College football: SEC needs outside help to reach title game

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The six-year stranglehold of Southeastern Conference teams on the national championship might be at its end.

Conference partisans have a newcomer to thank for the development.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel threw for a pair of touchdowns Saturday as Texas A&M toppled No. 1 Alabama 29-24 (and on the road, no less) to provide the latest twist in the title chase.

At this stage, it could take as few as four specific victories over the next three weeks to freeze SEC powers out of the national championship game for the first time since Southern California and Texas met in 2005.

Four unbeatens remain, though 10-0 Ohio State is ineligible for either the Big Ten title or a bowl game. Still, at least two of Kansas State, Notre Dame and Oregon would need to stumble to open things up for whoever emerges from the SEC title game.

Notre Dame will wrap up the regular season first, facing Wake Forest (5-5) in its home finale before a visit to Southern Cal (7-3). Kansas State has only two games left as well, this week’s trip to Baylor (4-5) and a Dec. 1 showdown with Texas (8-2) at home.

Oregon’s path is trickier, with Stanford (8-2), Oregon State (7-2) and a Pac-12 title game against either UCLA (8-2) or Southern Cal still to come.

There’s also the matter of dissecting just who the best team in the SEC really is, a difficult task with six teams combining for nine total losses — all against each other.

Alabama (9-1) wins the SEC West with a Thanksgiving weekend defeat of Auburn, and Georgia (9-1) already clinched the SEC East. But Florida (9-1) can add an impressive victory when it visits Florida State (9-1).

Those are the best hopes of an SEC national title, and each has upended at least one of Louisiana State (8-2), South Carolina (8-2) and Texas A&M (8-2). But to seriously have a chance at the crystal football at season’s end, the SEC’s juggernauts find themselves in quite a strange spot: needing help from the outside.

Weekend Risers

Kevin Hogan. The Stanford quarterback threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start as the Cardinal upended Oregon State 27-23 to remain in the Pac-12 title chase. Hogan, who replaced the inconsistent Josh Nunes this week, kept Stanford (8-2, 6-1) on track entering Saturday’s trek to unbeaten Oregon.

Minnesota. The Golden Gophers, who went 3-9 in back-to-back seasons, are bowl eligible under second-year coach Jerry Kill after dispatching Illinois 17-3. Saturday’s outcome wasn’t too much of a surprise; three of Minnesota’s past five Big Ten road victories came against the Illini.

Georgia Tech. Look who’s back in the ACC title chase. The Yellow Jackets (5-5, 4-3) knocked off North Carolina 68-50 and, with Miami’s loss to Virginia, share the lead in the eminently mediocre Coastal Division. ”If I would have saw that coming, I probably wouldn’t have shown up today,” Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora told reporters.

Weekend Decliners

Tommy Tuberville. It’s going to be an uncomfortable couple of days for the Texas Tech coach after video showed him striking graduate assistant Kevin Oliver during an overtime defeat of Kansas. “It wasn’t anything to it,” Tuberville told reporters. “It was just one of those deals where I missed his shoulder and ended up grabbing the microphone on his head set and pulled it off.”

Louisville. The Cardinals’ dismal schedule strength didn’t have them in the national title picture, but at least they were unbeaten. That’s no longer the case after absorbing a 45-26 loss at Syracuse. Louisville can still claim the Big East’s BCS berth by handling Connecticut and Rutgers, but it is a lot less interesting at 9-1 than it would have been at 10-0.

Derek Dooley. The Tennessee coach, already on tenuous footing, might have had his fate sealed with a 51-48 quadruple overtime loss to Missouri. The Volunteers are 4-6 (0-6 SEC) and have dropped 13 of 14 conference games dating to last season. Dooley fell to 15-20 in three seasons in Knoxville and 4-18 in the SEC.

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