By Andy Staples
October 16, 2012

We've hit the halfway point of the season, and it's time to talk destiny. Some teams remain the captains of their own national title chances, while others have already begun rooting for conference foes they normally hate to get them back into the race. Today, we're going to focus on the teams that still have a chance to win their way into the national title game.

Still in control: None
Florida State would have been in control had it not lost at NC State, but it would take a lot for a one-loss ACC champ to make the BCS title game.

Big 12
Still in control: Kansas State
As long as the Wildcats keep winning, no one else stands a chance. But Las Vegas says they'll lose this week in Morgantown. That would bring West Virginia, Oklahoma and the TCU-Texas Tech winner back into play. The Big 12 is the deepest league in the country, and if it comes down to arguments about which one-loss champ deserves a slot in the game, the Big 12's champ will have an excellent case.

Big East
Still in control: None
Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers are undefeated, but barring a dramatic shift in pollster and computer opinion, one of these teams could go 12-0 and probably still wouldn't have a chance to play for the national title. As an aside, these are not the only teams that control their destiny in the race for the Big East title. Temple is also 2-0 in league play.

Big Ten
Still in control: None
Ohio State is undefeated but ineligible to play in the postseason. Of the rest, only Northwestern has fewer than two losses.

Still in control: Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, USC
Arizona State has a loss to Missouri and USC has a loss to Stanford, but a pair of wins against Oregon -- which either would need to win the Pac-12 and remain in the national title race -- would ease voters' minds. Meanwhile, the Oregon schools are in control for as long as they keep winning, which could make for the highest stakes Civil War ever played.

Still in control: Alabama, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M
Since four of these teams are in the SEC West, three of them are guaranteed to fall away. Meanwhile, Saturday's Florida-South Carolina game probably will eliminate another contender.

Independents and Non-AQ conferences
Still in control: Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish will make a BCS bowl if they go 4-2 the rest of the way. But if they win at Oklahoma and at USC and finish 12-0, they'll be a computer darling.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Last week: 1
If the Crimson Tide crush Tennessee and then hand Mississippi State its first loss, expect endless comparisons to the 2001 Miami team heading into the LSU game. Alabama is dominating everyone, and with our relentless 24/7 news cycle, we can't be more than two weeks away from a complete meltdown in a press conference by Nick Saban as he tries to control runaway expectations. I'll probably be just as guilty of premature anointing as anyone, but we all should remember the lesson of the 2005 USC team. That bunch looked like one of the greatest teams of all-time for much of its campaign, but it didn't win the national title. It's a long season. Alabama has so far proven impervious to the usual ebbs and flows, but that's going to get harder as the praise gets louder.

Last game: Beat Missouri, 42-10
Next game: Saturday at Tennessee
2 Oregon Ducks
Last week: 2
The road favorite in a Thursday night game faces a daunting scenario. The schedule is strange. The home crowd is usually pumped for a rare featured television appearance. The home team -- usually one of the conference's lesser lights -- is eager to make a statement on a national stage. If any set of circumstances can make Oregon look like less of a juggernaut, it's this one. But if the Ducks roll into Tempe and bulldoze much-improved Arizona State, there might not be much hope for the rest of the Pac-12.

Last game: Beat Washington, 52-21
Next game: Thursday at Arizona State
3 Florida Gators
Last week: 5
Any attempts to judge what will happen Saturday based on how each team handled LSU in the past two weeks should be tossed out. It's far more difficult to beat the Tigers in Baton Rouge, so do not assume the Gators will beat the Gamecocks simply because they could beat LSU and South Carolina couldn't. The Gators didn't take any chances against Vanderbilt, holding out players with nagging injuries and keeping out players who got dinged during the game. Most of those players will go against the Gamecocks Saturday. On Monday, Florida coach Will Muschamp said linebacker Jelani Jenkins, defensive end Dominique Easley, center Jonotthan Harrison, offensive tackle Xavier Nixon and guard James Wilson would play against South Carolina. Florida's win at Vandy wasn't pretty, but considering the fact that the Gators played a lot of second-teamers in key roles, it says a lot about Florida's depth -- especially on the offensive line.

Last game: Beat Vanderbilt, 31-17
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina
4 Kansas St. Wildcats
Last week: 6
If Kansas State wins the Big 12 title, the Wildcats will have earned it. They've already beaten Oklahoma in Norman, and now they must beat a desperate West Virginia team in Morgantown. Texas Tech provided a helpful guide for stopping the Mountaineers' offense. It includes novel concepts such as stuffing the run and actually covering West Virginia's receivers. Bill Snyder has seen a lot of good quarterbacks and a lot of good receivers. He should have his team ready. Plus, Kansas State linebackers Jarell Childs and Justin Tuggle offer a unique instinctual perspective. Childs is a converted tailback and Tuggle is a converted quarterback. That experience gives each a better idea of what the offense is thinking -- which can be critical when making snap decisions against an offense that works as fast as West Virginia's.

