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Searching for No. 1

PREGAME SPEECH

Other than splitting the atom, assembling a swing set and explaining the Kardashians, there is nothing more difficult than putting together the weekly top 25.

Why? Because there is no true No. 1. Or No. 2, 3, 4 or 5. In fact, put the top 16 teams in a gumball machine, and they all look essentially the same.

Yes, Mississippi State and Florida State are the only unbeatens, but that isn't the same thing as unbeatable. Is there anybody on the planet who thinks the Bulldogs and Seminoles are, as Michigan State's Mark Dantonio so eloquently puts it, "all that"?

Don't get me wrong. Mississippi State and FSU are good -- very good -- but the smart guys in Vegas have them (and everyone else) as dogs to Alabama on a neutral field. I'm just saying.

Think about it:

• To remain unbeaten Saturday night, the Bulldogs needed a last-second interception in the end zone, at home, against a team that hasn't won an SEC game since the first version of the iPhone 5.

• Against Louisville on Thursday evening, FSU needed another "How'd they do that?" comeback -- and got it.

• Auburn had to force and recover two Ole Miss fumbles inside the Tigers' 6-yard line and overcome 13 penalties for 145 yards (it should have been 14 penalties -- the refs missed a play in which Auburn had 12 men on the field) to beat the Rebels.

• TCU needed a last-second field goal to beat underdog West Virginia.

• Arizona State needed an overtime field goal to beat underdog Utah.

• Notre Dame needed Everett Golson and a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat underdog Navy.

Anyway, you get the point. Margins of error can be measured by the wisps of hair on Dana Holgorsen's head.

But if you're looking for CFP clarity, we're beginning to see a crayon outline of what could happen Dec. 7, when the final rankings are released. That's because some of these big games are doing the selection committee's heavy lifting.

Last week, it was Auburn eliminating Ole Miss, UCLA eliminating Arizona and ASU eliminating Utah. This week, Ohio State or Michigan State will become CFP afterthoughts, as will TCU or Kansas State and Notre Dame or Arizona State. And playoff contenders FSU (vs. Virginia), Auburn (vs. Texas A&M), Oregon (vs. Utah), Alabama (at LSU) and Baylor (at Oklahoma) should all be on high alert this Saturday.

FIRST QUARTER

In: UCLA face paint, bizarre finishes, Auburn's rushing attack (253 yards vs. the Landsharks), Florida's rushing attack (418 yards vs. Georgia -- the second most allowed in UGA history), Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Washington's Shaq Thompson, Temple over East Carolina, Wyoming freshman running back Brian Hill, Duke coach David Cutcliffe (the Blue Devils have 38 wins in fewer than seven seasons with Cutcliffe, as opposed to 39 wins in the previous 17 years without him), TCU's Kevin White (he put the glove on West Virginia's all-world wide receiver, also named Kevin White, allowing him just three catches for 28 yards), Western Michigan's Jarvion Franklin (Franklin leads the nation in scoring, is second in rushing and is just 32 yards away from breaking the MAC single-season freshman rushing record), Ohio State at Michigan State (hey, a Big Ten game that matters!), Oregon's Marcus Mariota, walking boots, Tennessee sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs (301 yards passing, 166 yards rushing, five touchdowns in overtime win at South Carolina), Arkansas almosts, WVU hospitality, Maryland-Penn State bad feelings, Miami's Duke Johnson, hard-to-read jersey numbers (hello, Louisville and UCLA), SEC late-season scheduling silliness: Mississippi State plays Tennessee-Martin (you should have heard MSU coach Dan Mullen -- he wore receiver gloves during the postgame presser, by the way -- trying to come up with something complimentary to say about the Skyhawks) and Ole Miss plays Presbyterian, Air Force winning the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, Pitt's James Conner, Texas A&M's throwback helmets, OU quarterback Trevor Knight, TCU-West Virginia rivalry (since 2012, their three games have been decided by a combined five points) and Get Well cards for Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell and Washington State's Connor Halliday

Out: Mariota's losing streak against Stanford, Will Muschamp's losing streak in the Florida-Georgia game, Dave Brandon as Michigan's athletic director, Maryland sportsmanship, East Carolina in the top 25, Georgia's Todd Gurley, South Carolina's defense, Stanford's 31-game streak of giving up fewer than 30 points, Texas A&M's Kenny Hill (or as I heard someone say after his demotion and then suspension: "The Trill is gone") and Georgia's playoff hopes.

SECOND QUARTER

No coach, with the possible exception of Michigan's Brady Hoke, has taken more heat this season than Florida's Muschamp. And no coach, with the possible exception of Hoke, has absorbed and dealt with the criticism better than Muschamp.

Even when Florida fans chanted "Fire Muschamp" during the recent blowout loss to Missouri, the fourth-year Gators coach didn't make excuses or lash out. He knew better.

