Gators and Wildcats are ready
If the best way to topple top-ranked Alabama is to beat the Crimson Tide at their own game, then Florida has the best chance because the Gators are already playing Bama football.
No. 2 Florida runs the ball, plays good defense, wins the turnover battle and has good special teams, which UF coach Will Muschamp believes is the best way to win in the Southeastern Conference. It's a philosophy he learned when he worked under Alabama's Nick Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins.
The Gators are averaging 212.7 yards per game rushing thanks to RB Mike Gillislee (652 yards) and QB Jeff Driskel (321 yards) and a physical offense line that dominated an LSU defensive front that features three likely first-round NFL draft picks.
UF is allowing teams only 12.1 points per game and just 97.3 yards per game rushing, which is better than any other team in the SEC but Alabama (58.7). The Gators have given up only three passing touchdowns and have held six of the seven quarterbacks they've faced under their season passing average. That includes Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who is averaging 279.4 yards per game passing but managed just 173 against the Gators.
Florida has forced 15 turnovers -- one more than they forced in 2011 -- and turned the ball over only four times. Despite being a sophomore with only six starts, Driskel has been surprisingly good at taking care of the football. He has thrown just one interception and fumbled only once. That came on a sack and not on a scramble or designed run.
The Gators might have the best pair of specialists in the country in P Kyle Christy and K Caleb Sturgis. Christy leads the nation in punting (47.9 yards per punt) and half of his 36 punts have gone for at least 50 yards. Sturgis, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award last season, is tied for the SEC lead with 12 field goals.
The Gators' style of play might not be what fans are used to -- they'd prefer to see footballs flying all over Florida Field -- but the results have been impressive, and it makes them one of the few teams in the country that can challenge Alabama.
-- Michael DiRocco
The 2010 Auburn football team probably won't be remembered as one of the most dominant teams in college football history.
The Tigers won five games by three points or fewer, including a memorable 28-27 victory at No. 11 Alabama in the Iron Bowl and 22-19 win over No. 2 Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game to finish 14-0 and win the school's first national title since 1957.
Auburn wasn't the greatest team in history, but the Tigers were armed with quarterback Cam Newton, one of the most memorable players.
No. 3 Kansas State might have that kind of player in quarterback Collin Klein, who has guided the Wildcats to a 7-0 record going into Saturday's game against No. 14 Texas Tech at Bill Snyder Stadium.
With Klein dissecting defenses with his arm and legs, Kansas State might be the team most capable of knocking off No. 1 Alabama, the defending BCS national champions.
Klein, a senior from Loveland, Colo., is completing 70.5 percent of his passes for 1,397 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also Kansas State's second-leading rusher with 551 yards and 14 touchdowns on 110 carries.
Klein probably jumped to the front of the Heisman Trophy race last week after accounting for seven touchdowns in Kansas State's 55-14 rout of then-No. 13 West Virginia on the road. He completed 19 of 21 passes for a career-high 323 yards with three touchdowns, while rushing for 41 yards with four touchdowns on 12 carries.
Of course, Alabama's defense is much better than West Virginia's porous unit. The Crimson Tide lead the country in scoring defense (8.3 points), rushing defense (58.7 yards), pass-efficiency defense (83.1 rating) and total defense (195.6 yards).
The Wildcats haven't been as dependent on Klein this season as last, when he ran the ball 317 times, more than 100 carries more than tailback John Hubert (200 carries in 2011). Hubert has carried the ball 114 times for 658 yards with eight touchdowns this season.
Under 73-year-old coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats are as fundamentally sound as any team in the country. They are first nationally in punt returns (26.3 yards) and rank in the top 10 in kickoff returns (27.4 yards), turnover margin (plus-1.7), pass efficiency (174.5 rating) and sacks allowed (.71 per game).
If you're going to have a chance at knocking off the Crimson Tide, you have to avoid special teams miscues, turnovers and other self-inflicted wounds.
Beating Alabama is hard enough, and you certainly can't make it any more difficult.
