Auburn coach Gus Malzahn
Week 14 has come to a close, and with it ends one of the craziest months in college football history. The polls look dramatically different from when we entered the month of November thanks to a number of huge upsets and thrilling finishes.
But somehow, that description understates what we all witnessed throughout the course of Week 14. Simply put, it was one of the most memorable weekends in sports history, as every rivalry game seemed to stay close well into the fourth quarter, with several ending in dramatic fashion.
And still, the word "dramatic" fails to capture the roller-coaster ride fans went on from Thursday's Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State to Saturday's Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn.
As the dust clears on an NFL Sunday that has zero chance of living up to Thursday-Saturday of college football, we get a chance to react to the new set of polls just released.
All stats via ESPN
Texas coach Mack Brown
We begin our journey through the polls at Nos. 25-21, where the only difference between the AP and Coaches polls is that AP voters have included Georgia, while coaches selected Cincinnati instead.
Debating which team deserves to be ranked is a futile effort, however. More important are the four teams that are ranked in this grouping in both polls.
They would be Texas, Texas A&M, Wisconsin and Fresno State.
The first thing that should jump out to you about these teams is that three of them are coming off a loss. The Bulldogs gave up 62 points in a loss to San Jose State, and while we've been high on Fresno State for some time now, that sort of effort is inexcusable. With only narrow victories over Rutgers and Boise State to hang their hats on, the Bulldogs don't appear to be a very strong top 25 team.
As for Wisconsin, the Badgers flat-out dropped the ball in a 31-24 home loss to Penn State. After losing to Ohio State on Sept. 28, it appeared as though the Badgers were positioning themselves for an at-large BCS bid following six straight wins. Instead, the loss to the Nittany Lions means no BCS game for the first time in the last four seasons.
Texas A&M is another team you might be surprised to see ranked because the Aggies have four losses. The only other ranked team with four losses is Georgia, which sits at No. 25 in the AP poll. As good as the Aggies offense has looked at times this season, Kevin Sumlin's team hasn't played well in quite awhile. Even before losses to LSU and Missouri, there was a 51-41 victory over Mississippi State in which the defense obviously had problems.
However, with each loss coming to a ranked opponent, it's hard to argue against the Aggies inclusion.
Out of this group, Texas is the only team with a chance to still make a statement as the Longhorns take on Baylor to close out the regular season. The Bears' offense has struggled in recent weeks compared to what it was doing in September and October, so it'll be interesting to see if Mack Brown's squad can keep things close in Waco.
UCLA QB Brett Hundley
Moving forward in our analysis, we again find only minor differences between the two polls in the 20-16 grouping.
The Coaches Poll has Central Florida in at No. 17 with Oklahoma up in the 15-11 grouping, while the AP voters reversed the two.
We're already on record as saying that any poll with Central Florida behind Louisville is a sham because of the Knights' head-to-head victory over the Cardinals. Regardless of how George O'Leary's team has played in recent weeks, it's going to look weird when it wins the conference and makes a BCS bowl despite being ranked behind Teddy Bridgewater and company.
But enough of that, because in this range you'll find the same four teams in both polls: Duke, Louisville, UCLA and Northern Illinois.
If it still seems odd seeing Duke ranked this high in a college football poll, we understand. But know that the Blue Devils deserve every bit of praise thrown their way this week, even if they've managed to barely scrape by a couple of bad teams recently. Somehow, this team manages to get it done, so no one should be surprised if it at least manages to stay competitive with Florida State for awhile.
After a bye week, Louisville now has one final game against Cincinnati on the road. Because the Bearcats have proven to be a pretty solid team in 2013, this looks like a great opportunity for the Cardinals to end the season on a high note.
Northern Illinois is a team that continues to be a hot topic of debate, because while you could argue that the Huskies are only ranked this high because of a weak schedule, there's no denying they are a quality football team. The question then becomes, just how good are they? We may find out when they take on Bowling Green in the MAC championship, where, with a win, they'll likely punch a ticket to a BCS game for the second year in a row.
Finally, we have UCLA. The Bruins have just three losses this season, with those coming against the Cardinal, Ducks and Sun Devils. Given how well Arizona State has played in the second half of the season, none of the losses look all that bad. We're going to venture a guess that whoever Brett Hundley and company square off against in a bowl game may be in trouble.
ASU coach Todd Graham
Other than the aforementioned difference of switching UCF and Oklahoma's poll placement, both the AP and Coaches rankings look remarkably similar in the 15-11 range.
The four teams that reside here are LSU, Clemson, Oregon and Arizona State.
