BALLOT BREAKDOWN: Iron Bowl frenzy; Baylor or OSU?
Breaking down The Associated Press college football poll after Week 12 of the regular season.
LONG STAY. LONG WAIT
Alabama's stay at No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll has reached rare territory as the Crimson Tide head toward an Iron Bowl against No. 6 Auburn that is big enough to fill two weeks of hype - at least in the Deep South.
Alabama remained top-ranked in the Top 25 released Sunday, with 55 first-place votes from the media panel. No. 2 Florida State has five first-place votes.
Oregon was fifth and Auburn was sixth, the Tigers moving up one spot after a miraculous victory kept them in the championship hunt - both Southeastern Conference and national.
Alabama slogged through a 20-7 victory at Mississippi State but paid virtually no price at the polls, the benefits of being two-time defending BCS champs. The Tide is Teflon when it comes to the type of picky criticism that teams such as Ohio State and Baylor get.
Alabama has been No. 1 since the preseason, a total of 13 polls. Only six preseason No. 1 teams have had longer uninterrupted stays in a single season than the Tide, including Southern California (16 polls) in 2004 and Florida State (17 polls) in 1999, the only wire-to-wire champions.
The other four preseason No. 1 teams that have spent longer at No. 1 than Alabama all either lost in a bowl game (Nebraska, 1983; Southern California, 2005; Ohio State 2006) or lost in a conference title game (Oklahoma, 2003). Those four were No. 1 for 15 straight polls.
The Tide faces Chattanooga this week, part of the SEC's scheduling strategy to work in a late-season breather. Florida State has embraced it as well. The Seminoles play Idaho.
So it's safe to pencil in the Tide for 14 straight polls at No. 1. To get to 15, will be much tougher.
Auburn's remarkable turnaround season reached new heights in unfathomable fashion with a 43-38 victory over Georgia. The Tigers (10-1, 6-1), who are off this week, can win the SEC West by beating Alabama and make their way into the national championship discussion by winning the SEC title. This is big stuff.
''There will be no official comment until Monday whether the Finebaum show will run 24/7 continuously until kickoff of the Iron Bowl,'' was the tweet from the official account of talk radio show host and the SEC's resident instigator Paul Finebaum after Auburn's victory.
Baylor slipped past Ohio State and into No. 3 in the latest Top 25. For Buckeyes fans, it's just another slight. For Bears backers, a small bit of vindication for a team that started the season unranked and has now matched the best ranking in program history. The Bears were No. 3 in 1953.
Baylor has 1,351 points and Ohio State has 1,343 in the poll after the Bears beat Texas Tech 60-34 and the Buckeyes won 60-35 at Illinois.
The gap between the two has been shrinking for weeks, though the Buckeyes are still likely to hold onto to third in the BCS standings when they are released later - but for how much longer? Still, it does seem like an odd time for Baylor and Ohio State to switch spots.
The Buckeyes got sloppy against a bad Illinois team, but otherwise continued to plunder the Big Ten.
Baylor is coming off its best two victories of the season against Oklahoma and now fading Texas Tech, which has lost four straight.
Neither Baylor nor Ohio State has played a particularly daunting schedule. Ohio State's rates No. 72 in Division I according to Sagarin ratings. Baylor's is No. 85. Wisconsin is the best team either has faced, and the Buckeyes beat the Badgers 31-24 back in late September. The Bears continue to lead the country in margin of victory (43.8). Ohio State is at 30.6.
The Bears play No. 11 Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Saturday, their toughest test yet. Win that, and they could start pulling away from the Buckeyes, who have won a school-record 22 straight games but get graded on a tougher scale than any team in the country.
Sorry Coach K, but Jabari Parker and your latest stellar Duke basketball team will have to share top billing in Durham, N.C., for a few weeks with David Cutcliffe and Blue Devils football.
No. 25 Duke moved into the rankings for the first time since 1994 after crushing Miami 48-30 on Saturday. The victory also puts the Blue Devils in control of the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal division race.
If the Blue Devils (8-2) win their last two games (at Wake Forest and at North Carolina), they'll play Florida State in Charlotte for the ACC title on Dec. 7.
Just getting there would be enough to make a case for Cutcliffe as coach of the year.
Stanford dropped five spots to No. 10 after losing 20-17 to Southern California, which moved back into the rankings at No. 23.
The Cardinal relinquished control of the Pac-12 North to Oregon, a week after beating the Ducks, but a BCS at-large bid is still a possibility if don't win the conference.
As for USC, interim coach Ed Orgeron has orchestrated quite a turnaround since Lane Kiffin was fired, going 5-1. Is Coach O a candidate to get the full-time gig? Highly unlikely. The Denver Broncos confirmed USC athletic director Pat Haden interviewed Broncos defensive coordinator and former Trojan Jack Del Rio about the job. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin also has been mentioned as a candidate, along with Vanderbilt's James Franklin.
FROM THE ARCHIVE
The last time Duke was ranked, Notre Dame wasn't - just like this week.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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