Originally Published: December 1, 2013

The top two should be the unbeatens

By Andrea Adelson | ESPN.com

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When November began, five teams from major conferences sat unbeaten, unleashing a torrent of hypothetical scenarios. What would happen if more than two finished undefeated?

Rather than worry, BCS experts shrugged their shoulders and urged patience. The BCS always had a way of working itself out, we were told.

We waited. We watched. First Oregon lost. Then Baylor lost. Then, the mountaintop came crashing down.

Two-time defending national champion Alabama lost.

So with the calendar flipped to December, only two unbeaten power-conference teams remain: Florida State and Ohio State. Crisis averted. If both win next week, they should play each other for the national championship. Nice. Neat. Wrapped up in a big BCS bow.

With one week to go, the BCS has a chance to work itself out.

If only it were that simple.

If only public sentiment Saturday night pointed toward Florida State-Ohio State as a no-brainer matchup should both finish unbeaten. Instead, No. 4 Auburn believes it has made its case to play for a national championship after its jaw-dropping, championship-shattering 34-28 win over No. 1 Alabama.

Braxton Miller
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesOhio State's dramatic win over Michigan was supposed to fill the last-second-win quota for the day, but then Auburn happened.

Should Auburn win the SEC championship Saturday against No. 5 Missouri, does it have a legitimate case to bump unbeaten Ohio State? Does Missouri deserve the No. 2 spot if it wins in Atlanta? SEC supporters say yes and point to strength of schedule first and foremost. What they should be focusing on are wins and losses. That is where Ohio State has the most important edge.

Forget that this team has won 24 consecutive games. What happened last year should not matter.

Let's focus on 2013. Ohio State has beaten every single team on its schedule. The Buckeyes were lucky to survive against rival Michigan on Saturday in the first heart-stopping game of the afternoon, winning 42-41 after intercepting a two-point conversion attempt with 32 seconds remaining. When that game ended, it seemed pretty clear the Buckeyes deserved their No. 3 ranking, behind Alabama and Florida State.

Then Auburn pulled the upset of the season on a play for the ages, forcing serious re-evaluation. It is absolutely true Ohio State does not have a win as good as Auburn's upset of the No. 1 Tide. Nor does it have as strong a schedule. But Ohio State did not lose to a three-loss team from its league.

Seven years ago, the idea that a one-loss SEC team would finish ahead of an unbeaten from the Big Ten seemed laughable. That year, unbeaten Ohio State finished No. 1 in the final BCS standings. One-loss Florida finished No. 2, ahead of one-loss Michigan. Remember that argument?

But college football changed that season. Florida trounced the Buckeyes in the national title game, starting the SEC's string of seven straight championships. Today, every other conference is compared to the SEC and its superior strength of schedule. It is an unfair, impossible comparison, and it begets misperceptions that work their way into rankings and, in turn, the BCS standings.

Though the nation has suffered from SEC fatigue, seeing the conference dominate has changed the way many view college football. If the schedule strength is not there, then the default view is to automatically believe the non-SEC team is "weak." What is particularly amusing in this case? We are on the precipice of seeing the SEC championship streak end, yet some have begun arguing for a one-loss SEC team to make it in ahead of a deserving unbeaten team from a power conference. That has never happened.

The Big Ten may not be as strong today as it was in 2006, but it is not the MAC, either. Neither is the ACC, the weakest of the five power conferences. Florida State has not received as much scrutiny because it has been so completely dominant in every game this season. Nobody has tested Florida State the way Michigan tested Ohio State on Saturday.

The Noles are without question the No. 1 team in America.

Beyond that?

The arguments about one-loss Auburn versus unbeaten Ohio State will rage this week, as both teams prepare for their respective conference championship games. Auburn supporters will no doubt point to the win over No. 1 Bama and its complete résumé, the way athletic director Jay Jacobs did after the game.

"You can't get left out of the BCS after you beat the No. 1 team," Jacobs told USA Today. "We have a better argument because we beat the No. 1 team. ... It would be a disservice to the nation if we got left out."

The real disservice is dismissing Ohio State based on league affiliation. Winning all your games in a power conference should be good enough for a shot at a national championship.

Week 14 Takeaways: Auburn deserves a shot

By Travis Haney | ESPN.com

AUBURN, Ala. -- Back in April, when I visited with Auburn Tigers first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, he had seen enough to know the Tigers would be a good team. Not a great team, but a good team.

It's probably a seven- or eight-win team, said Johnson, who's as honest as any coach in the country. I think people here would be happy with that.

Coming off Auburn's three-win 2012 season, the one that featured zero SEC wins, that was probably a pretty fair assessment.

But the Tigers are probably OK with their current lot in life. Consecutive miracle wins, including Saturday's Iron Bowl classic, have delivered 11-1 Auburn to the SEC title game. Makes you wish you'd put a buck or two on Auburn at 200-to-1 BCS national title odds back in August, doesn't it?

As improbable as this current Auburn run has been, there's a legitimate case to be made that the Tigers deserve a shot at the national title if they beat Missouri in the SEC championship game next week.

That's where we begin this week's Takeaways, which also include a look at whether Auburn is the early favorite to win a down SEC in 2014, Kevin Sumlin's new deal at Texas A&M and whether USC should keep Ed Orgeron as its head coach. (Also, Steve Spurrier lets me know he isn't retiring.)

1. Auburn has more of a case to play for the BCS title than Ohio State

When we briefly kicked around the idea earlier in the week, ESPN BCS guru Brad Edwards didn't seem to think Auburn would have much of a shot at overtaking undefeated Ohio State even if the Tigers got another top-five win next week to claim the SEC title, because there's no precedent for an undefeated power-conference team to be leapfrogged by a one-loss team.

