Little separates unbeaten BCS contenders after Week 10

Tuesday November 5th, 2013

After routing Purdue, Braxton Miller (5) and Ohio State have outscored their last two opponents 119-14.
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMI

People keep asking, and frankly, I don't know what to tell them. Unless one of the undefeated contenders loses, there is no great way to separate the five teams at the top of the rankings. We can argue until we collapse over the relative merits of Alabama versus Oregon, or Oregon versus Florida State, or Florida State versus Ohio State. But that gets us nowhere. So far, all of these teams have been very, very good. Putting them in any sort of order is essentially an exercise in personal preference.

History tells us at least a few teams in that group will lose between now and Dec. 7. But what if no one does? Or what if only one does?

Might I offer a humble suggestion?

We know Mike Slive, Jim Delany and the other conference commissioners who run the multibillion-dollar business of college football enjoy money. Of this, there is no doubt. We also know ESPN enjoys creating must-see telecasts, and we know ESPN owns the rights to the biggest bowls. So why not make everyone happy and generate more money in the process? Take the teams ranked No. 1 through No. 4 in the final BCS standings and match No. 1 against No. 4 in one bowl, and No. 2 against No. 3 in another. The schools can't sell the broadcast rights to those, because they already have. Those games would appear on ESPN, and ESPN executives would be doing cartwheels over the prospect. Next, let the winners play a week later in a game they could sell to ESPN or Fox for (at least) $150 million. This would be a completely new product, so the rights could be sold to the highest bidder. Fox desperately needs a way to pry viewers away from My Little Pony and point them toward fledgling Fox Sports 1, while ESPN wants to maintain its place atop the world of televised sports. The bidding war would be tremendous. (And don't tell me this is logistically impossible. In the SEC and Big 12, school staffs occasionally put on games attended by 80,000-107,000 people with six days notice of the kickoff time. Six weeks is plenty of time to get a stadium ready and sell the tickets. The luxury suites are the only issue, but they'd sell just fine.)

The money can be split in any way the parties like, but this should happen already. By creating the playoff that starts next season, the powers that be in college football have acknowledged the inferiority of the BCS. So ditch the stupid thing one year early and do the thing you've already agreed to start doing next year. Just imagine an Oregon-Florida State semifinal. Imagine Urban Meyer and Nick Saban facing off in the other semifinal. The ratings would be through the roof. Certainly some venue would be happy to play host to a winner-take-all final between the winners of the Rose and Fiesta bowls (because those games are already scheduled for Jan. 1).

More than likely, most of these unbeatens will slip in the next month and render this idea moot. But why should the sport suffer even one more season with a system so clearly in need of retirement? If the logjam at the top remains, why not just do something logical that would make everyone happy and make the schools even more money?

Because this is college football. That's why.

MANDEL: Key matchups could bring clarity to BCS title race; more Overtime

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Alabama Crimson Tide
Las week: 1
Nick Saban got the 60 Minutes treatment on Sunday night. If you haven't already watched Armen Keteyian's piece, check it out here.

Last game: Beat Tennessee, 45-10
Next game: Saturday vs. LSU
2Oregon Ducks
Last week: 2
Need another reason to consider Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota for the Heisman Trophy? In the UCLA game, he took a hit that probably could have drawn a late-hit flag. Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr told reporters that Mariota asked officials not to throw a flag, but rather to let the players play. Thursday could make or break Mariota's Heisman campaign, but it's even more critical to Oregon's national title hopes. With so little to distinguish between the Ducks and Florida State -- another team that has crushed every opponent to date -- human voters will need to compare the results of the teams' toughest road games. Florida State beat Clemson 51-14 in Death Valley. What will Oregon do on the Farm?

Last game: Beat UCLA, 42-14
Next game: Thursday at Stanford
3Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 3
The Seminoles have done everything they can to this point to put themselves in a position to play for the national title. They edged out Oregon in this week's BCS standings, but Oregon's late-season schedule is tougher than Florida State's, so the Ducks will leap the Seminoles again unless human voters come over to Florida State's side. If the 'Noles keep thrashing all the teams on their slate, the ranking issues should work themselves out and open a path for Florida State. In Tallahassee, fans are worried the 2013 Seminoles will close the BCS era by mimicking the 2004 Auburn Tigers, but the odds suggest that won't happen.

