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Sorting out the still-muddy national championship race, Muppet-style

After all that serious talk about The Game of the Century -- we still prefer FOOTBALLPOCALYPSE here -- it's time to lighten the mood. Last week's Entertainment Weekly cover brought back memories of watching a worn-out VHS copy of The Muppet Movie again and again and again even though I was too young to appreciate the cameos by Bob Hope, Richard Pryor and Milton Berle. Thanks to the guy who showed us way too much in Forgetting Sarah Marshall the Muppets will return to the silver screen later this month.

By the time the movie arrives Nov. 23, we should have a better idea of the national title picture. We thought we would have a clearer picture this week, but an overtime game between last week's No. 1 and No. 2 only muddied things more. Someday the lovers, the dreamers and Les Miles will find the Playoff Connection, but until then, the best we can do is try to sort things out, Muppet-style. (Note: The term "Muppet" also refers to Sesame Street characters and Fraggles. Jim Henson would have wanted it this way.)

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1LSU Tigers
Last Week: 1
Kermit the Frog: One of the following quotes came from the iconic Muppet's autobiography, Before You Leap, and one came from TheQuotableLesMiles.com. Try to guess which is which. Quote one: "My town was a steel town and Friday night football was as exciting and enjoyable as anything viewed in the area." Quote two: "I have a lot of great memories of the swamp. I remember when I was little, we'd all just sit on our lily pads for hours and hours, rocking gently and listening to the soft, sweet sound of chirping crickets. Then, of course, we'd eat the crickets." OK, maybe that wasn't as difficult as I had originally envisioned. But the fact remains. LSU is to college football in 2011 what Kermit is to the Muppets. The Tigers have the best résumé, the best win and the best team. Now they have to make sure they don't screw it up down the stretch.
Last game: Beat Alabama, 9-6 (OT)
Next game: Saturday vs. Western Kentucky

 
2Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 2
Big Bird: The other major branch of the Muppets, the Sesame Street universe, has its own icon. Big Bird is as famous and as recognizable as Kermit, but he isn't quite as charismatic. The Crimson Tide were just as good as the Tigers for most of Saturday, but they didn't have that one extra element -- in this case, a kicker -- that would have made them equal or superior to the Tigers. A great number of you are probably about to click away from this page right now because I didn't drop Alabama below the other undefeated teams. Sorry, but my rationale for these rankings is that I think a team ranked above would beat a team ranked below on a neutral field. I've seen every team in my top five in person this season, and I don't think any of the remaining undefeated teams would beat Alabama on a neutral field. Alabama played LSU -- the team I've considered the nation's best for most of the season -- to a draw in regulation. It would have been dishonest to drop the Tide below Oklahoma State or Stanford just because Alabama had the rotten luck of being in the same division as the best team in the sport.
Last game: Lost to LSU, 9-6 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Mississippi State

 
3Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Last Week: 3
Gonzo: When The Muppet Show began to drag, you could always count on The Great Gonzo to spice things up. Those bored with Saturday's slugfest between Alabama and LSU hope the Cowboys run the table to avoid a touchdown-free BCS title game rematch. Oklahoma State certainly let things get interesting against Kansas State. The Wildcats had a chance to tie the score in the final seconds, but Oklahoma State's defense finally held. While the Cowboys, who average 50.1 points and 557.3 yards per game, could score more on LSU than Alabama did, it's difficult to believe Oklahoma State's defense could hold either LSU's offense -- which entered the Alabama game averaging 39.2 points -- in check. The Cowboys lead the nation in turnover margin (plus-1.89 per game; LSU is second at plus-1.67), but they rank 110th in the nation in total defense at 461.3 yards per game. That should be fine for the rest of the Big 12 schedule, but it could be a problem against a team with a decent offense and an elite defense.
Last game: Beat Kansas State, 52-45
Next game: Saturday at Texas Tech

