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Notre Dame holds top spot, but no team is truly dominant this season

Every time I click on Twitter, my mentions blend into the same message. Every team in the top 12 is overrated. No one played anybody good. Every conference stinks.

Fans of a particular team can punch holes in another team's schedule/best win/worst loss, and guess what? They're all correct. Is Notre Dame the best team in the country? I think so, but I could be wrong. Should the winner of the SEC title game automatically make the BCS title game? Maybe, but I could entertain arguments to the contrary.

The fact is there are no truly dominant teams this season. There is no 2001 Miami or 1995 Nebraska. There isn't a twosome like USC and Texas in 2005. Every team in my top 12, given the correct set of circumstances, could beat every other team in the top 12. That's where we're at. There is quite a bit of parity at the top this year. So when a Kansas State fan says the Wildcats could beat Alabama or Georgia, he's correct. On the right day, the Wildcats could. And on the wrong day, the SEC would roll. When a Florida fan says the Gators got stiffed after putting together the nation's best résumé, he might be correct. When a Stanford fan says his team is playing better than anyone in the country right now, that's tough to deny.

So are the rankings correct? Will the BCS match the two best teams for the national title? I don't know, and neither do you. It's not a satisfying answer, because it's not a satisfying system.

The four-team playoff will ease some of this in 2014, but that still wouldn't be satisfying in a year like this. So if your team is one of the 10 really good ones that will get stiffed on Sunday, I apologize in advance.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 1
The Fighting Irish punched their tickets to South Florida, and now we can look forward to more than a month of bellyaching as the two whiniest factions of college football fandom -- the Notre Dame haters and the SEC haters -- morph into one great, big ball of troll. We get it. You don't think Notre Dame played anybody. (It did.) You don't think the SEC teams played anybody. (They did.) You swear you won't watch the title game because you're disgusted with how the teams were selected. You're lying. The ratings of all this year's big SEC games and the 10.3 overnight the USC-Notre Dame game pulled tell us otherwise.

Last game: Beat USC, 22-13
Next game: Season complete
 
2Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week: 3
It's telling that the majority of the country has already slotted Alabama into the BCS title game while a healthy portion of the Alabama fan base is spending this week preparing every lucky shirt, sock, barrel smoker and front-end loader for Saturday. Those who have watched the Crimson Tide all season know this team is good but vulnerable, and they know the Bulldogs are talented enough to exploit Alabama's vulnerabilities. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray isn't Johnny Football, but Bulldogs tailbacks Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are good enough to force the Crimson Tide to keep enough men in the box to give Murray a few cracks at throwing to receivers in one-on-one matchups. Meanwhile, Georgia's 3-4 defense, coordinated by Nick Saban acolyte Todd Grantham, will give Alabama's offensive line -- and backs, because someone has to chip Jarvis Jones -- its toughest test of the season. The good news? If Alabama survives, facing that defense is great practice for facing Notre Dame's defense.

Last game: Beat Auburn, 49-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia in SEC Championship Game in Atlanta
 
3Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 8
Murray, normally one of the best quotes in the SEC, requested this week that he not face any interviews so he can focus completely on the Crimson Tide defense. That's probably a sound choice. Alabama's defense tends to rattle opposing quarterbacks even when it doesn't sack them. Murray faced a similar scheme -- though not similar personnel or execution -- this season when the Bulldogs faced Tennessee, which had a defense run by former Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri. Murray completed 20-of-26 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw a pick-six and fumbled once. Murray cannot afford to make mistakes against Alabama's defense. Unlike Florida -- the one-loss SEC team the Bulldogs beat -- Alabama's offense is more capable of making Georgia pay for mistakes.

Last game: Beat Georgia Tech, 42-10
Next game: Saturday vs. Alabama in SEC Championship Game in Atlanta
 
4Florida Gators
Last week: 12
Will Muschamp laughed Saturday when Matt Hayes of The Sporting News asked if the Gators had sandbagged the Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State games to avoid showing any offensive wrinkles they planned to use at Florida State. "Believe me, I was glad we won them," Muschamp said. "I wish our guys would get out of this mantra of playing to our competition. It's very frustrating to me." With the exception of the South Carolina game, which got out of hand because of first-half turnovers deep in the Gamecocks' territory, the Gators did play almost exactly to the level of their competition in every game. And with the exception of Georgia, they were better. Florida probably has the best quality wins of any team in the country. Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State finished the regular season a combined 40-8, and Florida handed that group half its losses. I dropped the Gators last week because of their habit of playing down to their competition, but with their season complete, their résumé is impossible to discount. If the playoff started this year instead of 2014, Florida probably would be the most dreaded matchup for the other three participants because it has played so many tight games against good teams.

