After tough test, Alabama remains No. 1 in AP poll but aura of invincibility takes hit
Breaking down the AP college football poll after Week 10 of the regular season.
MAKING A STATEMENT
The toughest tests of the season were passed, and Alabama and Oregon are still perfect.
The Crimson Tide's aura of invincibility was the only thing lost.
A thrilling Saturday produced some great games but no upsets and few changes among the highest ranked teams in The Associated Press Top 25 released Sunday.
Those fortunate enough to be able to keep track of multiple games got the chance to compare and contrast the contenders, and maybe a sense about how they would stack up against each other.
Alabama, which scored late to beat LSU 21-17, is No. 1 for the 10th straight week in the AP poll. Oregon beat Southern California 62-51 and is No. 2 for the seventh consecutive week.
Kansas State remains at No. 3 after beating Oklahoma State 44-30, and Notre Dame stays at No. 4 after rallying to beat Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime.
The BCS standings were due out later Sunday, and Oregon was expected to take advantage of Notre Dame's struggles by passing the Fighting Irish and moving into third place, behind Alabama and Kansas State.
Saturday's showdowns in the Southeastern Conference and Pac-12 were played at the same time and for a while presented an almost comical contrast of styles.
While the Ducks and Trojans were trading scores on almost every possession, the Tide and Tigers were banging heads and plodding along.
By halftime, Oregon led USC 34-24 in a game that was clearly far from being decided. SEC fans scoffed at the lack of defense.
Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, La., Alabama held a 14-3 lead at half that had to seem insurmountable to even LSU fans. The Tigers had run their string of touchdown-less quarters against the Tide to 10. Fans tired of SEC superiority scoffed at the lack of offense.
After the break in Los Angeles, the Ducks and Trojans just kept on rolling, but USC never did get closer than three. No surprise there.
The unexpected came in Death Valley, where LSU found its offense and picked apart an Alabama defense that has looked close to invincible this season.
The Tigers put together two touchdown drives to take the lead before AJ McCarron and the Tide rallied with their only sustained drive of the second half.
"We didn't play our best game," coach Nick Saban said. "But I told our guys I have never been prouder of a team."
So what did we learn?
The Crimson Tide might not be as far away from the rest of the field as many have suspected. Its defense, thought to be impenetrable, allowed Zach Mettenberger and the LSU offense to play their best game of the season.
Mettenberger had completed 46 percent of his passes and thrown two touchdowns in four previous SEC games. He went 24 for 35 for 296 yards and two touchdowns Saturday.
Logic would dictate that if Mettenberger and LSU could find success against the Tide, maybe Oregon (or Kansas State or Notre Dame) would be able to as well. Maybe?
Alabama-Oregon seems to be the matchup most fans without a team in the hunt want to see. For what it's worth, the Ducks gained ground on the Tide in the eyes of the oddsmakers on Saturday.
A hypothetical Alabama-Oregon BCS title game now has the Tide favored by four, according to RJ Bell of Pregame.com. It had been six.
UCLA moved up eight spots to No. 17 in the latest rankings after a 66-10 victory against Arizona.
The Bruins (7-2) have already exceeded expectations in coach Jim Mora's first season, and the best could be yet to come for a program that usually plays little brother to USC in the crosstown football rivalry.
UCLA (4-2) is in first place in the Pac-12 South, with a half-game lead over the 21st-ranked Trojans (6-3, 4-3).
The last time UCLA had a better record than USC this late in the season was 2001, which was also the last time the Bruins finished with a better record than the Trojans. The last time UCLA and USC were both ranked and the Bruins were ranked higher was 2000.
UCLA won the Pac-12 South last year by default because USC was ineligible for the postseason. The Bruins play USC in the Rose Bowl on Nov. 17 in a game that could give UCLA a title with no strings attached.
LSU probably deserves better after nearly beating No. 1 Alabama, but the Tigers' second loss of the season sent them tumbling four spots in the rankings to No. 9.
The Tigers finish with consecutive home games against No. 22 Mississippi State and Mississippi, before closing the regular season at Arkansas.
Mississippi State also has been heading in the wrong direction lately. The Bulldogs have lost two straight to Alabama and No. 15 Texas A&M after a 7-0 start, and done so in humbling fashion, by a combined score of 76-20.
After reaching as high as No. 13 in the rankings, Mississippi State is now No. 22.
IN AND OUT
For all of the angst in Austin this season, No. 19 Texas has won three straight and is back in the rankings.
After barely beating Big 12 lightweights Baylor and Kansas, Texas won 31-22 at Texas Tech on Saturday to improve to 7-2 and 4-2 in the conference.
David Ash re-established himself as the No. 1 quarterback for Texas and the defense played reasonably well — at least in comparison to recent standards.
With home games ahead against Iowa State and TCU, before finishing the season at Kansas State, the Longhorns have a chance to put together a season that could look more than respectable.
Though if the K-State game goes anything like the Oklahoma game — 63-21 Sooners — nine wins will feel rather empty for Mack Brown's team.
No. 23 Toledo and No. 24 Rutgers also moved into the Top 25.
Falling out were Arizona, West Virginia and Boise State, which was upset at home by San Diego State.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Toledo moved into the rankings at No. 23, the first time since the final poll of 2001 that the Rockets have been ranked.
Toledo (8-1) also becomes the second Mid-American Conference team to be ranked this season, joining Ohio. The MAC is currently the only conference with four teams with at least eight victories. Northern Illinois (9-1), Kent State (8-1) and Ohio (8-1) all received votes from the media panel.
ODDS AND ENDS
Texas A&M gets another shot at knocking off one of the SEC's elite teams next weekend. The Aggies (7-2, 4-2) have made a nice transition from the Big 12, but they have lost to Florida and LSU. A&M goes to Alabama on Saturday. ... No. 13 Oregon State is at No. 16 Stanford in a game that will go a long way toward determining if the Beavers can grab a BCS at-large bid. ... Georgia and Ohio State are tied for No. 5 in the rankings this week. Texas and Louisiana Tech are tied for 19th.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap