NCF Nation: power rankings 11
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Then there were two. Alabama and Florida have emerged as not only the two teams that will battle it out on Dec. 6 for the SEC championship, but the winner of that game is also positioned to get a shot at the national championship as long as neither team stubs its toe these last few weeks of the regular season. Florida was expected to be here. Alabama was not. Well, outside the state of Alabama anyway. Here's a look at this week's SEC power rankings:
1. Alabama: Everybody wants to know who's better: Alabama or Florida? The great thing is that we're going to get to find out on Dec. 6 in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide (10-0, 5-0 SEC) proved they could win a tight one on the road last week in overtime. The combination of that offensive line, running game and freshman receiver Julio Jones looks pretty good right now. Alabama is unbeaten with three Top 15 wins away from home. Until somebody beats the Tide, they're going to stay No. 1 in this poll.
2. Florida: Watching Florida play right now is like watching a machine. The Gators (8-1, 6-1 SEC) score when they want to. They block kicks with frightening ease, and they're playing defense at a championship level. The one hiccup on their resume is that home loss to Ole Miss. But in retrospect, that loss might have done them more good than anything, because they've been unstoppable ever since.
3. Georgia: Anybody seen the Georgia defense? With three weeks to go in the regular season, it's missing in action. The Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2 SEC) have given up 125 points in their last three games, and if not for a huge day from the offense last week, would have lost at Kentucky. The Wildcats rushed for 226 yards against the Bulldogs and controlled the ball for nearly 35 minutes. This is a Georgia team that's going to lose again this season if it doesn't get its defensive problems straightened out.
4. LSU: With Tiger Stadium at a fever pitch, LSU (6-3, 3-3 SEC) delivered one of its best performances of the season Saturday, but it still wasn't good enough to win. No. 1-ranked Alabama escaped 27-21 in overtime, thanks largely to LSU mistakes. And to be specific, those mistakes were four interceptions by redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee. He's thrown 14 interceptions this season and had his sixth interception returned for a touchdown Saturday by the Tide. No matter how well you're playing anywhere else, it's hard to win when you're making that many critical mistakes at the quarterback position.
5. South Carolina: Don't look now, but the Head Ball Coach has his club streaking. The Gamecocks (7-3, 4-3 SEC) knocked off Arkansas at home last week and have now won six of their last seven games. They're easily one of the most improved teams in the league after starting out 0-2 in the conference, including a loss at Vanderbilt. It's no secret how South Carolina is doing it -- defense, defense and more defense.
6. Ole Miss: The sixth spot in this week's rankings was the hardest one to select. Moving Ole Miss past Vanderbilt wasn't easy to do, because Vanderbilt won at Ole Miss earlier this season. But Ole Miss has played much better of late and been in every game, whereas Vanderbilt has lost four in a row. The Rebels (5-4, 3-3 SEC) have a chance to finish up with seven wins or more this season. So we'll find out if they truly belong in the upper half of the SEC.
7. Vanderbilt: In dropping their fourth straight game, it's obvious that the Commodores have some real issues right now on offense. Florida's going to beat a lot of teams badly. But Vanderbilt has to be able to execute better offensively and move the football if it's going to win that sixth game and get to a bowl. The Commodores (5-4, 3-3 SEC) have three more chances -- at Kentucky this Saturday, home against Tennessee on Nov. 22 and at Wake Forest on Nov. 29.
8. Kentucky: The Wildcats (6-4, 2-4 SEC) already have the six wins they need to go bowling. But they came agonizingly close to really making this a memorable season in a 42-38 loss to Georgia. Rich Brooks has done a super job in building depth in the program and getting the players to believe. The good news coming out of the Georgia loss is that freshman quarterback Randall Cobb helped energize an offense that had been struggling. But the defense, which had been carrying this team, couldn't stop Georgia when it had to.
9. Arkansas: The Razorbacks (4-6, 1-5 SEC) got a big scare when tailback Michael Smith left the South Carolina game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. It appears to be a stinger, and the good thing for him and the Hogs is that they're off this Saturday. The Hogs continue to be competitive, but youth and turnovers are killing them. They've turned the ball over 23 times this season, while forcing just 15.