Last game: Beat Florida State, 37-26
Next game: Season complete
 
5 <a href=Oregon Ducks" title="Oregon Ducks">
Last week: 4
Notre Dame winning Saturday eliminated the possibility of voters having to decide whether Florida or Oregon -- two excellent teams that did not win their divisions -- would play for the national title. That would have been an interesting debate that Florida probably would have won by virtue of its schedule. Still, Oregon's bounceback from its loss to Stanford against a very good Oregon State team suggests that Stanford did not necessarily expose anything that a quality opponent can easily replicate without having a front seven as good as Stanford's. And now the bowl matchup possibilities for Oregon are tantalizing. With the Ducks probably headed to the Fiesta Bowl, their opponent -- depending on what happens on Saturday -- would be Kansas State or Oklahoma. Either scenario promises an exciting game. Kansas State's disciplined defense would present a challenge for Oregon's offense. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's up-tempo attack would probably combine with Oregon's blur offense for a scoreboard-rattler.

Last game: Beat Oregon State, 48-24
Next game: Season complete
 
6<a href=Ohio St. Buckeyes" title="Ohio St. Buckeyes">
Last Week: 7
Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0)
I was asked Sunday on ESPN whether the Buckeyes should be eligible for the AP national title. The answer is easy: Of course they should. If any AP voter considers Ohio State the nation's best team, he or she should vote the Buckeyes No. 1. Had Ohio State played any decent out-of-conference competition, I might feel that way. But the Buckeyes played four patsies and then dominated a historically down Big Ten. That isn't Ohio State's fault for the most part. Cal was good when that game was scheduled, and Cal was bad this season. The Big Ten is usually much, much better. But every team listed above the Buckeyes would have an equally good shot at a 12-0 record against Ohio State's schedule. This comes down to a matter of opinion, unfortunately, because Ohio State can't play in a bowl game against a quality opponent from another league to add context to its accomplishment. That certainly isn't the fault of Ohio State's players, who did as well as they possibly could with the set of circumstances handed to them. Unfortunately, after watching the Buckeyes all season, I can't say they're better than the teams I ranked above them.

Last game: Beat Michigan, 26-21
Next game: Season complete
 
7Kansas St. Wildcats
Last week: 10
Of all the one-loss teams from the power conferences, Kansas State will get the least respect because it had the worst loss. Georgia got crushed by South Carolina, but South Carolina finished 10-2. Getting creamed by Baylor destroyed Kansas State's credibility. That might not be fair, but it's the truth. The good news for the Wildcats is they can reclaim some of that credibility with a Big 12 title-clinching win against Texas. At the same time, Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein can also help make up some of the ground he lost in the Heisman race with the loss to Baylor. The Longhorns, who just lost at home to TCU, will be anxious to prove they aren't a middle-of-the-pack team and should give Kansas State their best shot.

Last game: Lost to Baylor, 52-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas
 
8LSU Tigers
Last week: 6
LSU Tigers (10-2)
Like Florida, the Tigers played to their level of competition and came away looking less-than-impressive in several of their wins. This produced one excellent Les Miles press conference, but it probably didn't do much for the hearts of LSU's fans. Because of the BCS rule that only allows two teams from a conference to play in BCS bowls, there is a good chance the Tigers could wind up in one of the Florida bowls against a bowl-eligible Big Ten team that didn't win the conference title. If that's the case, move the game to HBO. I'm not sure a network or basic cable channel is allowed to show that level of carnage.

Last game: Beat Arkansas, 20-13
Next game: Season complete
 
9Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 2
Sorry, Aggies. Once the résumés were in, I couldn't leave you at No. 2. If college football had an eight-team playoff and you slipped in, you'd probably do some real damage. You were playing as well as any team in the country at the end of the season. But with so few data points in football, the early-season games have to count for something. If it makes you feel any better, you're probably going to be celebrating a Heisman Trophy a week from Saturday.

Last game: Beat Missouri, 59-29
Next game: Season complete
 
10Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 9
I should probably paste the third sentence from the Texas A&M section here. Stanford has hit its stride following the switch to redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan at quarterback. The Cardinal could beat anyone in the nation playing the way they're playing right now. And while we're talking about Hogan, let's stop for a moment to ponder the absurd amount of early production we've seen from the quarterbacks in the class of 2011. Hogan, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Notre Dame's Everett Golson, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Florida's Jeff Driskel are all already stars.

Last game: Beat UCLA, 35-17
Next game: Friday vs. UCLA in Pac-12 championship game
 
11South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 13
If Georgia beats Alabama and advances to the national title game, the Gamecocks will be the angriest team in America. South Carolina beat Georgia by 28. The Gamecocks' rotating SEC West game this season was at LSU. Georgia's was a home game against Ole Miss. Of course, had South Carolina played an easier rotating West division opponent and won, it might not have mattered. If the Gamecocks and Bulldogs had each finished 11-1 and 7-1 in the SEC, the East title -- and the chance to play in the BCS title game -- probably would have gone to 11-1 Florida because voters would have rewarded the Gators' tougher schedule.

