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'Bama, Oregon maintain top spots, but BCS rankings debate continues

The computer ranking created by Jeff Anderson and Chris Hester has been part of the BCS formula since the beginning, and it is touted as a measure of what teams have accomplished this season absent any preseason bias. That's a lofty -- yet noble -- goal. I have only one question.

How exactly does a triple-overtime win against a team that lost to Youngstown State allow Notre Dame to jump over Kansas State, which won by two touchdowns against a pretty good team from the league Anderson and Hester consider the second-strongest in the nation?

Alas, Anderson and Hester don't reveal their formula to the public. Who needs accountability? Certainly not people who help decide how millions of dollars flow among mostly public universities. I have some guesses at how the Fighting Irish ended up No. 1 in those rankings this week, though.

GHPQ: This Gold Helmet Paint Quotient measures the amount of gold paint in the helmets of each team on the field. By upping the brightness of their own lids and by playing Navy, Purdue and Pittsburgh, the Irish have pushed their GHPQ to absurd levels.

NBCR: The NBC Ratio measures the number of games broadcast by NBC. Anderson and Hester were huge Blossom fans, and they paid tribute to their favorite show by ensuring teams that played on the network that introduced us to Jenna von Oy would receive a critical bump.

BOF: The Box Office Factor measures how much movies about a particular school's football program have grossed -- domestic and foreign -- and provides a rankings bounce for the biggest moneymakers. This also explains why fictional Eastern State University always winds up in the Anderson and Hester rankings.

OK, I made all that up. In fact, the leap isn't as sinister as it sounds when you look at the rankings. Notre Dame is separated from Kansas State and Alabama by an eyelash. Still, it's tough to take a ranking seriously when barely surviving Pittsburgh vaults a team over one that clubbed Oklahoma State.

The BCS can't go away soon enough.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week: 1
We now know how the Crimson Tide handle adversity. Despite little game experience with a deficit, Alabama's offense rose to the occasion Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. Still, LSU's success throwing the ball against the Tide and stymieing Alabama's offense for most of the second half pierced 'Bama's aura of invincibility. It's easy to write off the struggles as the product of an excellent opponent coming off a bye week and playing its best in a high-stakes game, and that might all be true. It probably is the case for LSU's defense, which is more athletic than any defense Alabama might possibly see the rest of the season -- though not that much better than Georgia (on a good day) or Notre Dame or Kansas State (on any day). Of greater concern is the way LSU's much-criticized offensive line picked up Alabama's blitzes and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his receivers beat man coverage. In the past few years, Alabama's secondary was so good that even if the rush didn't reach the quarterback, the receiver still had trouble catching the ball. That didn't happen Saturday.

This week, Alabama's defense will face a unique challenge in Texas A&M. The Aggies have an excellent line anchored by two future NFL tackles. They also have two quality backs (Ben Malena and Christine Michael) and two dynamic receivers (Mike Evans and Ryan Swope). Conducting this offensive symphony is redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who remains on pace to break Cam Newton's SEC record for total offense in spite of the fact that he'll probably play one fewer game than Newton did in 2010. Because Texas A&M spreads the field while maintaining the ability to run, Alabama's cornerbacks will find themselves without safety help much of the time. Meanwhile, one linebacker probably will have to spy Manziel, meaning most pressure will have to come from the three down linemen and whichever additional rusher defensive coordinator Kirby Smart tries to bring. On Oct. 20, LSU held the Aggies to 19 points and 410 yards -- 149 below their season average -- but it is folly to assume that Alabama can equal or top this simply because the Tigers and Tide both have great defenses. LSU's defensive philosophy is to use lighter, faster linebackers and defensive backs. Such personnel is ideally suited to shutting down a spread offense. Alabama's philosophy is to use heavier linebackers who can completely shut down an opponent's inside running game -- which is ideal against most of the SEC offenses of recent vintage, but not necessarily against the type of attack the Aggies run. Still, because Alabama recruits better than anyone else, the Tide have the fastest large people of any school in the country, and that should allow Alabama's defense to keep up with Johnny Football. At any rate, the clash of styles should be fascinating to watch.