Last game: Beat Miami, 41-14
Next game: Saturday at Wake Forest
4Ohio State Buckeyes
Last week: 4
Take everything I just wrote about Florida State and apply it to the Buckeyes, with one key distinction. There is no thrashing of a team comparable to Clemson on Ohio State's résumé. The Buckeyes' best hope is that Michigan State runs the table and provides a quality opponent in the Big Ten title game. To have a comparable best win, Ohio State would have to dump-truck the Spartans. That looks more difficult as the season wears on, but Ohio State has looked better with each passing week.

Last game: Beat Purdue, 56-0
Next game: Nov. 16 at Illinois
5Baylor Bears
Last week: 5
Beginning on Thursday, we'll learn if the Bears are for real. I spent time in Waco during the week of Baylor's Oct. 26 game against Kansas reporting a story that will appear in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, and I was impressed with the culture change Art Briles has effected in his time at the school. But everyone in that program knows none of its gaudy statistics will mean anything if the Bears can't beat the best of the Big 12. They'll get their chance in the next five weeks as they face the business end of a backloaded schedule.

Last game: Beat Kansas, 59-14
Next game: Thursday vs. Oklahoma
6Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 7
Defensive end Ben Gardner is lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, but the Cardinal could have fellow end Henry Anderson (knee) back for Thursday's visit from Oregon. Anderson has been out since Week 2, and his return could help ease some of the strain from Gardner's injury. Last year, Anderson racked up 16 tackles for loss and six sacks. The Cardinal will have to pressure Mariota to win. He has yet to throw an interception, but he also has yet to be harassed by a collection of pass rushers as good as Stanford's.

Last game: Beat Oregon State, 20-12
Next game: Thursday vs. Oregon
7 Clemson Tigers
Last week: 8
The Tigers probably don't want to hear this, but every time they crush an opponent, it strengthens Florida State's case for a spot in the BCS title game. Here's a better way to look at it for the folks who paint tiger paws on everything: Keep winning like they recently have, and BCS bowl officials will fight one another to take Clemson. That may not be much consolation for a team that once dreamed of much bigger things, but the Tigers can do the ACC a great service by continuing to blow out the foes in their path.

Last game: Beat Virginia, 59-10
Next game: Nov. 14 vs. Georgia Tech
8 Auburn Tigers
Last week: 9
No one believed Auburn coach Gus Malzahn -- the legendary Arkansas high school coach and former Razorbacks offensive coordinator who left on bad terms -- when he said Saturday's win in Fayetteville wasn't special other than the fact that it was the Tigers' eighth win. Of course it was special. But Malzahn is correct in his desire to maintain at least the façade of a routine. If Auburn treats the next two weeks (at Tennessee, vs. Georgia) the way it has treated the past few, it could set up a very interesting Iron Bowl on Nov. 30.

Last game: Beat Arkansas, 35-17
Next game: Saturday at Tennessee
9Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 10
This third consecutive set of Tigers did an excellent job of putting a potentially season-altering loss behind them and moving forward. Missouri could have allowed South Carolina to give the Tigers two losses, but coach Gary Pinkel's team throttled Tennessee last Saturday and showed why it still controls the SEC East race. Kentucky shouldn't be a problem, either. Then the Tigers have an open date to prepare for the two-week stretch (at Ole Miss on Nov. 23, vs. Texas A&M on Nov. 30) that will determine whether Missouri goes to Atlanta.

Last game: Beat Tennessee, 31-3
Next game: Saturday at Kentucky
10South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 11
What appeared on paper to be an easy South Carolina win actually wasn't. Last Saturday, the Gamecocks were outgained by Mississippi State and converted only one of 11 third downs. Fortunately for South Carolina, the defense forced five turnovers that the offense -- despite its struggles -- turned into 20 points. This formula could also work against Florida's struggling offense. It will not work against Clemson on Nov. 30. But the Gamecocks have some time to figure that out. For the next two weeks, they can concentrate on the Gators. A win against Florida would put the Gamecocks in the barn with a 6-2 SEC record. Deciding whether South Carolina goes to Atlanta would be up to Missouri and Georgia.

Last game: Beat Mississippi State, 34-16
Next game: Nov. 16 vs. Florida
11UCLA Bruins
Last week: 12
The Bruins haven't won in Tucson since 2003, and the combination of Arizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey and rapidly improving quarterback B.J. Denker should make UCLA defenders nervous. A few weeks ago, the Pac-12 South seemed like UCLA's division to lose. Now, it looks incredibly competitive. Arizona State bounced back from losses to Stanford and Notre Dame with three straight victories. USC has overcome its depth issues to improve. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have won three in a row. If the Bruins want another shot at Oregon or Stanford, they're going to have to fight for it.

