If the very top of the Bowl Championship Series standings still is uncomplicated -- Alabama at No. 1, Florida at No. 2, the two rivals pointed toward a showdown in the Southeastern Conference's Dec. 1 title game -- the intrigue beneath them is beginning to build.
Whom do you and the computers like? Kansas State? Oregon? Notre Dame?
Right now, it figures that there'll be room for only one of them in the BCS' Jan. 7 championship game in Miami.
A day after dismantling West Virginia 55-14 in Morgantown, W.Va., K-State moved Sunday from No. 4 to 3 in the BCS standings on the strength of superior computer ratings. The Wildcats leapfrogged Oregon even though the Ducks made their own statement at Arizona State, piling up 406 yards on the ground, building a 36-point lead by halftime and easing to a 43-21 victory.
It kept them second in both the USA TODAY coaches' and Harris Interactive polls, in each case a couple of spots ahead of Kansas State.
A six-week beauty pageant looms. Oregon can primp on trips to Southern California on Nov. 3 and Oregon State three weeks later. Then, the Ducks could run into USC again in the Pacific 12's Nov. 30 championship game.
Kansas State plays Nov. 10 at TCU, and will have to survive a Nov. 17 game at high-scoring Baylor.
Around them are games at home against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas – that last one against the Longhorns on Dec. 1. The timing is important, affording Collin Klein and the Wildcats the same late opportunity as Oregon to present closing arguments.
The plot thickens if Notre Dame -- rounding out the unbeaten Big Five -- wins Saturday at Oklahoma, bulking up its resume and likely its standing with both human voters and hard drives. The Irish close their regular season with a headline game, the Saturday after Thanksgiving at USC.
"We just keep fighting, keep playing, and we'll find a way to win," coach Brian Kelly said after Saturday's 17-14 escape of BYU.
Style points tend to count, though. Thursday night and Saturday were mostly a tour de force, the Big Five winning by an average of 26 points. Notre Dame was the exception.
Itemized deductions …
Item: Kansas State drops a spot in the coaches' poll, from third to fourth.
Deduction: You're either fascinated by these kinds of developments or counting down the weeks until the 2014 season, when the BCS' current championship format and mathematical rankings are replaced by a four-team playoff and a selection committee.
It appears that this week's voters were a little more moved by Florida's 44-11 rout of South Carolina at home in The Swamp than the Wildcats' beatdown of the defense-challenged Mountaineers. Note, too, that the computers -- which haven't been completely sold on top-ranked Alabama -- cooled a little more on the Crimson Tide after its 44-13 win over struggling Tennessee. 'Bama slipped in three of the six ratings, and is deemed No. 1 only by the Billingsley Report.
Not to worry. The Tide can woo the computers in the next three weeks, meeting unbeaten Mississippi State on Saturday, then LSU on the road and Texas A&M.
Item: The Big Ten, notably shut out of the BCS rankings in Week 1 (because of NCAA sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State), shows back up with Michigan at No. 22 and Wisconsin at No. 25.
Deduction: Yeah, yeah. But all hail the other unbeaten team from the Buckeye State, Ohio, which cracked the rankings for the very first time. The Bobcats, who opened their season with a no-doubt win at Penn State and now are 7-0, sit at No. 24.
They're the first Mid-American Conference team to make the BCS' top 25 since Northern Illinois in the next-to-last rankings of 2010.
Oregon State, meanwhile, has its highest BCS ranking (at No. 7) since 2000 and Mississippi State its highest (at No. 11) since 1999.
Item: New York City -- and the Heisman Trophy, handed out six weeks from this Saturday -- beckon Kansas State's Klein after the senior quarterback's 364-yard, seven-touchdown showcase at West Virginia.
Deduction: His air-ground strike capability and linebacker's toughness draw comparisons to Tim Tebow, and Klein's numbers after seven games hold up favorably to Tebow's first seven in 2007, when he won the Heisman as a sophomore at Florida.
-- Klein is rushing for 5.0 yards per carry to Tebow's 4.6. And he's averaging 10.1 yards per pass to Tebow's 9.8.
-- Total yardage: advantage Tebow, 327.0 per game to Klein's 278.3 (reflecting Tebow's three additional rushes and five more passes per game).
-- Overall passing efficiency: slight advantage to Tebow, a 177.5 rating to Klein's 175.8 (which ranks second nationally).
-- Tebow had passed for more TDs (17-10), but Klein has run for more (14-10).
-- Tebow had accounted for 73% of the Gators' total offense and 57% of their scoring. Klein has accounted for 64% and 48% of K-State's, respectively.
-- Big bottom-line advantage to Klein, however. He and the Wildcats are unbeaten in seven games.
Tebow and Florida were 5-2, losing to Auburn and LSU on back-to-back Saturdays. They would fall once more to Georgia.
Item: Greg Schiano's Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't hold a 21-7 lead Sunday, losing to New Orleans and falling to 2-4 in his first season as coach.
Deduction: The college program he left behind, Rutgers, is having a very different kind of season under former Schiano assistant Kyle Flood. The Scarlet Knights are 7-0 for the first time since 2006, beating Temple 35-10 on Saturday. One of the nation's top-rated defenses held the Owls to 191 yards overall and scoreless in a game-turning second half.
The Big East Conference has another of the nation's remaining 11 unbeatens, Louisville, and can only hope both the Knights and Cardinals run the table until meeting Nov. 29 -- on a Thursday night stage.
They're now a respective 15th and 16th in the BCS standings.
Item: With a 33-30 win over North Carolina, its first over the Tar Heels since 2003, Duke moves to 6-2.
Deduction: The Blue Devils should soon celebrate the end of another, equally frustrating drought.
They're bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994, the longest current wait for a program in one of the BCS' six automatically qualifying conferences.
"All the Duke fans who came -- thank you, thank you, thank you. All the Duke students who came -- thank you," coach David Cutcliffe said. "I think they found out it can be fun."
Said running back Josh Sneed, "We know we wanted to go bowling, but this (isn't) it. We (have) our eyes set on winning this division and going to the ACC championship, and then going bowling."
Indeed, the Devils lead the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division with a 3-1 league record. But their final four regular-season games are daunting: Saturday at Florida State, then Clemson, Georgia Tech on the road and Miami (Fla.).