Ballot Breakdown: SEC takes aim at Ohio State

Breaking down The Associated Press college football poll after

Week 13 of the regular season.

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.”

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.

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.

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