Last game: Beat Colorado, 45-23
Next game: Saturday at Arizona
12 Miami Hurricanes
Last week: 6
Tailback Duke Johnson's season-ending ankle injury is a crushing blow for the Hurricanes, but they still have enough playmakers to win the ACC Coastal Division. Miami can essentially wrap up the division by winning its next two games. Virginia Tech is reeling after consecutive conference losses, but the Hokies know they can take control of the race by winning at Miami on Saturday. Given the level of dedication among the 'Canes' fan base, the Hokies probably won't have to deal with much crowd noise on Saturday. They will, however, have to deal with a bunch of Hurricanes eager to prove they are better than what they showed at Florida State.

Last game: Lost to Florida State, 41-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Virginia Tech
13LSU Tigers
Last week: 13
The wiseguys in Vegas have installed Alabama as an 11.5-point favorite. That's good for us. Why? Because it probably means Les Miles will have to dig into his bag of tricks. Remember the dearth of trick plays when the teams met twice in 2011? That's because Miles thought he had a team that could stand toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide. (He was correct in the first case, not so much in the second.) The safer bet in those games was to play straight up. Now, despite some great players on LSU's roster, there is a larger talent gap between the two teams. That means Miles will probably try to bend space and time. Since he's coming off yet another clock-management disaster at Ole Miss, Miles probably has spent the past few weeks honing his trick-play and time-wizard skills. We hear the grass at Bryant-Denny Stadium is delicious.

Last game: Beat Furman, 48-16
Next game: Saturday at Alabama
14Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 14
Last season, Johnny Manziel's Heisman campaign took flight in the Aggies' 10th game. That's when A&M went to Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama. Despite an offseason in which his every move was thoroughly documented, Manziel has managed to fly under the radar this year as the attention has shifted to undefeated quarterbacks such as Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston. But it's still an interesting exercise to compare Manziel's two seasons going into A&M's 10th game.

2012 Passing: 203-of-305, 2,527 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs
2012 Rushing: 138 carries, 922 yards, 15 TDs

2013 Passing: 200-of-276, 2,867 yards, 26 TDs, 8 INTs
2013 Rushing: 96 carries, 564 yards, 8 TDs

Manziel has accounted for 18 fewer total yards, but three more touchdowns. His completion percentage has increased, but so has his interception percentage. An effort to spend more time in the pocket seems to have paid off, and Manziel seems to be giving the Aggies nearly identical production to last year. The difference? The success of Mariota and Winston and the lack of a signature win like last year's upset of Alabama. Another difference? Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans has 52 catches for 1,147 yards and 12 touchdowns. That should put him on Heisman watch lists as well.

Last game: Beat UTEP, 57-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Mississippi State
15 Michigan State Spartans
Last week: NR
I overrated Michigan State the past two seasons, and it appears I've severely underrated the Spartans for most of this one. I really did plan to rank Michigan State earlier, but its 14-0 win over a Purdue team that doesn't stop anyone on Oct. 19 scared me into thinking the offensive improvement was a mirage. As the Spartans proved on Saturday against Michigan, it is not. The receivers are finally catching passes instead of acting as if they're allergic to leather. Quarterback Connor Cook looks to be in command of the group. That has given Michigan State a worthy complement to a defense that may be the best in the nation. Coordinator Pat Narduzzi has been doing this for years, but this may be his finest work.

Last game: Beat Michigan, 29-6
Next game: Nov. 16 at Nebraska
16Oklahoma State Cowboys
Last week: 19
The best part of the Cowboys' win in Lubbock last weekend wasn't necessarily their 52-point explosion or their quick 21-0 lead. It was the way Oklahoma State held it together after Texas Tech narrowed the Cowboys' lead to 28-24 just before the half. Their momentum was gone. The crowd was back in the game. What did the Cowboys do? They reeled off two quick touchdowns to retake command. With each passing week, Oklahoma State's Sept. 28 loss to West Virginia looks more mystifying. But if Mike Gundy's team can continue to play like it did in Saturday's second half, that loss may not matter.

Last game: Beat Texas Tech, 52-34
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas
17Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 15
While most of us have focused on the matchup between Baylor's offense and Oklahoma's defense, Bob Stoops has noticed the improvement of the Baylor defense. "It's probably the part of their team that hasn't been talked about nearly as much as it deserves," Stoops told reporters on Monday. "It's not surprising. They have like seven seniors on their defense." Stoops is correct. Coordinator Phil Bennett's group has come a long way since a 70-63 loss at West Virginia last year. At the moment, Baylor's defense ranks third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.17). The Bears have looked somewhat susceptible up the middle, but Oklahoma will have to establish its between-the-tackles running game without fullback Trey Millard, who was lost for the season after going down with a knee injury against Texas Tech.

