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Vandal Examiner's Top 25 Rankings: Week 15

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Sometimes college football likes to do this thing where it leads the nation one way and then just punch it in the jaw at the last moment. That is what happened last weekend as for the first time this season, the top team in the nation fell in one of the most bizarre and incredible plays in college football history. The aftermath has changed everything as we head into the final week of the regular season and conferences prepare to crown their champions. What will this weekend bring us? Will we have an eerie calm or will the tide change one last time?

#1: Florida State

O how the winds of change have blown in the favor of the mighty Seminoles. It’s hard to know where to start to describe this past week. Not only did they beat rival Florida, they gained the top spot in the rankings and QB Jameis Winston won’t be charged in an alleged sexual assault case. The Seminoles are now just one game away from their first national title appearance since 1999. To get there, they must first get through Duke. The Blue Devils have been a surprising team this year, but it’s hard to see them keeping up with “Fameis Jameis” and the crew. Look for this game to be competitive, but end in favor of FSU.

#2: Auburn

All it took was one play for Auburn to completely change the face of the post-season for everyone in the nation. Their stunning defeat of Alabama in the “Iron Bowl”, thanks to the now famous 109-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown by Chris Davis, has put the Tigers in the SEC title game. While I know Ohio State hasn’t lost a game and it seems silly to put a one loss team over an undefeated, Auburn just has better wins and bigger wins in a much more difficult schedule. Taking on Missouri in the SEC title game, my fingers are crossed that a win will jump them into the national title game.

#3: Ohio State

“The Game” almost was renamed “The Upset” as one misguided two-point conversion saved the Buckeyes from a one-point loss to rival Michigan. Another team benefitting from Alabama’s loss, Ohio State now moves into the second spot in the BCS rankings and now has a potential berth to the national title game. While they have won 24 games straight, only six teams they played this year finished a .500 or better record with two of those teams ranked compared to Auburn, who has eight with four ranked wins. A win over a tough and ranked Michigan State may be enough to keep the Tigers back, but with a lousy performance against the Wolverines, this game is on upset watch.

#4: Missouri

With a win over TAMU, Missouri officially made the SEC title game the “Tiger Bowl”. Just a year ago, both Missouri and Auburn were 2-14 in conference play and now they play for the title. It’s amazing what a year can do. QB Maty “Ice” Mauk and the Tiger offense need to have a big game against Auburn and need to learn from other’s mistakes. If you look at it, Auburn’s biggest wins happened because of other teams making stupid decisions. Whether it’s not knocking down a pass or kicking an absurdly long field goal, it’s those things that have led Auburn to this spot. Missouri must avoid falling into these same follies.

#5: Alabama

Let’s say this first. Nick Saban is the best coach in college football, period. What he has done to Alabama as a program has been amazing, but the decision to kick a 57-yard field goal at the end of the “Iron Bowl” might be the dumbest choice in his career. It doesn’t matter if that return and touchdown was a fluke, it was an avoidable one. Sometimes overtime isn’t a bad thing, especially with how well RB T.J. Yeldon was playing. Defeated, the Crimson Tide has a VERY small chance of getting to the national title game. Both Florida State and Ohio State would have to lose for that to happen. If it doesn’t, it’s a trip to either the Sugar or Orange Bowl, depending on how the SEC title game and last week plays out.

#6: Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State has a lot riding on the “Bedlam Series”. A win would give the Cowboys the Big 12 title and a ticket to the Fiesta Bowl for the second time in three years. The tough part is that the “Bedlam Series” has never favored OKST. 18-82 all-time in the series, they have only one once in the last ten seasons. This season’s Cowboys, on paper, are a better team than the Sooners and the win over Baylor shows they can hold big time teams under control. This is a rivalry game though and anything can happen. I’m putting this pivotal game on upset alert because of that. A loss and a Baylor win would give the title to the Bears.

#7: South Carolina

Despite not making the SEC title game due to Missouri’s win over TAMU, South Carolina got a moral win as they defeated Clemson for the fifth straight season. The containment of QB Tajh Boyd was the largest factor in this game as they held him touchdown-less and intercepted him twice. QB Connor Shaw had a impressive game, throwing for 152 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for a touchdown on 94 yards on the ground. As for the post-season, South Carolina probably won’t get an at-large bid to the BCS, but could face a tough Big Ten opponent in the Capital Bowl.

