The horses are turning the final corner and heading into the stretch run of this, the 2013 college football regular season.
Rivalry Week descends upon the nation in Week 14, followed soon after by the conference championship games and the announcement of the bowls. As quickly as it arrived, the season is coming to its inevitable end.
But there is still a lot of football left to be played, and with so many teams still jockeying for position toward the top of the BCS standings, there is so much left to be decided.
As of right now, Alabama vs. Florida State is the easy choice as the BCS National Championship Game. But should either team fall, chaos would ensue behind it.
Who still has a shot of making a run to Pasadena?
With a little bit of help, South Carolina would still have a chance to score two of the season's biggest wins...for any team.
This week against Clemson and (potentially) against Auburn or Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, the Gamecocks will be put to the test. If they prove themselves up for it, they could theoretically finish the season with wins over three teams in the current BCS Top Six.
However, South Carolina also has two losses, and this does not appear to be a fluky year when a two-loss team will get a shot at the national title. Even with a host of quality wins, this team has no chance of making it that far.
Perhaps if that loss had come earlier in the season, Baylor would have had more time to improve its stock and its lasting image in the minds of BCS voters.
As it stands, though, the Bears played (by far) their worst game at the worst possible time, getting run out of Stillwater, 49-17, in Week 13.
This offense entered the game on pace to break all sorts of NCAA records, but instead it could only muster three points in the first three quarters. Even with all of the injuries as a scapegoat, it's hard to bounce back from being exposed so vividly.
Stanford almost actually killed Jared Goff and the Cal offensive line on Saturday, riding the blowout win and Oregon's blowout loss to a Pac-12 North championship and the right to face Arizona State for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
But that is all this conference championship game will be. In a stacked year for the Pac-12, teams cannibalized each other from within, and no program in the league currently has fewer than two losses.
It's a shame, but what might be America's best conference from top to bottom has no remaining national title contenders. I still think it will acquit itself well come the postseason.
The loss to West Virginia earlier this season was inexcusably bad, but the Cowboys have atoned well and are starting to win games with style points.
It's a long shot for them to make the national title game, but weirder things have happened (I think?). Of all plausible scenarios, the winner of Alabama-Auburn (hopefully Auburn) would need to lose in the SEC Championship Game, Michigan State would need to beat Ohio State, Texas A&M would need to beat Missouri and South Carolina would need to beat Clemson.
If that's how things shake out, an Oklahoma State-Florida State matchup would likely be on the horizon, unless Alabama is the team that wins the Iron Bowl and loses in the conference championship.
I wouldn't "buy" that at a one-to-one price, but it's at least within the realm of possibility, so why not dare to dream of getting Mike Gundy in Pasadena?
Assuming, like I do, that Florida State will cruise in each of its final two games, there doesn't seem to be any way for Clemson to win the BCS National Championship.
The Tigers would need to beat South Carolina next weekend, then hope for the same string of occurrences explained in the Oklahoma State slide. But even then, it would be hard to justify putting them in Pasadena.
A rematch of Clemson-Florida State would be a tough sell for pollsters, who watched the Seminoles destroy Dabo Swinney's team at Memorial Stadium. That game wasn't "LSU 9, ALabama 6"; there was no doubt at all about which was the better team.
Unless FSU loses, Clemson cannot make the title game. And I'm not foolish enough to buy a Florida State loss.
Missouri's strength of schedule would have benefited from Texas A&M beating LSU last Saturday, which obviously didn't happen. But the Tigers might still control their own fate.
If they beat the Aggies, then win the SEC Championship Game over, say, Alabama, the Tigers would easily have the best one-loss profile in America. Especially if South Carolina beats Clemson, their sole defeat would not look bad next to all of their very strong wins.
The debate between one-loss Mizzou and undefeated Ohio State would be hotly contested. At the end of the day, this team probably needs the Buckeyes to lose one of their final two games.
Given the form of Michigan State, though, that seems far more possible than it did about a month ago.
Call me a buzzkill if you must. I wish I could be more fun and support this team of destiny. But my head disagrees with my heart; there's no way this Auburn team wins out.
The Tigers have been a phenomenal story this season, invigorated by new head coach Gus Malzahn and spearheaded by a dominant ground attack. They are so much better than they were in 2012, and they should continue to be this good down the line.
Still, I don't see any truly signature wins on Auburn's profile, especially after watching Texas A&M evaporate against LSU. This defense got shredded by both the Aggies and Georgia's offense, which doesn't seem to bode well before playing Alabama.
I sincerely hope that I am wrong and that this team continues to shock the world. I just don't believe that to be the case.
If it does indeed finish the season undefeated, Ohio State will have beaten both Wisconsin and Michigan State, which are (easily) two of the top 15 teams in the country and maybe even two of the top 10.
Say what you will about this Buckeyes schedule, but that would be an impressive feat. It would be hard—borderline impossible—to justify putting a one-loss team ahead of the Buckeyes, even if it had just won the SEC Championship Game.
Even though it hasn't shown well in recent trips to the BCS National Championship Game, Ohio State has enough talent to compete with the likes of Alabama and Florida State. This time around, it also has the not-so-secret weapon of Urban Meyer in Jim Tressel's old spot.
Don't bet against them on principle should they find their way to the big game; these Buckeyes can play with anybody, especially on offense.
No team has been more consistently great this year than Florida State, and that includes top-ranked Alabama.
The Seminoles have pounded every opponent they've faced into submission, usually getting to rest their starters sometime early in the second half. Clemson's only defeat of the year came against FSU, and that was one of the most lopsided affairs we've seen all season.
The only cause for pause is Jameis Winston's sexual assault case, which is the storm cloud hanging over this otherwise sunny season. If he's found guilty, there will be questions and ramifications that extend far beyond the football field.
But speculating on that issue is fruitless until all the facts come to light. Winston is innocent until proven guilty; I have to buy or sell the Seminoles' stock based on that assumption.
And based on that assumption, this was the easiest "buy" on the list.
Alabama continues to be Alabama, which is to say that it is consistently great in a boring way, making football look easy by flattening opponents in systematic fashion.
Some people have voiced concerns about the Tide's schedule, and up until this point, those qualms are (semi-) justified. But with a road game at Auburn and (potentially) the SEC Championship Game looming, they will become moot in short order.
If Nick Saban's team finishes the year undefeated, it will have earned its spot in the national title game and then some. Once there, is anyone really willing to bet against it?