 
4Boise St. Broncos
Last Week: 5
Elmo: When I was in preschool, Elmo was a minor character. Then Kevin Clash took over the role and made Elmo a worldwide megastar. This is exactly what Chris Petersen has done at Boise State. We're not even questioning whether the Broncos belong in the national title discussion anymore. We might question -- and rightfully so -- whether their résumé hurts them relative to other contenders, but almost everyone accepts the fact that Boise State is a major program. Saturday will offer the Broncos their last, best chance to make a statement that they deserve to play for the national title at season's end. TCU isn't as good as it was in 2009 and 2010, but it remains a solid, fast, athletic team led by one of the nation's best coaches (Gary Patterson). With the notable exception of last year's Nevada team, this is the type of conference opponent Boise State never saw in the WAC. Unfortunately, Boise State won't see TCU in-conference again after this season. The Horned Frogs are headed to the Big 12. Boise State appears headed to the Big East, where at the moment there isn't a single program of TCU's caliber.
Last game: Beat UNLV, 48-21
Next game: Saturday vs. TCU

 
5Stanford Cardinal
Last Week: 4
Miss Piggy: Miss Piggy always seemed so demure. But make her angry, and HIIII-YAHHH! Stanford's offense is as physically dominant as Kermit's main squeeze. When the Cardinal need a couple of yards, they throw two extra offensive linemen on a side and essentially say, "We're running the ball to this gap. Go ahead and stop us." Opponents rarely do. But with tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo banged up, the Cardinal offense may have to go smaller in the passing game against Oregon. Unfortunately, receiver Chris Owusu probably will also miss the Oregon game after sustaining his third concussion in 13 months. At this point, the Cardinal's best offense might be Andrew Luck going Miss Piggy Berserker-Style on the quarterback draw.
Last game: Beat Oregon State, 38-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Oregon

 
6Oregon Ducks
Last Week: 6
Animal: Check out the halftime scores of Oregon's past four non-Colorado Pac-12 games: 17-10, 15-10, 21-17, 15-14. Pretty close, right? The Ducks' average margin of victory in those games is a quite-comfortable 18.5 points. Why? Because at some point in each third quarter, Oregon's offense pounded the opponent like Animal pounds his drum kit. That's also exactly what happened against Stanford last year. The Cardinal led 31-24 at the half. Five seconds into the fourth quarter, Oregon led by two touchdowns. If the Ducks follow this script against banged up Stanford and withstand Luck's initial onslaught, they can take control of the Pac-12 title race.
Last game: Beat Washington, 34-17
Next game: Saturday at Stanford

 
7Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 7
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew: Welcome to Sooner Labs, where the future of Oklahoma's offense will have to be ready today. Because of season-ending injuries suffered by tailback Dominique Whaley (against Kansas State) and receiver Ryan Broyles (against Texas A&M), the Sooners will have to spend their bye week readying youngsters to contribute to the offense. At tailback, Brandon Williams should get a look. Meanwhile, at receiver, sophomore Trey Franks and freshman Kameel Jackson might find themselves playing bigger roles in the offense. Here's hoping the experiments at Sooner Labs are more successful than the ones at Muppet Labs.
Last game: Beat Texas A&M, 41-25
Next game: Nov. 19 at Baylor

 
8Arkansas Razorbacks
Last Week: 8
Lew Zealand: Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson would be far more accurate than Lew if he had a Fish Throwing act. Wilson snapped his school-record streak of passes without an interception at 184 during Saturday's second quarter when he threw a pick-six to South Carolina's Devin Taylor, but Wilson shook off the mistake and threw a 68-yard touchdown to Jarius Wright on the Razorbacks' next offensive play to give the Hogs a lead they wouldn't relinquish. After consecutive scares at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, Arkansas looked back on track against South Carolina. Now, the Hogs become Team Chaos. They're the only team left on LSU's schedule capable of challenging the Tigers, and if Arkansas beats Tennessee and Mississippi State, a Black Friday upset in Baton Rouge would create a logjam atop the SEC West.
Last game: Beat South Carolina, 44-28
Next game: Saturday vs. Tennessee

