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BCS title race generates unlikely rooting interests for Rivalry Week

The end of a college football season can make for some strange bedfellows.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive, whose disdain for Lane Kiffin has been thoroughly chronicled, will be rooting for Kiffin and USC to shock unbeaten Notre Dame on Saturday. Why? Because a Fighting Irish loss opens up the door for not just one but possibly two SEC teams to play in the BCS title game.

Non-SEC fans, who get more vocal with every consecutive national title for the league, will pull hard for Florida State against Florida, because a Seminoles win would put the kibosh an all-SEC title matchup. The non-Notre Dame, non-SEC fan will be pulling for the Fighting Irish to beat USC, because the only thing he despises more than the idea of a Notre Dame national title is the idea of two SEC teams playing in the BCS title game for the second consecutive season.

Oregon fans will also be huge UCLA fans, because a Bruins win against Stanford would give the Ducks the Pac-12 North title -- if they can beat Oregon State.

Meanwhile, in the strangest twist, Oklahoma fans will spend the next two weeks as massive Texas supporters. If the Sooners win their last two games and the Longhorns win their next two games, Oklahoma wins the Big 12. Might want to turn those horns up through Dec. 1, Sooners.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 3
Remember when I wrote this after the Fighting Irish needed blind officials and a missed field goal to beat Pittsburgh? "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." Congratulations, Fighting Irish. Your ugly victory against Pitt is now a gritty, gutty example of how to grind it out. For you, style points no longer matter. All you need is one point more than USC, and you're playing for the national title. It's quite difficult to go undefeated against the schedule Notre Dame has played. If the Irish beat the Trojans, they'll have earned their title shot.

Last game: Beat Wake Forest, 38-0
Next game: Saturday at USC
 
2<a href=Texas A&M Aggies" title="Texas A&M Aggies">
Last week: 4
The SEC is still a mess to rank. I make no promises that the Aggies will remain here for the duration even if they beat Missouri next week, but my playing-the-best-right-now-in-a-league-where-everyone-has-beaten-everyone evaluation still holds for the moment. No one else will agree with me. The computers probably won't either. That's OK. My opinion is neither smarter nor dumber than any of those at this point. The Aggies won't play for the national title, but they remain in the hunt for a BCS at-large slot. Also, Saturday's events probably vaulted Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel into one of the top two spots in the Heisman race. Unless Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o has a huge game against USC or Manziel throws a ton of interceptions against the Tigers, the award could be Manziel's to lose.

Last game: Beat Sam Houston State, 47-28
Next game: Saturday vs. Missouri
 
3Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week: 5
Barring some Iron Bowl weirdness, Alabama will be the favorite among the one-loss teams heading into Championship Saturday. If any team besides Notre Dame controls its destiny, it's the Crimson Tide. But as strange as the past two weeks have been, it wouldn't be surprising if some other team makes a case and pulls a few votes away from the Tide. A Florida win against Florida State could create the most interesting scenario. Also, don't assume Alabama will just roll over Georgia. The weaknesses exposed by Texas A&M and LSU won't get fixed in the next two weeks, and if the Bulldogs play up to their potential, they're every bit as good as Alabama.

Last game: Beat Western Carolina, 49-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Auburn
 
4 Oregon Ducks
Last week: 1
Oregon's loss created the greatest circumstantial fall. While I have the Ducks ranked higher than Kansas State because losing to Baylor is far worse than losing to Stanford, Kansas State can still win its conference by beating Texas. Oregon can't even win its division without help. The Ducks need UCLA to beat Stanford to have any chance at winning the Pac-12 North. Plus, the Civil War is no gimme. Oregon State looked fantastic last Saturday, and Stanford proved that Oregon's offense can not only be slowed but stuffed completely by excellent athletes playing their assignments perfectly.