Last game: Beat LSU, 21-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas A&M
 
2<a href=Oregon Ducks" title="Oregon Ducks">
Last week: 2
Rob Moseley, who covers the Ducks for the Eugene Register-Guard, did an incredible back-of-the-envelope calculation after watching Oregon tailback Kenjon Barner carry a full workload for the first time all season. Barner rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns against USC. Twelve of those rushes came in the fourth quarter. Moseley noted that prior to the USC game, Barner had only 10 fourth-quarter carries all season because Oregon blew out its previous eight opponents. So Moseley tried to calculate how many yards Barner could rush for in a season if he played four quarters of every game. Moseley calculated this by taking the percentage of Oregon's carries against USC that went to Barner and figuring how many carries Barner would have had if those previous games had been closer. Through nine games, Barner would have 2,317 yards on 310 carries. Through 14 games, Barner would have an astonishing 3,604 rushing yards on 482 carries. That would shatter Barry Sanders' FBS record of 2,628 (set in 1988 on 344 carries in 11 games). Now, it's unlikely that a back would stay healthy for that many carries, and a back playing on a great team is going to sit out some fourth quarters because of blowouts. But it's an interesting exercise. Think of it this way. The last back to win the Heisman was Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009. That season, he rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns on 271 carries in 14 games. Through nine games, Barner has already rushed for 1,295 yards and 19 touchdowns on 179 carries.

Last game: Beat USC, 62-51
Next game: Saturday at Cal
 
3Kansas St. Wildcats
Last week: 4
Though Kansas State has not divulged any information about quarterback Collin Klein's injury, Klein's treatment on the sideline Saturday (no ice, no wrap, having his helmet taken away) is consistent with the way most medical staffs treat a potential concussion. If that is the case, it puts Klein's availability for this week's trip to TCU in question. Like Alabama, Kansas State is so good in all three phases that losing one player -- even the most important one, as Klein is for the Wildcats -- should not significantly lower expectations. But this was going to be a tough game anyway. The week-to-week grind of the Big 12 catches up with most teams eventually, and with talented TCU still looking for its first major splash as a Big 12 member, this one always looked like a trap. Now it could be an even bigger one.

Last game: Beat Oklahoma State, 44-30
Next game: Saturday at TCU
 
4Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 3
In December, when the rankings actually matter, the way voters view Notre Dame's narrow escape from Pittsburgh will depend on Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State. If zero or one of that group remains undefeated, the Irish will have willed themselves to a win despite an off day and an inspired opponent. If two or more of that group stays unbeaten, the Irish will have needed to be saved by blind officials to beat a team that lost to Youngstown State. The "a win is a win" crowd will complain, but when there are more undefeated teams than spaces in the BCS title game and all the undefeated teams have equally challenging schedules, voters have to judge based on something. Barely beating a lackluster opponent is something they'll have to consider.

Last game: Beat Pittsburgh, 29-26 (3OT)
Next game: Saturday at Boston College
 
5LSU Tigers
Last week: 5
Early Sunday morning, with Tiger Stadium nearly empty, Les Miles stood on the field and filmed his television show. His frustration with the way the Alabama game had slipped away was evident, as was his frustration with himself for some of the play-calling choices he made. Still, Miles did an excellent job of preparing his players for that game. This week, he'll have to do an even better job. He'll have to convince the Tigers to get up off the mat and go to work. SEC and national titles are out for LSU, but the Tigers can still finish strong and have a shot to play in a BCS bowl depending on how things break the rest of the way. Mississippi State is wounded after getting crushed two weeks in a row and desperate to prove that its 7-0 start meant something. The Tigers will have to dust themselves off and remind the Bulldogs that the SEC West pecking order hasn't changed.

Last game: Lost to Alabama, 21-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Mississippi State
 
6Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 6
Coaches worry about players getting distracted by replays on video boards between plays, but sometimes the giant screens can be helpful. On Saturday, Sooners receiver Kenny Stills used the video board at Iowa State's Jack Trice Stadium to his advantage. When Stills looked up at the board during a play and saw that Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones had turned his way, Stills adjusted his route. The result? A 31-yard touchdown pass. "I just came off the ball hard. The guy was pretty far off of me. Just got up on his toes," Stills told The Oklahoman. "I could see up in the big screen, Landry had turned my way. So I turned around, he put the ball on my back shoulder, and I just went up and got it." Given Baylor's struggles on defense this season, the Sooners probably will see themselves scoring a bunch again this Saturday.

Last game: Beat Iowa State, 35-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Baylor
 
7Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 7
The Bulldogs don't lack for motivation against an Auburn team playing out the string. With a win, Georgia would clinch its second consecutive SEC East title. For any extra motivation, the Bulldogs can look at the latest BCS standings, where they checked in at No. 5 this week. Does Georgia really have a chance at the national title? Maybe. It would at least take losses by two of Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame, and then Georgia would have to beat Alabama in the SEC title game. As anyone who lived through 2007 can attest, though, stranger things have happened.

Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 37-10
Next game: Saturday at Auburn
 
8<a href=Florida Gators" title="Florida Gators">
Last week: 8
Because of a crazy front-loaded schedule, the Gators will spend the next two weeks beating up sacrificial lambs before closing the regular season at Florida State. No one will want to watch, but it's probably good for Florida to have a few gimmes to work out the kinks in the offense before facing the Seminoles. The offense Florida has played in its past two games will not get the job done against Florida State.

Last game: Beat Missouri, 14-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
 
9<a href=South Carolina Gamecocks" title="South Carolina Gamecocks">
Last week: 9
There probably wasn't anyone who watched the drama in Fayetteville unfold this past April with more interest than Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier. Bobby Petrino's Arkansas teams had South Carolina's number, beating the Gamecocks by an average of 18 points in each of the past three seasons. Now Petrino is gone and John L. Smith is trying to get the Razorbacks to the finish line of a disappointing year. The Gamecocks were certainly better than Arkansas before tailback Marcus Lattimore's gruesome knee injury in the Tennessee game. South Carolina is still better, but Arkansas has been a bad matchup for the Gamecocks. They'll have to overcome whatever mental block has hindered them in the past against the Razorbacks.

Last game: Beat Tennessee, 38-35
Next game: Saturday vs. Arkansas
 
10<a href=Ohio St. Buckeyes" title="Ohio St. Buckeyes">
Last Week: 10
Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0)
The Buckeyes finally get a break to allow some of their banged-up players to heal. Linebacker Etienne Sabino, who missed four games with a leg fracture, should be back to face Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the Ohio State players who played through nagging injuries will get a chance to rest their bodies for a home stretch that includes the Buckeyes' two toughest games of the year. Get through these, and this team will go down in Ohio State history. For those who have asked why I don't have the Buckeyes ranked ahead of some teams with losses, ask yourself this: Could Ohio State beat LSU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida or South Carolina? If you've watched them play all season, then you likely have doubts. I still wonder whether self-imposing a bowl ban last year might have allowed this team to play in the postseason, but it's too late now. Still, it would have been fun to see where the Buckeyes really stand by matching them against an elite team from a stronger conference.

Last game: Beat Illinois, 52-22
Next game: Nov. 17 at Wisconsin
 
11Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 11
Poor Florida State. Sure, the Seminoles' exile from the national title picture is self-imposed -- no choke at NC State, no problem -- but the rest of the ACC outside of Clemson isn't helping. This week should have been a national showcase game for Florida State on the road against a ranked opponent, but Virginia Tech has been uncharacteristically bad. Now, nothing short of a blowout will impress voters, who still aren't likely to give the Seminoles a chance to play their way into the title picture even if chaos strikes at the top.

Last game: Beat Duke, 48-7
Next game: Thursday at Virginia Tech
 
12Clemson Tigers
Last week: 12
Clemson is in the same boat as Florida State except one spot closer to the head due to its loss in Tallahassee Sept. 22. All the Tigers can do is keep winning. They'll get a chance to prove their out-of-conference bona fides against South Carolina, and an 11-1 record might be good enough to convince a BCS bowl to bring quarterback Tajh Boyd and one of the nation's most exciting offenses in for a shootout. For now, Clemson will have to settle for beating the unluckiest team in America. Maryland, which lost four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries, started linebacker Shawn Petty at quarterback against Georgia Tech after less than two weeks of practice at the position. Petty got better as the game went on, so the Tigers should expect more out of him than he showed against Georgia Tech. "You can't go out there and line up at this level after only seven practices and think that everything is going to happen the way you hope it will," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said of Petty. "Once he got settled in, we could see what we could do with him."

Last game: Beat Duke, 56-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Maryland
 
13<a href=Texas A&M Aggies" title="Texas A&M Aggies">
Last week: 13
If you read the Alabama section, you know how Texas A&M's offense might match up against the Crimson Tide defense. Now for the bad news. Johnny Football is going to have to put up points, because the Aggies are going to have trouble with a humbled, motivated Alabama offense. LSU gained 219 rushing yards and averaged 4.9 yards a carry against the Aggies. Now imagine LSU's offense with equally good backs, a better line, better receivers and a future NFL first-rounder at quarterback who just led his team on an epic game-winning drive against one of the nation's best defenses. Alabama's offense looked terrible for most of the second half because LSU made the Crimson Tide look terrible. Texas A&M has some excellent defenders -- defensive end Damontre Moore leads the SEC in sacks with 11.5 -- but not the overall talent of LSU. Johnny Football and company need to score enough to keep Alabama from running every down and bleeding the clock. If they can do that, then the defense will also need to pressure McCarron and force him to make mistakes.

