Auburn is the most unlikely contender ever to reach the BCS title game, but the Tigers are also hitting top speed at the right time to defend the SEC banner in Pasadena. Plus a new top 25, the Lowsman Trophy watch and the rest from the final regular-season weekend on campus.
12 Nov 2012
by Matt Hinton
For the record, any rumors of the SEC's demise as the most fearsome, grueling conference in college football have been greatly exaggerated. At the very least, it's still the most celebrated: when the latest edition of the Bowl Championship Series standings arrived on Sunday night, it featured six SEC teams in the top ten, all six of them ranked in succession in slots four through nine. In the wake of Texas A&M's earth-shaking 29-24 upset over No. 1 Alabama, though, the conference's powerful presence in the polls at large was dwarfed by its sudden absence at the top. After six consecutive seasons defined by an SEC team hoisting the crystal ball in the BCS Championship Game -– and six consecutive offseasons of being constantly reminded of it –- the rest of the country has A&M to thank for finally slaying the beast. In their first season in the league, the Aggies are like foreign bodies that have begun cannibalizing the host.
With three weeks to go in the regular season, nothing is certain. But for the three undefeated outfits now occupying the top three spots in the BCS and the other relevant polls -– Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame -– there is a golden opportunity that has rarely existed over the course of the SEC's reign. Since the start of the 2007 season, there have been 45 editions of the BCS standings. Of that number, the most recent edition is only the sixth in five-and-a-half years that does not include an SEC team ranked No. 1 or No. 2. It's the first to exclude an SEC team from the top two spots since the initial set of rankings in 2010, a run of 19 consecutive weeks. Prior to that, the streak stood at 17 consecutive weeks since the final edition of 2007. Since the start of the 2009 season, SEC teams have occupied the first and second slots 14 times. At one point last November, the top three spots were occupied by the SEC West alone.
And yet: when Nick Saban insisted after the loss that "there's still a lot for this team to play for" down the stretch, he knows from whence he speaks. Two of the three teams Saban has led to BCS championships –- LSU in 2003, Alabama in 2011 -– won the title with a loss on their resumé. At this point last year, still sporting a fresh wound from its overtime loss in a winner-take-all "Game of the Century" showdown with LSU, the eventual champs were ranked behind both LSU and Oklahoma State in the BCS standings. They were also on the verge of being jumped by one-loss Oregon and/or Oklahoma if the Ducks or Sooners won out and claimed their respective conference championships –- an avenue closed to the Tide by virtue of the head-to-head loss with LSU. By the end of the month, Oklahoma State, Oregon, and Oklahoma had all been felled by double-digit underdogs (all on the same weekend, in fact), and Alabama was back in the driver's seat at No. 2. And we've seen the BCS standings take even stranger turns than that.
Of course, that team needed help to overcome its stumble, and this team will need help. Unlike the 2011 champs, though, the 2012 Tide will have an additional chance to help themselves in the SEC Championship Game, where they'll get the winner of the East Division, Georgia, in what could conceivably amount to a play-in for the BCS Championship Game. For the moment, the question is out of Alabama's hands –- and the SEC's -– in favor of the teams that can still claim perfection. But we don't have to look far to understand, at this time of year, just how fleeting those moments can be.
1. Kansas State (10-0). After three straight games over 40 points, the Wildcats turned in a humdrum, 23-10 win at TCU, which just happens to be coach Bill Snyder's favorite kind.
2. Oregon (10-0). Ducks are badly banged up on defense with the Pac-12 North on the line Saturday against Stanford.
3. Notre Dame (10-0). Irish can't jump either of the top two at this point, but they're in business if the Ducks or the Wildcats stumble.
4. Alabama (9-1). Just a few weeks ago people were so bored by Bama's week-in, week-out dominance that they were openly speculating about the Tide's chances of beating the Jacksonville Jaguars.
5. Florida (9-1). Gators looked terrible on offense (again) in an embarrassingly narrow escape against Louisiana-Lafayette, but victories over Texas A&M, LSU, and South Carolina still cannot be denied.
