Originally Published: October 23, 2013

Alabama stays above October turmoil

By Alex Scarborough | ESPN.com

October has meant disaster for some teams, as the past two weekends have seen a king-sized pack of upsets.

But for Alabama, October has been a cool breeze. The top-ranked Tide have won easily, all while watching their competition suffer. One by one, the dominoes have fallen in favor of the two-time defending champs. If Nick Saban truly is the devil he's been accused of being, then he must have struck a deal with himself to have things go so swimmingly.

Saban/Manziel
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M offered Alabama its toughest test yet this season, but the competition intensifies in November after a breezy October.

The SEC East has gone to waste with former powers Georgia, Florida and South Carolina reduced to rubble. Today, none are in the title picture. Georgia has been devastated by injuries. Florida lost its starting quarterback early in the season and the offense has gone into a steep decline. South Carolina has spent much of its time trying to figure out if its Heisman Trophy contender, Jadeveon Clowney, even wants to play.

The West hasn't fared much better. Texas A&M lost its second game Saturday against Auburn. Alabama already survived Johnny Manziel once this season, and now the Aggies are little more than an afterthought in the national title race. LSU, which looked like Alabama's stiffest competition in the division a week ago, fell on the road to an Ole Miss team riding a three-game losing streak, the same Ole Miss team Alabama stomped 25-0 on Sept. 28.

Auburn and Missouri -- yes, the same teams picked to finish fifth and sixth in their respective divisions -- have been the last ones standing. Missouri lost its veteran starting quarterback, James Franklin, two weeks ago, and though Maty Mauk played well against Florida on Saturday, Alabama has a history of terrorizing freshman quarterbacks. Auburn, meanwhile, hasn't played a competitive Iron Bowl since 2010. Gus Malzahn has worked magic in his first year on The Plains, but Alabama has won its last two games against Auburn by a combined score of 91-14.

If Alabama does trip up and lose a game, it won't be until November or December. LSU, despite its recent hiccup, has a chance to play the part of the spoiler when it travels to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9, and anything can happen when Alabama goes to Auburn for its annual rivalry game Thanksgiving weekend.

Survive those two roadblocks and all Alabama must do then is conquer a still unknown Missouri team in December for the SEC crown and earn its trip to Pasadena, Calif., for another shot at the BCS national championship.

In-state rivals offer Noles best opportunity

By David M. Hale | ESPN.com

Florida State was still basking in the glow of its win over Clemson, its biggest in years, and players were in no mood to downplay expectations. They'd just knocked off the No. 3 team in the country in dominant fashion, and for the Seminoles, that was a clear indication of where they belonged in the standings.

"We definitely are the best team in the country," receiver Rashad Greene said.

Rashad Greene
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Rashad Greene came up big in Florida State's biggest games this season.

By any number of metrics, Greene has a point. Florida State is 6-0 and in position for its second straight trip to the ACC title game. It ranks in the top six nationally in scoring offense, total offense, scoring defense and total defense. It has outscored its last two opponents, both ranked at the time, by a whopping 114-14. Saturday's win over the Tigers is as impressive as any recorded so far this season.

The big question now isn't just about the hurdles left on the schedule, but whether those hurdles are big enough to win over voters as the Seminoles jockey for position in the BCS standings.

Up next is NC State, and the Wolfpack provide something of a no-win situation for FSU. NC State's 3-3 record won't bolster Florida State's résumé, even if the Seminoles win handily. On the other hand, the last four times a ranked FSU team has faced an unranked NC State team, the Wolfpack came out on top. Last year's 17-16 defeat in Raleigh, N.C., was the latest example.

But hiccups aside, the two biggest tests remaining for the Seminoles come from in-state neighbors.

No. 7 Miami travels to Tallahassee in two weeks for a revival of the rivalry on a national stage. The regular season ends with FSU traveling to Gainesville for its annual date with Florida, where the Gators figure to be scrambling for a season-saving win against an archrival. As good as freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been for Florida State thus far, Miami and Florida will likely provide as good a defensive challenge as any he's faced.