First of all, facts were facts: His team was 3-3; he had lost 10 of his previous 13 games; he was in danger of missing a second consecutive bowl game (that hasn't happened in nearly 30 years at Florida); his athletic director (who lives and dies with each game) had no choice but to consider all options -- including an in-season dismissal; he is on his third offensive coordinator, third offensive line coach and fourth wide receivers coach; and his starting quarterback (the same quarterback everybody wanted when he came out of high school) had suffered a crisis of confidence. So what would have been the point of popping off, other than to vent and show the critics had gotten to him?

Instead, Muschamp did the improbable in a rivalry that has had its share of improbable moments: He beat double-digit favorite Georgia.

One victory doesn't make a season, but it helps. In Muschamp's case, who knows? It might just save his season and his job.

Our own Brett Edgerton does a nice job of explaining how that win against Georgia could change the SEC East dynamic. But beyond that, there is also the reality of being a coach at a place such as Florida. Gators fans are as fidgety as crickets. They're used to winning and, given the resources at Florida, you can understand why they're accustomed to SEC and national championship titles.

So when Muschamp didn't win, they turned on him. Now, after the upset against the Bulldogs, they probably don't know what to think.

I have no idea how many of Muschamp's fingerprints were on the Gators' game plan against Georgia. All 10? None? But the Gators ran the ball and kept running it. Sixty rushes compared to only six pass attempts (and only three completions for 27 yards). Forget about offensive balance -- Muschamp wanted to win a game.

Suddenly, a bowl appearance -- they're 4-3 and need at least two more victories -- seems like a given (at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and at Florida State). Suddenly, Muschamp's future has a pulse again.

Will a 7-4 record be enough (assuming they lose at Tallahassee) for AD Jeremy Foley to keep Muschamp? And if the Gators run the table, is there even a need to ask the question anymore?

Muschamp is a popular guy inside the Florida football building. Outside of those offices, it gets a little dicier. But if nothing else, Muschamp has given himself a tiny bit of wiggle room.

HALFTIME SPEECH

Kids. They do the dumbest things.

Maryland's captains -- safety Sean Davis, tight end P.J. Gallo and wide receiver Stefon Diggs -- thought they were making some sort of profound, manly declaration by not shaking the hands of Penn State's captains before Saturday's game. There had been some chirping during warmups, so Davis, Gallo and Diggs decided to make a statement.

Fellas, it's a college football game. It isn't the Battle of the Bulge. It isn't Ali-Frazier. It isn't even Harvard-Yale.

Entering Saturday's game, Maryland was 1-35-1 against Penn State. It wasn't a rivalry; it was a glorified bye week for Penn State. And by the way, they hadn't played each other since 1993.

Granted, Maryland was upset with some of the offseason comments of new Penn State coach James Franklin. Back in May, during an appearance in Baltimore, Franklin all but dismissed the Terps' (and Rutgers') chances of winning a recruiting war against the Nittany Lions.

"I consider [the Baltimore area] in-state," Franklin said, as quoted by the Baltimore Sun at the time. "I consider New Jersey in-state."

Franklin has a history of popping off. During a speech to a Georgia high school banquet audience, the then-Vandy coach described Alabama's Nick Saban as "Nicky Satan" and added, "I'm going to outwork him."

Saban national championships: four. Franklin national championships: zero.

Anyway, Franklin has a habit of getting under opponents' skin like a sliver of firewood. He got under Maryland's skin, and Maryland reacted stupidly.

"That is not who we are," said Maryland coach Randy Edsall, whose apology was echoed by every other high-ranking official at the school.

The Terps got the last-minute 20-19 victory, and by doing so, perhaps carved out a thin moat between the Baltimore-Washington D.C. recruiting area and Franklin's Penn State. But their captains embarrassed a program on a day we should have been talking about a Maryland win -- not a Maryland loss of face.

THIRD QUARTER

And the Heisman Trophy goes to ... nobody -- yet.

There are a lot of worthy candidates, but at this exact moment, there is no front-runner, nobody who has separated himself from everyone else. If I had to pick someone, it would be a coin flip between Oregon's Mariota and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.

Also in attendance for the presentation: Florida State's Jameis Winston, Notre Dame's Golson, Marshall's Rakeem Cato, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Kansas State's Jake Waters, TCU's Trevone Boykin and Auburn's Nick Marshall.

In a parallel universe in which versatility matters: Washington's Shaq Thompson.

FOURTH QUARTER

If you're one of those 12 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee, what do you make of Florida State?

Do the Seminoles give you the ranking heebie jeebies? Do you feel queasy about putting them in your top four for a second consecutive week? Do you think they're the Nik Wallenda of college football after the way they squirmed past Notre Dame and needed a SWAT team to rescue them against Louisville?

A word of advice: Don't.

The 2014 Seminoles got a blood transfusion from 2013 Auburn. They defy explanation. They refuse to lose. They won't take no for an answer.

You say they're lucky; I say, "So what?"

You say they're playing with fire; I say they're wearing flame-retardant gloves.

