Notre Dame is 1 and waiting for SEC to play out
Breaking down the AP college football poll after Week 13 of the regular season.
MAKING A STATEMENT
Notre Dame is No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 with nothing left to do but wait to find out its opponent for the national championship game.
Toward the bottom of the rankings, there was plenty of movement. Ten Top 25 teams lost this weekend, the most since Oct. 11, 2003, but for the most part the national championship race was unchanged.
No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, both easy winners in rivalry games Saturday, held their spots in the rankings and in the BCS standings. They will play for the SEC title in Atlanta next weekend.
The winner is a lock to move on to Miami for the BCS championship game on Jan. 7, trying to extend the Southeastern Conference's string of six straight titles.
But will the right SEC team be getting a shot? Florida coach Will Muschamp doesn't think so.
"We should be playing for the national championship," he said after the Gators beat Florida State 37-26 in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday.
He's got a point.
The Gators (11-1) checked in at No. 4 in the AP poll this week, up one spot, and fourth in the BCS standings.
Their lone loss was to Georgia and it was enough to settle the SEC East in the Bulldogs' favor.
But playing in the same division doesn't mean playing the same competition. Not even close in these days of expanding conferences.
The Gators have clearly played a tougher schedule than the Bulldogs. The Sagarin computer ratings have Florida's strength of schedule at 13th in the nation. Georgia's is 42nd. Alabama's is 39th, by the way, but let's keep the focus on Florida and Georgia because they played each other.
Florida also played No. 9 LSU and No. 10 Texas A&M as its two SEC West opponents, combined record 20-4. Georgia played Auburn and Mississippi from the west, combined record 9-15.
On Saturday, both Florida and Georgia played their toughest nonconference games. The Gators beat Florida State (10-2). The Bulldogs routed Georgia Tech (6-6).
Both teams played No. 11 South Carolina, the East's other beast. Florida beat the Gamecocks 44-11. South Carolina beat Georgia 35-7.
Remember it was Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier who suggested in the preseason that only division records determine division winners after South Carolina was in similar position to Florida last year.
Of course, the Bulldogs can point to the scoreboard, the one that read Georgia 17, Florida 9 in Jacksonville, Fla., back on Oct. 27.
As conferences get bigger, the SEC is up to 14 now, conference standings and championship games lose meaning. Georgia's road to the SEC championship was easier than Florida's. That road gets tougher next week. If Georgia can beat Alabama, it will further validate its place ahead of Florida.
But it's a strange situation and one that will repeat itself around the country as conferences grow and college football implements a four-team playoff in a couple of years.
Georgia and Florida had a race. The Bulldogs won, but the Gators had to cover more ground.
The MAC made a big move.
No. 18 Kent State (11-1) and No. 19 Northern Illinois (11-1) each moved up five spots in the Top 25 after completing perfect Mid-American Conference seasons and setting up a must-see conference championship game for Friday night.
The last time the MAC had two teams ranked in the AP's top 20 was Nov. 5, 1973, when Miami, Ohio, was 17th and Kent State was 19th.
The Golden Flashes and Huskies benefited from a rash of losses by ranked teams. Ten went down, all ranked between No. 10 (Florida State) and No. 25 (Mississippi State, which was tied for 25th last week).
All the losses could put the MAC in position to send a team to the BCS for the first time. Kent State was 17th in the BCS standings released Sunday night and NIU was 21st. As with most things in the Bowl Championship Series, it's not quite as easy as win and you're in.
No. 25 Boise State, which is 20th in the BCS standings, is also in the mix for that BCS buster bid — again.
No. 13 Florida State and No. 15 Clemson both dropped three spots, capping an awful day for the Atlantic Coast Conference against the SEC.
The Seminoles' loss to Florida stung badly because FSU still had slim hopes of working into the national championship picture. Instead it's off to the ACC title game to play Georgia Tech with only Orange Bowl hopes.
The Yellow Jackets, Coastal Division champions by default because Miami gave itself a postseason ban, lost 42-10 to Georgia. Georgia Tech is now in BCS or bust mode. If the Jackets lose to Florida State, they will be 6-7.
Clemson's 27-17 loss to South Carolina was maybe even more devastating for the ACC. The Tigers looked like a lock to receive an at-large BCS bid, probably to the Sugar Bowl, had they finished 11-1. At 10-2, with no marquee wins, that's probably not happening.
To top it off Vanderbilt beat Wake Forest 55-21. The final total: SEC 161, ACC 74.
IN AND OUT
The Big East's de facto championship game will be between two unranked teams.
Rutgers and Louisville both lost Saturday to tumble from the rankings ahead of their Thursday night game in New Jersey, which will decide the conference championship.
Rutgers was stomped 27-6 at Pittsburgh and Louisville lost 23-20 at home to Connecticut in double-overtime.
The winner of Louisville-Rutgers still gets a BCS bid — even though neither was in the latest BCS top 25 — but the Big East's troubles could be a boon to potential BCS busters.
If a conference champion from a non-automatic qualifying league, such as the Mountain West or MAC, finishes in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and is ahead of a champ from an AQ league, that champion receives an automatic bid to the marquee bowl games.
It's all but a lock that the Big East champ will finish behind the MAC champion and possibly Boise State, but even though those teams are close to the BCS top 16, it's no guarantee they get there.
Kent State stands the best chance at 17 with 16th-place UCLA playing Stanford on Friday night.
Also moving into the AP rankings this week was No. 22 Northwestern.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Southern California, sitting at 7-5 and heading toward a far-from-the-spotlight bowl, is positioned to become the first team since Mississippi in 1964 to start the season No. 1 and finish it unranked.
Though when Ole Miss did it, the AP was only ranking 10 teams. The last team to start No. 1 and finish out of the poll when at least 20 teams were being ranked was Iowa in 1961.
ODDS & ENDS
Boise State plays at Nevada on Saturday, looking to win a share of the Mountain West title. Fresno State and San Diego State also have one league loss and their seasons are over. ... No. 7 Kansas State plays Texas on Saturday, trying to lock up the Big 12's BCS bid and a likely trip to the Fiesta Bowl. ... No. 14 Nebraska plays Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, with the winner going to the Rose Bowl. ... No. 8 Stanford hosts UCLA with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP