Survive and advance in college football, sort of

Breaking down the ballots for the AP Top 25 and wrapping up college football’s fourth weekend.



Now that college football has a bracket — albeit a very small one for the four-team playoff — the mantra
of the NCAA basketball tournament is seeping its way into fall Saturdays: Survive and advance.

It’s not quite that simple, but it was certainly an appropriate way to look at what No. 1 Florida State
and No. 2 Oregon did Saturday night.

The top seven teams in the latest Associated Press college football rankings on Sunday held their spots
from last week. Florida State has 33 first-place votes. Oregon received 12. No. 3 Alabama got seven
after being both dominant and sloppy in a 42-21 victory against Florida. Oklahoma has four first-place
votes. Auburn is No. 5, Texas A&M is sixth with four first-place votes and Baylor is seventh.

The Seminoles pulled off one of the great escapes by a No. 1 team in recent college football history.

With Jameis Winston suspended for his latest misstep, Clemson had Florida State stumbling and staggering
all night. The Tigers never could knock out the champs, and now another section of shocking
disappointments had been added to the encyclopedia entry for "Clemsoning."

Missed short field goals, bad snaps, fumbles and at least one officials’ call that could have gone
Clemson’s way but did not, let Florida State slip away with a 23-17 overtime victory.

Credit the Seminoles for their resiliency and for having a lot more going for them than just Winston’s
gifted right arm. But mostly toss another one in the win column, 19 straight for the ‘Noles, and move

The Ducks were fortunate enough to have their star quarterback available at Washington State because
outside of Marcus Mariota much went wrong for Oregon in a 38-31 victory in Pullman, Washington.

Mariota was brilliant, with 329 yards passing, five touchdowns and a few magic tricks playing behind a
banged-up offensive line that got him bounced around. The Ducks also were on the right side of an
uncalled pass interference penalty on Washington State’s last drive.

Not Oregon’s best day, but the record is unblemished and that’s all that matters.

Fact is, it’s unlikely more than a team or two from the Big Five conferences will be unbeaten come
selection Sunday — yes, college football has one of those, too, now.

In the history of the 16-year BCS only one time did more than two teams from those conferences finish the
regular season perfect. Auburn was the third wheel in 2004 when Southern California and Oklahoma played
for the national title.

With four teams now playing for a national championship in the postseason, barring an unprecedented set
of circumstances, unbeaten should mean an undeniable spot in the playoff — at least for the teams
playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference.


Then there is BYU.

The Cougars moved up one spot in the rankings to No. 20, improving to 4-0 for the first time since 2008
by beating Virginia 41-33.

A modest rise, but the Cougars’ perfect record is worth noting because their place in college football’s
new landscape is unique.

BYU is in its fourth season as a football independent. Not being a member of the Big Five, means the
Cougars are lumped with the so-called Group of Five conference teams that includes the American Athletic
Conference, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American and Conference USA. But BYU is not eligible for the
automatic bid to one of the big New Year’s bowls that goes to the highest-ranked champion from those
conferences, as determined by the selection committee

A 12-0 BYU team, even with a schedule that lacks some pop, stands a good chance to land an at-large spot
in one of the big games. Especially this season when there will be as many as five at-large spots in the
games that don’t host semifinals.

Slip to 11-1, and the Cougars could be off to the Miami Beach Bowl to face a team from the American on
Dec. 22. Nice spot for a winter vacation, but not so satisfying for a potential top-15 team.

The bigger question is can a 12-0 BYU team crack the top four and reach the national semifinals? Only
twice during the BCS era did a team from outside the automatic-qualifying leagues (TCU in both 2009 and
’10) crack the top four in the final standings. That included some Boise State and Utah teams that won
BCS games.


No. 23 East Carolina and No. 14 Mississippi State moved into the rankings for the first time this season
with historic victories for their programs.

The Pirates are No. 23 after a record-setting 70-41 victory against in-state rival North Carolina. ECU
has beaten ACC teams the past two weeks, winning 28-21 at Virginia Tech. It’s the second straight season
ECU has beaten North Carolina.

The Pirates were last ranked Sept. 21, 2008. That team, coached by Skip Holtz, finished 9-5 and won
Conference USA. This East Carolina (3-1) team, coach by ECU alum Ruffin McNeill, is in its first season
in the American Athletic Conference.

Led by three-year starting quarterback Shane Carden, an overlooked Texan who spent two years on the scout
team, and 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, the Pirates offense has been virtually
unstoppable this season.

"The fact that our offense is this successful is based on 11-man football," McNeill said
Sunday. "We ask everybody to their jobs and make routine plays. Making sure they do a good job of
making routine plays, and then you can make competitive plays."

Mississippi State is No. 14 after holding on to beat LSU 34-29 and end a 14-game skid to the Tigers. The
Bulldogs were last ranked late in the 2012 season.


Florida State is the only ranked team from the ACC. The last time a conference had the No. 1 team and no
other ranked teams, was Sept. 21, 2008, when top-ranked USC was the lone Pac-10 representative.


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