College Football Polls 2013: Analyzing Week 14 AP and Coaches Polls
The crystal-clear picture of the college football polls that existed at the end of October has been torn apart bit by bit. On Saturday, it was hit by a freight train and taken off the wall entirely.
We saw two Top Five teams get ripped apart, as well as a handful of close tussles between ranked opponents. The number of teams with a realistic shot to reach the mountaintop is dwindling, and the muddied middle of the Top 25 seems to get flipped upside-down every week.
Whose BCS hopes died on Saturday, and who now looks poised to reach one of the sport's elite postseason destinations?
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The Nos. 25-21 grouping is ever changing and almost always different between the AP and Coaches Poll, and this week is no exception.
Three teams do have a home here in both polls, however, including a pair of Pac-12 rivals. But the first of these three teams is Duke, which hung on to top Wake Forest 28-21 on Saturday. It wasn't the most impressive win, but you can bet the Blue Devils don't care much about looking the part because the team is now one victory away from a berth in the ACC Championship Game.
The other two teams in this grouping in both polls are USC and UCLA. Take a wild guess who they play next week? That's right, the annual rivalry now pits together a pair of teams locked together in the polls and two programs with remarkably different vibes heading into the game.
For the Bruins, this week might become "what could have been," because a victory over Arizona State, instead of a 38-33 defeat, would have given them a chance to play for the Pac-12 title. Instead, Jim Mora's team is jockeying for lesser bowl position.
USC, on the other hand, backed up its upset of Stanford with a solid performance at Colorado. A win over UCLA would give the program an absolute whirlwind of momentum heading into next season, when expectations will be through the roof.
In the Coaches Poll, Cincinnati and Texas A&M make up the other two teams, while Notre Dame and Louisville reside in the AP Poll. What's interesting about this is the reappearance of the Fighting Irish and Bearcats, two teams who were knocked clear off the radar awhile ago.
What this tells us is that playing good football at the right time is critically important, which is a lesson Texas A&M learned the hard way after losing its third game of the season, this one a 34-10 throttling at the hands of LSU.
Once again, the Nos. 20-16 grouping has three of the same teams in both the AP and Coaches Poll.
Oklahoma sits at No. 20 in the AP but is up at No. 17 in the Coaches. Does this mean anything? Probably not, but it's incredible how one team can look so awful one week and then be competitive the next. One thing we do know about the Sooners is that they have a lot of talent, so regardless of what happened the week before, a solid game plan should allow them to compete with anyone.
The other two teams here are Northern Illinois and UCF. Not long ago, both these programs had the same stature in the college football world, but joining the conference formerly known as the Big East allowed the Knights to compete for an automatic BCS berth, which they will receive by winning their final two games against South Florida and SMU.
For Northern Illinois, there isn't much left it can do except put its head down and make the final game count. Quarterback Jordan Lynch is tearing it up and the Huskies are posting quality wins within the MAC, but it apparently hasn't been enough for voters to move them ahead of Fresno State, which needs to happen if they hope to reach the BCS.
Arizona State and Louisville are the other two teams in the Coaches Poll, while the AP voters selected Texas A&M and Fresno State to be part of the grouping.
Ever since the loss to UCF, Louisville has maintained its ground in the rankings, but Arizona State is on an upward trajectory, especially after beating UCLA in Pasadena. The Sun Devils will get a chance to play for a berth in the Rose Bowl regardless of what happens in their season finale against Arizona.
You could argue Fresno State to be any number of places, but one thing is for sure: It is a good football team and quarterback Derek Carr could play anywhere. As for Texas A&M, a Top 20 ranking seems generous. The Aggies now have three losses on the season, which includes the 24-point loss to LSU.
The offense was one part of Kevin Sumlin's team you could always count on, but if that starts to crumble like it did in Death Valley, this is suddenly an average team. It will be interesting to see how the Aggies respond against Missouri.
It appears that a weekend filled with season-defining matchups has led the Coaches Poll and AP Poll to some agreement, especially as we continue to move up in the rankings.
The Nos. 15-11 group has four teams in each poll, with Arizona State being the outcast in the AP Poll and Fresno State getting some love from the Coaches Poll.