You say they can't win it all -- that karma, their mistakes or Miami, Florida or possibly Duke will catch up with them; I say they're destined for a playoff semifinal.

FSU is a flawed team -- even Jimbo Fisher would admit that much. Or maybe not; he's been a little touchy lately. It's exhausting work having to dissect all of those conspiracy theories.

But there is no denying Fisher's team handles adversity better than any program in the country. Chaos is the new normal for FSU. The crazier the circumstances (Joe's Crab Shack photo op in Louisville, FSU officials yelling at bystanders at a public park), the more dire the situation (off-field controversies), the better the Seminoles respond.

At some point, you have to acknowledge FSU is ranked No. 1 in mental toughness. Last year, the Seminoles won on talent. This year, they've won with a combo platter of talent, confidence and calm.

Did you see them against Louisville? They're on the road. They're down 21-0 (FSU's largest deficit during the past two seasons). Winston is throwing interceptions like he gets a helmet sticker for each turnover.

Meanwhile, the FSU message boards (as pointed out by The Big Lead) are in full meltdown. They're angry. One fan suggests it might be time to bench Winston.

And then Florida State does what Florida State does. It recovers. It doesn't panic.

Winston is playing on a bad ankle. It doesn't matter. Winston almost throws three other interceptions. It doesn't matter. The Noles fumble near the goal line. It doesn't matter. The officials miss a call on a Louisville touchdown (his knee was down). It doesn't matter.

FSU could have lost that game and perhaps should have lost it. But it didn't. Same thing goes for FSU's game vs. Notre Dame. Could have, should have. But Winston overcame his own mistakes. He made the throws when it mattered most. He even forced a turnover when it mattered most.

In 2013, FSU trailed for exactly 37 minutes and 18 seconds in pre-bowl games. This season: 116:27. And the deficit against Louisville marked the fourth time in its past eight games FSU has trailed in the second half.

So far, it doesn't matter.

Florida State is convinced the world is against it. It has an inferiority and superiority complex. It is a polarizing team, quarterbacked by a polarizing player, directed by a polarizing coach.

But once the Seminoles get on the field, you have to respect the way they play and the way they win. They could have folded on the road or waved goodbye to their 23-game win streak, but they didn't. They won No. 24.

Like them or not, they're gamers.

FIFTH QUARTER

Top 10

1. Mississippi State
Maybe it's the schedule or fatigue or the pressures of being No. 1, but the Bulldogs did some un-Bulldog-like things in the win against Arkansas. The list: Prescott had one TD and two interceptions ... MSU had a minus-2 turnover margin ... MSU trailed in the second half for the first time this season and rushed for only 128 yards (a season low). R&R is on the way in the form of Tennessee-Martin.

2. FSU
I marvel/cringe at the way the Noles win games. On paper, they're in the HOV lane for the playoff.

3. Auburn
War Eagle followers were not happy I had Auburn outside the top 10 last week. You'll receive no apologies. I said the AU defense was shaky at home against South Carolina, and it was shaky again on the road against Ole Miss. But like FSU, you've got to give the Tigers lots and lots of credit for making season-defining plays. Auburn channeled its inner 2013 and somehow pulled out the win at Oxford -- literally by inches. Well done.

4. Oregon
It's all happening: a toughie this week on the road against Utah, then a bye week, then another bye week (2-7 Colorado, though the Buffs have been competitive for much of the season), then the Civil War at Oregon State, then the Pac-12 championship. The Ducks are huge Michigan State fans this week. Nothing would make them happier than seeing Ohio State show up at Spartan Stadium with a spear.

5. Alabama
The Tide is at LSU this Saturday and then face Mississippi State at home Nov. 15. And no, there is no truth to the rumor Bama boosters have offered to pay off the houses of CFP selection committee members.

6. TCU
An ugly but gutty road win against West Virginia. Now comes the elimination game against K-State.

7. Michigan State
The winner of Saturday's game lives for another CFP day. The loser will be swimming with the fishes.

8. Kansas State
The stadium is already named for Bill Snyder. If the Wildcats survive at TCU, at West Virginia (Nov. 20) and at Baylor (Dec. 6), the school will be renamed Snyder State.

9. Arizona State
Utah last week, Notre Dame this week, at Arizona on Nov. 28. If ASU is going to make some CFP noise, the Sun Devils will have to earn it.

10. Notre Dame
A win at Arizona State would help its résumé. So would some carnage in the rankings above. Whatever happens, the Irish will be without linebacker Joe Schmidt, the team's leading tackler and the one responsible for making the defensive calls. He suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the win against Navy.

Waiting list: Baylor, Ohio State, Nebraska, LSU, Ole Miss

POSTGAME LOBBYING

Who's in:

No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Oregon: Prescott and Mariota in the same game works for me. How about you?

No. 2 FSU vs. No. 3 Auburn: Winston and Marshall in the same game works for me. How about you?