 
9Clemson Tigers
Last Week: 9
Pepe the King Prawn: Compared to stalwart characters such as Kermit and Miss Piggy, Pepe is a relative newcomer. He played a huge role in Muppets in Space, but he's still trying to find his way as a budding crustacean star. Ditto for the Tigers, who are led by a fantastic young nucleus but who weren't quite ready to compete for the national title. They had a bye week to forget the loss to Georgia Tech. Now, Clemson players must shake off the regret of a huge missed opportunity and focus on the opportunity still in front of them. With a win Saturday against Wake Forest, Clemson would clinch the ACC Atlantic Division. That might only make the Tigers a king prawn in the ocean that is college football, but it's better to be a king prawn than a plain old shrimp.
Last game: Lost to Georgia Tech, 31-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Wake Forest

 
10Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week: 11
Rowlf: In the ACC, the Hokies are the straight man to Clemson's high-wire act and Georgia Tech's steamrolling option. For the most part, Virginia Tech wins with tough defense and a power running game. Rowlf is the ultimate straight dog for the Muppets. Rowlf dishes out advice. He helps set up jokes. Unlike Animal, he makes it through entire songs without eating his instrument. It may not be flashy or different, but it's necessary. The same goes for the Hokies. They aren't reinventing the wheel, but they are winning football games. If they can win Thursday at Georgia Tech, they'll be in line for another crack at Clemson in the ACC title game.
Last game: Beat Duke, 14-10
Next game: Thursday at Georgia Tech

 
11Michigan St. Spartans
Last Week: 12
Uncle Traveling Matt: Fraggle explorer Uncle Traveling Matt has a knack for exploring dangerous places and living to tell the story. The Spartans need to develop that knack. Two weeks after getting creamed in Lincoln, Michigan State will head to Iowa City, where Iowa is 6-0 this season. The Spartans are the only Legends Division team with only one conference loss, so they control their destiny. But should they stumble at Kinnick Stadium, they'll be sending a sad, sad letter home to East Lansing.
Last game: Beat Minnesota, 31-24
Next game: Saturday at Iowa

 
12Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 13
The Gorgs: The Gorgs once fancied themselves rulers of the universe, and their giant stature allowed them to trample everyone in their path. But then the Fraggles began swiping their radishes and using their trash heap as an oracle, and the Doozers began harvesting their radishes from underneath and turning them into Doozer Sticks. Wisconsin once fancied itself the ruler of the Big Ten, and with good reason. The Badgers looked invincible after crushing Nebraska in the conference opener, but Michigan State and Ohio State have exposed their weaknesses, specifically a dearth of speed on defense. All is not lost, though. Wisconsin needs to win out, and then it needs help to win the Legends Division. The Badgers need Ohio State to lose one of its other games (Purdue, Penn State or Michigan) and Penn State to lose once to Nebraska or Ohio State before the season finale at Wisconsin. Ideally, the Badgers would prefer to see Leaders Division member Nebraska beat Penn State and then see the Nittany Lions rebound against the Buckeyes to avoid the mess of a three-way tie at the top. Of course, this may be for naught. After all, the Gorgs never could beat the Fraggles or the Doozers.
Last game: Beat Purdue, 62-17
Next game: Saturday at Minnesota

 
13Houston Cougars
Last Week: 19
Count Von Count: Generations have learned their numbers from this vampire puppet. Just imagine if the Count tackled Houston quarterback Case Keenum's new NCAA passing yardage record. "Seventeen thousand, two hundred twelve! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! (You might want to get a drink. He's going to be at this a while.)
Last game: Beat UAB, 56-13
Next game: Thursday at Tulane

 
14Penn St. Nittany Lions
Last Week: 17
None: No jokes for Penn State this week. What's going on in State College is far too serious and disturbing to be discussed here. From a football perspective, Nittany Lions players -- who aren't part of the scandal at all -- have had a week off to prepare for Nebraska. Penn State ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense (12.4 points a game) and No. 8 in the nation in total defense (283.3 yards a game), so the Nittany Lions should terrorize Taylor Martinez and company. Given Penn State's ineffectiveness on offense, the resulting score could make LSU-Alabama look like a WAC game.
Last game: Beat Illinois, 10-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Nebraska
 