Last game: Beat Mississippi State, 38-13
Next game: Saturday at Alabama
 
14<a href=Oregon State Beavers" title="Oregon State Beavers">
Last week: 14
At the start of the Arizona State game, Mike Riley's decision to start Cody Vaz over Sean Mannion at quarterback didn't look so sound. Vaz fumbled on the Beavers' one-yard line, allowing the Sun Devils to recover for a touchdown. But Vaz settled in and wound up throwing for 267 yards and three touchdowns. More impressive was tailback Terron Ward, who filled in for injured back Storm Woods (knee) and ran for 146 yards with a 7.7 yards-per-carry average. Vaz will have to remain calm this week against Stanford's ferocious front seven. If he can, the Beavers would likely set up a Civil War that decides the Pac-12 North title.

Last game: Beat Arizona State, 36-26
Next game: Saturday at Stanford
 
15Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 15
If you're a coach contemplating a quarterback change, Colorado is the opponent to contemplate against. Stanford's David Shaw let Josh Nunes play two series before throwing in the more mobile Kevin Hogan to see how he handled the offense. Hogan played the rest of the game, and while Shaw stopped short of declaring Hogan the starter for the Oregon State game, he did guarantee that we would "see a whole lot of Kevin Hogan," according to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. Hogan adds a different dimension to the Cardinal's ground attack, but he also had no trouble throwing the ball against Colorado, completing 18-of-23 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, few quarterbacks have trouble throwing against Colorado. The real test comes this week when Hogan will throw against a secondary that includes Pac-12 interception leader Jordan Poyer -- who should be back after missing the Arizona State game with a knee injury.

Last game: Beat Colorado, 48-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Oregon State
 
16<a href=Louisville Cardinals" title="Louisville Cardinals">
Last Week: 19
The Cardinals finally whipped someone. Sure, it was only Temple, but Louisville has struggled to put the hammer down on inferior opponents all season. The Cardinals' next two opponents (Syracuse and Connecticut) fit the same description. If Louisville can beat those two handily, it should roll into the Nov. 29 matchup at Rutgers with the proper mindset for a game that should decide the Big East title.

Last game: Beat Temple, 45-17
Next game: Saturday at Syracuse
 
17<a href=UCLA Bruins" title="UCLA Bruins">
Last week: 23
Remember when we sportswriters told you Mike Leach would have the best debut season of the new coaches in the Pac-12? Yeah. We sportswriters are stupid. The correct answer was UCLA's Jim Mora, who has infused the Bruins with a swagger that could result in a non-sanction-aided Pac-12 South title. Tailback Johnathan Franklin is now the all-time leading rusher at a school with a pretty rich tradition at the position, and quarterback Brett Hundley was surgically precise in the beatdown of Arizona, completing 23-of-28 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns -- at one point completing 16 consecutive passes. Meanwhile, linebacker Eric Kendricks has racked up 51 tackles in UCLA's past four games. Things are looking bright in Westwood.

Last game: Beat Arizona, 66-10
Next game: Saturday at Washington State
 
18<a href=Nebraska Cornhuskers" title="Nebraska Cornhuskers">
Last week: 24
The Cornhuskers have loaded up on head-to-head tiebreakers in the Legends Division, but they still can't afford a letdown against a Penn State team that is certainly capable of winning at Memorial Stadium. Michigan's only Big Ten loss is to Nebraska, so as long as Michigan keeps winning, the Cornhuskers have to keep winning. Meanwhile, Bo Pelini needs to give Steve Spurrier a call. Spurrier has complained the past two years about division rivals having easier cross-divisional schedules than the Gamecocks in the SEC. Pelini might have a legitimate beef with Big Ten schedule-makers. The Huskers' Leaders Division opponents this year are Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State. It may be a down year in the league, but having to play the three best teams from the other side is just plain unlucky.

Last game: Beat Michigan State, 28-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Penn State
 
19Texas Longhorns
Last week: NR
Wow, was I wrong about how the Longhorns would respond to their struggles at Kansas. Instead of falling apart, they came together. After the Kansas game, Texas stood at a crossroads. A 6-6 or 7-5 record seemed a real possibility. The Longhorns elected to take the play-better-defense, bounce-back-on-offense route. Now, things don't look so dark at all. Now, 9-3 seems quite possible, and if Texas keeps improving, it might have a shot at playing spoiler at Kansas State Dec. 1. If Texas can continue to get its stuff together, the Longhorns could bounce back from that horrible loss to Oklahoma and have a quality season.