Last game: Beat Iowa State, 27-21
Next game: Saturday at West Virginia
5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last week: 7
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's biggest challenge this week might be keeping his team grounded after a thriller against Stanford. The Irish can't afford to look past BYU to the matchup with Oklahoma in Norman Oct. 27. "We will overcommunicate the message," Kelly said with a smile Saturday. Fortunately for Kelly, some of Notre Dame's best players seem to understand -- even if they haven't been in this position before. "This is only half of the season," Irish nose tackle Louis Nix said. "Anything can happen after this."

Last game: Beat Stanford, 20-13 (OT)
Next game: Saturday vs. BYU
6 Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 10
Judging by its defensive performance against Oklahoma State last week, Kansas may put up more of a fight against Oklahoma than Texas did. It still won't be enough. While most of the coverage of the Red River Rivalry focused on the shocking ineptitude of the Longhorns, the bigger story might be Oklahoma clicking in all facets of its offense. There might be a chicken-egg argument to be had there -- was the Oklahoma offense that good or the Texas defense that bad? -- but remember, Oklahoma also scored at will on Texas Tech in Lubbock the week before the Red Raiders' defense shut down West Virginia's offense.

Last game: Beat Texas, 63-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas
7 LSU Tigers
Last week: 11
LSU Tigers (6-1)
Remember when LSU was out of the national title picture? Yeah. That was a long week in Baton Rouge. The Tigers still have the same limitations (mediocre quarterback play, not much of a passing game, an up-and-down offensive line) but they also still have the same strengths (great defensive line, athletic linebackers and defensive backs, bruising backs, excellent punter). Given a chance to take over a team with those characteristics, most coaches would be thrilled to trade places with Les Miles. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Aggies should give the Tigers' defense a different sort of challenge Saturday, but Manziel will probably find less room to move around against LSU's fast defensive ends and linebackers.

Last game: Beat South Carolina, 23-21
Next game: Saturday at Texas A&M
8 South Carolina Gamecocks
Last week: 3
The Gamecocks still control their destiny in the SEC East, but they have to be kicking themselves about some of the mistakes they made at LSU. Still, if they were going to lose a game, that was the one to lose. South Carolina can work itself back into the national title picture by winning the rest of its games. A win at Florida Saturday would give the Gamecocks a stranglehold on the SEC East. A win against Clemson would bolster South Carolina's profile, and a win against Alabama -- however improbable -- would probably put the Gamecocks in the big game. Voters would likely forgive a two-point loss in Baton Rouge absent two quality undefeated teams. But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. South Carolina will have to shore up its run defense, or it may be reduced to watching the rest of the SEC race from the sidelines. LSU averaged 4.9 yards a carry against the Gamecocks. That may not sound like an outrageous amount, but in a matchup -- much like this one at The Swamp -- where yards and points will come at a premium, it's a killer. Florida has shown that it won't even bother trying to pass if it can run, so the Gators may negate the game-changing plays caused by Jadeveon Clowney and company on passing downs by running and relying on their defense. That's how Florida beat LSU. The only way for South Carolina to keep that from happening is to force Florida to throw by stopping the run.

Last game: Lost to LSU, 23-21
Next game: Saturday at Florida
9 Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 8
The Buckeyes looked quite vulnerable Saturday as Indiana kept racking up fourth-quarter points. The addition of fullback Zach Boren to Ohio State's banged-up linebacker corps was a godsend. Without Boren, who led the Buckeyes with eight tackles in his first game on defense since high school, Ohio State could have been in real trouble. If the defense -- which played Saturday without linebacker Etienne Sabino (leg) and end Nathan Williams (concussion) and lost safety Christian Bryant (leg) and cornerback Travis Howard (stinger) during the Indiana game -- remains nicked heading into Saturday's visit from Purdue, the Buckeyes may be in survival mode. They'll try to scrape out wins against the Boilermakers and Penn State and go into the bye week looking for a chance to heal.

Last game: Beat Indiana, 52-49
Next game: Saturday vs. Purdue
10 Oregon State Beavers
Last week: 9
Oregon State coach Mike Riley said all last week that Cody Vaz wouldn't miss a beat replacing injured starting quarterback Sean Mannion against BYU. Riley was correct. Vaz threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that hadn't given up much all season. Now the Beavers move back into conference play, where Vaz will meet another challenger from the Beehive State. This time, Vaz will have to avoid Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who might be a top-five pick in next year's NFL draft.

