SEC Takes Aim at No. 2 Ohio State
By RALPH D. RUSSO
Florida State is the new No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll. It’s the first time since 2000 the Seminoles have held the top spot.
But that’s not what everybody is talking about Sunday.
Ohio State moved up to No. 2 and Auburn to No. 3 after the Tigers’ latest mind-boggling magic trick resulted in Alabama’s first loss of the season.
The Crimson Tide dropped from No. 1 to No. 4, and the Tigers advanced to the Southeastern Conference championship game to face No. 5 Missouri.
The SEC championship has been something of a de facto play-in game to the BCS championship game over the past two seasons. This season, there is no guarantee the SEC champion will play for the national title, not with Florida State and Ohio State both unbeaten.
The Seminoles play Duke in the ACC title game on Saturday. The Buckeyes get No. 10 Michigan State.
Win and they’re off to Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS championship game on Jan. 6.
The SEC’s streak of seven straight titles broken. Right?
Well, the SEC will not go quietly.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs started lobbying for the SEC’s one-loss champion moments after the Tigers’ 34-28 Iron Bowl victory. He told reporters it would be “a disservice to college football” if a one-loss SEC champion did not play for the national title.
“That has to happen,” Jacobs was quoted as saying by Al.com.
This late in the season, no unbeaten team from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference has ever been ranked behind a one-loss team in the BCS standings, which were to be released later Sunday and do not include the AP poll.
The strange thing is this has become an SEC or Ohio State debate, based strictly on strength of schedule. If the argument is solely based on quality of opposition, then Florida State should not get a pass.
According to the Sagarin ratings, Auburn’s schedule rates as the 26th-best in Division I. Missouri’s is 41st. Ohio State’s is 61st. Florida State’s is 66th. The strength of schedule advanced metric created by Brian Fremeau of FootballOutsiders.com had Auburn 32nd, Missouri 58th, Florida State 90th and Ohio State 99th before this weekend’s games.
But it’s not just about strength of schedule. If that was the case, then the Pac-12 could start arguing for its champion. No. 7 Stanford (10-2) and No. 11 Arizona State (10-2) both have schedules rated more difficult than Auburn’s.
How well a team plays against its schedule is also important.
Florida State has been the most dominant team in the country, even when you take its competition into account. The Seminoles are outscoring the opposition by 42.7 points per game, tops in the nation, and are No. 1 in the current Sagarin ratings. None of the Noles’ games has been close late. Only two were competitive for a half.
Ohio State’s average margin of victory is 27.9 points and Sagarin has the Buckeyes seventh, behind Alabama, Arizona State, Oregon, Missouri (fifth) and Baylor. Ohio State has played four games that can reasonably be called competitive – 10-point wins against Northwestern and Iowa, a seven-point win against Wisconsin and Saturday’s wild 42-41 victory at Michigan.
Auburn is outscoring opponents by an average of 16 points per game and is 11th in the Sagarin ratings, behind Stanford, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin. The Tigers have won six games decided by single digits (Washington State, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama). And lost by 14 at LSU.
Missouri is outscoring opponents by an average of 19.4 points per game. The Tigers’ 28-21 victory Saturday against Texas A&M was their first win by single digits. Their loss was against South Carolina in OT by three.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was asked Sunday to weigh-in on what looks like the latest and last BCS controversy before the Bowl Championship Series is retired and a four-team playoff is implemented next season.
Mostly, he side-stepped a chance to promote the Buckeyes, and then added: “I think America is ready for a playoff.”
Duke moved up four spots to No. 20 after beating North Carolina to clinch the ACC Coastal Division and a trip to face Florida State.
The Blue Devils (10-2) earned their way to Charlotte, but haven’t played the toughest schedule. They missed both Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic Division in the regular season. They are seventh in the league in both yards per play offensively and defensively.
“We’re not just fortunate,” coach David Cutlciffe said. “We’re a good football team.”
That might not be enough against the ‘Noles.
A second straight loss by Texas A&M sent the Aggies tumbling to No. 22 in the rankings, and they might be fortunate to still be ranked at all.
The Aggies played a cushy nonconference schedule and didn’t beat any of their best opponents (Alabama, Auburn, LSU or Missouri). To the Aggies credit, they did play close games against three teams currently ranked in the top five.
Also tumbling was Johnny Manziel’s chances to win a second straight Heisman Trophy. Manziel is still third in the nation in total offense at 368 yards per game, but in his last two games against LSU and Missouri he has accounted for 494 and two touchdowns.
IN AND OUT
No. 23 Texas and No. 25 Georgia moved back into the rankings, while rivals Southern California and Notre Dame both slipped out again after losses.
FROM THE ARCHIVE
It’s probably no consolation to Alabama, but its string of consecutive top-five rankings is still going at 47 straight polls, breaking a tie for fourth with the early 1990s Miami teams that went 46 straight polls in the top five.
The record for consecutive top-five rankings in the AP poll is 55, held by Miami from 2000-2003.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter/com/ralphDrussoAP
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.