15USC Trojans
Last Week: 16
Oscar the Grouch: Oscar's goal is to spread his misery and grouchiness to everyone around him. That sounds like the Trojans, who had to wince when they saw Arizona State lose to UCLA on Saturday. If USC were eligible to play in the Pac-12 title game, it would have been back in the South Division hunt with another slip from the Sun Devils. But alas, USC is banned from postseason play because of the actions of someone who left while the current players were still in high school. So the Trojans can get their satisfaction by spoiling everyone else's fun.
Last game: Beat Colorado, 42-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Washington

 
16South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Week: 14
The Swedish Chef: South Carolina's offense wasn't in great shape anyway, but things got worse in the second half against Arkansas when quarterback Connor Shaw went down with what might be a concussion. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw and safety DeVonte Holloman, who also may have suffered a concussion, will be held out of practice at least Monday and Tuesday for evaluation, and both may be unavailable Saturday against Florida. A win against the Gators and a Georgia loss to Auburn would give South Carolina its second consecutive SEC East title, but even the game the Gamecocks can control looks difficult now. If Shaw can't go, redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson would start in his place. South Carolina might also use Bruce Ellington, a former high school quarterback who spent his first year at South Carolina as the basketball team's starting point guard. At this point, Spurrier has to feel as if he's doing the below when he draws the offensive game plan.
Last game: Lost to Arkansas, 44-28
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida

 
17Georgia Bulldogs
Last Week: 20
Dr. Teeth: Bulldogs coach Mark Richt could have panicked after his team dropped its first two to Boise State and South Carolina, but Richt was as unflappable as Dr. Teeth, whose stewardship of The Electric Mayhem was nothing short of remarkable. Floyd was always trying to go solo. Animal routinely ate his drum kit. Lead guitar player Janice and saxophonist Zoot always seemed to be on something that would have gotten them suspended for the New Mexico State game. But Dr. Teeth persevered -- even if he had to occasionally share ivory-tickling duties with Elton John -- and so did Richt, whose Bulldogs can win their first SEC East title since 2005 by beating Auburn and Kentucky in the next two weeks.
Last game: Beat New Mexico State, 63-16
Next game: Saturday vs. Auburn

 
18Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Week: 10
Statler and Waldorf: After a stunning loss to Northwestern, the Cornhuskers are as bitter as the two curmudgeons who sat in the balcony during episodes of The Muppet Show. They want to spoil Penn State's surprising undefeated Big Ten record, and they want to keep their own hopes alive in the Legends Division, which is now Michigan State's to lose after Nebraska's flop against the Wildcats. To do that, Nebraska's line will have to open some holes for I-back Rex Burkhead, who gained only 69 yards on 22 carries against Northwestern. If the Cornhuskers can move the ball against Penn State's defense, they might be able to heckle their way back into the conference title race.
Last game: Lost to Northwestern, 28-25
Next game: Saturday at Penn State

 
19Kansas St. Wildcats
Last Week: 18
Grover: In 1992, voice actor Frank Oz professed his admiration for Grover at a Museum of Television and Radio seminar. "I like Grover because really, he's wiry. He's tough," Oz said. "He gets emotional. But also he tries very hard to help people, and do things right, to the extent that he doesn't use contractions in his words." Wiry and tough? Sounds like the Wildcats, who exceeded expectations but fell just short in Stillwater this past weekend. Like Grover, Kansas State is usually an underdog. In fact, the Wildcats are three-point underdogs (at home) to four-loss Texas A&M on Saturday.
Last game: Lost to Oklahoma State, 52-45
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas A&M

