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The unbeaten: Contenders, pretenders, BCS busters

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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BLOCKING BAMA

-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?

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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.

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BEASTS OF THE EAST

-No. 18 Louisville (5-0)

So far: QB Teddy Bridgewater and the offense have been as good as advertised.

Key remaining games: Cincinnati (Oct. 26); at Rutgers (Nov. 29).

-No. 20 Rutgers (5-0)

So far: Feisty defense and RB Jawan Jamison runs for 100 yards every week.

Key remaining games: at Cincinnati (Nov. 17); Louisville (Nov. 29)

-No. 21 Cincinnati (4-0)

So far: The Bearcats best win is against Virginia Tech, which isn't what it used to be.

Key remaining games: at Louisville (Oct. 26); Rutgers (Nov. 17).

Forecast: The Big East race figures to be fun, especially if these three can avoid being upset in their other games. But it's hard to see any of them making it through the season unbeaten.

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BCS BUSTER

No. 23 Louisiana Tech (5-0)

So far: The Bulldogs are the best team most of the country hasn't seen, averaging 53 points per game.

Key remaining games: vs. Texas A&M (Oct 13); Utah State (Nov. 17); at San Jose State (Nov. 24).

Ohio (6-0)

So far: Four wins by 10 points or less.

Key remaining games: at Miami, Ohio (Oct. 27); at Kent State (Nov. 23).

Forecast: If La Tech can beat Texas A&M, it's on the fast-track to becoming the third Western Athletic Conference team, along with Boise State and Hawaii, to earn an automatic BCS bid - and leave the conference. As for the Bobcats from the Mid-American Conference, their last four games are on a Thursday, a Thursday, a Wednesday and a Friday. MACtion at its best.

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AUBURN'S ISSUES

At least for a week, Arkansas' John L. Smith isn't the SEC coach catching the most grief. Auburn's Gene Chizik has taken his place.

The Tigers bottomed out, at least they hope, Saturday in a 24-7 loss to Arkansas. The Razorbacks came in with the worst defense in the conference and recorded eight sacks and five takeaways. Chizik apologized for his team's performance.

Auburn (1-4, 0-3) owns the worst offense in the SEC and the third-worst defense, ahead of only Kentucky and Arkansas. Not good company.

Chizik guided Auburn to the national title in 2010 with Cam Newton at quarterback and Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator.

Newton was one-and-done. Malzahn left after last season to take the Arkansas State job, and the offense has been a wreck.

Road trips to Ole Miss and Vanderbilt could either ease the pressure or ramp it up to code red.

It might not be fair to take away that championship season from Chizik's record, but the fact is, without it he's 17-14 at Auburn, and 7-12 in the SEC. His contract runs through 2015 and the buyout is reportedly about $7.5 million.

It would seem rash to fire a coach two years removed from winning a national title, but with Nick Saban ruling an empire at Alabama, patience on the Plains will be short.

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QUICK HITS

- It would seem Boston College, 1-4 and coming off a four-win season, is on the way to firing coach Frank Spaziani after the Eagles lost 34-31 at Army. First, though, BC has to hire a replacement for athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who announced in August he was stepping down on Sept. 30.

- Iowa State might have the best pair of linebackers in the Big 12 in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. They'll test Collin Klein and Kansas State in Ames on Saturday.

- Texas-San Antonio, led by former Miami coach Larry Coker, is 5-0 in its transition season to FCS. It's a nice start, but for perspective on UTSA's competition to this point, the Roadrunners are three-point underdogs at Rice on Saturday. The Owls are 1-5.

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HEISMAN WATCH

Florida running back Mike Gillislee isn't flashy, but he leads the SEC in rushing at 110 yards per game and has scored seven touchdowns.

Is he a Heisman Trophy contender, Coach Muschamp?

``We're in the fifth game of the year,'' he said Monday. ``Next question.''

OK, then.

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LAST WORD

``Probably the worst 12 hours of my life.'' Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray tweeted after the Bulldogs lost to South Carolina, he learned that his father was going to have surgery for thyroid cancer and he returned to Athens late Saturday night to discover his home had been egged and littered with toilet paper.

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AP sports writers Charles Odum in Atlanta and Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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