By Ralph D. Russo
Breaking down the Associated Press college football poll after Week 7 of the regular season.
The first preseason national championship contender has been upset. A couple more unbeatens are now among the beaten. Now that the season has reached the midway point, it seems the title chase has truly begun.
The first shake-up of the season produced significant changes to the Associated Press college football poll Sunday. The top four teams remained unchanged: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Clemson, No. 4 Ohio State.
But Stanford, which had been top-five all season, lost 27-20 at Utah and dropped eight spots to No. 13. The Cardinal’s Pac-12 and national title hopes took a serious hit, though they’ll be able to get right back in the conversation next week by beating No. 9 UCLA at home. And there’s still that big game against Oregon on Nov. 7.
The story behind the story is the Pac-12 has a lot of good teams and is the only league that can make a serious claim to being the equal of the Southeastern Conference.
Though Stanford’s tumble puts just a little more shine on what was already shaping up as maybe the biggest football game in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
Florida State edged up a spot during its off week and will take a No. 5 ranking to Death Valley on Saturday for a top-five matchup against Clemson.
The ACC has two top-five teams and three top-10 teams — Miami is No. 10 — for the first time since Oct. 30, 2005. And soon-to-be ACC team Louisville checks in at No. 8.
Talk about putting a damper on an otherwise awesome day. Missouri (6-0) stayed undefeated with its first statement victory since joining the SEC, a 41-26 win against banged-up and defense-deficient Georgia.
But the Tigers lost quarterback James Franklin to a separated throwing shoulder. The senior will miss at least a week, although CBS.com reported it will be much longer. It’s too bad for the Tigers because the road to the SEC East now goes throw Columbia, Mo. No. 22 Florida and No. 11 South Carolina play at Missouri the next two weeks.
Franklin’s replacement is Maty Mauk, a redshirt freshman and big-time recruit. The Tigers have plenty of weapons to help bring him along, but no time for growing pains.
Auburn moved into the rankings for the first time this season at No. 24, giving SEC fans yet another thing to boast about.
The SEC is the first conference to have eight ranked teams during the regular season. The SEC held the record, along with the ACC and Big Ten, of seven ranked teams — though the SEC had done it more than any other league. The SEC also had eight in the 2011 preseason poll.
The Tigers’ rise was not well received among the many fans who have had it up to here with the SEC, winner of the last seven BCS championships. Auburn’s 5-1 record, best win at home against Mississippi, doesn’t look all that much better than Nebraska’s, Michigan State’s or Oregon State’s, just to name a few.
But the SEC has earned the benefit of the doubt and Gus Malzahn’s rebuilding Tigers were the beneficiary this week. They go to No. 7 Texas A&M next week, so it could be a short stay.
No. 25 Wisconsin is back in the rankings to keep Ohio State from being the only Big Ten team.
Michigan has spent most of this season winning games and dropping in the rankings. Barely slipping by Akron and Connecticut is no way to impress voters.
So it should be no surprise that when the Wolverines finally lost, 43-40 in quadruple overtime at Penn State, Michigan dropped out of the Top 25 for the first time this season.
It was an uplifting victory for Penn State after losing at home to Central Florida and at Indiana. It was also a win for those driven crazy by conservative play-calling.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke played for field goals and got burned.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien went for it on a fourth-and-1 at the 16 instead of attempting a tying field goal and was rewarded with a victory. It was a good gamble, mostly because it wasn’t all that much of a gamble. That O’Brien, who frequently goes on fourth down, understands this is one of his best attributes.
From the archives
No. 12 Baylor is the highest ranked team in the Big 12 for the first time since the league started in 1996, taking advantage of Oklahoma’s surprising loss to Texas. The Sooners fell six spots to No. 18. ... No. 9 UCLA and No. 10 Miami have their best rankings since October 2005.