By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press
At this point in the season, it looks as if the rest of the country is competing to be the team that plays No. 1 Alabama for the BCS championship in January.
The mere suggestion of that is probably enough to make Nick Saban's head explode, but between the way the Crimson Tide has played and what's left on its schedule you have to like Alabama's chances.
There are 13 other undefeated teams in major college football after a sort'em out weekend in which seven teams took their first loss. As many as eight teams could finish the season unbeaten. That'd make for one big BCS mess, but the odds are it will be far fewer.
So it's a good time to sort through the contenders and figure out which ones have the best chance to either play Alabama in Miami — or keep the Tide from getting there.
MIAMI OR BUST
—No. 2 Oregon (6-0)
So far: The Ducks haven't been challenged yet after facing a weak nonconference schedule and playing only one game away from Autzen Stadium. Coach Chip Kelly's team is outscoring opponents by 32.
Key remaining games: at No. 11 USC (Nov. 3); No. 17 Stanford (Nov. 17); at No. 10 Oregon State (Nov. 24).
Forecast: That's a tough road, especially if the Ducks have to play the Trojans again in the Pac-12 title game, but this might be Kelly's best team yet.
—No. 7 Notre Dame (5-0)
So far: LB Manti Te'o and the Fighting Irish have allowed three touchdowns, fewest in the nation, and while they haven't faced another elite team, they have faced a bunch of solid ones.
Key remaining games: No. 17 Stanford (Oct. 13); at No. 13 Oklahoma (Oct. 27); at No. 11 USC (Nov. 24).
Forecast: It's hard to imagine the Irish staying undefeated against that schedule, but if they do they'll have as good a resume as any team in the country.
BIG 12 BIG BOYS
—No. 5 West Virginia (5-0)
So far: QB Geno Smith has taken hold of the Heisman Trophy race and the Mountaineers have no doubt been the most exciting team in the country.
Key remaining games: at Texas Tech (Oct. 13); No. 6 Kansas State (Oct. 20); Oklahoma (Nov. 17).
—No. 6 Kansas State (5-0)
So far: The Wildcats won at Oklahoma and have been prolific in a more methodical way than their souped-up Big 12 rivals.
Key remaining games: at Iowa State (Oct. 13); at West Virginia (Oct. 20); Texas (Dec. 1).
Forecast: The Big 12 is the most balanced conference in the country, and while the Mountaineers and Wildcats are the hot teams in the league, just about every game they play figures to be a challenge. And that's no way to stay undefeated.
—No. 3 South Carolina (6-0)
So far: The Gamecocks' 35-7 victory against Georgia on Saturday might have been the most impressive performance of the season.
Key remaining games: at LSU (Oct. 13); at Florida (Oct. 20); at Clemson (Nov. 24).
—No. 4 Florida (5-0)
So far: The Gators have been transformed into a rugged, Bama-like team under coach Will Muschamp. Three times they have rallied in the second half to win.
Key remaining games: South Carolina (Oct. 20); vs. Georgia (Oct. 27); at Florida State (Nov. 24).
Forecast: If South Carolina can get through a brutal stretch and to a matchup with Alabama in the SEC title game, Steve Spurrier's team looks to be the best equipped in the conference to beat the Tide. Though how much will the Gamecocks have left in the tank by the time they get to Gainesville?
BEAVERS AND BULLDOGS
—No. 10 Oregon State (4-0)
So far: The surprising Beavers have one of the best passing games in the country, but QB Sean Mannion is now out indefinitely with a knee injury.
Key remaining games: at BYU (Oct. 13); at Stanford (Nov. 10); Oregon (Nov. 24).
—No. 19 Mississippi State (5-0).
So far: The Bulldogs are off to their best start since 1999, but the only team with a winning record they have played is Troy. And they almost lost.
Key remaining games: at Alabama (Oct. 27); Texas A&M (Nov. 3); at LSU (Nov. 10).
Forecast: It's doubtful the Beavers will get to the Civil War undefeated, but they might be able to ruin the Ducks' title hopes. The Bulldogs still have a lot to prove.