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BALLOT BREAKDOWN: Now that college football has a bracket, it's survive and advance, sort of

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Breaking down the ballots for the AP Top 25 and wrapping up college football's fourth weekend.


SURVIVE AND ADVANCE

Now that college football has a bracket — albeit a very small one for the four-team playoff — the mantra of the NCAA basketball tournament is seeping its way into fall Saturdays: Survive and advance.

It's not quite that simple, but it was certainly an appropriate way to look at what No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Oregon did Saturday night.

The top seven teams in the latest Associated Press college football rankings on Sunday held their spots from last week. Florida State has 33 first-place votes. Oregon received 12. No. 3 Alabama got seven after being both dominant and sloppy in a 42-21 victory against Florida. Oklahoma has four first-place votes. Auburn is No. 5, Texas A&M is sixth with four first-place votes and Baylor is seventh.

The Seminoles pulled off one of the great escapes by a No. 1 team in recent college football history.

With Jameis Winston suspended for his latest misstep, Clemson had Florida State stumbling and staggering all night. The Tigers never could knock out the champs, and now another section of shocking disappointments had been added to the encyclopedia entry for "Clemsoning."

Missed short field goals, bad snaps, fumbles and at least one officials' call that could have gone Clemson's way but did not, let Florida State slip away with a 23-17 overtime victory.

Credit the Seminoles for their resiliency and for having a lot more going for them than just Winston's gifted right arm. But mostly toss another one in the win column, 19 straight for the 'Noles, and move on.

The Ducks were fortunate enough to have their star quarterback available at Washington State because outside of Marcus Mariota much went wrong for Oregon in a 38-31 victory in Pullman, Washington.

Mariota was brilliant, with 329 yards passing, five touchdowns and a few magic tricks playing behind a banged-up offensive line that got him bounced around. The Ducks also were on the right side of an uncalled pass interference penalty on Washington State's last drive.

Not Oregon's best day, but the record is unblemished and that's all that matters.

Fact is, it's unlikely more than a team or two from the Big Five conferences will be unbeaten come selection Sunday — yes, college football has one of those, too, now.

In the history of the 16-year BCS only one time did more than two teams from those conferences finish the regular season perfect. Auburn was the third wheel in 2004 when Southern California and Oklahoma played for the national title.

With four teams now playing for a national championship in the postseason, barring an unprecedented set of circumstances, unbeaten should mean an undeniable spot in the playoff — at least for the teams playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference.

GOING UP

PHOTO: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) scrambles for a first down on a 4th down play against Washington State during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Oregon won 38-31. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) scrambles for a first down on a 4th down play against Washington State during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Oregon won 38-31. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)

Then there is BYU.

The Cougars moved up one spot in the rankings to No. 20, improving to 4-0 for the first time since 2008 by beating Virginia 41-33.

A modest rise, but the Cougars' perfect record is worth noting because their place in college football's new landscape is unique.

BYU is in its fourth season as a football independent. Not being a member of the Big Five, means the Cougars are lumped with the so-called Group of Five conference teams that includes the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American and Conference USA. But BYU is not eligible for the automatic bid to one of the big New Year's bowls that goes to the highest-ranked champion from those conferences, as determined by the selection committee

A 12-0 BYU team, even with a schedule that lacks some pop, stands a good chance to land an at-large spot in one of the big games. Especially this season when there will be as many as five at-large spots in the games that don't host semifinals.

Slip to 11-1, and the Cougars could be off to the Miami Beach Bowl to face a team from the American on Dec. 22. Nice spot for a winter vacation, but not so satisfying for a potential top-15 team.

The bigger question is can a 12-0 BYU team crack the top four and reach the national semifinals? Only twice during the BCS era did a team from outside the automatic-qualifying leagues (TCU in both 2009 and '10) crack the top four in the final standings. That included some Boise State and Utah teams that won BCS games.

MOVING IN

No. 23 East Carolina and No. 14 Mississippi State moved into the rankings for the first time this season with historic victories for their programs.

The Pirates are No. 23 after a record-setting 70-41 victory against in-state rival North Carolina. ECU has beaten ACC teams the past two weeks, winning 28-21 at Virginia Tech. It's the second straight season ECU has beaten North Carolina.

The Pirates were last ranked Sept. 21, 2008. That team, coached by Skip Holtz, finished 9-5 and won Conference USA. This East Carolina (3-1) team, coach by ECU alum Ruffin McNeill, is in its first season in the American Athletic Conference.

Led by three-year starting quarterback Shane Carden, an overlooked Texan who spent two years on the scout team, and 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, the Pirates offense has been virtually unstoppable this season.

"The fact that our offense is this successful is based on 11-man football," McNeill said Sunday. "We ask everybody to their jobs and make routine plays. Making sure they do a good job of making routine plays, and then you can make competitive plays."

Mississippi State is No. 14 after holding on to beat LSU 34-29 and end a 14-game skid to the Tigers. The Bulldogs were last ranked late in the 2012 season.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Florida State is the only ranked team from the ACC. The last time a conference had the No. 1 team and no other ranked teams, was Sept. 21, 2008, when top-ranked USC was the lone Pac-10 representative.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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