Last game: Beat Clemson, 27-17
Next game: Season complete
 
12Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 11
Your laughable coaching rumor mill item of the week is Bob Stoops actually having to answer a question about the Tennessee job. Now that you're back in your chair, here's what Stoops told The Oklahoman. "Me? Really? I like my job," Stoops told the paper. "No. I love my job. I'll try to keep it another year." Stoops has more important things to worry about. Regardless of what happens in Manhattan, the Sooners can claim a share of the Big 12 title (and get a trophy from the league) if they beat TCU in Fort Worth. But everyone knows the team that gets the champion's slot in the designated bowl game is the real champion. For that to be the Sooners, Oklahoma has to beat TCU and Texas has to beat Kansas State.

Last game: Beat Oklahoma State, 51-48 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at TCU
 
13Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 5
As if the Seminoles haven't been beaten over the head with reminders of the relative weakness of the ACC as a football league, Florida coach Will Muschamp offered yet another reminder on Saturday. "They don't face too many two-back power running teams in their league," Muschamp said. "They play a lot of that one-back stuff. You'd better learn to fit the counter and the power when you play Florida." This week, Florida State's defense -- which allowed 244 rushing yards to the Gators after entering the game No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense -- needs to stop the option to win the ACC. After throwing themselves into the Florida game and suffering a humbling defeat, the Seminoles can respond one of two ways. They can buckle down, practice hard and destroy Georgia Tech, or they can slack off and get upset. Under any other circumstances, this game isn't even close.

Last game: Lost to Florida, 37-26
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia Tech in ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C.
 
14Clemson Tigers
Last week: 14
The Tigers have a second-place problem. Not because they finished second in the ACC Atlantic Division. They won the league last year. But because they finished second in the Palmetto State for the fourth consecutive year. That kind of thing tends to destroy in-state recruiting after a while. That's the problem with playing in a small-but-talent-rich state where both programs have good coaching staffs. They both keep getting better, but Steve Spurrier, who was hired prior to the 2005 season, had a head start on Dabo Swinney, who took over the Tigers during the 2008 campaign.

Last game: Lost to South Carolina, 27-17
Next game: Season complete
 
15Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last Week: 19
The Cowboys' record is misleading. The loss to Arizona to start the season was bad, but they are a bad call against Texas and an overtime game in Norman away from going into Saturday in the hunt for the Big 12 title. This team -- which started a true freshman at quarterback to start the season and has used three different starters because of injuries -- has proven that Mike Gundy didn't merely catch lightning in a bottle with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Gundy has built a program that can compete for titles on an almost annual basis. So be prepared to open up that wallet (again), T. Boone Pickens. Quite a few deep-pocketed schools have openings, and Gundy has proven he's the real deal.

Last game: Lost to Oklahoma, 51-48 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Baylor
 
16Oregon State Beavers
Last week: 15
We come to the strangest game on Saturday's schedule. This game was supposed to be the season opener, but Nicholls State couldn't make the trip because of Hurricane Isaac. A week after a Reser Stadium-record crowd watched the Beavers fall to Oregon in the Civil War, expect far fewer in attendance as Oregon State completes its season and Nicholls State collects a check. At least the game provides a chance for the Beavers to erase the lingering sour taste from the Oregon loss. Despite the final score, Oregon State was only down by three points midway through the fourth quarter. Make another play or three, and the game goes down to the wire. At least Oregon State players won't have to stew about that for a month before they get back on the field.

Last game: Lost to Oregon, 48-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Nicholls State
 
17UCLA Bruins
Last week: 16
A week after Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers spent an entire column setting the hook for one epic Lane Kiffin bash, UCLA coach Jim Mora got his first real taste of Simers' unique comic stylings. Simers, famous in L.A. for his poking and prodding of local sports figures, questioned whether the Bruins really tried to beat Stanford at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Beating the Cardinal meant a Pac-12 title game against Oregon in Eugene. Losing to Stanford meant a Pac-12 title game against the Cardinal in Palo Alto. It's a legitimate question, because, strategically speaking, the Cardinal might be the preferable opponent with a spot in the Rose Bowl on the line. And Mora answered it. "I never in my life stepped on the field to compete and not given my best, nor will I ever," Mora said. Things took a sharp turn when Simers chimed in a few minutes later with this: "There's nothing better to developing a winning culture than going to a Rose Bowl. So your easier path to the Rose Bowl was Stanford." Mora then said something that I wish more coaches would say when they hear statements rather than questions. (This wish also applies to the rambling soliloquys of gushing praise from random fanboys who occasionally finagle media credentials.) "This is a press conference where you ask questions," Mora said. "If you want to come up here and take the mic, there's a seat here and a seat here. It'd be great. I'd love to have you up here. You don't scare me." In the grand scheme, Mora should be thrilled Simers took aim at him. It means UCLA's program matters. It also means Mora now has something in common with Phil Jackson and Tommy Lasorda.

