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Alabama's Mike Johnson
Alabama OL Mike Johnson::Derick Hingle/Icon SMI

Twitter user @WiLoInc read my power rankings - an identical match to my AP poll ballot - this week and let me have it, 140-character style: "U gotta b kidding me - u jumped 'Bama over USC? SI needs to enforce its drug-free workplace policy; you must be smoking crack." I don't typically respond to such insults, but since the author pulled off the herculean feat of using a semicolon correctly in the context of a tweet, the least I can offer is an explanation for the ballot and an explanation for why fans of an undefeated USC shouldn't care about where the Trojans are ranked in relation to an undefeated SEC team.

I ranked Alabama No. 11 in the preseason poll I submitted on Aug. 3 and No. 10 in my first-week power rankings. Then I watched the Crimson Tide roll up 268 rushing yards, 498 total yards and keep the ball for 37:02 against a pretty good Virginia Tech defense. My only nagging question about Alabama's ability to compete for the national title was whether the offensive line could recover from the loss of tackle Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell. The Crimson Tide line answered that question emphatically against the Hokies.

So Alabama certainly belonged in the top five, but where? Oklahoma was dropping out, leaving No. 3 open. I could have slid USC up a spot, but the Trojans - with radically different personnel from 2008 - didn't answer any questions in a win against San Jose State. That wasn't USC's fault. San Jose State just wasn't any good. So I placed Alabama, which looks better than the team that started last season 12-0, in the No. 3 slot with a plan to re-evaluate the Crimson Tide and Trojans after USC plays Ohio State this week.

That's right. An impressive performance in the Horseshoe could produce a flip-flop. Not that it matters where anyone - coaches poll voters, Harris poll voters and computers included - ranks undefeated USC in relation to any of the elite SEC teams. Why?

Because, for lack of a better phrase, they're on different sides of the bracket.

Let's face it. An undefeated SEC champ will earn a spot in the BCS title game. Fair or not, that's the college football world in which we live. But only one SEC team can possibly finish the season undefeated. If Florida and Alabama - or Ole Miss, which also doesn't play Florida in the regular season - finish 12-0, they'll play one another in a de facto national semifinal. (Hopefully, Bill Raftery will be available to call the game.) The loser would fall below an undefeated USC, rendering the poll machinations of the previous weeks completely irrelevant.

If USC loses a game, all bets are off. But as long as the Trojans take care of business on their end, they need not worry if four SEC teams are ranked ahead of them. By season's end, that number can be only zero or one.

Of course, if the rest of the poll voters and computers follow the logic of one particular AP poll voter, we could be in for a wild three months.



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