Still, Florida State promises to be a heavy favorite the rest of the way, meaning its opponent in the ACC title game -- likely either Miami or Virginia Tech -- could hold the keys to its BCS fortunes. A date with the Hokies might be ideal in providing a common opponent with top-ranked Alabama in a BCS race that promises to be infinitesimally close if all concerned parties remain unbeaten. As it stands, FSU leads Oregon for the No. 2 spot by just .0028 points.

Oregon must break Cardinal rule

By Kevin Gemmell | ESPN.com

If Oregon is going to achieve perfection, its best course of action is to simply stay the course.

Mariota
AP Photo/George Holland Marcus Mariota and Oregon have their most difficult Pac-12 games still ahead of them, with UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State looming.

With an offense that puts up 57.6 points and 643 yards per game, backed by a defense that yields just 17.3 points per game, the Ducks have the talent and the playmakers on both sides of the ball to make a legitimate run at an undefeated season.

Led by Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota, the Ducks have posted at least 55 points in five of six games this year. Twice they've broken the 60-point barrier, including their most recent 62-38 win over Washington State on Saturday -- the most points they've put up against an FBS team since dropping 62 on USC last season.

With De'Anthony Thomas sidelined the past four games, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have picked up the slack in the run game. Marshall and Tyner both average 6.7 yards per carry and Marshall is tied with Mariota for the team lead with nine rushing touchdowns. And the emergence of receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison has given Mariota one of the most dynamic receiving tandems in the country.

Meanwhile, the defense has been opportunistic with 11 interceptions, helping Oregon post a plus-13 turnover margin.

The roadblocks are obvious. UCLA and Stanford both pose a legitimate threat to the Ducks. Saturday's meeting with the Bruins will be the first time Oregon has faced UCLA in the Jim Mora era, and quarterback Brett Hundley is a match with Mariota in terms of ability and athleticism. And linebacker Anthony Barr has proved mostly unblockable this year.

The big one is still the Nov. 7 date at Stanford. The teams have split their last four meetings with each team winning once at home and once on the road. Last year it was the Cardinal who got the better of the Ducks in a slow-down, drag-em-out slugfest. Two years ago, it was the Ducks who spoiled Andrew Luck's perfect season.

This year's contest figures to be equally thrilling with the winner getting a foothold on the Pac-12 North and, in Oregon's case, a possible perfect season.

Perfection might not be enough for Ohio State

By Austin Ward | ESPN.com

The biggest hurdles have seemingly already been cleared, and the path ahead appears relatively clear for a second consecutive perfect regular season.

Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCarlos Hyde and Braxton Miller are a 1-2 punch that few teams in the Big Ten can handle.

But if Ohio State is going to earn a trip to the BCS title game without any outside help, it would actually benefit from a few tougher tests materializing in front of them.

The No. 4 Buckeyes will be clear favorites over each of the next four games, and some rough patches for Michigan so far this season would likely give them the edge in the storied rivalry even with this year's edition being played in the Big House.

So, unless Alabama, Florida State or Oregon trips up along the way, it figures to be in Ohio State's best interest for Michigan to keep winning to raise the stakes at the end of November, or for somebody else to dominate the Legends Division to set up a marquee matchup in the Big Ten title game to give the Buckeyes' strength of schedule a boost.

Otherwise, with running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller playing the best football of their careers, it's going to be difficult for anybody to knock off Ohio State's high-powered offense. Throw in significant contributions from Philly Brown and Devin Smith at wide receiver and a steadily expanding role for Dontre Wilson, not to mention the physical blocking from four seniors on the offensive line, and the Buckeyes have more than enough firepower to overwhelm Penn State and Indiana at home and Purdue and Illinois on the road.

One issue that bears monitoring, though, is the health of a defense that doesn't have all that much depth to speak of behind a talented starting unit. Christian Bryant's broken ankle was a significant blow in the secondary, and the senior safety was also an invaluable leader for a unit that has six first-year starters in the front seven.

The Buckeyes have also been pushed around in the first half of both of its last two games, falling behind Northwestern and Iowa before making adjustments at intermission and dominating down the stretch to extend their winning streak to 19 games. But as the pressure continues to build and teams continue to take their best shot at the Buckeyes, the margin for error will keep shrinking -- making it imperative for Urban Meyer's bunch to stay focused and healthy to handle their end of the bargain.

Austin Ward | email

ESPN Staff Writer

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