Last game: Lost to Stanford, 35-17
Next game: Friday at Stanford in Pac-12 championship game
 
18Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last week: 18
No one affiliated with the conference would ever say it publicly, but everyone at the Big Ten office has to be rooting for Nebraska on Saturday. After Wisconsin's loss at Penn State last week, the notion of a five-loss team in the Rose Bowl can't sit well with the folks in Chicago. One of those losses came to Nebraska, but Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini does not believe that gives his team an edge. "Every game's different," Pelini told the Lincoln Journal Star. "I don't really put much stock into what happened the first game. I'm sure Wisconsin won't either. Different time, different place, different point in the year."

Last game: Beat Iowa, 13-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis
 
19Penn State Nittany Lions
Last week: NR
When I visited State College in August to report on the aftermath of the NCAA sanctions, I met a determined team led by a coach who refused to make excuses in spite of the circumstances. When the Nittany Lions opened with losses to Ohio and Virginia, I wondered if they had simply lost too much to compete. Then something amazing happened. For next two months, that determination took over, and O'Brien and his staff had the Nittany Lions playing far better than they probably should have given the situation. These players and coaches had nothing to do with the awful actions and inaction that got Penn State into its current predicament. They got punished for it anyway. By buckling their chinstraps and forging ahead, they gave a shamed school a reason to be proud. For this, the players deserve the credit. For convincing them they could rise above the situation, O'Brien deserves every coach of the year award there is.

Last game: Beat Wisconsin, 24-21 (OT)
Next game: Season complete
 
20Michigan Wolverines
Last week: 20
Recruit better, Wolverines. That's your only chance. You saw the future on Saturday, and it looks bleak. Ohio State will crush the rest of the Big Ten, but you alone will have a chance to compete with the Buckeyes for the next few years. So recruit, recruit, recruit. You're the only thing standing in the way of a resumption of complete Buckeye domination of the Big Ten.

Last game: Lost to Ohio State, 26-21
Next game: Season complete
 
21 <a href=Northwestern Wildcats" title="Northwestern Wildcats">
Last week: 21
Read this story by the great Chicago Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein, and you'll have a better idea why Pat Fitzgerald isn't going anywhere. Teams will call, because Fitz works minor miracles most years, but it looks as if it'll take dynamite to get him out of Northwestern.

Last game: Beat Illinois, 50-14
Next game: Season complete
 
22TCU Horned Frogs
Last week: NR
Considering the star quarterback flamed out midseason -- almost certainly costing the Horned Frogs the Iowa State game by forcing them to play a redshirt freshman who had barely prepared that week -- this has been a fair first season in the Big 12 for TCU. But it can get a lot better with an upset of the Sooners. That would serve notice that the Frogs could be a force in the future. It won't be easy, though. The Sooners won't know whether they can win an outright Big 12 title until long after the game ends, so Oklahoma will not lack for motivation.

Last game: Beat Texas, 20-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Oklahoma
 
23Texas Longhorns
Last week: 16
Mack Brown said it best Monday: "We missed a great opportunity on Thursday night to move forward." Brown added "and get our ninth win," but the sentiment is probably more appropriate if it stops at "forward." Against TCU, the Longhorns looked as if they had regressed a season. They turned the ball over four times, and the offense hamstrung the defense. This Texas team could still wind up winning 10 games, but it could just as easily wind up losing five. Saturday in Manhattan, the Longhorns will have to decide in which direction they'd like to move.

Last game: Lost to TCU, 20-13
Next game: Saturday at Kansas State
 
24<a href=Northern Illinois Huskies" title="Northern Illinois Huskies">
Last week: 23
The Orange Bowl will send reps to scout the MAC Championship Game, and it might not be only to eat at Slow's Barbecue before the game. If Kansas State loses to Texas and Oklahoma beats TCU, Oklahoma would be headed to the Fiesta Bowl, and BCS bowls might be hesitant to take a Kansas State team coming off two disappointing losses. Maybe some MACtion would liven up the festivities. Who wouldn't want to see Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch against a quality defense?

Last game: Beat Eastern Michigan, 49-7
Next game: Friday vs. Kent State in MAC Championship Game in Detroit
 
25Kent State Golden Flashes
Last week: 24
Read what I wrote in the Northern Illinois section and replace "quarterback Jordan Lynch" with "all-purpose speed burner Dri Archer" and "245-pound defensive tackle dynamo Roosevelt Nix."

Last game: Beat Ohio, 28-6
Next game: Friday vs. Northern Illinois in MAC Championship Game in Detroit

Next five: USC, Boise State, Utah State, San Jose State, Fresno State

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

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