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After epic Iron Bowl comeback, Auburn finally claims top spot

The moment Nevada kicker Anthony Martinez's game-winner sailed between a set of middle school-height uprights to crush Boise State's national title dreams, I turned to my server at a Birmingham sports bar and asked if the place served crow. Alas, the kitchen was closed.

So I'll have to have a huge, steaming pile of black bird here instead. I was wrong about Boise State. Spectacularly wrong. I thought the Broncos could beat any team in the country. Turns out they couldn't beat every team in the WAC. So for the second time this season, the weekly Disgrace to the University Award goes to me.

As for the Told You So e-mail of the week, there were so many good ones from which to choose that I couldn't pick just one. You heaped abuse upon me, and I deserved every bit of it.

Here's one from Chuck in Cincinnati: "Isn't Boise State awesome? You said they could beat anybody you ranked below them, and that was a lot of teams. Oh, except an overrated-on-a-cupcake schedule No. 19 Nevada. I'm sure Boise is really good, though, like you said. At least they only gave up 584 yards and 34 points because they have such solid defense. So that's really good. Like UTAH! Oh, right. Well, there's always TCU!"

Here's another from Mike in Covington, La.: "Hope you enjoy crow for Thanksgiving. Boise State doesn't deserve anything close to the accolades you and your fellow media "wishful thinkers" have given them this year. You guys were so in the tank for them. It was very sad for the integrity of your profession. Please take your "blue" colored glasses off. LOSER!"

You guys do love your Caps Lock key.

My favorite note came from Kyle in Austin, Texas: "I cannot believe you actually thought Boise State was that good. We can only hope that your employers at SI will now remove you from covering college football and reassign you to covering some herring eating contest in a desolate dive bar somewhere in the middle of Alaska. Sheesh! As readers and college football fans, we could be so lucky!"

I may as well get a head start on my new career. Without further ado, I bring you SI.com's Herring Eating Power Rankings:

Pickled Division
1. Sven Svensson
2. Lisbeth Salander
3. Takeru Kobayashi

Barbecued Division
1. Andy Staples
2. Joey Chestnut
3. Sonya Thomas

Red Division
1. Colonel Mustard
2. Miss Havisham
3. Severus Snape

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Auburn Tigers
Last Week: 2
Auburn and Oregon are really Nos. 1 and 1A, because while their personnel is quite different, their MOs are remarkably similar. Start slow, maybe fall behind in the first half. Come roaring back in the third quarter and positively dominate the fourth. That's the script for almost all of Auburn's and Oregon's biggest games this season. Unfortunately, one has to be ranked above the other. This week, Auburn gets the nod because of the high degree of difficulty of winning an Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa against a 9-2 team bent on destroying the Tigers' dreams. Next week, that could change. At any rate, it doesn't matter, because if both teams win Saturday, they can settle the debate on the field in Glendale, Ariz. That could be easier said than done. The SEC title game is no gimme for Auburn. The Tigers won a one-possession game against South Carolina at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 25. Now, Auburn will face the Gamecocks on a neutral field. Auburn has gotten better since the two last met, but so has South Carolina. It might not be the most important game in program history for Auburn, which owns a national title and six SEC titles, but it's pretty close. Meanwhile, this certainly is the most important game in South Carolina's history.
Last game: Beat Alabama, 28-27
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina in SEC Championship Game
 
2Oregon Ducks
Last Week: 3
Oregon's play-in opponent doesn't have anywhere near the talent of Auburn's, but Oregon State doesn't lack motivation. The Beavers need a win to make a bowl, and like Alabama last week with Auburn, Oregon State players would absolutely love grinding the Ducks' national title dreams into dust. This week will test Oregon coach Chip Kelly's "Win the Day" mantra. If Kelly can keep his players focused on winning Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, they should have little trouble winning Saturday. If they allow their minds to drift and start worrying about the stakes, then they might tighten up on Saturday.
Last game: Beat Arizona, 48-29
Next game: Saturday at Oregon State
 
3TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 4
The Horned Frogs will be Big East members beginning in 2012, and that membership may get them into the top two the first time they finish a season 12-0 as an AQ-conference member. Or TCU might just make the BCS title game as a member of the Mountain West. The Frogs have a healthy lead over BCS No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 Wisconsin, so a loss by Auburn or Oregon should be enough to vault TCU into the title game.
Last game: Beat New Mexico, 66-17
Next game: Regular season complete
 
