By Andy Staples
November 22, 2011

If you've read this space or if you follow me on Twitter, you know I like to eat a little bit. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday -- because it's all about the food.

I plan on stuffing myself before heading to Arkansas-LSU on Friday and Alabama-Auburn on Saturday. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy. It's all getting consumed in mass quantities. This should be a wild weekend. I'm going to need to tank up. But first, allow me to whet your appetite with a Top 25 cornucopia of Thanksgiving traditions.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1 LSU Tigers
Last Week: 1
LSU Tigers (11-0)
Turkey: Other major holiday feasts allow for some flexibility in the choice of a main course. Thanksgiving does not. Goose, ham or lamb might be perfectly acceptable at a Christmas dinner, but only a turkey will do on Thanksgiving. By the same token, there can be no argument about the No. 1 team this week. The Tigers sit atop the Coaches' and Harris polls as well as every computer ranking used by the BCS. The only other team to earn a perfect score in the BCS standings was Ohio State, which stood alone atop the standings after Thanksgiving weekend in 2006. Of course, those Buckeyes finished that season with a 41-14 loss to Florida in the BCS title game, so just remember that nothing is set in stone. Also troubling for the Tigers: Arkansas has won three of its past four against LSU. The way the past few weeks have gone, we should expect chaos. Then again, Les Miles thrives on chaos, so we shouldn't be surprised if LSU rolls to victory.
Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 52-3
Next game: Friday vs. Arkansas
2 Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 3
Mac and Cheese: By virtue of its overtime loss to LSU on Nov. 5, Alabama has to be a side dish. But the Crimson Tide are the king of the side dishes. In fact, poor college students and toddlers have known for years that mac and cheese can be a meal all by itself. Alabama might be in the best position at the moment. Thanks to the wonder that is the BCS, LSU has to beat Arkansas and Georgia to guarantee passage into the BCS title game. Meanwhile, Alabama has to beat a young, recently beaten down Auburn team. The Crimson Tide haven't forgotten how they gagged away the Iron Bowl last season in Tuscaloosa, so they aren't likely to come in overconfident.
Last game: Beat Georgia Southern, 45-21
Next game: Saturday at Auburn
3 Arkansas Razorbacks
Last Week: 5
None: Keep the Razorbacks in your thoughts this week. Backup tight end Garrett Uekman, 19, died Sunday at a Fayetteville hospital after he was found unconscious and unresponsive in his dorm room. The Hogs will take the field against LSU with heavy hearts. The stakes will remain high for them. If Arkansas wins Friday and Alabama loses Saturday, Arkansas would win the SEC West and have the inside track to reach the national title game.
Last game: Beat Mississippi State, 44-17
Next game: Friday at LSU
4 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Last Week: 2
Sweet potato casserole: Sweet potato casserole is one of the great special occasion side dishes. It's ostensibly a vegetable, but it's so loaded with sugar that it probably should qualify as a dessert. The Cowboys are ostensibly still a national title contender, but their loss at Iowa State casts serious doubt on their ability to beat one of the SEC powers should Oklahoma State win Bedlam and take advantage of some form of chaos to reach New Orleans. Oklahoma State's defensive style -- give up lots of yards, but force lots of turnovers -- only works when the Cowboys' offense isn't turning over the ball. Friday in Ames, the offense gave the ball away five times. The defenses of LSU and Alabama can force plenty of turnovers, and their run-heavy offenses don't make many mistakes.
Last game: Lost to Iowa State, 37-31 (2OT)
Next game: Dec. 3 vs. Oklahoma
5 Oregon Ducks
Last Week: 4
Tofurkey: A week ago, a lot of people tried to make a case that one-loss Oregon -- which lost to LSU by 13 points in regulation -- belonged in the national title game instead of Alabama -- which lost by zero points to LSU in regulation. This is akin to arguing that Tofurkey is a suitable replacement for something that once had wings and feathers. It's fitting that USC, the Pac-12's closest approximation to the all-around power and athleticism of an elite SEC team, beat the Ducks to put that argument to rest. Oregon is an excellent team, and it will make a fine representative for the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl. But just as Tofurkey is not a main course-caliber dish, the Ducks are not a national title-caliber team.