But LSU, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Oregon all reside in each poll in the 15-11 slot, and it's funny how each team is feeling very different about its current position.
Let's start with the Tigers, who started the season hot until a loss at Georgia. Since then, Les Miles' squad has dropped two games, but it bounced back in a major way Saturday by shutting down quarterback Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. If you're an LSU fan, you're probably happy with the spot in the rankings, but a little disappointed that it took this long for the team to play its best football.
Wisconsin is in sort of a no-win situation, as the Badgers won't be playing for the Big Ten championship and likely won't reach a BCS bowl, either. That's because Gary Andersen's team lost 31-24 at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes remain undefeated. Even if Urban Meyer's team beats Michigan, it will hold the tiebreaker between the two.
Michigan State, unlike the aforementioned teams, has to be thrilled right now. With just a lone loss to Notre Dame on the resume, the Spartans will get a chance to play Ohio State for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. The defense is among the best in the country, and with the offense rounding in to form, this looks like a team that belongs in the Top 10.
Finally we arrive at Oregon, a team now coming off its worst loss since 2008. Whether it was a lack of focus throughout the week or simply being overrated, we may never know. But the Ducks will get a chance to end the season on a positive note with a win over Oregon State in the Civil War.
The only difference between the two polls is that the Coaches Poll has Missouri at No. 6, while the AP voters selected Clemson.
Aside from that, you'll find Baylor, Stanford, South Carolina and Oklahoma State in both polls.
As you would expect, the Cowboys are ahead of the Bears in each poll, and rightfully so after the 49-17 throttling Art Briles' team went through at the hands of Mike Gundy's squad. You sort of wonder why the two programs are so closely ranked when we were able to witness the gap that exists, but on another day, the game may have looked a lot different.
That's not to say Baylor is as good as Oklahoma State, but let's not tear the Bears apart after one loss. After all, Clemson lost at home by 37 and yet finds itself near the top of the polls once more.
Stanford and South Carolina are two teams with plenty of questions. Both notched easy victories on Saturday, and each has played excellent football in 2013. But the solid play has occurred sporadically, which makes you wonder what the Cardinal and Gamecocks are really made of.
Fortunately, this will sort itself out, as David Shaw's team takes on Notre Dame in its season finale, while Steve Spurrier's crew hosts Clemson. With one last chance to make a lasting impression, we should see the best these teams have to offer.
If you're still searching for a team in the national championship hunt, you'd probably have to go with Missouri, which is sixth in the Coaches Poll. A victory over Texas A&M would mean a lot, and of course, the SEC Championship Game would likely be against Alabama. With a pair of victories, it would be extremely difficult not to argue the Tigers are the best one-loss team in the country.
While the college football world experienced a sizeable shakeup on Saturday, Florida State and Alabama are still on a collision course to meet in the BCS National Championship.
The Crimson Tide and Seminoles remained Nos. 1-2 in both polls, but the spot is only safe for one of the teams. Florida State travels to Florida and will then likely take on Duke. With the way quarterback Jameis Winston and the rest of the offense are playing, seeing the 'Noles drop either of their final two games would be stunning.
As for Alabama, the road is much rockier. The annual Iron Bowl takes place next Saturday and wouldn't you know it—Auburn is also in the Top Five! With the Crimson Tide having to play on the road, we're looking at a game that will likely remain competitive well into the second half.
With a win, Nick Saban's team would play either Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game. If quarterback AJ McCarron continues to play winning football and leads his team to the national title game, it'll certainly have earned it.
Ohio State is up to No. 3 in both polls and officially on the cusp of making it to Pasadena for something other than the Rose Bowl. It's pretty simple: The Buckeyes need to win their final two games and hope one of the top two teams loses to reach the championship.
Auburn sits at No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the Coaches Poll, although the latter metric is rather baffling because it has Clemson at No. 5, ahead of Gus Malzahn's Tigers. That means Auburn, with a 14-point loss at LSU and wins over Georgia, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, is behind Clemson, which lost by 37 at home to Florida State and has only one victory over a Top 25 team in Georgia.
Were these teams to play tomorrow, it would probably be a great game that would come down to the wire, and it's hard to say who's better. But in fairness, Auburn has done more to this point in the season and should probably be slotted ahead of Clemson in the Coaches Poll.