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Ballot Breakdown: SEC takes aim at Ohio State

Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:13 Published in Sports

Breaking down The Associated Press college football poll after Week 13 of the regular season.

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CHANGE AT THE TOP

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 few 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 in the Big Ten title game.

Win and they're off to Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS championship game on Jan. 6, breaking the SEC's streak of seven straight titles. 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 have the top five teams lined up the same way as the AP Top 25. The AP poll is not part of the BCS formula.

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 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 have 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 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."

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MOVING UP

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.

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MOVING DOWN

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 yards and two touchdowns.

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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.

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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.

___

 

No. 5 Missouri wins SEC East

Saturday, 30 November 2013 23:07 Published in Sports

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Henry Josey broke loose for the go-ahead score on a 57-yard run with 3:34 to go and No. 5 Missouri wrapped up the SEC East, riding a strong second half to a 28-21 victory over No. 19 Texas A&M on Saturday night.

Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC) advances to the conference championship game against Auburn — a matchup of schools very lightly regarded before the season. Missouri has made a six-win improvement from its initial SEC season and fourth-ranked Auburn (11-1, 7-1) has topped last year's total by eight after stunning No. 1 Alabama.

Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was held in check for the second straight week, throwing one touchdown pass and rushing for 21 yards on 11 carries. He was 24 for 35 for 195 yards.

Thousands of fans among a sellout crowd of 62,197 — nearly all of them clad in black, stormed the field after the game ended. The field wasn't cleared for at least 20 minutes.

Missouri had been 11-44 under Pinkel when trailing at the half. Pinkel has 101 wins in 13 seasons at Missouri, tied for Don Faurot for most in school history.

Texas A&M has one of the worst defenses against the run in the nation, allowing 221 yards per game. Until Josey's breakaway run, the Aggies had done a nice job.

Starting from its 34, Josey carried for 4 yards and quarterback James Franklin ran for 5 yards. Josey busted free up the middle on third-and-1.

Texas A&M never threatened the rest of the game.

Tra Carson broke two tackles on a 31-yard scoring run that was also the first touchdown allowed by Missouri in the first quarter in six games. Derel Walker's 32-yard reception made it 14-7 late in the half.

Walker's score came just 1:10 after Franklin's 38-yard touchdown pass to L'Damian Washington. Manziel rolled out to buy time and Michael Sam tackled him a beat too late.

Early in the second quarter, Missouri failed to capitalize on a lost fumble by punt returner De'Vante Harris at the A&M 36. Backup Maty Mauk got his usual early series at quarterback and Missouri lost a yard on three plays before punting.

No. 5 Missouri aims to contain Manziel

Saturday, 30 November 2013 00:20 Published in Sports

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — LSU set the template for No. 5 Missouri. Keep Johnny Manziel in the middle of the field, and the Heisman Trophy winner can be contained.

Coach Gary Pinkel knows that's easier said than done.

"I don't know if you ever truly stop him," Pinkel said. "Everybody will say, 'Do exactly what LSU did.' I don't think every team and every player is perfect all the time."

Manziel came close last year against the Tigers, throwing for three touchdowns and running for two more scores to help the Aggies run up a 42-7 halftime lead in a 59-29 blowout.

Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC) dropped 10 spots to 19th in the poll after getting manhandled on the road in a 34-10 loss last week. Manziel was held to one touchdown pass and intercepted twice, and for the first time in his career he fell short of 50 percent completion.

LSU's ends stayed wide to neutralize Manziel's improvisational skills, with great success. Sure, that gives the Tigers some confidence.

"I mean yes, I guess you could say that," senior defensive back E.J. Gaines said. "But it doesn't happen very often."

Watch for Missouri (10-1, 6-1) to at least give it a try.

"We're certainly going to be tested with this guy," Pinkel said. "He's a better plays than he was a year ago."

There's a lot riding on this one for the Tigers. Win, and they take the SEC East and advance to the conference championship Dec. 7 in Atlanta. Lose, and South Carolina gets the nod based on its overtime victory at Missouri.

Texas A&M seeks to right the ship and improve its bowl position amid intrigue. Manziel could announce soon whether he'll return for his junior season or enter the NFL draft.

Five things to look for in Texas A&M-Missouri:

GROUND GAME: Missouri running back Henry Josey is all the way back from a left knee injury so serious Pinkel had doubts he'd be 100 percent again, saying "it was more like a car wreck than an athletic injury." Josey had two of the Tigers' three scores last week, his second straight two-TD game, and he's closing in on 1,000 yards. The senior missed the end of the 2011 season and all of 2012. "I think he's playing as good or better than he has ever played," Pinkel said. "It's great to see it. He's untouchable — do not say a bad word about Josey."

STINGY DEFENSE: Texas A&M's offense leads the SEC with a 45.7-point average but is coming off a dud. Missouri is second in the league allowing just 19 points, and is coming off a superior effort in a 24-10 victory at Ole Miss. The Rebels had been averaging 34.5 points but mustered just one field goal in three trips inside the 20, and twice came up empty after having first-and-goal.

BOUNCING BACK: Before last week, the Aggies hadn't lost by double digits. They had the ball for less than 20 minutes at LSU. They've got to get over it. "I drive through here at a gas station and it's like the sky is falling," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We're playing a real season with real opponents and real games. Are we where we want to be right now? No. But that doesn't mean the sky is falling. We're going into another game as an underdog and the difference is people expect us to win. That's a completely different attitude than when I first got here."

SENIOR NIGHT: The home finale always is an emotional experience for Pinkel, who lets the tears flow and hugs everyone during the pre-game ceremony. Players know they'll have to change gears quickly, and put the game face back on, after getting their name announced before a sellout crowd and then getting greeted by family. "I know my mom will cry, my dad will probably too, and i'll have my daughter out there," offensive tackle Justin Britt said. "To be determined. I've seen some great players who had great careers here, and they didn't cry."

BIG TARGET: Six-foot-5 receiver Mike Evans has become a favorite target of Manziel. Evans is second in the nation with 1,314 yards receiving and is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. He is the only SEC receiver with two games with more than 225 yards receiving. His 279 yards receiving against Alabama broke a school record that had stood since 1965. Evans leads the nation in catches of 30 yards or longer with 17 and his 12 touchdown receptions lead the SEC and are fourth in the nation.

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