Last game: Lost to USC, 38-35
Next game: Saturday vs. Oregon State
6 Stanford Cardinal
Last Week: 7
Camping out for deals: True story: I spent all of Thanksgiving night 2005 in a lawn chair outside a Circuit City. When Thanksgiving dinner wore off, I ate some doughnuts. Later, I broke up a fight. As the sun rose, I went home clutching a $200 laptop. Camping out for a Black Friday deal is one of those awesomely brutal exercises that everyone should try exactly once. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, they'll find themselves waiting for a BCS at-large deal for the second consecutive season. Because Stanford fans won't swarm a bowl site like a Big Ten or SEC fan base, the Cardinal aren't a popular choice as a BCS at-large team. But if a team finishes in the top four of the BCS standings and only one team from its conference has been taken, it automatically qualifies for a BCS bowl. This is how Stanford locked in the Orange Bowl last year. If the Cardinal beat Notre Dame, they'll have to stand in line for a week to find out whether they've finished high enough in the BCS standings to guarantee an at-large berth. Otherwise, they'll be at the mercy of bowls hoping to fill their stadiums.
Last game: Beat Cal, 31-28
Next game: Saturday vs. Notre Dame
7 Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week: 9
The competitive cook: My mother-in-law ran the show at Thanksgiving before I married into the family. But I'm a pretty fair cook myself, so I tried to grab as many of the glamour dishes as I could. This led to some passive-aggressive parceling out of cooking assignments until a couple of years ago, when we realized splitting up the good stuff just made it easier on both of us. Unfortunately, there is only one ACC title, so Virginia Tech can't cut any sort of deals with upstarts Clemson and Virginia. To maintain their stranglehold on the conference and book another boring trip to the Orange Bowl, the Hokies must beat the Cavaliers in Charlottesville this week and then avenge their 23-3 home loss to Clemson in the ACC title game. Win those, and I'll resume calling the league the Virginia Tech Conference.
Last game: Beat North Carolina, 24-21
Next game: Saturday at Virginia
8 Boise St. Broncos
Last Week: 10
Leftovers: Thanksgiving leftovers make up some of the best meals of the year. Some foods -- mac and cheese especially -- taste better after a night in the fridge. Unfortunately, leftovers don't get the same special treatment as the food consumed on Thanksgiving. They might ride on paper plates instead of china. So it goes for the Broncos, who probably could beat many of the teams that will play in BCS bowls. Unfortunately, Boise State won't win its own conference (TCU will), so even if Houston loses, the Broncos can't automatically qualify for a BCS bowl berth. With the BCS games unlikely to choose Boise State, the Broncos will be relegated to a leftover bowl.
Last game: Beat San Diego State, 52-35
Next game: Saturday vs. Boise State
9 USC Trojans
Last Week: 14
Gravy: No one expected this from the Trojans this season. They can't go to a bowl, so it ultimately doesn't matter how much they win. But double-digit wins would certainly be sweet. It's all gravy for USC, which is thumbing its nose at NCAA sanctions simply by playing excellent football. The youth of this team is shocking. Star receiver Robert Woods is a sophomore, while fellow receiver Marqise Lee is a freshman. Linebacker Hayes Pullard is a redshirt freshman. Freshmen and sophomores dot the starting lineup, and it isn't unrealistic to think the Trojans could be right in the thick of the Pac-12 title race when their postseason ban ends next season. Of course, if quarterback Matt Barkley decides to return for his senior season, USC could begin 2012 in the top five.
Last game: Beat Oregon, 38-35
Next game: Saturday vs. UCLA
10 Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 6
The memory of Leon Lett in the snow: The timeout called by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- which gave Baylor extra time to score a game-winning touchdown -- probably elicited the same slow-motion "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" reaction as the Big Cat did when the Cowboys defensive lineman tobogganed into a ball that began its journey as part of a field goal attempt. Lett's error cost the Cowboys a snowy Turkey Day game against the Dolphins. Stoops' error helped cost the Sooners any chance they had at reinserting themselves into the national title picture.
Last game: Lost to Baylor, 45-38
Next game: Saturday vs. Iowa State
11 Michigan St. Spartans
Last Week: 11
Mashed potatoes: Good old, dependable mashed potatoes. They're a stalwart side dish, except when they're lumpy. Then they're borderline inedible. The Spartans seem like the most dependable team in the Big Ten, but their losses -- to Notre Dame and Nebraska -- were exceptionally lumpy. For whatever reason, a team with a good quarterback, quality receivers, solid running game and an athletic defense simply failed to show up on two occasions this season. This week's game against Northwestern means nothing, so if the Spartans intend to be lumpy again this season, Saturday is the day to do it.
Last game: Beat Indiana, 55-3
Next game: Saturday at Northwestern
12 Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 12
The Macy's parade: The giants that float above the streets of New York aren't very agile. The giants who open the holes in Madison are much more mobile, but they'll be tested this week. Penn State's defense -- specifically defensive tackle Devon Still -- is notoriously stingy. Rushing yards likely will come at a premium. The past few weeks have reinforced the notion that tailback Montee Ball is the engine that drives the Badgers' offense, but the front seven of the Nittany Lions may neutralize Ball and force quarterback Russell Wilson to make the plays to win the Leaders Division and set up a rematch with Michigan State.
Last game: Beat Illinois, 28-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Penn State
13 Houston Cougars
Last Week: 13
Black Friday ads: In our family, the time after dinner is reserved for watching more football and for poring over the ads contained in the 10 newspapers we bought that morning. Do we need any of that stuff? Of course not. Will some of us show up at Kohl's at midnight ready to fight for a $60 digital video recorder? Probably. The Cougars had better be ready to fight Friday morning as well. An 11 a.m. local kickoff on Black Friday is a recipe for disaster, and it doesn't help that the home team can also claim the division title with a win. Forget the Conference USA title game. This is Houston's toughest test on the path to a BCS bowl.
Last game: Beat SMU, 37-7
Next game: Friday at Tulsa
14 Clemson Tigers
Last Week: 8
The kids' table: Every kid above the age of five wants to sit at the grown-up table. The food isn't any different, but no one at the big table makes sculptures with his own snot. Clemson almost got invited to college football's grown-up table this season. The Tigers might have had a shot to re-insert themselves in the national title race, but they showed their youth in a blowout loss to the Notorious TOB and NC State. Clemson has shown a lot of promise, but it will have to wait until next year to sit at the big table.
Last game: Lost to NC State, 37-13
Next game: Saturday at South Carolina
15 South Carolina Gamecocks
Last Week: 15
The oldest kid at the kids' table: After two surprise no-shows (Georgia and Florida) allowed the Gamecocks to dine at the grown-up table last year, they didn't think they would have to return to the folding table in the corner. The two Palmetto State rivals belong together here, though. Even at 9-2, South Carolina didn't meet this season's lofty expectations. The home loss to an inferior Auburn team ultimately derailed the Gamecocks' SEC East title chances. Which is a shame, because rarely will their SEC schedule draw be any easier than it was this year. Meanwhile, Clemson's expectations surged as the season went on, and that increase made last week's loss that much more disappointing. If all goes according to plan, South Carolina and Clemson will graduate to the grown-up table next year. But for now, the Gamecocks will settle for bragging rights and the first crack at dessert.
Last game: Beat The Citadel, 41-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Clemson
16 Georgia Bulldogs
Last Week: 16
The long-lost relative: This is an aunt or uncle or cousin who rarely calls and rarely visits but who decides to reconnect just in time for a massive, delicious meal. This person typically ends up dominating the conversations in which he is a participant as well as all those whispered sidebars at the far end of the table. Georgia can become the most talked-about team in America if it can upset the West representative in the SEC title game in Atlanta. But first, Georgia and Georgia Tech will engage in a little Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. The rivalry will mean more to the Yellow Jackets than it will to the Bulldogs, so Georgia should beware.
Last game: Beat Kentucky, 19-10
Next game: Saturday at Georgia Tech
17 TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 17
The salad: Nobody wants the salad on Thanksgiving, not with so many other delights clogging the table and the arteries. Nobody wants to get near the Horned Frogs, either. After a did-that-really-happen loss to SMU, TCU has looked much more like the team we've come to know in the past month. Still, coach Gary Patterson wasn't satisfied with what he saw last week against Colorado State. Even though his team clinched the Mountain West title, Patterson was irked that TCU came out flat following a thrilling win at Boise State. "We just went through the motions in that ballgame, the whole game," Patterson told The Associated Press. "If you want to be champions and a top 15 program, you've got to do things the same every week. Not once in a while. Every week." He's correct. The Horned Frogs are moving to the Big 12, and as Oklahoma State can attest, teams that come out flat in that league can lose to anyone.
Last game: Beat Colorado State, 34-10
Next game: Dec. 3 vs. UNLV
18 Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: 19
Finally, a good Lions game: Packers-Lions at Ford Field is the game of the week in the NFL, and it should offer some welcome relevance to a Thanksgiving tradition that died a little every time Matt Millen wasted another first-round pick. Of course, it probably won't be the biggest game in the state this week. For once, Michigan is better than Ohio State. That doesn't mean the Wolverines will finally snap their seven-game losing streak against the Buckeyes, but it means they should. Since Brady Hoke took over in Ann Arbor, he has trained his players to refer to the school in Columbus as "Ohio." If the Wolverines don't beat the Buckeyes this season, Hoke and all his players should be forced to call it "The Ohio State University" until they actually beat the Buckeyes.