10. Auburn: Auburn sat most of its starting defensive linemen against Tennessee-Martin and escaped with a ho-hum 37-20 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium last week. The Tigers (5-5, 2-4 SEC) face a tall order if they're going to become bowl eligible. They play Georgia at home this Saturday and then Alabama on the road in two weeks. It's been a miserable season on the Plains. Winning either one of those games would help ease the pain.
11. Tennessee: It just keeps getting worse for hapless Tennessee, which somehow found a way to lose to Wyoming at home five days after it was announced that Phillip Fulmer was being forced out as coach. The Vols (3-7, 1-5 SEC) have now lost seven games in a season for only the second time in school history. They've gone three straight games without scoring in double digits. It's a complete train wreck on Rocky Top, and the only reason they're not dead last is that they beat Mississippi State head-to-head by 30-plus points.
12. Mississippi State: How bad is Mississippi State? Well, the Bulldogs (3-6, 1-4 SEC) lost to Tennessee. That qualifies as being pretty bad this season. Mississippi State was off last weekend and closes with a road game at Alabama this Saturday, home game with Arkansas on Nov. 22 and road game with Ole Miss on Nov. 28. Injuries have played a large role in the Bulldogs' struggles this season, but an ineffective offense has been the biggest problem.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin1. Texas Tech -- Dominant performance over Oklahoma State shows that these Red Raiders are legitimate national title contenders.
2. Texas -- BCS hopes look bright considering its favorable schedule compared to the rest of the Big 12's elite. But Texas still needs some help to qualify for its first Big 12 Championship Game since 2005.
3. Oklahoma -- Playing its best football of the season down the stretch, outscoring opponents 91-21 in the first quarter since Texas game. And the Sooners still have some serious mystique against Texas Tech at Owen Field.
4. Oklahoma State -- Defense was discombobulated by Graham Harrell, ending its BCS hopes.
5. Missouri -- Tigers can wrap up second-straight North title with victory over Iowa State and Kansas loss to Texas this weekend.
6. Nebraska -- The Cornhuskers are headed somewhere warm for a December bowl game. After the chill of the end of the Bill Callahan regime, Bo Pelini's regime is off to a good start.
7. Kansas -- How much would Mark Mangino love to spoil Texas' BCS hopes after a bitter loss in an almost identical situation four seasons ago?
8. Colorado -- Cody Hawkins' comeback and late goal-line stand against Iowa State has pumped some life back into Buffaloes' bowl hopes.
9. Baylor -- Bears will be battling sizable Aggie history Saturday in Waco. A&M has posted a 20-1-1 record in the series since 1986, but Robert Griffin never played in any of those games.
10. Kansas State -- Wildcats finish with two-game home stretch, but attention from the action on the field is diverted by coaching search.
11. Iowa State -- Stopped inches short of an upset at Colorado. Instead, Cyclones' 16-game road losing streak remains second-longest in nation behind only UAB.
12. Texas A&M -- Aggies' final home game ended with a thud as they concluded first five-loss home season in program's history with Oklahoma scoring more points than any other road opponent ever.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The top three are obvious at this point. After that, it's anybody's guess. Here's mine.
1. Penn State (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) -- Despite the stumble in Iowa City, the Lions remain on top because of what they had done until Saturday night. Penn State remains the league's most balanced team, and if quarterback Daryll Clark regains his rhythm, the Lions will be very tough to beat again. They still control their own destiny when it comes to the Big Ten's BCS tiebreaker.
2. Ohio State (8-2, 5-1) -- It took 10 weeks, but Ohio State might finally be coming together on both sides of the ball. The defense has really been solid most of the season, but the offense finally showed balance in a 45-10 win at Northwestern. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor stretched the field and got multiple receivers involved, and Chris "Beanie" Wells wore down the Northwestern defense. A league title and a BCS bowl berth remain possibilities.
3. Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) -- Mark Dantonio's team keeps plodding along, improving to 9-2 with a workmanlike win against Purdue. Linebacker Greg Jones headlined one of the league's steadiest defenses, and running back Javon Ringer eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the seventh time this season. The Spartans are a sure bet for a New Year's Day bowl, if not something more.
4. Iowa (6-4, 3-3) -- The biggest win in recent team history pushes the Hawkeyes up the rankings, though the lack of consistency among other Big Ten squads certainly helps. Iowa finally won a close game after so many near misses and can finish the season with seven or eight victories, validating a turnaround after a miserable offseason.
5. Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) -- Fortunately for the Wildcats, they don't have to see Ohio State again until 2011. Northwestern always looks outclassed against the Buckeyes, and Saturday's game was no exception. Despite an improved defense, Northwestern couldn't get off the field or generate much offense against James Laurinaitis and Co. Still, the Wildcats are in good shape for a solid bowl.
6. Minnesota (7-3, 3-3) -- Anxiety is high in the Twin Cities after back-to-back home losses, the second in rather pathetic fashion against Michigan. Minnesota's offense hasn't scored a touchdown in nearly seven quarters, and things could get worse if star wideout Eric Decker misses more time with an ankle injury. The Gophers need to bear down and show that the late-season collapses of the past won't happen this year.
7. Wisconsin (5-5, 2-5) -- The Badgers finally had some fun Saturday at the expense of a banged-up Indiana team. But the team's confidence level definitely seems higher with Dustin Sherer under center. The run game has cranked up the last two weeks, and there could be more big numbers against a Minnesota defense that struggles to stop the run. Another win secures bowl eligibility.
8. Illinois (5-5, 3-3) -- Saturday sure seemed like the time for the win-one, lose-one pattern to end, but this underachieving Illinois team surprised us yet again and crumbled against Western Michigan. Now the Illini are on the verge of going from the Rose Bowl to no bowl. Then again, they've played Ohio State tough the last two years, winning last November in Columbus, and are capable of an upset this week.
9. Michigan (3-7, 2-4) -- Not only did Michigan prevent the possibility of a 10-loss season; it looked pretty darn impressive Saturday at Minnesota. A defense that was supposed to carry the team all season showed up in force after a month-long layoff, and the offense moved the ball well. Rich Rodriguez will get this turned around soon enough, and Michigan could build some momentum this week against Northwestern.
10. Purdue (3-7, 1-5) -- Joe Tiller won't be going bowling in his final season at Purdue, and he has his offense to blame. The Boilers didn't score until the final minute at Michigan State and mustered fewer than 10 points for the fourth time this season. Purdue needs to beat both Iowa and Indiana to avoid the lowest wins total in Tiller's tenure.
11. Indiana (3-7, 1-5) -- You have to feel for head coach Bill Lynch. Injuries have decimated his roster, he was down to his fourth-string quarterback against Wisconsin and students held up a "Fire Bill Lynch" sign in the stands. It's not fun right now for anyone around that football program. The good news is only two games remain.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Sorting out the Pac-10 pecking order after 10 weeks.
Only change this week is Arizona State moving up a spot, switching places with UCLA.
1. USC: The defense was dominant, the offense merely adequate, but the Trojans kept their outside shot at reaching the BCS title game alive by beating California 17-3. The Penn State loss helped the Trojans, but it also means the Rose Bowl could be an interesting matchup -- if USC gets there. Up next: At Stanford.
2. Oregon State: Now the real work begins. Oregon State is riding a four-game winning streak after blowing out UCLA and entered the national polls for the first time this season. The four wins, however, have come vs. teams with a combined 7-30 record. The three teams that remain between them and the Rose Bowl all have winning records and are a combined 19-9. Up next: California.
3. Arizona: Arizona, congrats! You are going to a bowl game! But how greedy are you going to be? If the goal is merely to be mediocre, then a 6-6 finish and an Emerald Bowl berth should be fine. Of course, a couple more wins means far greater prestige and momentum for the future. Up next: At Oregon.
4. California: Cal played USC tough but couldn't make critical plays on offense to outmaneuver the rolling thunder of the Trojans defense. But a good bowl berth and a return to the national rankings are still there for the taking. The Bears have just got to go a take them, starting at Oregon State.
5. Oregon: It wasn't a thing of beauty but Oregon survived a challenge from a solid Stanford team. Ducks fans booed, but recall that this is the point when more than a couple of seasons have unraveled. This one is still raveled. Visit from Arizona, though, is a separation game.
6. Stanford: The loss at Oregon hurt. The Cardinal was so close to earning a sixth win and bowl eligibility, but, instead, for the second time this year they yielded a last-second, game-winning touchdown. That elusive sixth win won't be easy to come by with USC next and the season-finale at Cal on Nov. 22.