4Stanford Cardinal
Last Week: 5
Barring a group of voters dropping the Cardinal for no reason, Stanford is assured an at-large berth in a BCS bowl thanks to a BCS rule that states an AQ-conference team that doesn't win its league title automatically receives an at-large bid if it finishes No. 3 or No. 4 in the BCS standings. So where will the Cardinal go? That probably depends on who wins the ACC. If Florida State wins the ACC, the Orange Bowl will get its sellout no matter who plays opposite the Seminoles. That could pave the way for an FSU-Stanford matchup in Miami. If Virginia Tech wins the ACC and goes to the Orange for the third time in four years, the Orange may want to choose a team that would bring more fans. Its best hope in that case is for West Virginia to emerge from the logjam atop the Big East. In that scenario, Stanford would go to the Fiesta Bowl to play the winner of the Nebraska-Oklahoma matchup in the Big 12 title game.
Last game: Beat Oregon State, 38-0
Next game: Regular season complete
 
5Michigan St. Spartans
Last Week: 7
It drives Wisconsin fans crazy that I have the Spartans above the Badgers, but the explanation is really quite simple. Michigan State and Wisconsin are members of the same conference. They have identical records. They played, and Michigan State won. I've heard the argument that the game was played too early. Too bad. Games count in early October, too. (Just ask Stanford.) I've also heard the argument that Wisconsin's best win -- against Ohio State on Oct. 16 -- is better than Michigan State's best win. Really? Because Michigan State's best win is against Wisconsin, and I'm assuming Wisconsin fans think their team is better than Ohio State.
Last game: Beat Penn State, 28-22
Next game: Regular season complete
 
6Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 8
That said, the Badgers are positively mauling teams right now. If they can maintain that momentum through December, we could see an epic Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Wisconsin will play either TCU or Oregon, and either matchup would make for incredible viewing.
Last game: Beat Northwestern, 70-23
Next game: Regular season complete
 
7Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 9
The Buckeyes never got a crack at Michigan State, but that might be for the best. Because with all other factors equal, a BCS bowl will always take Ohio State as an at-large over Michigan State. The Buckeyes appear Sugar Bowl-bound, where they would face Arkansas or South Carolina.
Last game: Beat Michigan, 37-7
Next game: Regular season complete
 
8Arkansas Razorbacks
Last Week: 12
Arkansas had the misfortune of having one of its best seasons in the strongest year in the 19-season history of the SEC West. Five of the six West teams are in the top 22 of the BCS standings. In almost any other year, Arkansas would be headed to Atlanta with this team. It would be quite a bitter pill if the Razorbacks had to watch a South Carolina team they walloped in Columbia take the Sugar Bowl berth that should go to Arkansas. Here's betting Woo Pig turns into War Eagle on Saturday.
Last game: Beat LSU, 31-23
Next game: Regular season complete
 
9Nevada Wolf Pack
Last Week: 20
The nation finally got a good look at quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Coach Chris Ault's Pistol offense when the Wolf Pack knocked the Broncos from the ranks of the unbeaten. Nevada, which abused Cal earlier this season in ways Oregon could only dream about, can't rise much higher, though. A loss at Hawaii earlier this season will assure that the WAC co-champs play in a lower-tier bowl.
Last game: Beat Boise State, 34-31 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Louisiana Tech
 
10Boise St. Broncos
Last Week: 1
Boise State coach Chris Petersen correctly deflected blame for the Broncos' loss away from kicker Kyle Brotzman. While Brotzman missed two kicks late, every Boise State player shared in the Broncos' second-half collapse. Even if Brotzman had made the field goal to win at the end of regulation, I would have dropped the undefeated Broncos to either No. 3 or No. 4 because of the double standard to which I referred last week. Because they chose to play the schedule they played, they had to blow out every WAC opponent to stay at No. 1. A three-point win wouldn't have been enough to keep Boise State No. 1 on my ballot, and it probably would have caused the Broncos to drop on other ballots as well. So don't blame Brotzman. The national title dream was dead for the Broncos when they let Nevada back into the game.
Last game: Lost to Nevada, 34-31 (OT)
Next game: Saturday vs. Utah State
 