-- Mark Schlabach
Sooners and Ducks are poised
The 2011 national championship proved that great defense alone is not enough to topple Alabama on the big stage.
Offensive and special teams firepower is required, too.
That's why in a national title game Oklahoma would pose more problems to the Crimson Tide than any other team in the country.
Florida, Notre Dame and LSU have the defense.
Oregon and USC have the scoring.
The Sooners, however, have both -- along with perhaps the most explosive special teams unit in the country. Oklahoma ranks fifth nationally in scoring offense, 12th in scoring defense and is in the top six in both kickoff and punt returns.
Yes, the Sooners lost to Kansas State earlier in the season, thanks in large part to three costly turnovers. But this is hardly the same team.
Since the Kansas State loss, the Sooners have scored 40 or more points in all three of their dominating October wins. Save for an opening drive at Texas Tech, Oklahoma's first-team defense hasn't surrendered a touchdown this month, either.
The special teams units have found their stride too. Against Kansas this past weekend, the Sooners scored punt and kickoff return touchdowns in the same game for the first time in school history.
Like everyone else, Oklahoma has struggled against the SEC in big games in the past. Most recently the Sooners fell to Florida in the 2008 national championship.
But that team rode the arm of Sam Bradford and its record-setting offense to the national title game. These more balanced Sooners are scoring in droves, but also playing SEC-caliber defense under coordinator Mike Stoops. Safety Javon Harris' scoring interception return broke Texas Tech's will in the third quarter. The Oklahoma defense didn't even need turnovers to break the will of Texas' high-powered offense well before halftime.
In the 2011 championship game, LSU's great defense couldn't overcome its offensive ineptitude against the Crimson Tide.
These Sooners appear to also have a great defense. But they have a high-powered offense, as well, spearheaded by veteran quarterback Landry Jones and his host of diverse playmakers.
Taking down Alabama would be a monumental task. But if any team is equipped for the challenge, it's Oklahoma.
-- Jake Trotter
Conventional wisdom dictates that No. 1 Alabama combines physical talent and mental discipline like no other team, and that No. 4 Oregon's use of speed and space will be rendered impotent the moment the Ducks swim against the Tide.
But if you look closely at how Oregon has reached 7-0, you will see that the Ducks'offensive capability reveals some talent and camouflages others.
The Ducks' first team is more efficient than a Prius, only with a lot more powerful engine. Oregon has led by at least 28 points by halftime against five of its seven opponents. The other two games? The Ducks still won by 49 (Arizona) and 31 (Washington State) points.
However, the sheer number of plays that Oregon runs and the amount that the Ducks score mean their opposition has the ball for a lot of plays, too. Oregon opponents are averaging a tick fewer than 80 plays per game. (79.7). Though Oregon is 46th in total defense (366.7 yards per game), the Ducks are a much stouter 17th in yards per play (4.6).
Drill deeper, and you will see that Oregon is specifically tough when the game is in question. The average Oregon lead when the opposing offense reaches the end zone is 26.5 points. Only twice have their opponents scored when Oregon didn't lead by at least 11 points. In both cases, the Ducks responded as if insulted.
FCS Tennessee Tech scored on one play, a 23-yard pass, after DeAnthony Thomas fumbled a punt. Oregon scored seven touchdowns before the Golden Eagles scored again. Shoot, Oregon scored seven touchdowns before the Golden Eagles gained yardage on a snap in Ducks territory (five snaps, minus-20 yards, one interception).
Just a I-AA team, you say? Fast forward to last week, when Oregon played Pac-12 opponent Arizona State, owner of a 5-1 record and on its home field. Nearly the same thing: Oregon fumbled on its first snap. Arizona State scored on one play, a 28-yard pass. Oregon scored six touchdowns in the next 17:15.
The Ducks' combination of speed, opportunism and defensive depth will give the Tide a more difficult test than any team in the top 15. Oregon is the best team the Pac-12 has produced since USC came within a few seconds of winning a share of three national championships in the last decade.
-- Ivan Maisel