It's November, and as in Novembers past, unpredictability rules.
Now Baylor can commiserate with Kansas State, which went into last Nov. 17 undefeated, well within range of a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Then the Wildcats ran into the Bears, who ran away with a 52-24 win – and then didn't lose again until Saturday, when Art Briles' team came out on the sour end of a 49-17 loss at Oklahoma State.
It's become nearly impossible to predict which teams have the mettle to roll through the regular season unscathed; Baylor's loss leaves three from the automatic-qualifying conferences in Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State. The Bears' loss makes it only slightly easier to project which team comes in fourth in this week's USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, set to be released midday Sunday.
TOP 25: How they fared in Week 13
COACHES POLL: Rankings entering Week 13
The top three is settled: Alabama will remain No. 1, Florida State will come in at No. 2 and Ohio State stick at No. 3. Several one-loss teams have a case for coming in fourth.
Baylor can point to the impressive nature of its nine wins – and ignore the one loss. Auburn has wins against Mississippi, Texas A&M and Georgia. Clemson's one loss came to Florida State. Missouri's lone loss came in overtime. Michigan State, now 10-1, houses the nation's stingiest defense. Oklahoma State, of course, can tout Saturday's win against the Bears.
These teams should make up the top 10, in some order or another. So why is the fourth spot so important? Because sitting at No. 4 leaves a team one step closer to the national championship; for a team like Auburn, for example, sitting at No. 4 entering Saturday's date with Alabama puts the Tigers in prime position to play for the national title with a win and some help.
One team out of contention is Oregon, which suffered a distressing 42-16 loss to Arizona to fall to 9-2. The Ducks could even plummet from No. 5 to as low as No. 13, falling behind each undefeated or one-loss team and behind fellow two-loss teams in Stanford and South Carolina.
After weeks of puzzling declines despite an unblemished record, Northern Illinois could crack the top 20. NIU, now 11-0, could move from No. 21 to No. 19 should three-loss Texas A&M and UCLA drop from No. 10 and No. 14, respectively. The Huskies are keeping close tabs on the Coaches Poll as they battle Fresno State for an at-large BCS bid.
In a sense, the toughest decision for voters may come at the very bottom: Who is No. 25? With Minnesota losing to Wisconsin, the top 25 will have at least one new member. Think about the teams under consideration: Texas, which lost its last game; Cincinnati, which has only two victories against winning teams; Louisiana-Lafayette, the top team in the Sun Belt; or East Carolina, which moved to 9-2 with a win against North Carolina State.
Teams moving up in the poll:
1. Oklahoma State. It's going to be hard to not move Oklahoma State above at least a few fellow one-loss teams after that win against Baylor.
2. Arizona State. The Sun Devils will slot in as the third-best team in the Pac-12 after sneaking past UCLA.
3. Central Florida. Now that UCF has done with Rutgers what Louisville could not – namely, blow the Scarlet Knights' doors off – perhaps voters will right a wrong and move the Knights above the Cardinals.