Tuesday November 17th, 2009

Not one AP Top 25 team faces another AP Top 25 team this week. Allow that to sink in for a second. BCS apologists and bowl representatives in ugly blazers always tell us the existing system preserves the regular season's relevance. Yet with two or three weeks -- depending on the conference -- remaining in that oh-so-relevant regular season slate, we're facing a weekend devoid of a single compelling game.

Our excitement for college football should be at a fever pitch now. Instead, thanks to the popularity contest that determines who plays for the national title and the money-grab decision three years ago to add a 12th regular-season game, college football has rendered itself completely unwatchable for a week. And barring some potentially spectacular upsets, this stint won't help those of us who rank teams figure out which squad belongs in which slot.

Sure, certain fan bases have reason to be excited. Ohio State-Michigan always matters, even if Michigan isn't very good. Nebraska-Kansas State should interest those who care which team Texas throttles in the Big 12 title game. But a week of Alabama-Chattanoogas and Florida-Florida Internationals leaves the casual fan wondering if he'd be better off raking leaves.

This isn't completely the system's fault. Kansas-Texas looked like an intriguing matchup two months ago. Oregon-Arizona seemed interesting just a week ago. Still, the BCS and the 12th game deserve full blame for the biggest stinkers on the slate.

Alabama, which has challenged itself out of the SEC the past two seasons by facing Clemson and Virginia Tech in season-openers, would be crazy to schedule anyone better than Chattanooga, a 6-4 FCS program that just wrapped a 4-4 Southern Conference campaign. The Crimson Tide always close their season against Auburn. The rivalry is so intense the best team doesn't always win, which means preparation time is critical. This season, Auburn has an open date before the game. So it would be the acme of foolishness for Alabama to schedule a decent opponent. This point was driven home further in April when the SEC, at the request of CBS, moved the Iron Bowl to Friday, giving Alabama a short week to prepare.

Replace Auburn with Florida State to understand Florida's predicament. The Seminoles aren't exactly elite, but FSU is less than a decade removed from a 14-year string of top four finishes. And just as in the Iron Bowl, the hatred runs so deep here that the best team doesn't always win. The Gators had three choices: 1) They could have front-loaded their nonconference schedule and played eight consecutive SEC games; 2) They could have taken their bye week early and played a nonconference patsy the week before they played at LSU; 3) They could have scheduled a sacrificial lamb the week before the FSU game.

Needless to say, scheduling FIU was an easy choice.

So don't expect many changes in the rankings next week. You didn't get many this week thanks to a heavy dose of chalk from the teams in the top 10. Stanford made the biggest move, rocketing from No. 22 to No. 11. Why such a rapid ascension? Colleague Stewart Mandel put it best in his College Football Overtime column on Monday. Stanford is like the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament that no one wants to play.

Unfortunately for us, nobody wanted to play anybody this week.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 1
Of the big three -- all of which field stout defenses -- Texas boasts the most explosive offense. Of course, that may be an illusion created by substandard Big 12 defenses.
Last game: Beat Baylor, 47-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas
2Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 3
Quarterback Greg McElroy completed three passes of more than 40 yards in the Crimson Tide's win against Mississippi State. If 'Bama keeps making big plays, the Tide could be unbeatable.
Last game: Beat Mississippi State, 31-3
Next game: Saturday vs. Chattanooga
3Florida Gators
Last Week: 2
Speaking of big plays, Florida's offense isn't only a three-yards-a-cloud-of-Tebow scheme -- even if it seems that way. The Gators have hit a play of 60 or more yards three times in their last five games.
Last game: Beat South Carolina, 24-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida International
4TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 5
Want more proof the Horned Frogs deserve to be ranked this high? Check out the NCAA's total defense rankings. The top three are (in order) Texas, Florida and Alabama. Guess who's No. 4? That's right, TCU, which allows an average of 244.9 yards a game.
Last game: Beat Utah, 55-28
Next game: Saturday at Wyoming
5Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 4
The Bearcats have looked beatable the past two weeks, so it's fortunate they have an open date before they face talented but underachieving Illinois. The Illini have an open date too, though.
Last game: Beat West Virginia, 24-21
Next game: Nov. 27 vs. Illinois
6Boise St. Broncos
Last Week: 6
The Broncos can send their Christmas cards to Palo Alto. Thanks to Stanford thumping USC, the final two-loss team that might have been an attractive at-large selection for a BCS bowl is out of the picture. Bowl officials are going to have a tough time justifying choosing anyone over an undefeated Boise State at this point.
Last game: Beat Idaho, 63-25
Next game: Friday at Utah State
7Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Last Week: 7
If not for one ill-fated night in South Florida in September, the national title picture would be even more intriguing. It's too bad. I would have loved to see the triple option against one of the defenses at the top of the poll.
Last game: Beat Duke, 49-10
Next game: Nov. 28 vs. Georgia
8Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 8
Holy Hugh Green! The Panthers still control their destiny for a major bowl, and the Heisman Trophy race is so wide open that a defensive player might slip into the top three. Quarterback Bill Stull and running back Dion Lewis have gotten plenty of pub, but safety Dom DeCicco and the Pitt defense (17.6 points a game) deserve a lot of credit for the Panthers' resurgence.
Last game: Beat Notre Dame, 27-22
Next game: Nov. 27 at West Virginia
9Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 9
Just like last year, all the fireworks come from the Ann Arbor side of The Game. While everyone at Michigan hunts for missing countable hours forms, the Buckeyes can play loose, comfortable in the knowledge that they've already won the Big Ten title. Not too loose, though. The Wolverines need a win for bowl eligibility, so their desperation could make Saturday tougher than it appears.
Last game: Beat Iowa, 27-24 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Michigan
10LSU Tigers
Last Week: 10
In terms of timing, LSU may face the nation's toughest schedule. The Tigers faced two top three teams (Florida and Alabama) that were coming off open dates, and now they must travel to Oxford just as Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has figured out how to use speedster Dexter McCluster. If LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson (ankle) doesn't play, this one could get very interesting.
Last game: Beat Louisiana Tech, 24-16
Next game: Saturday at Ole Miss
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