Last game: Lost to Stanford, 17-14 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Oregon State
 
5Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 12
Why did I suddenly boost Florida State after weeks of keeping the Seminoles in the teens? Because I kept thinking about what will happen when Florida State plays one of the SEC's one-loss teams on Saturday. After the past few weeks, I can't in good conscience pick Florida to win in Tallahassee. So I moved the Seminoles ahead of the Gators. I also moved them ahead of quite a few other teams because I believe Florida State would beat those teams if they played. If I'm wrong, we'll know quickly. For the past few weeks, I've been telling Seminoles fans who complained about being ranked below Florida that a win against the Gators would solve that issue. Now, the situation is reversed. When Florida fans complain -- and they will -- I'll simply explain that a win on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium will produce the ranking they desire. Either way, this game is fascinating. Both teams seem to be on the outside looking in at the national title race, but just a touch more chaos could change that and give the winner of this game a shot at the national title. Florida State is the much longer shot. Even if the Seminoles win, the computer rankings hate them. Hate may seem like a strong word, but it fits here. Machines haven't hated a group of humans this much since the Terminators and the Connors. More accurately, the computers hate the ACC. The Seminoles -- who got stiffed out of their other decent out-of-conference game when West Virginia bailed on short notice -- get no bump for beating their conference foes. Use the fun "hypothetical game" simulator at the Colley Matrix website and give Florida State a win against Florida. What happens? The Gators fall from No. 2 to No. 3, and the Seminoles rise from No. 16 to No. 10. Given those circumstances, an 11-1 Florida State would need massive chaos elsewhere and human voters showing the utmost reverence to the Seminoles.

Last game: Beat Maryland, 41-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida
 
6LSU Tigers
Last week: 6
The Tigers did not look good against Ole Miss on Saturday. But Les Miles redeemed everyone. I'm sure you've now seen this press conference opener a dozen times. I don't care. We're all going to watch it again, because it is college football at its most beautiful.



Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 41-35
Next game: Friday at Arkansas
 
7<a href=Ohio St. Buckeyes" title="Ohio St. Buckeyes">
Last Week: 9
Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0)
Didn't I say up above that it's difficult to go undefeated? I sure did. So why are the Buckeyes ranked behind teams with losses? Don't blame the postseason ban. I don't care about that. Blame a sorry Big Ten and out-of-conference schedule in which the one marquee opponent (Cal) decided to have a terrible year. They can also blame themselves for barely squeaking by some pretty mediocre competition. Notre Dame only had one Pitt game. The Buckeyes had three. Still, a convincing win against Michigan might persuade me to bump them a little higher.

Last game: Beat Wisconsin, 21-14 (OT)
Next game: Saturday vs. Michigan
 
8Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 7
The Bulldogs continue to hang back on the margins of the national title picture even though they might have a cleaner shot at the game than anyone in the SEC except Alabama. If Georgia holds serve against Georgia Tech on Saturday, it sets up a scenario in which a win against the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game might be the only thing necessary to send the Bulldogs to South Florida. That has to drive everyone at Florida, South Carolina, LSU and Texas A&M crazy. Had those four played the Bulldogs' schedule, they'd probably all be in the same spot.

Last game: Beat Georgia Southern, 45-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia Tech
 
9Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 13
The Stanford defense came to play against Oregon. And while that group deserves the most credit for the win, quarterback Kevin Hogan's mobility allowed the Cardinal to keep plays and drives alive. Hindsight is 20/20, but what if coach David Shaw had switched from Josh Nunes to Hogan earlier? Maybe there is no mystifying Thursday night loss to Washington. Maybe the Cardinal beat Notre Dame. Win either one of those games, and Stanford would be in the thick of the national title picture. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, no Stanford student has invented a time machine (yet). Fortunately for Stanford, it can win the Pac-12 North by beating UCLA on Saturday. Then the Cardinal could clinch a spot in the Rose Bowl by beating ... UCLA.