6. Georgia (9-1). OFI is still skeptical of a conference schedule that conveniently omits West Division heavies Alabama, A&M, and LSU, but Bulldogs have earned the opportunity to bury all doubts in Atlanta.
7. LSU (7-2). Tigers continued their offensive awakening with a convincing rout over Mississippi State.
8. Texas A&M (7-2). Welcome to the big, bad SEC, Aggies, hope you make it out in one piece.
9. Ohio State (10-0). Buckeyes took the week off to ramp up for their biggest tests of the season, Wisconsin and Michigan.
10. Florida State (9-1). Skeptical BCS computers are still standing between the Noles and a dark horse title run.
11. South Carolina (8-2). Gamecocks are well on their way to the best three-year run in school history, but still waiting on the big breakthrough.
12. Stanford (8-2). First-rate front seven is reminiscent of the few that have given Oregon trouble in the past.
13. Oklahoma (8-2). Sooners are quietly cruising toward an at-large BCS bid.
14. Clemson (9-1). Tigers are explosive on offense, sure, but the lame ACC schedule is doing them no favors.
15. Oregon State (7-2). Beavers reduced to the spoiler role against Oregon after fumbling away their shot at the division title against Stanford.
16. UCLA (8-2). After Oregon, Bruins may be the hottest team in the Pac-12.
17. Nebraska (8-2). Huskers are still on top of the B1G's Legends Division after another come-from-behind win over Penn State, but there is no margin of error over Michigan.
18. Texas (8-2). Longhorns back to looking more like their confident September selves after a dismal October.
19. Texas Tech (7-3). Red Raiders escaped an upset bid from Kansas, but coach Tommy Tuberville isn't in the clear just yet.
20. Oklahoma State (7-3). Cowboys have been forced to start three different quarterbacks due to injuries, and still rank among the top four nationally in total, scoring and passing offense.
21. Louisville (9-1). Lopsided loss at Syracuse is humbling, but changes nothing in the Cardinals' pursuit of the Big East championship or a BCS bid.
22. Arizona (6-4). Wildcats' schedule may be the toughest in the country.
23. USC (7-3). Trojans may be the most disappointing team in college football, but they can still wrap up the Pac-12 South Saturday at UCLA.
24. Michigan (7-3). Quarterback issues notwithstanding, the Wolverines are one Nebraska stumble away from the lead in the Leaders Division.
25. Rutgers (8-1). Big East title likely comes down to Louisville's visit on November 29.
- - -
In: Michigan, Rutgers. Out: TCU, West Virginia.
1. Meshak Williams, DE, Kansas State. The Wildcats' pass-rush specialist played a full-time role in the near-shutout at TCU, tying for the team lead in tackles (seven) with a pair of sacks and a pass broken up for good measure. The Horned Frogs offense came into the weekend averaging just shy of 34 points per game, but managed to cross midfield just once in the first three quarters against K-State and did not score until the game was well out of hand in the fourth.
2. Rob Lohr, DT, and Walker May, DE, Vanderbilt. The veteran anchors of Vandy's front four combined for 11 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks in a down-to-the-wire 27-26 win over Ole Miss, securing the Commodores' sixth win of the season and likely the first back-to-back bowl bids in school history. Including sacks, the Rebels finished with just 55 yards on the ground, on a long gain of eleven.
3. Deshazor Everett, CB, Texas A&M. Everett turned in arguably the play of the season for the Aggies, picking off Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron's last-gasp, fourth-down attempt at the goal line to seal the upset. In fact, he nearly sealed it twice: just a few minutes earlier, with A&M leading 29-17 and Alabama in must-score mode, Everett came down with an apparent interception along the sideline that was (correctly) ruled incomplete when his left heel landed (barely) out of bounds. If it at first you don't succeed...
4. Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida. Jenkins led the team with seven tackles, but more importantly saved the Gators the ignominy of going to overtime against UL-Lafayette by returning a blocked punt for the game-winning touchdown with two seconds to play.
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