Last game: Beat Texas Tech, 31-22
Next game: Saturday vs. Iowa State
 
20Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: 17
Now Texas Tech sits at the crossroads. No, the future isn't as bright as it seemed after the win against West Virginia, but the Red Raiders would be foolish to pack it in after a frustrating loss to Texas. Texas Tech has three extremely winnable games (Kansas, at Oklahoma State, Baylor) remaining. Had anyone suggested a 9-3 finish at the start of the season, everyone in Lubbock probably would have been thrilled at the possibility.

Last game: Lost to Texas, 31-22
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas
 
21USC Trojans
Last week: 21
USC's offense should carry it to a win against Arizona State, but the defense will have to improve if the Trojans want another crack at Oregon. A matchup with UCLA in the Rose Bowl looms Nov. 17, and this time, The Football Monopoly in Los Angeles might actually be over. The winner of that game is probably headed to the Pac-12 championship, and if USC hopes to head north for a shot at the title, it will have to do better than the 1,318 yards it has allowed over the past two games.

Last game: Lost to Oregon, 62-51
Next game: Saturday vs. Arizona State
 
22TCU Horned Frogs
Last week: NR
TCU coach Gary Patterson knows fortune favors the bold. So for the second consecutive season, Patterson went for two on the road to end a game rather than risk playing longer. Last year, TCU went for two at Boise State with 55 seconds remaining and then held on as the Broncos missed a field goal. Saturday at West Virginia, Patterson decided to end the game in the second overtime rather than give the ball back to Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith. After a reverse pass for a touchdown, Trevone Boykin hit Josh Boyce for a two-point conversion to win. Patterson will need that bold streak again this week. Whether Collin Klein can play or not, Kansas State is the better team with a shot at a national title hanging in the balance. The Horned Frogs can prove they've come to the Big 12 to compete if they can take out the Wildcats.

Last game: Beat West Virginia, 39-38 (2OT)
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas State
 
23<a href=Louisiana Tech Bulldogs" title="Louisiana Tech Bulldogs">
Last week: 25
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports reported Sunday that Bulldogs coach Sonny Dykes is on the short list at Kentucky, but that shouldn't surprise anyone in Ruston. Dykes will probably be on quite a few short lists in the next few weeks as schools try to recreate the magic he has created at Louisiana Tech. All the Bulldogs can do is keep playing. If they can move up to No. 16 in the BCS standings and an AQ-conference champ (probably the Big Ten) winds up ranked lower, the Bulldogs would automatically qualify to bust the BCS.

Last game: Beat Texas San-Antonio, 51-27
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas State
 
24 Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last week: 16
This is it, Bulldogs. This is the last chance this year to prove you are one of the uppercrust teams in the SEC. That 7-0 start was nice, but the past two weeks suggest it was a product of a soft schedule. Beating LSU would change that perception. The Tigers are licking their wounds after a heartbreaking loss to Alabama. If there ever was a time to pounce, it's now. But get your clocks cleaned again, and 7-0 will seem a distant memory.

Last game: Lost to Texas A&M, 38-13
Next game: Saturday at LSU
 
25MIchigan Wolverines
Last week: NR
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he won't know whether quarterback Denard Robinson is ready to return to action until later this week, so Robinson will split first-team snaps with Devin Gardner at practice. "He'll practice, he'll split some time there, and we'll just see," Hoke told reporters Monday. "He's getting healthier. Practicewise, that's the biggest thing -- to get them both snaps." Robinson injured a nerve in his right elbow against Nebraska and missed Saturday's win at Minnesota. Gardner, who had moved to receiver, shifted back to quarterback to lead the Wolverines to a win. If coaches and trainers agree that Robinson can play, he'll take all of the first-team snaps and Gardner will move back to receiver. This is a Legends Division elimination game for Northwestern, which is 3-2 in Big Ten play and has already lost to Nebraska. A Wildcats win would give them hope, but they would have to beat Michigan State and Illinois and hope Nebraska loses two of its final three (Penn State, Minnesota, at Iowa).

Last game: Beat Minnesota, 35-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Northwestern

Next five: West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Northwestern, Toledo, Northern Illinois

Andy Staples' Power Rankings also serve as his ballot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

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