Last game: Beat Oregon, 17-14 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at UCLA
 
10Kansas St. Wildcats
Last week: 2
What is it about the second weekend of November and undefeated Big 12 teams on the road against teams at the bottom of the conference? Last year, Iowa State beat Oklahoma State on a Friday night. This year, Kansas State got thrashed by Baylor. The Wildcats probably cost themselves a shot at the national title. All of the other one-loss teams in the national title picture have lost to top-15 teams. Kansas State must now be careful that it doesn't gag away the Big 12 title. If Oklahoma wins Bedlam this week and then beats TCU on Dec. 1, a Kansas State loss to Texas would give the title to the Sooners. If Oklahoma loses Bedlam and beats TCU and Texas beats TCU and Kansas State, then the Big 12 would have a messy three-way tie at the top.

Last game: Lost to Baylor, 52-24
Next game: Dec. 1 vs. Texas
 
11Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 8
Coach Bob Stoops said the Sooners missed 20 tackles in their heart-stopping win in Morgantown. It's difficult to tell how much of the Sooners' struggles came from poor play and how much came from West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who probably should have been moved to tailback long before his 21-carry, 344-yard explosion against Oklahoma. Oklahoma State probably won't spring any surprises of that magnitude on the Sooners, but Oklahoma will have to wrap up against the Cowboys, who have scored 114 points in Clint Chelf's two starts at quarterback. Meanwhile, Stoops has had his fill of criticism surrounding Sooners quarterback Landry Jones. "You've got to be kidding me," Stoops said Monday. "Again, there are a lot of ignorant people. People don't know. People are pretty foolish in what their opinions are and how they understand football. Any guy away from home that goes 38-of-51 for 554 yards with the scoring drive to win at the end with six touchdowns and one interception ... People don't know football."

Last game: Beat West Virginia, 50-49
Next game: Saturday vs. Oklahoma State
 
12Florida Gators
Last week: 10
This is the ranking that can change the most from this week to next. Given the Gators' résumé, I have them ranked way too low. Given their performance the past three weeks, I have them ranked way too high. But if Florida beats Florida State, the Gators will have the best résumé of any team with a loss and the best four wins (Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina, Florida State) of any team in the country. The computers will have them ranked No. 1 or No. 2, and if Notre Dame loses to USC, all of the computers probably will rank Florida No. 1. So why am I so down on the Gators? If you watched them play against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State, you wouldn't even ask that question. But quarterback Jeff Driskel (ankle) will be back on Saturday. Even if he doesn't start, backup Jacoby Brissett has improved, and the Gators should have their five best offensive linemen healthy enough to play for the first time in weeks. This team doesn't win pretty, and that may be its personality. I covered Florida in 2006 for The Tampa Tribune, and that team scraped by for most of the season. It didn't look like a national champ until the BCS title game. That may be the case with this team. For all the offense's struggles, the defense is all-world. At 11-1, Florida would have a real shot at the national title game in a few different scenarios. If Notre Dame loses, the Gators could slip back into the picture against the SEC title game winner. (Unless human voters conspired to avoid another all-SEC matchup, which would be downright dirty.) If Alabama or Georgia loses its rivalry game Saturday and then wins the SEC title, an 11-1 Florida likely would get the nod against an undefeated Notre Dame or a team from another league if the Irish lose to USC. This ranking is awfully low, but if Florida loses Saturday, it will be just about right. If the Gators win, though, they'll make a huge jump. The rankings at this point contain a bit of a predictive element, but the end-of-season rankings are all about résumé.