Last game: Beat Texas Tech, 38-30
Next game: Thursday at Baylor
18UCF Knights
Last week: 17
For the Knights, this is the de facto championship game in the American. If they win, they get one mulligan to use in upcoming games against Temple, Rutgers, South Florida and SMU. Barring some unforeseen calamity, they'll win the league with a victory on Saturday against Houston. That won't be easy, though. The Cougars' only loss came in a 47-46 defeat to BYU on Oct. 19. Houston is the only team in the country to have scored in every quarter it's played.

Last game: Beat Connecticut, 62-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Houston
19Louisville Cardinals
Last week: 18
We know which team the Cardinals will root for when Houston visits UCF. A Cougars' win puts Louisville back in the conference title race, and the Cardinals could force a three-way tie by beating Houston next week. UConn probably won't put up much of a fight on Friday, so the Cardinals will have plenty of energy to cheer on and scout the Cougars on Saturday.

Last game: Beat South Florida, 34-3
Next game: Friday at Connecticut
20Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 21
The Fighting Irish survived Navy, so why move them up? Because suddenly their wins over Arizona State and Michigan State look an awful lot better. (Of course, Notre Dame's Sept. 7 loss to Michigan now looks worse.) The Irish should struggle less with Pittsburgh than they did last year. The Panthers have dropped three of four. After this, Notre Dame closes with games against BYU and Stanford. Its road certainly won't get easier.

Last game: Beat Navy, 38-34
Next game: Saturday at Pittsburgh
21Arizona State Sun Devils
Last week: 22
Sun Devils coach Todd Graham got a terrible scare this past weekend when the Dallas-bound plane he and his son were on for a recruiting trip dropped 25,000 feet before pilots leveled it off and made an emergency landing in New Mexico. On Monday, Graham said he was "happy to be here." Arizona State will hit the road for a second consecutive week to face a Utah team that has lost two in a row since shocking Stanford on Oct. 12. The Sun Devils have won four of five since their loss to Stanford, but they shouldn't get overconfident. The Pac-12 South is probably the most competitive division in the country, and Utah is coming off an open date.

Last game: Beat Washington State, 55-21
Next game: Saturday at Utah
22 Wisconsin Badgers
Last week: 23
I realize I'm not the Staples you'd probably choose for all your mullet news, but you'll want to watch this video of Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen's introduction at practice on Halloween. Andersen, who sported a tremendous mullet while playing at Utah, will get another crack at his alma mater's archrival this Saturday.

Last game: Beat Iowa, 28-9
Next game: Saturday vs. BYU
23Ole Miss Rebels
Last week: 24
The battered Ole Miss defense will have a little more manpower on Saturday. Freshman defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, who missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, will be back against Arkansas. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is probably lucky he didn't scare another Rebel into an injury with his Halloween prank.

Last game: Beat Idaho, 59-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Arkansas
24 BYU Cougars
Last week: 25
BYU as an independent is very, very interesting when it schedules well. The Cougars will visit Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, and 14 days later they'll play at Notre Dame Stadium. Win both, and the Cougars might have been in line for a BCS bowl berth if not for that head-scratching loss to Virginia in Week 1.

Last game: Beat Boise State, 37-20
Next game: Saturday at Wisconsin
25Northern Illinois Huskies
Last Week: NR
It's hard to judge Northern Illinois because beating Iowa and Purdue don't necessarily make a team great. But the Huskies didn't schedule any other AQ-conference teams. Even though Fresno State ranks higher in the current BCS standings, Northern Illinois looks like the best of the non-AQ bunch. To make a second consecutive BCS bowl, the Huskies will have to pass Fresno State, finish No. 16 or better in the final BCS standings and hope one of the AQ-league champs finishes below No. 16. Because voters like Louisville, Northern Illinois is better off if UCF beats Houston on Saturday. The Knights currently sit at No. 21 in the BCS, and their remaining schedule probably won't help much. (This, by the way, is your weekly reminder that the American still has a BCS bid for this season.)

Last game: Beat Massachusetts, 63-19
Next game: Nov. 13 vs. Ball State

Next five: Georgia, Texas, Texas Tech, Houston, Fresno State

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

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.