Last game: Beat BYU, 42-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Utah
11 Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 12
The Bulldogs got humiliated in Columbia Oct. 6, but they are perfectly set up to ride a lucky schedule draw -- Georgia's SEC West opponents are Ole Miss and Auburn -- if they get some help from the hated Florida Gators. If Florida beats South Carolina Saturday, Georgia can take control of the SEC East by beating Florida in Jacksonville. After getting whipped by South Carolina, the Bulldogs had an off week. Now they have the SEC's closest thing to a bye -- a game against Kentucky. Then they'll face Florida, which will be coming off an emotional, physical game against South Carolina. If the Gators take care of business, the Bulldogs will be in prime position to pounce.

Last game: Lost to South Carolina, 35-7
Next game: Saturday at Kentucky
12 Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 14
The Seminoles eased the sting of their loss at NC State by obliterating Boston College. Now they'll face a too-young Miami team that isn't quite ready for the ferocity of this rivalry. Unfortunately for Florida State, none of it matters from a national title perspective. Just take a look at the first BCS rankings. The computers hate the Seminoles (poll average: No. 28) because of their weak schedule -- thank West Virginia for that -- and voters have no respect for the ACC.

Last game: Beat Boston College, 51-7
Next game: Saturday at Miami
13 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: NR
Tommy Tuberville loves to beat top-five teams, but can he get his Red Raiders up again to face one of the best defenses in the Big 12? Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege barraged West Virginia, but TCU will provide a much stiffer challenge. Almost as tough a challenge as pronouncing Doege's last name correctly.

Last game: Beat West Virginia, 49-14
Next game: Saturday at TCU
14 Clemson Tigers
Last week: 15
Dabo Swinney's USC vs. USC retort to Steve Spurrier's Death Valley vs. Death Valley crack last week makes us hope the Tigers keep winning to make the annual matchup with South Carolina ultra-meaningful this year. But now that Clemson is done with its bye week, Swinney probably will turn his attention back to the opponent at hand. In this case, it's a desperate Virginia Tech team that cannot afford a second ACC loss. When the Tigers left the field after beating Georgia Tech Oct. 6, they thought their Atlantic Division title aspirations were toast. Hours later, Florida State lost to NC State, and now Clemson needs just one more Seminoles slip to be back in contention for a second consecutive ACC title. That should give the Tigers plenty of motivation.

Last game: Beat Georgia Tech, 47-31
Next game: Saturday vs. Virginia Tech
15 West Virginia Mountaineers
Last week: 4
Who knew the Mountaineers might struggle in Lubbock? Seemingly everyone in Las Vegas. While dummies like me thought West Virginia would roll, the wiseguys made the Mountaineers a scant four-point favorite. So, after Texas Tech exposed West Virginia's offense and defense, do the Mountaineers stand a chance against Kansas State, which is fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball and has a dynamic quarterback in Collin Klein? An idiot like me would tell you no. The wiseguys would tell you differently. West Virginia opened as a four-point favorite. (Though bettors quickly knocked the number down to three.)

Last game: Lost to Texas Tech, 49-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Kansas State
16 USC Trojans
Last week: 18
Take a look at this Lane Kiffin quote from after the Washington game. "I continue to remind myself there is one goal and that is to win the game. Are the numbers what we're use to? No. But we won," Kiffin told reporters. "Remember two times ago we went on the road and we weren't sitting here with a win. Yeah, we played conservative once we got a lead like that. We've said it all along. This isn't about anybody's numbers or Heisman or any of that. This is about winning games." This will probably be the only time you'll ever see Kiffin's name in the same sentence as Nick Saban or Les Miles, but that is exactly the philosophy those two have used with great success. (Steve Spurrier has also converted to that philosophy.) It may be boring, but all USC has to do is keep winning, and it can accomplish all its team goals. That might be impossible with Oregon on the schedule, but maybe the Trojans can lull the Ducks to sleep and walk out with a win.

Last game: Beat Washington, 24-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Colorado
17 Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last week: 20
The Bulldogs aren't going to get the same credit as SEC brethren Alabama, Florida, LSU or South Carolina until they beat someone of consequence, so naturally, Mississippi State won't be getting any credit as it dips into the Sun Belt this week. Next week, we'll find out what Tyler Russell, LaDarius Perkins, Johnthan Banks and the crew are really made of when they go to Tuscaloosa to play the most consequential team in the nation.