Last game: Beat Jacksonville State, 23-0
Next game: Saturday at Florida State
 
13South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 14
Mandrallius Robinson and Willie T. Smith of The Greenville News wrote an interesting story on Monday. They pointed out that by de-emphasizing the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry within their programs, coaches Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier have actually raised the game's profile nationwide. Instead of worrying about beating one another, the teams have worried more about winning their respective conferences. South Carolina won its first SEC East title in 2010 and then won 11 games last year. Clemson has won a pair of ACC Atlantic Division titles and won the 2011 ACC title. This year, the game is interesting again because the teams have a combined record of 19-3. But while both programs have gotten better, South Carolina has begun to dominate the rivalry. The Gamecocks have won the past three meetings by an average of 20 points. Whether South Carolina continues that dominance could depend on defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's foot. Clowney missed the Wofford game with the hope that rest would help heal a nagging injury suffered in September. The Gamecocks will need their best pass rusher against Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.

Last game: Beat Wofford, 24-7
Next game: Saturday at Clemson
 
14Clemson Tigers
Last week: 14
Clemson's defense was looking so much better. Then NC State shredded the Tigers. Fortunately, Clemson's offense is usually capable of an even more thorough shredding than most opponents can offer. Against South Carolina's defense, which will be the best unit Clemson has seen since Florida State on Sept. 22, Boyd, tailback Andre Ellington, receivers Nuke Hopkins and Sammy Watkins and the rest of the offense probably won't be able to hit their average of 44.6 points a game. It will be up to the defense to slow South Carolina's offense. That group hasn't really been tested since tailback Marcus Lattimore went down against Tennessee on Oct. 27. If Clemson's defense plays the way it did against NC State, it won't test the Gamecocks, either.

Last game: Beat NC State, 62-48
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina
 
15Oregon State Beavers
Last week: 15
The Beavers certainly have some interesting video to watch this week. Finally, they'll get a chance to see a team stopping Oregon's offense. Can Oregon State duplicate Stanford's defensive performance? Probably not, but the Beavers' offense has more big-play ability than Stanford's. If Oregon State can take a few tips from the Cardinal that result in a few more stops, it may be able to win its first Civil War since 2007.

Last game: Beat Cal, 62-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Oregon
 
16UCLA Bruins
Last week: 17
In the matchup of teams facing huge emotional letdowns after milestone wins, the smart money is on the veteran-heavy Cardinal. UCLA took a huge step with its win against USC, but the Bruins -- especially their young offense -- will test the coaching staff this week as Jim Mora and his assistants try to drag their players' heads out of the clouds and back to reality. A look at Stanford's defense stuffing another high-scoring, up-tempo offense should do the trick. If Mora can keep his team grounded, he and the Bruins could make a bunch of Ducks in Eugene very happy.

Last game: Beat USC, 38-28
Next game: Saturday vs. Stanford
 
17Texas Longhorns
Last week: 16
On Thanksgiving, Texas will play a former Southwest Conference foe. It just won't be Texas A&M. It will be TCU, which has played Texas only once (2007) since the SWC folded. That doesn't mean the teams won't have a level of familiarity. Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin faced TCU's defense in two bowl games while coaching at Boise State. It should be fun to watch Harsin match wits again with TCU coach Gary Patterson and defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas. If the Longhorns can beat the Horned Frogs, they'll become huge Oklahoma State fans, because a Cowboys win in the Bedlam game would allow Texas to force a three-way tie for the Big 12 title by beating Kansas State on Dec. 1.

Last game: Beat Iowa State, 35-7
Next game: Thursday vs. TCU
 
18<a href=Nebraska Cornhuskers" title="Nebraska Cornhuskers">
Last week: 19
The Cornhuskers have remained focused down the stretch, which is important because Michigan insisted on dragging the Legends Division title race to the final weekend of the regular season. Nebraska can render the Michigan-Ohio State game meaningless in every practical sense -- that game will never be stripped of its figurative meaning -- by beating Iowa on Friday and clinching the division title. These two programs are obviously headed in different directions, but strange things happen on Black Friday. If the Cornhuskers, who overcame second-half deficits in four of their first five Big Ten wins, enjoyed their wire-to-wire win last week against Minnesota, then they'd probably enjoy cruising against Iowa even more. If they can stay as focused as they have while warding off the challenge from Michigan, they should be able to do just that.

