Cumberland Times-News

November 24, 2013

Iron Bowl to match top-5 teams

RALPH D. RUSSO
Associated Press

— Breaking down The Associated Press college football poll after Week 12 of the regular season.             

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SUPER IRON BOWL

The Iron Bowl is always important. For this Iron Bowl, the stakes are higher than ever before, and so are the rankings of Alabama and Auburn.

Auburn moved up to No. 4 in The Associated Press college football poll Sunday, taking advantage of losses by Baylor and Oregon to set up the second top-five matchup in Iron Bowl history.

On Saturday at Auburn, it’ll be No. 1 Alabama against the Tigers. The winner takes the SEC West and gets a trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The first and only time the Crimson Tide and Tigers played with both teams ranked in the top five was 1971. No. 3 Alabama and coach Bear Bryant beat No. 5 Auburn 31-7 and went on to play No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers won that game 38-6.

In this case, Alabama has a straight shot to the BCS national championship game. Beat Auburn and win the SEC title game, and it’s on to the Rose Bowl to try to win an unprecedented third straight national title.

For Auburn (10-1), it’s a little more complicated. Even with an SEC title, the Tigers might not be able to pass No. 3 Ohio State or No. 2 Florida State. The latest BCS standings on Sunday had Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State on top, and a big drop off to Auburn in fourth.

There has already been speculation about the possibility of a one-loss SEC champion — either Auburn or fifth-ranked Missouri — getting into the BCS title game over an undefeated Ohio State. That seems like a stretch — and the mere suggestion is enough to send Buckeyes fans into a rage — but first things first.

Alabama, which tuned up for Auburn with a 49-0 light workout against Chattanooga, opened as a 10 1/2-point favorite against the Tigers, who took the week off.

“I really don’t care what their record is,” Tide quarterback AJ McCarron told reporters Saturday about Auburn. “They’re still the next team in our way.”

While Auburn’s national title hopes were bolstered by the failings of Baylor (49-17 loss at No. 7 Oklahoma State) and Oregon (42-16 loss at Arizona), McCarron seemed to get a boost in the Heisman Trophy race thanks to Saturday’s results.

Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota put up decent numbers, but neither played well. Also, Johnny Manziel, last year’s winner, played his worst game of the season in Texas A&M’s 34-10 loss to LSU.

With Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s candidacy clouded by a sexual assault investigation that could lead to him being charged with a felony, the Heisman chase is getting a reset and none of the contenders have two bigger games left than McCarron.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

The Crimson Tide reached another milestone Sunday during this historic run under coach Nick Saban. Alabama has been ranked in the top five of the last 46 AP polls, matching the fourth-longest streak in the 77-year history of the rankings.

—Miami has the longest run of top-five rankings with 55 straight from Oct. 8, 2000-Oct. 26, 2003. Thirty times during that streak the Hurricanes were No. 1.

—Oklahoma, 48 straight from Nov. 16, 1953-Nov. 11, 1957, including 23 as No. 1.

—Ohio State, 48 straight from 1973 preseason-Sept. 20, 1976, including 24 as No. 1.

—Miami, 46 straight from Nov. 4, 1990-Oct. 3, 1993, including 16 as No. 1.

The Tide has been No. 1 25 times during its current streak.

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MOVING DOWN

Joining Baylor and Oregon in taking a plunge in the poll this week were Texas A&M and UCLA.

The Bears slipped from No. 3 to No. 9, though they are still very much in the Big 12 title race. If Baylor wins out and Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, the Bears win the conference and go to the Fiesta Bowl.

The latest losses for the Ducks, Aggies and Bruins were more costly. Oregon handed Stanford back the Pac-12 North title, and its string of four straight BCS appearances is in grave danger.

A&M dropped 10 spots to No. 19. As much as any BCS game would love to have Manziel in what could be his college finale, the Aggies (8-3) might not reach the required top-14 BCS ranking to be eligible for an at-large bid. And A&M still has a road trip to Missouri — the Tigers need to win to clinch the SEC East — on Saturday. So 8-4 is a real possibility for the Aggies.

The Bruins (8-3) gave the Pac-12 South to No. 13 Arizona State in a 38-33 home loss and dropped eight spots in the rankings to No. 22.

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MOVING UP

Oklahoma State jumped four spots to No. 7. It’s been an odd ride for the preseason Big 12 favorites. The Cowboys’ typically prolific offense has needed time to find its footing and a quarterback, but coach Mike Gundy has proved to be one of the best at dealing with turnover, both on the roster and on his staff.

He found new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich at Division II Shippensburg (Pa.) and shuffled through both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh at quarterback in the beginning of the season. OSU looked like a team on its way to a lost season when it dropped a game at West Virginia in September.

Now the Cowboys are a victory against No. 20 Oklahoma in Stillwater on Dec. 7 away from a second Big 12 title in three seasons. And Gundy, who has been courted by other schools in the past and has not always seen eye-to-eye with athletic director Mike Holder, is again a hot commodity.

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IN AND OUT

Notre Dame continued its yo-yo season, moving back into the AP poll at No. 25. Mississippi dropped out after losing 24-10 at home to Missouri.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP