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The term “eye test” is often overused ad nauseam this time each year.
In our never-ending efforts to create separation among the college football elite (a task proving to be quite difficult thus far in 2013), we look for things beyond statistics, records and the overall resumes— something that can serve as an arbitrary tiebreaker of sorts.
For ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, however, the eye test applies. No one has a better weekly seat from which to view (and analyze) the nation’s best teams live and in prime time.
Once Herbstreit has watched Lee Corso close out College GameDay with a prop, shotgun or live animal, he’s in football mode. He watches games all day on television, on his phone or wherever else he has to—sometimes when traveling to a new location—and later that evening he’s calling one of the premier matchups of the weekend with the great Brent Musburger.
Thus far in 2013, Herbstreit has seen many of the contenders in person. And while their stories will be evolving over the next month, his top two teams are clear...for now.
“If we were to play the national championship today, I would argue that Alabama and Florida State have been the two teams that have been the most dominant,” Herbstreit said.
However, as it currently stands, it is Alabama and Oregon that are in place to be in position at season's end. There were questions about how the Ducks would operate without Chip Kelly calling the plays this year, but those concerns were squashed in the first few weeks.
Florida State, however, is a different story. The outlook was still overwhelmingly positive for the Seminoles given the unbelievable recruiting job Jimbo Fisher has done since taking over, but last year's Orange Bowl-winning team lost stars on both sides of the ball.
The emergence of Jameis Winston at quarterback, a buffet of talented wideouts, and an athletic defense has completely shifted expectations though, and "good" is no longer good enough.
“I would give them a slight edge right now over Oregon,” Herbstreit said in reference to the Seminoles. “Florida State has been laser-focused these last few weeks, and I believe they have been a more complete team on offense, defense and special teams.”
This could change. In fact, the next few weeks will be telling when it comes to understanding the hierarchy of the nation’s elite. While Herbstreit would lean toward Florida State heading into Week 10, Oregon is only beginning its heavy lifting.
“I had the good fortune of calling the game and watching every snap of the Florida State-Clemson game. And one week later, I watched Oregon play a much better UCLA team than people give credit,” Herbstreit said. “If Oregon knocks off teams like Stanford, Oregon State and probably UCLA in a Pac-12 championship rematch—depending on how they look—I would probably move them up because of the teams they would have to play.”
The debate between these two teams will wage on until one finally slips up...if one slips up. Alabama, meanwhile, is the known third wheel in this discussion and are unanimously accepted as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Since nearly being upset by Texas A&M in their Week 3 matchup, Alabama has responded by mauling everything in its path. It began the season No. 1, and the voters’ mindset hasn’t changed in the season's first 10 weeks.
Whether this is a result of reputation or 2013 on-field results is a different story, although perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“When you win three out of four national championships, fairly or unfairly, you’ve earned that position,” Herbstreit said. “Even though they started slow, Alabama has improved drastically on both sides of the ball. I don’t think they have to apologize for who they are or what they’ve done.”
While there is separation between the top-three teams and the rest of the country, that gap is closing. Ohio State gave a glimpse into what it is capable of against Penn State, and it’s clear that the Buckeyes have a current stranglehold over the No. 4 spot.
But then there is Baylor (No. 6), the next undefeated team, with a unique sense of style and destruction. While there is much to be learned about the Big 12 Bears, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the carnage given what we know now.
“Right now they’re playing a video game,” Herbstreit said. “They are doing things I don’t think we have ever seen in college football, at least in my lifetime.”
It’s worth noting, however, that Baylor’s conference wins have come against teams that have a combined record of 9-20. That’s not to say that the deadly offensive attack won’t work against quality competition, but the team will be tested going forward, and it will start in Week 11 against Oklahoma.
“To me it’s an ‘in awe’ approach for Baylor right now with an asterisk,” Herbstreit said. “I’m curious to see what they’re going to do these next few weeks when the competition gets a lot tougher, and I’m still waiting to completely buy in.”
Baylor will need to take care of business and get help if it has any hopes of making the BCS National Championship, a role Ohio State will have to embrace as well through the end of the season.
After 2013, however, that will no longer be the case. The College Football Playoff will change the way elite teams are valued and viewed, and the top four will soon takeover for the top two.
Many are playing the role of selection committee a year early, and Herbstreit—who said he would welcome a spot on the selection committee if asked—is no different. Right now, his top four heading into November have been established with the bigger picture taking shape.
Alabama, Florida State and Oregon all have earned places, and the fourth spot is suddenly not up for as much debate as it once was.
“As we sit here right now, it’s pretty cut and dry,” Herbstreit said. “Ohio State showed what they’re capable of doing last weekend, and that was Urban Meyer’s most complete game as a head coach at Ohio State. The top four at the end of October are pretty clear.”
Adam Kramer is a lead writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.