7. Arizona State: Signs of life from the Sun Devils? Running back Keegan Herring and receiver Michael Jones giving quarterback Rudy Carpenter a hand with the offense? A six-game losing streak is over, and three games remain that could restore respectability to a lost season, starting with a visit from Washington State.
8. UCLA: Tied at halftime, UCLA lost the second half to Oregon State 31-3. Not good. That means the Bruins' dwindling bowl hopes hinge on winning each of their final three games. A visit to Washington on Saturday for the Huskies Blame All That is Evil on Neuheisel Showcase is followed by a trip to Arizona State. Both doable. Then comes the annual showdown with USC.
9. Washington: The Huskies actually led Arizona State, 19-16, into the third quarter. Then everything, as expected, went to hell, but that qualifies as an accomplishment in a season of complete woe. Wonder if fans will show up to jeer Rick Neuheisel when he brings UCLA to town on Saturday?
10. Washington State: Just like their friends on the western side of the state, the Cougars also briefly were competitive this weekend. They were tied with Arizona, 14-14, in the second quarter. Then the Wildcats scored 28 consecutive points and put things out of reach. Still, the Cougs' offense showed a pulse, scoring a season-high 28 points against an FBS opponent.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Doctors don't have to think this much during a day's work. At least they know where all the parts are supposed to be. Keep in mind when you read this that the best teams in the league aren't necessarily the ones that will wind up in Tampa. (More on that later today). This is like trying to solve a Rubik's cube, but here goes:
1. Florida State (7-2,4-2 ACC) -- The Seminoles continue to get better every weekend and are one fumble away from being 8-1. This is the one team in the league that has played consistently in all three phases of the game.
2. North Carolina (7-2, 3-2) -- The Tar Heels earned this spot by defending Georgia Tech's option, playing well on special teams and leaving no doubt that their running game can give opponents fits. Even if it didn't happen in the standings, the Tar Heels created some separation on the field Saturday.
3. Wake Forest (6-3, 4-2) -- In their win over Virginia, the Demon Deacons showed why they were once a ranked team this season and finally looked like the kind of team Jim Grobe is used to. They ran the ball well and scored on defense.
4. Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2) -- The Hokies (and Darren Evans) shut some people up with their breakout performance on offense against the Terps. The only reason there is any lingering doubt about this offense is because, well, they racked up the yardage against Maryland, not one of the better defenses in the league.
5. Miami (6-3, 3-2) -- The Hurricanes will have a chance to bump the Hokies out of their new spot on Thursday night and will have had the bye week to prepare for them. The Canes are looking to extend their four-game winning streak.
6. Georgia Tech (7-3, 4-3) -- The Yellow Jackets' performance against UNC was subpar, particularly on defense in the fourth quarter. Josh Nesbitt said his team "didn't come ready to play," and it showed.
7. Boston College (6-3, 2-3) -- The Eagles move up a notch after their shutout of Notre Dame, but their offense is keeping them from making a serious move. Yes, defense wins championships, but not every team is going to hand it over five times.
8. Virginia (5-5, 3-3) -- The Cavaliers couldn't get their offense going at Wake Forest, and instead were flustered into mistakes by the Demon Deacons' defense. The team that was once the hottest in the ACC has now lost two straight and is still trying to find that elusive win to become bowl eligible.
9. Maryland (6-3, 3-2) -- The Terps looked bad in Lane Stadium, plain and simple. The defense gave up 400 yards and the offense had minus-12 yards rushing. And they were the veteran, ranked team on the field.
10. Clemson (4-5, 2-4) -- The Tigers couldn't quite keep it together in Tallahassee, and are now in a position where they have to win their last three games to go to a bowl. Even that is a daunting task, considering South Carolina just moved into the rankings.
11. NC State (3-6, 1-4) -- The Pack deserves some credit for not quitting and winning its first ACC game of the season. This is a better team than its record indicates.
12. Duke (4-5, 1-4) -- The Blue Devils had a chance to impress their home crowd and get one step closer to a bowl game, but couldn't stop NC State quarterback Russell Wilson or J.C. Neal on special teams.
We're heading down the homestretch. I'm not sure after watching the Utes beat TCU last week that anyone is going to beat them. It seemed like everything was going their way in that game. Call it destiny or whatever, it just seemed to be Utah's night and maybe its season.