There's certainly more of a discussion about it now, and I am among those who believe that the Tigers have built enough of a case to move ahead of the Buckeyes, if both win their conference championship games next week. And no, that's not just me sipping the Kool-Aid Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs handed out after the Bama win. thought the injuries might still be a compelling enough reason to give the staff another season.

To read Travis Haney's full story, click here Insider.

• Joined ESPN as Insider's national college football writer in April 2012
• Previously wrote for The Oklahoman and The Post and Courier

Duke highlights final week in ACC

By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

Duke winning the Coastal Division was the best possible scenario for the ACC championship game on Saturday.

Go ahead, make your cliché David versus Goliath comparisons as the Blue Devils prepare to face what should be the No. 1 team in the nation in Florida State, if you must. A 10-win team, though, one ranked in the BCS standings -- an opponent that earned its way into the title game, as opposed to sneaking in through the backdoor or needing to win a tiebreaker scenario -- was the best matchup the conference could possibly hope for at this point. Virginia Tech is a four-loss team, Georgia Tech now a five-loss team. Miami? Well, we saw what happened the last time they played Florida State.

Not only is Duke the best story in the ACC right now, it's the best team in the Coastal Division, and it left no doubt on Saturday. An emotional coach David Cutcliffe was hoisted onto the shoulders of two of his players and carried off the field in winning fashion following Duke's 27-25 win over North Carolina. It capped an eight-game winning streak, and an undefeated regular season on the road. Duke broke the record for school wins in a season, and it will now try to win its first ACC title since 1989.

To read Heather Dinich's full story, click here.

Arizona State turns attention to Stanford

By Ted Miller | ESPN.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Don't be baffled that Arizona State did not seem too euphoric Saturday after stomping archrival Arizona 58-21. While many might raise a surprised eyebrow at the final count, considering seven of the previous nine Territorial Cups were decided by a touchdown or less, or at the Sun Devils improving to 10-2 and getting ready to host Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, this is exactly what Arizona State expected to be happening way back in August.

This was all part of the plan for Year 2 under coach Todd Graham, and the Sun Devils don't feel like they will have completed their plan until they find themselves representing the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl.

"This was great tonight, but it's not the one we're after," Graham said. "The one we're after is next week."

So leave the emotions of this bitter rivalry for fans to revel in at the expense of their friends from Tucson. The Sun Devils needed little time to start eyeballing Stanford, a team that beat them 42-28 on Sept. 21, a winning Cardinal margin that was 39-7 entering the fourth quarter.

And Arizona State is thrilled it will be eyeballing the Cardinal inside its home stadium. The Sun Devils improved to 7-0 this season at home, with an average margin of victory of 28 points.

To read Ted Miller's full story, click here.

Ted Miller | email

College Football

Buckeyes regain composure just in time

By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Ohio State Buckeyes were losing it: the game, their composure and possibly their perfect season.

They admittedly became too wrapped up in the emotion of The Game. They started by yapping at Michigan players before and after the whistle. Things quickly got much uglier. A brawl following a Buckeyes kickoff return early in the second quarter resulted in two Ohio State players (starting right guard Marcus Hall and H-back/returner Dontre Wilson) and one Michigan player (linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone) being ejected for throwing punches.

"Disappointed with that; I don't know where that came from," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "That's unacceptable."

Hall exited the field with both middle fingers raised to the crowd. No, he wasn't making the "H" in O-H-I-O. The image quickly made its way around Twitter.

It could have been the lasting image from Ohio State's first loss under Meyer, one that would have ended the Buckeyes' quest for the crystal football.

Instead, No. 3 Ohio State provided some other snapshots not soon to be forgotten in one of the most memorable editions of The Game in its storied history, one Meyer called an instant classic. The Buckeyes will remember running back Carlos Hyde, responding from his fourth-quarter fumble, triggering an overpowering six-play, 65-yard drive that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play. Hyde finished with more rushing yards (226) than any Buckeyes player has ever had against Michigan.

To read Adam Rittenberg's full story, click here.

Baylor beats Horned Frogs for Briles

By Jake Trotter | ESPN.com

STILLWATER, Okla. -- With nine minutes still to be played, America's top offense finally had enough.

So instead of going for another seemingly hopeless fourth-and-long, Baylor called its record-setting offense to the sideline and sent out the punt team. On the other side of the field, sensing the capitulation, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer began hopping up and down, slapping the helmet of any defender passing by his general vicinity.

The 10th-ranked Cowboys always believed they could knock off fourth-ranked Baylor. But nobody, from "College GameDay" guest picker Marcus Smart to the Cowboys themselves, thought they would put the mighty Bears away before the fourth quarter.

Yet, Saturday night before a sold-out Boone Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma State did exactly that, pummeling Baylor into submission 49-17 to ensure the Big 12 title will go through Stillwater.

Again.

"We weren't intimidated," said Cowboys linebacker Caleb Lavey. "And we were able to shut them down."

No defense had slowed the Bears down all year, much less shut them down.

Baylor came into the night leading the nation with 61 points per game. After three quarters in Stillwater, the Bears had managed a single field goal.

"The Baylor offense deserved to get the pub it was getting," Lavey said. "So being able to keep them off the board in touchdowns until the fourth quarter says a lot about this defense. Our defense did a great job."

Great doesn't do it justice. The Big 12's best defense was dominant.

To read Jake Trotter's full story, click here.

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