11LSU Tigers
Last Week: 6
LSU Tigers (10-2)
Oh, Les Miles, you gave us some magical memories this season. But since Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium has Field Turf, you couldn't munch a pinch of grass and cast your spell on Arkansas this past Saturday. Now for the really bad news: The loss probably will send you and the Tigers back to the Capital One Bowl. Unlike last year, when the ripped-up grass at the Citrus Bowl nearly snapped the ACLs of every player on the LSU and Penn State rosters, the folks in Orlando have opted for artificial turf in that stadium as well. If you're hellbent on munching it, Heinz 57 usually makes everything taste better.
Last game: Lost to Arkansas, 31-23
Next game: Regular season complete
 
12Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week: 13
If the Hokies win Saturday's ACC title game, it's time to rename the conference the VTC. Frank Beamer's team has owned the league since its arrival in 2004, and the Hokies -- winners of 10 in a row -- enter Saturday's meeting with Florida State as one of the nation's hottest teams.
Last game: Beat Virginia, 37-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida State in ACC Championship Game
 
13Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Week: 16
Nothing would satisfy the people in red more than watching Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe hand a trophy to coach Bo Pelini and athletic director Tom Osborne on Saturday. Or maybe Pelini and Osborne should just celebrate with the team in the locker room and leave a note on the podium. "Dear Dan, Please ship the trophy to the following address: Big Ten Headquarters, 1500 West Higgins Road, Park Ridge, IL 60068. Hugs and kisses, Bo and Tom."
Last game: Beat Colorado, 45-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Oklahoma in Big 12 Championship Game
 
14Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 14
Like Michigan State, Missouri has the same record as the other elite teams in its conference and no real chance of a BCS at-large selection. Coaches must have forgotten that the Tigers beat Oklahoma in October, because they have Missouri ranked a whopping five spots below the Sooners.
Last game: Beat Kansas, 35-7
Next game: Regular season complete
 
15Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: 15
Texas A&M has one more loss than Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but that defeat is a seven-point loss to Arkansas, which probably would have beaten the other two as well. The Aggies had the best finishing kick in the Big 12, but they didn't have the juice to win the popularity contest that decided which team would represent the South in the title game. The good news is that Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill has one more year, and those two true freshmen starting at offensive tackle (Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews) aren't going anywhere.
Last game: Beat Texas, 24-17
Next game: Regular season complete
 
16Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 17
The Sooners are a tough one to rank. Some days, they play like a top 10 team. Others, they look like a squad that deserves to be ranked, but not particularly high. It will be interesting to see which team shows up Saturday, because a fourth Big 12 title in five years would be pretty astounding. Also, a lot of people thought I was nuts when I wrote after Oklahoma's loss to Missouri that the BCS was to blame for Sooners coach Bob Stoops choosing to punt instead of trying to make a last-ditch effort to win. Doesn't seem so crazy now, does it? Oklahoma is only playing in the Big 12 title game because it was ranked higher in the BCS standings than Oklahoma State or Texas A&M. If Oklahoma loses that Missouri game by 16 or more, are the Sooners ranked as high in the BCS standings? Maybe the coaches and Harris poll voters would have correctly ranked the Sooners below Missouri, which would have hurt Oklahoma's BCS ranking.
Last game: Beat Oklahoma State, 47-41
Next game: Saturday vs. Nebraska in Big 12 Championship Game
 
17Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Last Week: 10
One day, this program will get over the hump. The Cowboys came tantalizingly close on Saturday, but their defense collapsed in crunch time. Still, the strides made this season cannot be ignored. Head coach Mike Gundy's decision to relinquish play-calling duties to Dana Holgorsen gave Gundy a chance to breathe and probably made Gundy a better CEO. Some year soon, Oklahoma State is going to break through and win the Big 12.
Last game: Lost to Oklahoma, 47-41
Next game: Regular season complete
 
18South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Week: 19
South Carolina has swooned so much in recent Novembers that no one would have been surprised if the Gamecocks had laid an egg against Clemson. Instead, South Carolina crushed its rival on the road with a suffocating defense. (We won't compare South Carolina's easy win against Clemson in Death Valley to Auburn's overtime win against the Tigers in Jordan-Hare on Sept. 18. Clemson was in a very different mental space by the time the Gamecocks came north.) After a loss to Arkansas to open the month, the Gamecocks have gotten better each week. They appear to have hit their stride at just the correct time to wreak havoc on the national title race.
Last game: Beat Clemson, 29-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Auburn in SEC Championship Game
 
19Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 11
It's a testament to the strength of the SEC West this season that this Alabama team finished fourth in the division. The defending national champs remain loaded with talent, but the Crimson Tide's lack of maturity was on full display in the Iron Bowl. The first half reinforced the notion that when this team wants to play, it can beat anyone in the country. The problem is that there were times -- the South Carolina game, for instance -- when the Tide didn't show up. The 2009 team never had that problem. The second half of the Iron Bowl proved that this team needs a little more seasoning before it can compete for a national title again. The silver lining for Alabama is that a loss like that can inspire a lot of growing up in the offseason.
Last game: Lost to Auburn, 28-27
Next game: Regular season complete
 
20Florida St. Seminoles
Last Week: 25
Jimbo Fisher essentially took over the recruiting efforts for Florida State when he came to Tallahassee as offensive coordinator in 2007. That upgrade was evident Saturday, when the Seminoles finally had better players than rival Florida at quite a few positions. Saturday, first-year head coach Fisher and company can take the next step. A fluky win by FSU in the 2005 ACC title game aside, Virginia Tech has owned the conference since the ACC raided the Big East. If the Seminoles want to return to national prominence, they'll have to go through the Hokies to do it.
Last game: Beat Florida, 31-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Virginia Tech in ACC Championship Game
 
21Utah Utes
Last Week: 23
Utah Utes (10-2)
After falling to earth against TCU on Nov. 6, Utah has looked downright ordinary. That's going to have to change, because the opponents are about to get quite a bit tougher in the Pac-12. Still, it's no stretch to imagine Utah winning a division that also includes Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA and USC -- especially if an NCAA appeals committee upholds USC's 2011 bowl ban.
Last game: Beat BYU, 17-16
Next game: Regular season complete
 
22Mississippi St. Bulldogs
Last Week: --
Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen, celebrating an Egg Bowl win at Ole Miss on Saturday, told his team "We're never losing to this team again." The YouTube clip of that celebration probably will get passed around Oxford quite a bit, but will Mullen be around to attempt to stretch Mississippi State's winning streak in the rivalry? With a few pretty good jobs opening up, Mullen's name will be on a lot of short lists because of his success in his brief time in Starkville. He makes $1.2 million at Mississippi State, so schools may try to throw money at him to pry him away. If he stays, it's probably at a higher salary.
Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 31-23
Next game: Regular season complete
 
23West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: --
I goofed when I filed my Associated Press poll ballot this week. I thought I had reviewed all the relevant head-to-head matchups, but somehow West Virginia's win against Maryland on Sept. 18 slipped my mind. I apologize, Mountaineers. I'm adjusting the rankings here, and if West Virginia beats Rutgers on Saturday, I'll correct my mistake on my AP ballot Sunday morning.
Last game: Beat Pittsburgh, 35-10
Next game: Saturday vs. Rutgers
 
24Maryland Terrapins
Last Week: --
Quite a turnaround for the Terrapins. This time last year, we were wondering if Maryland could afford to fire head coach Ralph Friedgen and coach-in-waiting James Franklin. This season, Maryland was in the race for the ACC Atlantic Division title until the 11th game. Friedgen and Franklin should be able to build on this. With all the talent in Maryland and the District of Columbia, there is never an excuse for Maryland to be bad.
Last game: Beat NC State, 38-31
Next game: Regular season complete
 
25San Diego St. Aztecs
Last Week: --
It was a bad week for me at the bottom of the AP ballot. I also ranked 8-3 Navy when I should have ranked Air Force higher. The Falcons went 8-4 and won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy with head-to-head wins against Navy and Army. But San Diego State beat Air Force and finished with the same record in the same conference. So the Aztecs get the nod. The question now is how many more days will Brady Hoke be San Diego State's coach? His success at Ball State and his quick turnaround in San Diego has put him on the radar of several schools. He seems a perfect fit for the Indiana job if he wants it.
Last game: Beat UNLV, 48-14
Next game: Regular season complete

Next five: Air Force, Navy, Hawaii, Arizona, Northern Illinois

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

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