1. Utah: The Utes control their own Mountain West and BCS destiny. Win out and they get everything. Lose and they'll have to share the conference title and likely miss out on their second BCS game this decade.
2. Boise State: There were a few issues against Utah State this weekend -- penalties, points allowed, turnovers, etc. -- but overall, Boise State was its usual dominant self. That should continue this week against in-state "rival" Idaho.
3. Ball State: The Cardinals needed to thrash a team on national TV to wake up voters and that's exactly what they did Wednesday against Northern Illinois. The Cardinals aren't giving up a BCS bid without a fight. Too bad they have the most difficult road to get there.
4. TCU: The Horned Frogs still have a chance at the Mountain West title, but they'll need a lot of things to fall into place for that to happen. I still think TCU has a great team, but it didn't have enough to pull out the most important win of their season.
5. BYU: The Cougars got a much-needed blowout. It was the first time since before the TCU game that BYU dominated its opponent and it's a good warmup heading into a tough game against a red-hot Air Force team. Loser is out of the Mountain West title hunt.
6. Central Michigan: The Chippewas took the week off and got a good glimpse of their competition, Ball State. The two teams don't meet until next week, but it figures to determine the MAC West champion and probably the MAC overall winner.
7. Western Michigan: What a huge win over Illinois this past weekend to move to eight wins for the second time since 2006. The Broncos have proven to be bowl worthy, but might need a little help in getting there. The conference has only three bowls and two go to the teams in the conference championship (with winning records).
8. Tulsa: The idle week seemed to put the Golden Hurricane in better standing with pollsters as they jumped back into the BCS poll after a brief stint out of it. Tulsa still has the C-USA championship to work toward and C-USA's best bowl. Yeah, it's not the BCS, but with the way Utah and Boise State are playing, I'm not sure the Golden Hurricane would have gotten in anyway.
9. Navy: A year ago the Midshipmen made history by beating Notre Dame for the first time in 44 years (and three overtimes) and now they have a chance to pick off the Irish again. The Midshipmen have beaten quality teams this season, including Wake Forest, and have proven to be a better team than previously thought.
10. Air Force: All preseason, people questioned whether the Falcons could use freshman to make this team as good as it was a year ago, and quarterback Tim Jefferson and company have proven they're more than capable. Any other year Troy Calhoun would be the MWC Coach of the Year and could still be if the Falcons tie for the MWC Conference title.
Twelve weeks into the season, we have a first-timer in first place.
1. Cincinnati (7-2, 3-1): You go into Morgantown and knock off the previous week's No. 1 team, and you get to rise to the top for at least one week. Plus, Cincinnati has Pittsburgh at Nippert Stadium in two weeks in what could become the league's championship game.
2. Pittsburgh (7-2, 3-1): The Bearcats scored the biggest win of the week, but Pitt looked awfully impressive in dismantling Louisville at home. The Panthers get a week off before going through the tough final gauntlet of Cincinnati-West Virginia-Connecticut.
3. West Virginia (6-3, 3-1): All the Mountaineers have to do is win out and have Cincinnati lose once, and they'll be league champs again. Instead of worrying about that, though, they need to fix some areas during their bye week, starting with kickoff coverage.
4. Connecticut (6-3, 2-2): We're not sure who will be UConn's quarterback this week -- Cody Endres? Zach Frazer? Tyler Lorenzen? -- and Randy Edsall probably won't tell us. Subterfuge will not be needed at Syracuse.
5. Rutgers (4-5, 3-2): It's still not out of the realm of possibility that the Scarlet Knights could tie for first in the Big East. They could conceivably be slight favorites this week at South Florida. I bring these up just to point out the absurdity of Rutgers' turnaround.
6. South Florida (6-3, 1-3): A columnist for The Sporting News named Jim Leavitt as one of his dark horse candidates to be fired this year. I'm not buying that at all. But the Bulls had better come out with a good effort at home after their bye week, or fan interest will fall off a cliff.
7. Louisville (5-4, 1-3): Remember when Louisville was picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches' poll? Seems about right these days.
8. Syracuse (2-7, 1-4): Nothing left to play for except pride and the senior class this week in the Orange's final home game. Will UConn fans take over the Carrier Dome?