Last game: Beat Nebraska, 45-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Ohio State
19 Kansas St. Wildcats
Last Week: 20
The wishbone: Bill Snyder must have pulled the long side last year. How else could anyone explain how the Wildcats beat Texas in Austin while gaining only 121 total yards? Clearly, this is a team of destiny. And where will that destiny lead? If the Wildcats can win Farmageddon -- best rivalry nickname ever -- and Oklahoma State wins Bedlam, Kansas State could find itself in a BCS bowl.
Last game: Beat Texas, 17-13
Next game: Dec. 3 vs. Iowa State
20 Penn St. Nittany Lions
Last Week: 21
None: There won't be any jokes about the Nittany Lions for the rest of the season. On the field, Penn State has a chance to win the Leaders Division by beating Wisconsin in Madison. The folks in Las Vegas are less than confident in Penn State's chances; the Badgers opened as an 18.5-point favorite. Gamblers pounded that number, reducing it to 14.5 by Monday night. Despite the Badgers' plethora of weapons, Penn State should be able to limit Wisconsin's offense. The question is whether Penn State can score. The recently added package with Curtis Drake and Bill Belton taking direct snaps provides a much-needed wrinkle to an offense that has struggled for much of the season.
Last game: Beat Ohio State, 20-14
Next game: Saturday at Wisconsin
21 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Week: 22
A stiff after-dinner drink: If Notre Dame can beat Stanford, the Fighting Irish should feel bittersweet about the way their season unfolded. They blew it in the opener against USF, and they should have beaten Michigan. USC was clearly the better team, but it turns out that USC was clearly better than a lot of teams. A win against the Cardinal would confirm Notre Dame's forward progress in Brian Kelly's second season at the helm. It wouldn't be enough to get the Irish into a BCS bowl, but it would portend a bright future in South Bend. Even though the appetizers tasted terrible, the main course met expectations. A win Saturday would offer the warmth of a tumbler-full of whiskey to wash down the meal and leave the diner in just the right mood.
Last game: Beat Boston College, 16-14
Next game: Saturday at Stanford
22 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Week: 18
Cranberry sauce (the can-shaped, gelatinous kind): It isn't pretty, but this stuff does serve a purpose. When switching between salty turkey and sweet potato casserole, it helps to cleanse the palate. Can-shaped cranberry sauce does the trick. Nebraska needs a win to cleanse itself of the memory of last week's beatdown in Ann Arbor. The Hawkeyes might have had a chance in this game, but with the Cornhuskers fired up to redeem themselves after losing out on their chance at an at-large BCS bowl bid, it could get ugly in Lincoln.
Last game: Lost to Michigan, 45-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Iowa
23 Baylor Bears
Last Week: --
Stuffing (or, in the South, dressing): It's not Thanksgiving without stuffing, and it's not college football awards season without a late surge that causes some serious ballot box stuffing. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III has been excellent all season. He has thrown for 3,572 yards and 33 touchdowns with just five interceptions, but his Heisman candidacy was derailed when the Bears got shellacked in consecutive games by Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. The campaign got back on track this past Saturday against Oklahoma, when Griffin threw for 479 yards and four touchdowns -- including a 34-yarder with eight seconds remaining to Terrance Williams -- and led Baylor to its first win against Oklahoma in school history. Against Texas Tech on Saturday, Griffin should get another chance to pad his stats with voters paying a lot more attention.
Last game: Beat Oklahoma, 45-38
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas Tech
24 Virginia Cavaliers
Last Week: --
Pumpkin pie: The Cavaliers have entered the dessert portion of their season. If they don't win another game, the strides they made in Mike London's second season will still exceed expectations. That doesn't mean Virginia players have any intention of stopping. They've already beaten Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida State. Now, they can win the Coastal Division by beating Virginia Tech. The beer will flow freely in the drinking establishments on The Corner if the Hoos can punch a ticket to Charlotte.
Last game: Beat Florida State, 14-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Virginia Tech
25 Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Last Week: 25
Turkey skin: As the person tasked with carving the turkey, I usually wind up gobbling most of the delicious, golden skin as a fee for my services. My taste buds love this, but my one-for-you, one-for-me style of carving always winds up spoiling my appetite. Friday, the Golden Hurricane can spoil Houston's chances to play not only in a BCS bowl but also in the Conference USA title game. You'll hear this a lot this week, but it bears repeating: Tulsa's only losses so far are to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. The Golden Hurricane have beaten their other opponents by an average of 23.6 points.
Last game: Beat UTEP, 57-28
Next game: Friday vs. Houston

Next five: Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Southern Miss, BYU, Arkansas State

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

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