SEC gives up control of national title race
Breaking down the AP college football poll after Week 11 of the regular season.
MAKING A STATEMENT
That Alabama lost really wasn't shocking. Surprising, sure, but not shocking. The Crimson Tide is tremendously talented, exceedingly well coached, but as LSU showed last week, vulnerable.
The Tide's run of 10 weeks at No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll ended Sunday with Oregon moving into the top spot and Alabama falling to fourth.
No, what was shocking about Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M beating Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa on Saturday was that for the first time in years the Southeastern Conference was no longer in control of college football.
It's been a while since that was the case. The SEC's streak of BCS titles started in 2006, when Florida made a late and controversial run to get into the championship game against Ohio State. The Gators validated that choice by pounding the Buckeyes 41-14.
The next season, a wild race full of upsets along the way ultimately put LSU in the title game, and the Tigers took their turn beating the Buckeyes.
Since then, though, the SEC has never had to worry about what was going on in other conferences. The SEC championship game in some years was a de facto national semifinal. In others, it was the last hurdle to clear before the BCS title game.
Now the SEC has been relegated to watching and hoping.
To many fans of other conferences, this development has been greeted with great joy. SEC fatigue hit a high-water mark last year when LSU and Alabama played for the BCS national title after playing in the regular season. It was as if college football didn't even exist outside the Deep South - which is what many SEC fans already suspected.
Of course, those basking in the glory of the SEC being at the mercy of teams from the Pac-12 (Oregon) and Big 12 (No. 2 Kansas State) and - gasp! - No. 3 Notre Dame might want to be careful to not spike the ball before the goal line.
"Two of the three national championship teams that I coached lost a game,'' Tide coach Nick Saban said, counting one at LSU. "This team still has an opportunity to win the West and go to the SEC championship game and win a championship. There's still a lot for this team to play for.''
The unbeaten Wildcats (first in the BCS standings), Ducks (second in the BCS) and Fighting Irish (third in the BCS) have potentially tough games on their schedules. There's still a good chance Alabama (9-1) and No. 5 Georgia (9-1) will meet in the SEC championship with only one loss apiece.
If two of those top three drop a game, the SEC is on deck, and there's no reason to think the Tide or the Bulldogs can't win the BCS title game if they get there.
While the 10-team Big 12 seems to be more balanced, no conference has more heavyweights than the SEC.
Florida (9-1) is No. 7 in the AP poll. LSU (8-2) is No. 8 and Texas A&M (8-2) is ninth. South Carolina (8-2) is 12th.
The irony of the SEC's weekend is that while it was pushed to the periphery of the championship chase, it also became the first conference in the history of the AP poll to make up half of the top 12 teams.
What happened this weekend is why SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has been at the forefront of the playoff push in college football. The SEC has six teams that can compete with any in the country, and there's a chance none will get to play for the national title.
Slive finally got his way. The playoff is coming in 2014.
For now, though, the SEC's championship streak depends on Oregon State, Southern California, Texas and the rest of the teams in position to pull an A&M-like upset.
Yes, that's right SEC fans. Lane Kiffin could hold the key to the conference's national championship hopes.
Texas A&M jumped six spots to No. 9 in the rankings with its huge victory, and proved in its first season in the SEC it has no plans of conceding first place in the West to the league's recent superpowers, Alabama and LSU.
First-year coach Kevin Sumlin and Manziel have helped transform an underachieving team that went 7-6 under Mike Sherman in its last year in the Big 12.
The conventional wisdom was the Aggies might need a year or two to get settled into their new home, with a new leader. A&M was picked toward the bottom of the West.
Sumlin has the Aggies ahead of schedule and might just be national coach of the year.
Oregon State lost for the second time this season, this time at Stanford, and dropped two spots to No. 15 in the poll.
The loss could be a devastating one for the Beavers, who have been one of the most surprising teams in the country.
The Beavers (7-2) have not played in the Rose Bowl since 1965 and were in position to get there without even beating Oregon or winning the Pac-12. Just finish 10-2 and have Oregon reach the national championship game. The Rose Bowl is still very much a possibility, but now they'll probably have to do it the hard way and not lose another game.
Louisville was the other undefeated team to lose on Saturday, falling at Syracuse. The Cardinals dropped nine spots in the poll to No. 20.
IN AND OUT
Kent State is the latest Mid-American Conference team to crack the AP Top 25. The Golden Flashes (9-1) are No. 25 and in the rankings for the first time since Nov. 5, 1973, when they were No. 19 and the poll only went to 20.
Now let's see if Kent State can stay in longer than its MAC-mates.
Ohio was the first MAC team to get into the rankings this season, and the Bobcats then lost their next game to Miami, Ohio.
Toledo got into the rankings last week and promptly lost to Ball State.
The Golden Flashes are at Bowling Green on Saturday.
Michigan is back in for the third time at No. 23. Also, falling out was Mississippi State.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Oregon is No. 1 for the first time since 2010, when the Ducks had a seven-week stint atop the AP poll on their way to losing the national championship game to Auburn.
That was the first time Oregon had ever reached No. 1.
Kansas State's No. 2 ranking matches the best in program history, accomplished five times previously. The Wildcats were second four times in 1998 and once in 2000.
ODDS AND ENDS
Oregon received 45 of 60 first-place votes this week. Kansas State got 14 and Notre Dame received one. ... Only two games matching ranked teams this week, both in the Pac-12. Oregon, dealing with a string of injuries to its defense, hosts No. 14 Stanford. The Ducks would clinch the North Division with a victory. No. 21 Southern California is at No. 17 UCLA. The winner wins the South Division. ... Texas Tech tied Michigan for No. 23 in the rankings.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap
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