Tigers went hunting Thursday night. Wake Forest is so bad that Tajh Boyd set Clemson's all-time single-game passing record and Sammy Watkins did the same with the receiving yardage record. This game was over with several minutes remaining in the first half.

Clemson 42, Wake Forest 13

#19 West Virginia Mountaineers: Spent this week scouring the student body for people who can do things like tackle and cover receivers. Or maybe just trying to teach the guys they already have how to do these things. We'll see if they had any success next week.

#20 Texas A&M Aggies: There's really nothing much to say about this game. Even A&M's second team rolled all over the TigerWarEaglePlainsmen, who are bad. Really, really bad. If they lose to New Mexico State, Gene Chizik may have to go into witness protection, and you think I'm exaggerating but I might not be.

Texas A&M 63, Auburn 21

#21 Boise St. Broncos: Wyoming is also really, really bad. I mean, worse than Auburn bad. I think. And yet Wyoming did something nobody's done since the first half of September: scored on Boise in the first half.

Boise State 45, Wyoming 14

#22 Michigan Wolverines: Denard Robinson spent the second half on the sideline with an injury and watched helplessly as Nebraska kicked their way into a ten-point lead. It's not that Nebraska really did anything in this game offensively; Michigan just couldn't respond to anything with Russell Bellomy bound and determined to give the ball back to the Huskers; the freshman backup tossed three second-half interceptions. The Bugeaters now replace Michigan and Wisconsin as the intended recipient of Jim Delany's plaintive cry, "Help us, O-B1G-wan, you're our only hope."

Nebraska 23, Michigan 9

#23 Texas Longhorns: We sure got a lot of comedy mileage out of this one, didn't we? It was a win-win-win for Kansas State. Kansas lost; that's good. Texas won; that's good, because we really need a 9-2 (or 8-3 with a loss to Tech) Texas prancing into Manhattan on December 1. Texas looked horrible and almost lost to Kansas? Well, that's just the schadenfreude icing on the chaos cake.

Texas 21, Kansas 17

#24 Ohio Bobcats
: Unbeaten count: down five. Ohio, which has been walking a tightrope all season long, finally slipped off the wire against their mortal enemies. The Bobcats almost pulled it off, but Frank Solich opted to try to get into the end zone with 9 seconds left instead of kicking a game-tying field goal, and Tyler Tettleton was sacked after forgetting to throw the ball away if he had no open targets, and thus ended the threat. Interesting factoid: the last time a MAC team appeared in the BCS standings during the regular season, it was Northern Illinois, who fell out after losing... to Miami.

Miami (OH) 23, Ohio 20

#25 Wisconsin Badgers: Yet another down-to-the wire game between the Badgers and Sparty, this one ending in overtime after Wisconsin had to settle for three and Michigan State found the end zone. That said, overtime doesn't necessarily equate to excitement; this game was a snoozefest. The teams combined for 467 yards. I love defense as much as anyone, but this was less "defense" and more "ineptitude", which was only to be expected from two teams which have excelled in offensive ineptitude all season.

Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13

TRACKING THE POLLS
Obviously, Florida's loss was going to result in a shakeup, with their top-five votes shuffling around to other teams. This mostly worked out in Kansas State's favor, although Notre Dame did get a big leg up in the process.

Oregon remained second in the coaches' poll, but lost 12 actual votes which shifted to Kansas State and Notre Dame. Oregon's lead over Kansas State is 25 points, compared to their 74-point lead last week over Florida; that indicates major division on who number two actually is. The reason for the large gap last week was largely divisiveness over whether Florida or Kansas State deserved to be ranked higher; that divisiveness is gone now, and K-State obviously picked up almost all of Florida's second-place votes. Kansas State holds a 59-point margin over fourth-ranked Notre Dame; that is precisely one point per voter, so the Cats are ranked third by a clear consensus over the Irish. Still, Notre Dame made inroads in the poll despite a clear preference for K-State; the Cats were 105 points ahead of Notre Dame last week, so the Irish essentially gained an entire poll position on K-State overnight. How'd that happen? Well, K-State only gained 40 raw votes compared to 86 for the Irish.

Newcomers to the coaches' poll: Nebraska, Louisiana Tech, and Oklahoma State, replacing Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. USC took the biggest hit, dropping from eighth to 17th.