 
20Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 24
Fozzie Bear: Well, this one was easy. The Longhorns are winning with young stars such as tailbacks Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, but their turnaround from 5-7 might not have come so quickly without the leadership of senior Foswhitt (Fozzy) Whittaker. Whittaker is the third tailback, but he averages six yards per carry. Meanwhile, he is Texas' top kickoff return man, averaging 42.4 yards per return with two touchdowns. Whittaker also pulls the trigger in the Longhorns' "Wild" formation. Whittaker's greatest contribution is the steady guidance he provides for his young teammates. Waka. Waka. Waka.
Last game: Beat Texas Tech, 52-20
Next game: Saturday at Missouri

 
21Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 21
Beaker: There isn't much to say about Ohio State's upcoming clash with Purdue. The Buckeyes are better than the Boilermakers, and they need this win to stay alive in the Leaders Division race. That fact alone should keep Ohio State from looking ahead to Penn State. So until kickoff, feel free to relax and enjoy Beaker's take on a classic Internet meme. (You're going to press "Replay" at least seven times.)
Last game: Beat Indiana, 34-20
Next game: Saturday at Purdue

 
22Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Last Week: 22
The Doozers: The Doozers were the best engineers in all of Muppetdom. No matter how many times some famished Fraggle ate a Doozer edifice, the Doozer Corps of Engineers had it back up almost as quickly. The team from the engineering school in Atlanta moved just as quickly last month. Just as Georgia Tech's football season seemed doomed after losses to Virginia and Miami, the Yellow Jackets rebuilt their ACC title chances by knocking off previously undefeated Clemson. Now, they can win the Coastal Division by beating Virginia Tech and Duke.
Last game: Beat Clemson, 31-17
Next game: Thursday vs. Virginia Tech

 
23Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Last Week: --
Sam Eagle: If the Golden Eagles would replace their mascot with Sam, merchandise sales would skyrocket. Of course, Southern Miss is exciting its fan base plenty with its play. This might be the best season in Hattiesburg in 15 years, and coach Larry Fedora's team is finding plenty of fun ways to win. Saturday, the Golden Eagles scored four non-offensive touchdowns (two interception returns, a blocked punt return and a punt return) to beat East Carolina on Saturday. But for an early slip against Marshall, Southern Miss might be competing for a BCS at-large slot. Even though they won't play in a BCS bowl, the Golden Eagles have drawn plenty of attention from some of the nation's athletic directors. Fedora will be a hot name for bigger job openings; on Monday, he had to dodge talk that he is a candidate for the Ole Miss job following the firing of Houston Nutt.
Last game: Beat East Carolina, 48-28
Next game: Saturday vs. UCF

 
24TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 25
Snuffleupagus: Until 1985, Snuffy was invisible to adults and visible only to Big Bird, other Muppets and children. Until 2009, when the Horned Frogs finally broke into a BCS bowl, they seemed invisible to the college football establishment. After winning last year's Rose Bowl, TCU fell out of view again with a season-opening loss to Baylor. The Horned Frogs didn't make national news again until they were invited to join the Big 12. Saturday, the eyes of the nation will be on TCU again. The Horned Frogs can strike a blow for their future power-conference brethren by beating Boise State and eliminating the uncomfortable possibility of the undefeated Broncos being denied a chance to play for the national title. Can TCU do it? If the rushing tandem of Ed Wesley and Waymon James -- who combined for 301 yards against Wyoming -- can keep chewing up yardage, the Horned Frogs just might do their future colleagues a favor.
Last game: Beat Wyoming, 31-20
Next game: Saturday at Boise State

 
25Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: --
Cookie Monster: Just as Cookie Monster tried to correct the terrible rumor that he had given up cookies for fruit, the Bearcats are trying to dispel the notion that the Big East champ will be mediocre. Cincinnati, which lost an early trip to Tennessee, has won everything since. The Bearcats have come from behind in the second half in three consecutive games, and they can knock West Virginia out of the conference race with a win Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. No one would be shocked if the Big East champ had a few conference losses, but so far, the Bearcats refuse to lose -- just as Cookie Monster refused to abandon cookies.
Last game: Beat Pittsburgh, 26-23
Next game: Saturday vs. West Virginia

Next five: Michigan, Auburn, Arizona State, Florida State, Virginia

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