Last game: Beat Tennessee, 41-31
Next game: Saturday vs. Middle Tennessee
18 Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 17
Cardinal players and coaches think they got robbed in South Bend, but when you have two downs to go less than three feet, you don't leave it in the hands of the officials to decide. Speaking of officials making decisions, remember in 1982 when the NCAA overruled the result of The Play and gave Stanford the victory? Well, that's because it never happened, but days after the game, several thousand readers of Cal's student paper, The Daily Californian, thought it had. Pranksters from The Stanford Daily had replaced thousands of real issues with fakes that touted the nullification of The Play. If there was a Prank National Title, Stanford would have walked off with a crystal set of Groucho Marx glasses in 1982.

Last game: Lost to Notre Dame, 20-13 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Cal
19 Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 22
Let's take a look at Johnny Manziel's numbers through six games and compare them to Tim Tebow's numbers through the first six games of his 2007 Heisman Trophy season and Cam Newton's numbers through the first six games of his 2010 Heisman Trophy campaign.

Year Player Passing Stats Rushing Stats
2007 Tim Tebow 97-148, 1,455 yards, 13 TDs, three INTs 105 carries, 500 yards, nine TDs
2010 Cam Newton 70-108, 1,138 yards, 12 TDs, five INTs 104 carries, 672 yards, nine TDs
2012 Johnny Manziel 128-190, 1,680 yards, 14 TDs, three INTs 91 carries, 676 yards, 10 TDs

As you can see, Johnny Football is in some very impressive company. Tebow and Newton got better as their Heisman seasons went on, and since Manziel is a freshman, it makes sense that he also would improve with more experience. Of course, he still has to play LSU, Alabama and Mississippi State, so it remains to be seen if he can keep up this pace. If he can against that level of competition, he deserves to be in New York in December.

Last game: Beat Louisiana Tech, 59-57
Next game: Saturday vs. LSU
20 TCU Horned Frogs
Last week: NR
TCU returns to the rankings this week after bouncing back from a loss to Iowa State. The Horned Frogs probably don't lose to the Cyclones if quarterback Casey Pachall isn't arrested on a DWI charge Thursday, forcing redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin to start with no real preparation. After a full week of practice with the first team, Boykin shredded Baylor for 261 passing yards and four touchdowns and added 56 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Now, Boykin must face the team that shut down Geno Smith.

Last game: Beat Baylor, 49-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas Tech
21 Michigan Wolverines
Last week: NR
Michigan finally broke through against Ohio State last year, putting an exclamation point on Brady Hoke's first season at the helm. But for the Wolverines to regain the stature they once held, they must also retake control of their own state. After four consecutive losses to Michigan State, the Wolverines must show the Spartans that a threat lives in Ann Arbor. This should be the perfect opportunity. Michigan State's offense has been atrocious, and the Spartans are reeling after an overtime loss to Iowa. If Michigan can't beat Sparty now, it has bigger problems.

Last game: Beat Illinois, 45-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Michigan State
22 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Last week: 21
The Scarlet Knights followed an offensive explosion against Arkansas with workmanlike wins against Connecticut and Syracuse. That suits Rutgers coach Kyle Flood just fine, and it provided great preparation for Temple, a grind-it-out team that runs twice as often as it throws. The Owls are the surprise team in the Big East thus far, but Rutgers feels like the most consistent in a league not known for producing steady teams.

Last game: Beat Syracuse, 23-15
Next game: Saturday at Temple
23 Arizona State Sun Devils
Last week: NR
With Taylor Kelly tossing touchdowns left and right and a quartet of backs dividing the rushing load, the Sun Devils should present the greatest offensive challenge Oregon has seen all season. This team seems to get better each week, and Thursday, Arizona State will try to shock the college football world. Meanwhile, noted Birther Sparky will continue to go negative in his campaign against the Oregon Duck. Where does Sparky get the money for these ads? SuperPAC-12, of course.

Last game: Beat Colorado, 51-17
Next game: Thursday vs. Oregon
24 Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 23
Forget the game, where the Cardinals are going to pound the Bulls. The real action will come when Louisville announces the identity of its homecoming king. The smart money is on sunny backup quarterback Will Stein.

Last game: Beat Pittsburgh, 45-35
Next game: Saturday vs. South Florida
25 Cincinnati Bearcats
Last week: 24
The Bearcats need to make quick work of the Rockets and then start preparing. They'll face Louisville the following Friday in a game that should help decide the Big East title. With any luck, the Cardinals will still be hung over from Stein's homecoming coronation.

Last game: Beat Fordham, 49-17
Next game: Saturday at Toledo

Next five: Louisiana Tech, Texas, Boise State, Washington, Ohio

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

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