Unfortunately, we don't have the Harris Poll yet, so we can't judge the overall impact in the BCS standings with full accuracy. However, I can extrapolate that K-State will not only be number two in the BCS standings this evening, but will extend their margin over Oregon as a result of vote gains and help in the computers. Part of this is that K-State won impressively against a quality opponent; part of it is that Oregon played Colorado; part of it is that Florida actually still maintains a strong computer ranking profile, and therefore Oregon probably isn't going to jump them in that component.

The real question is going to be whether Oregon gets leapfrogged again, this time by the Irish.

As for the AP poll, the story's much the same only not quite as rosy for the Cats. Oregon leads K-State by 30 points; they lost 12 points from last week, and the margin over Florida last week was 64 points, so the Cats are half a position closer to the Ducks than the Gators were a week ago. However, K-State's lead over Notre Dame in the writers' poll is only 38 points, compared to a 98-point lead last week... indicating the AP voters were clearly more impressed by the Irish this week than with the Wildcats. KSU is still closer to the Ducks than the Irish are to them, though, so that's something. Notre Dame's lead over LSU is a ridiculous 128 points, which is worth two positions in the poll; since LSU's lead over Ohio State is a full 58 points, that's just an indication of voter chaos among Oregon, K-State, and Notre Dame. In effect, the three teams are much more closely bunched around the "three" line than they would be if there was consensus, and that pulls the tail end of the group further ahead of number five.

Tragically, the writers couldn't move Louisiana Tech into the poll like the coaches did, because the Bulldogs were already there. They did put Nebraska in, and Arizona and UCLA joined the party as well. Rutgers, Michigan, and Ohio say goodbye.

Of course, as every pundit has already noted, it's a shame we don't have the four-team playoff already. We've never been more perfectly set up for it. All four unbeaten teams are going to be heavily favored in almost every remaining game. Alabama has to deal with LSU and A&M, Oregon's got three potential but unlikely upsets looming, and Notre Dame's got a cakewalk until they face USC to end the season. K-State's got a strange situation. There is no team remaining on the Wildcats' schedule which looms as a major threat in the way that LSU does for Alabama or USC does for the other two... but at the same time there's only one game left for the Cats which looks like a potential punching bag game. There is no Wake Forest or Boston College or California or Western Carolina or Auburn... just Baylor, and then three teams that are flawed yet still dangerous. (To be fair, Oregon's in much the same situation from here out, but California's really, really bad.)

What's going to happen if everyone wins out? It's an interesting question, after examining all the data. Notre Dame is not going to catch K-State, I don't think; their horrific schedule over the next three weeks will ensure that, as the deadlock between the two in the computers will break and K-State will emerge as the top team in every computer ranking... except the ones which pick Alabama instead, which will be reasonable once the Tide get through LSU and A&M. Further, the next three weeks -- plus further stupidity among the Big Ten teams on Notre Dame's schedule -- will potentially drive the Irish down even further.

The real question, as it was last week, is between Kansas State and Oregon, and ultimately it's going to depend not on what the voters think, but (a) what the computers think of the teams' respective opponents and (b) whether Notre Dame's shenanigans through November actually drop them below Oregon. That's going to be a major key, as ideally K-State wants Notre Dame between themselves and Oregon in the computers to help cushion the voter preference for the Ducks. I think, sitting here now, that it's going to end up favoring K-State, especially if Oklahoma and Texas Tech (or Texas, through November) can win out. Tech would be better for the computers, but a Texas win over Tech would help with the voters come December 2 when we're looking for a late push.

Another key is going to be what happens on November 24, when Kansas State is idle. Notre Dame plays USC, and the Civil War takes place the same day. Notre Dame and Oregon winning that day will hurt, but K-State will have an opportunity to get it back -- especially in regard to Notre Dame, who also does not get the benefit of a thirteenth game. As far as the computers are concerned, once Kansas State has not played a game, the computers won't care after that; the lack of the title game will have already factored itself in at that point. Further, weak wins by either school in those games will serve to assist K-State with the voters while they're idle that Saturday. If K-State is still in second place in the BCS standings come November 25, all they will have to do is beat Texas the following week.

Mind you, this all meaningless unless everyone wins out, and as we saw this week anyone's vulnerable.

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