#8: Baylor

A win and some luck is what Baylor needs right now. Baylor’s win over TCU helps them keep pace with Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title race. With Oklahoma State holding the tie-breaker over the Bears, the Cowboys would have to lose to the Sooners, while at the same time; Baylor would have to beat Texas this weekend. If that happens, the Bears would win the Big 12 and head to the Fiesta Bowl. Baylor is still in some good shape if OKST wins though as they seem to be a prime candidate to go to the Sugar Bowl or Cotton Bowl.

#9: Northern Illinois

The Huskies seem set to win the MAC as they head into what should be a fairly competitive game against Bowling Green today. As normal, by the time this article comes out, this game may be over. NIU’s BCS hopes are still heavily in question as UCF is quickly sneaking up on them in the rankings. Now that Fresno State has fallen out of the running, the Knights are the only team that can prevent it, but it seems unlikely at this point. A trip to the Fiesta Bowl to take on the Big 12 champion seems like the most likely route they will head.

#10: LSU

A close win over Arkansas this past weekend came at a heavy cost. The Tigers will officially be without starting QB Zach Mettenberger as he has a torn ACL. LSU may have to turn to freshman Anthony Jennings in the post-season as a result of it. Jennings was 4-7 with 76 yards and a touchdown against the Razorbacks, so it might not be such a bad change. LSU looks to be heading to the Cotton Bowl to take on the second ranked team from that conference. No matter who it is, it could be a very tough game and LSU looks likely to miss that tenth win.

#11: Stanford

If Stanford would have lost this past weekend’s game to Notre Dame, my living room coffee table would have flown into my TV. The last thing anyone wanted was to see the PAC-12 North switch hands again when it didn’t need to. The Cardinal managed hang on against the Fighting Irish and will head to Tucson to take on Arizona State in the PAC-12 title game. On paper, this could be a really difficult game for the Cardinal. The Sun Devils are probably the best team Stanford will have played since Oregon, offensively wise. A win will have the Cardinal coming up roses, while a loss will send them on a holiday.

#12: UCF

My pick for the most interesting team of the year is a win away from winning their first AAC title in their first year in the AAC outright. Granted, the departure of Louisville and Rutgers will make the conference a bit weaker next season, it’s still a big achievement for such a young program. With Louisville beating Cincinnati this week, the Knights can’t finish with a worse record and would win the tie-breaker if SMU is to upset them. UCF is heading to the BCS, but where is yet to be really known. A lot of it comes down to what happens with the national title game.

#13: Oregon

The platypus has found its home once again in Eugene as Oregon managed to escape rival Oregon State in the “Civil War”. Although it is a win, this game doesn’t help Oregon’s attractiveness to BCS committees. Losing two of their last four games and barely getting past the Beavers, the Ducks will likely show up in the Alamo Bowl to take on someone from the PAC-12. This is again kids why we don’t talk bad about the Rose Bowl. QB Marcus Mariota has announced he will return, which should give fans a little bit to look forward to next season.

#14: Michigan State

A close win over Minnesota has now set the stage for what could be college football’s last chance this regular season to give us a shock. Taking on the undefeated Buckeyes of Ohio State, a win would give Michigan State their first conference title since 2010 and send them to the Rose Bowl. It would also cause a massive mix-up in the national title game and could have giant ripple effects. The last two meetings between these teams were close and this one should be too. Watch out for one of the best games of the week in this one and keep this on your upset alert radar.

#15: Clemson

Finishing the season at 10-2, this season feels like a bit of a disappointment. At one point a favorite to contend for the national title, the Tigers stumbled in their biggest games of the season. As a byproduct, Clemson may have to settle for something like the Chick-fil-a Bowl if this season plays out as most expect. They are still an interesting option for some committees that might want them QB Tajh Boyd’s last ride into the sunset. It’s a wait and see situation for the Tigers at this point.

#16: Arizona State

The Sun Devils finished the regular season not only with a win in the “Territorial Cup” but also with the best record they have had since 2007, the year they were named the co-champions of the PAC-12. Taking on Stanford in this year’s title game, ASU is going to have to find a way to score on the Cardinal quickly. Having home-field advantage will help, but if they don’t score, it’s going to be a long day. The Sun Devils haven’t played in a single BCS game in the BCS era and haven’t made a trip to the Rose Bowl since 1997.