The AP Poll has the teams in that exact order, which is probably how it should look. You know that LSU is a quality team despite three losses, because the Tigers soundly defeated Texas A&M and own a 14-point victory over Auburn as well. However, a close shave against Arkansas doesn't help the perception that the Tigers might be underrated.
Comparing Clemson and Oregon is interesting, because both teams have had similar seasons. In their biggest tests of the season, the Tigers and Ducks dropped the ball. While Oregon did manage to claw back against Stanford, the Ducks also have an embarrassing 26-point defeat at Arizona.
One difference between the two teams, however, is that Clemson owns just one victory over a Top 25 team. That would be Georgia, which is only ranked in the AP poll. The Ducks also have just one win against a ranked opponent, but it was over a top-20 UCLA squad and by 28 points. While comparing resumes between teams outside the top 10 might seem pointless, both the Tigers and Ducks are still up for an at-large bid, so the debate could be more poignant when the final BCS standings are released.
The final team here is Arizona State, and without a doubt, the Sun Devils are the best squad of the bunch. After beating UCLA to secure a Pac-12 South title, Todd Graham's team went out and shellacked Arizona, which was coming off a 42-16 win over Oregon, by 37 points.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly and company will now face Stanford in a rematch from September. If current momentum is any indication, the Sun Devils may be well on their way to an appearance in the Rose Bowl.
Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney
The same five teams reside in the 10-6 grouping in both the AP and Coaches Polls, but in different order.
For the AP, it looks like this, starting at No. 10: Michigan State, Baylor, South Carolina, Stanford and Oklahoma State.
The Coaches Poll has it this way: Stanford, Michigan State, South Carolina, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
The consensus appears to be Oklahoma State is the best team in this group, and it's tough to argue that notion. The Cowboys have a bad loss at West Virginia, but have otherwise dominated their schedule, including a throttling of Baylor. Still, with the national championship out of play, the Cowboys are going to regret the defeat in Morgantown for a long, long time.
It's hard to know what to make of Baylor at this point, because the Bears haven't looked very good for two straight weeks. Against TCU, the defense needed two pick-six's to help secure a three-point win over an average Horned Frogs team. Art Briles' team is still in solid position to pick up an at-large BCS bid, however. They can do just that by beating Texas next Saturday.
South Carolina picked up a nice win over Clemson, but the Gamecocks are in no-man's land right now. They won't be playing for an SEC East title, and because only two teams from the same conference can play in a BCS game, they probably aren't heading to a major bowl game either. This is undoubtedly a result of inconsistent play, because any team that can knock off Clemson is worthy of playing in a top-tier postseason game. You just can't lose to a team like Tennessee and hope things work out in the end.
Stanford and Michigan State are two physical, ground-and-pound teams that don't care about margin of victory. While the Spartans look to have an edge on defense, the Cardinal have a bit more firepower on offense. Both teams play in conference championship games to close out their schedules. With wins, they'll square off in the Rose Bowl, but a loss would probably take either squad out of the BCS picture entirely.
Florida State QB Jameis Winston
The top five teams are the exact same in both the AP and Coaches Polls, and the order is as follows, starting at No. 5: Missouri, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State and Florida State.
At this point, there should be zero debate about seeing the Seminoles holding down the top spot. While their schedule hasn't exactly been murderers' row, they've soundly beaten every team on it, including Clemson. With a win over Duke in the ACC title game, Jimbo Fisher's team will play for all the marbles in Pasadena.
Much more interesting than the top spot is the battle for No. 2. On one hand, you have the SEC battalion clamoring for Auburn to be there because of the Tigers' impressive victory over previously unbeaten Alabama. Gus Malzahn's team also has a win at Texas A&M, so there's little question about whether they're legit or not.
But on the other hand, Ohio State is undefeated for the second straight season. The Buckeyes haven't always looked impressive, but they haven't lost either. We're not going to stick a flag in the mud for either team now, because both have difficult conference championship games to play. The debate will rage on throughout the week, but this could sort itself out the old-fashioned way: on the gridiron.
Another interesting debate is whether Missouri or Alabama should be ranked No. 4. Right now, the Crimson Tide have the better loss, because the Tigers lost at home to South Carolina while Alabama lost on a last-second play at Auburn. But if Gary Pinkel's team can beat Auburn when Nick Saban's squad couldn't, it might be unfair to keep it below the Tide.
Like the debate over who should be No. 2, this might be settled next week in the SEC championship game. Either way, it's clear that the top three teams in the conference are all good enough to win the national title.
Unfortunately, the Buckeyes and 'Noles may lock the doors and keep the crystal ball away from the conference that's won seven straight.