Last game: Beat Minnesota, 38-14
Next game: Friday at Iowa
 
19Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last Week: 22
Realignment gave the Cowboys two consecutive Bedlam games at Boone Pickens Stadium. Now it shifts back to Norman, where they haven't won since 2001. Remember who coached Oklahoma State back then? The press conference wasn't as epic, but as you can see from the video below, that win was a really big deal. A win this week would mean almost as much.



Last game: Beat Texas Tech, 59-21
Next game: Saturday at Oklahoma
 
20Michigan Wolverines
Last week: 23
Michigan will know if it still has a chance to win the Legends Division by the time this game kicks off, but a team that just crushed Iowa should probably have little faith in the Hawkeyes to beat Nebraska. Even if this game is for nothing more than pride, it's meaning cannot be understated. The Wolverines and Buckeyes have gone head-to-head with a new ferocity on the recruiting trail since Brady Hoke took over in Ann Arbor and Urban Meyer took over in Columbus. The result of one game might not immediately change anyone's mind, but it will give the winning school's coach an easier sales pitch for the next year.

Last game: Beat Iowa, 42-17
Next game: Saturday at Ohio State
 
21 <a href=Northwestern Wildcats" title="Northwestern Wildcats">
Last week: 24
Even in a down Big Ten, a second nine-win season in five years at Northwestern would be a tremendous accomplishment for coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff. The Wildcats have watched Stanford's success in the west, and the belief in Evanston is that Northwestern can achieve similar success while dealing with similar academic restrictions. Seasons like this one suggest that goal is achievable.

Last game: Beat Michigan State, 23-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Illinois
 
22Wisconsin Badgers
Last week: NR
The Badgers just lost a heartbreaker to Ohio State, and this game means nothing in the grand scheme of things. But it would be pretty embarrassing for the Big Ten to have a five-loss team playing in its championship game -- even if it is by default. For his part, Badgers coach Bret Bielema isn't planning on sitting his starters to rest them for the Big Ten title game on Dec. 1. "No plans to hold anybody back," Bielema said. The Badgers will have to be prepared for an emotional Penn State team. It's Senior Day for a group of players that have been through an awful lot, and the season-ending injury suffered last week by Penn State linebacker/emotional leader Mike Mauti will give the Nittany Lions even more inspiration to go out with a win.

Last game: Lost to Ohio State, 21-14 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Penn State
 
23<a href=Northern Illinois Huskies" title="Northern Illinois Huskies">
Last week: 25
If he played in a more prestigious conference, Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch might give Johnny Football a run in the Heisman race. During last week's win against Toledo, Lynch became the first player in FBS history to throw for at least 400 yards and run for at least 150 yards. Lynch also extended his NCAA record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback to nine, and he booted a 63-yard punt.



Last game: Beat Toledo, 31-24
Next game: Friday at Eastern Michigan
 
24<a href=Kent State Golden Flashes" title="Kent State Golden Flashes">
Last week: NR
I swore I'd never rank a team that lost to Kentucky, but Kent State is 10-1. That's insane. If the Golden Flashes beat Ohio, it would set up a MAC title game between teams with a combined record of 22-2. You know what that means? More HAM than a Honeybaked store the day before Thanksgiving.

Last game: Beat Bowling Green, 31-24
Next game: Friday vs. Ohio
 
25<a href=Rutgers Scarlet Knights" title="Rutgers Scarlet Knights">
Last week: NR
Just when it seems the Scarlet Knights have finally mastered the Big East, they get invited to the Big Ten. Before they go, they really should make sure to win the Big East once. Win or lose against Pittsburgh, Rutgers can win the conference by beating Louisville on Nov. 29.

Last game: Beat Cincinnati, 10-3
Next game: Saturday at Pittsburgh

Next five: Penn State, USC, Washington, Louisville, Utah State

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

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