Tide vs. Gators has plus-one feel

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Alabama and Florida make a date for a potential playoff game. The current hot commodity in coaching adds another line to his impressive resume. Southern California sports an old-school Miami swagger.

At least one possible BCS controversy was eliminated in Week 11 of the college football season, but don't fret, there's potential for plenty more.

The Big Story

Remember the plus-one format Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive proposed to be used by the Bowl Championship Series? The one shot down earlier this year by most of the other conference leaders?

Well, college football could get a taste of what that mini-playoff would look like this year, thanks to the SEC.

Alabama and Florida clinched their divisions and spots in the SEC championship game on Saturday, setting up what could turn out to be a national semifinal on Dec. 6 at the Georgia Dome.

Both the top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 3 Gators have plenty of heavy lifting to do before they get to Atlanta. Florida faces South Carolina in Gainesville, takes a break with the Citadel, then plays at Florida State. The Seminoles are playing as well as they have in years.

Alabama's road looks less daunting with Mississippi State and Auburn at home. But the Bulldogs have won two straight against the Crimson Tide and the Tigers have won six straight Iron Bowls and could salvage a disappointing season by extending the streak to seven.

If the Gators and Tide survive, the SEC champ is virtually guaranteed a trip to Miami for the BCS national title game on Jan. 8.

The Big 12 championship game in Kansas City also should have a playoff feel, with the winner of the South division - either Texas Tech, Texas or Oklahoma - standing a good chance to be playing for a shot at the national title.

Iowa cleared up one potentially unpleasant situation by beating Penn State 24-23 on a last-second field goal. No unbeaten team from a BCS conference will be locked out of the national title game.

Iowa Governor Chet Culver released a statement congratulating the Hawkeyes on their big victory.

"I join Hawkeyes everywhere in celebrating Iowa's upset victory over third-ranked Penn State," he said.

The BCS might also want to send a thank you note to Kirk Ferentz's team.

The next BCS mess comes if/when Texas Tech loses and somehow a single team must be chosen from several with one loss to play in the national championship game.

Upwardly mobile

Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly is putting together another surprising run at the Big East championship with the Bearcats.

Enjoy it while it lasts UC fans. Kelly likely will be on the short list for almost every school with a coaching vacancy.

After successful stints at Division II Grand Valley and Central Michigan, Cincinnati brought in Kelly to replace Mark Dantoni last season.

Kelly's spread offense produced a school-record 472 points and a 10-3 record in 2007. This season, with only 12 returning starters, the Bearcats were expected to take a step back.

After beating West Virginia 26-23 in overtime Saturday, Cincinnati is 7-2, tied for first in the Big East and No. 22 in the nation. All of that while juggling quarterbacks because of injuries.

Kelly's also a charismatic salesman. He called out the local press corps last year for not covering the Big East media days.

The school gave him a five-year deal last December that pays him about $1.3 million per year. Cincinnati probably can go higher, but it's doubtful the school could match wallets with the likes of Tennessee, Clemson and Washington.

If Kelly stays at Cincinnati beyond this season, he's either extremely loyal or not thrilled with the choices available.

Like a Hurricane

Watching USC play is becoming reminiscent of the great Miami teams of Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson.

Taylor Mays, Rey Maualuga and the rest of the Trojans' defense is the best in the land. Its latest victim was California, pummeled in a 17-3 USC victory.

But USC's defenders play with a nasty streak that occasionally crosses the line between aggressive and dirty. The Trojans seems willing to give up the odd 15-yard penalty if it helps intimidate an opponent.

The Trojans' confidence veers toward cockiness on both sides of the ball and might account for play that is often sloppy.

Of course, it's hard to argue with the results.

Quick hits

-More gaudy passing stats from the Big 12. Saturday's six winning quarterbacks threw for 1,897 yards and 23 touchdowns.

-Expect Buffalo coach Turner Gill to be mentioned as a candidate for several job openings, but DO NOT expect him to replace Greg Robinson at Syracuse. Gill probably won't want to take on another program that needs an extreme makeover.

Heisman-worthy

OK, so quarterback Josh Vogelbach from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., is not really Heisman Trophy-worthy. But he is noteworthy.

In a loss 49-34 loss to Catholic University of America, Vogelbach set NCAA Division III career records for total offense (13,753) and passing yards (13,439). Both records were held by Westminster (Mo.) College's Justin Peery from 1996-99.

Lookahead

Consider this a good week to get a little Christmas shopping done. No must-see games, but more than enough to keep your attention.

Steve Spurrier brings South Carolina to Gainesville, trying to ruin Florida's national title hopes.

No. 4 Texas travels to Kansas for a potentially tricky road game.

No. 21 Pittsburgh and No. 22 Cincinnati play what passes for a showdown in the Big East these days.

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Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrusso(at)ap.org.


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