#17: Louisville

Since UCF has locked up the BCS spot for the AAC, the Cardinals can celebrate the fact that not only did they finish with their second 10 win season in a row, but they also took home the “Keg of Nails” again this year, beating rival Cincinnati this past week. Going into the post-season, the Russell Athletic Bowl seems like the likely destination for the Cardinals. Sadly, it will be a giant departure from the Sugar Bowl last season, but with QB Teddy Bridgewater’s future in doubt, it’s better to get something other than nothing.

#18: Oklahoma

The fun thing about rivalries is that they are always more intense than normal games and anything can happen. Nothing would make Coach Bob Stoops put on this sunny day visor than to beat the Cowboys of Oklahoma State and ruin their run for the BCS. Defensively, they might have the tools to stop OKST, but that won’t be an easy task. Giving up 31 points to Kansas State isn’t reassuring. The last time the Sooners were in Stillwater, they came home for a loss. This is anyone’s game and could have a big impact on the post-season landscape.

#19: Duke

A fourth quarter field goal just sent Duke to their first ACC title game as the Blue Devils picked up a two-point win over rival North Carolina this past weekend. A program that flew under the radar most of the season, Duke now faces the top team in the national in the biggest game in school history. Looking at this Blue Devil team, it’s hard to see them beating the Seminoles. While they were able to shut down Miami (FL), this is a beast of a whole different nature. It’s still good to see them become more than a basketball school and they will find their way to a upper-level bowl, probably the Sun Bowl.

#20: UCLA

Back-to-back nine win seasons and the “Victory Bell” isn’t a bad way to end a season. While UCLA won’t be going back to the PAC-12 title game, Coach Jim Mora did get a six-year extension that will keep him with the Bruins for a very long time. I’d like to think that the extension mostly came as UCLA beat USC again, but that’s probably just a small part of it. Mora’s impact thus far in two seasons is clear and he deserves this extension. The Sun Bowl is the destination that the Bruins will more likely find themselves in come this post-season.

#21: Fresno State

Talk about an awful way for a team’s BCS hopes to crumble! The Bulldogs got thrown around by San Jose State, allowing 62 points in a flurry of offense that saw these two teams combine for 112 points and 1,382 combined offensive yards. The 62 points scored by SJSU was the first time since 1996 that Fresno State had allowed that many points. Fresno State will take on Utah State this weekend in the MWC title game, but at this point, they have no shot at a BCS game. The Bulldogs will likely take on a member of the PAC-12 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

#22: Texas

The Longhorns can play the role of spoilers this weekend with a big game against Baylor. When it comes to the post-season, a win over Baylor would help Texas in figuring out where they would go. To do that, they have to stop the high-powered Bears offense. With how Texas faired against Oklahoma State, it’s hard to see them being able to do that. A win would send them probably to the Cotton Bowl, but a loss would let them get out their bibs and pull up to the table of the Wild Wings Bowl.

#23: Texas A&M

It’s Evil Tim Tebow’s 21st birthday, but that won’t change the fact that this season was kind of a wash for the Aggies. QB Johnny Manziel’s future is a giant question mark at this point. Staying around another season might help his draft stock, but there is also the risk it will hurt it. Either way, TAMU needs to be prepared to move forward. Post-season wise, the Chick-fil-A Bowl may play host to the final game of Manziel’s career. TAMU has so many holes in their team right now; it wouldn’t be surprisingly if a lot of people jump ship.

#24: USC

A loss to rival UCLA dampened an otherwise impressive rebound from the mess that Lane Kiffin created at the beginning of the year. For the second season in a row, the “Victory Bell” will stay with the Bruins as the Trojans just couldn’t get things to click right. While the Las Vegas Bowl may be the final time we see the Trojans this season, the future is already moving into place. Washington’s Steve Sarkisian has been named the new head coach, sending interm Ed Orgeron into an understandable rage. Sarkisian hasn’t been too impressive at UW, but he may be the man to return USC to the national spotlight.

#25: Ball State

In the proud tradition of introducing teams that may be looked over, I present Ball State. The 10-2 Cardinals have been quietly betting MAC opponents, with their only losses coming to NIU and North Texas. Putting up 40.1 points per game, this team could give someone a surprise in the post-season. That team will likely come from the Sun Belt and the game will be the GoDaddy Bowl. Since the Sun Belt and MAC are pretty much the same conference, it wouldn’t surprise me if they win. It’s fun to find out about random teams! This is their best season since going 12-2 in 2008 when Brady Hoke, now Michigan’s head coach, was coaching the team.

DROPPED: Notre Dame & Wisconsin

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