Alabama reaches No. 1 in AP poll for 7th straight season, but with new approach for Saban

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Breaking down the ballots for the AP Top 25 and wrapping up college football's 14th weekend:


ROLLING

Alabama is No. 1.

This is not a recording.

Each of the last seven college football seasons Alabama has been the No. 1 team in The Associated Press college football poll at some point. That's each season Nick Saban has been the coach in Tuscaloosa, save for his first.

It's the longest such streak since Miami's great teams did it from 1986-92.

The Tide (11-1) took the top spot in the rankings away from undefeated Florida State (12-0) on Sunday in a move that doesn't happen much in the AP rankings.

The last time an undefeated team was No. 2 behind a team that had lost this late in the season was 1993. Florida State fans will remember that season well. The Seminoles vaulted back into the top spot past No. 2 and unbeaten Nebraska at the conclusion of their regular, despite losing to Notre Dame a few weeks before.

Florida State went on to beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and win coach Bobby Bowden's first national championship.

This Florida State (12-0), which racked up its sixth victory in a one-score game Saturday night against Florida, will try to flip that script and win its second straight national championship under coach Jimbo Fisher.

But back to 'Bama and why this edition of the Tide represents another example of Saban's greatness — as if we didn't already have enough.

Alabama has been viewed as the last bastion of old-school football. Run the ball. Stop the run. Control the ball and the game. Alabama's old-schoolness gets overplayed in these days of high-speed spread offense — Saban's teams have been plenty explosive offensively while winning three national titles — but there has been a difference this season.

The highest-scoring Iron Bowl exemplified Saban's decision to keep with the times.

The days of winning with defense are done in college football. That 9-6 overtime Game of the Century between LSU and Alabama in 2011 seems like decades ago. The Southeastern Conference has finally succumbed to the spread offense revolution, with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn leading the way.

Last season, Malzahn's team beat the Crimson Tide. The Kick-6 will live on forever, but the bigger issue for Alabama was its inability to stop the Tigers, who ran for a shade under 300 yards. Earlier in the season, Texas A&M went up and down the field on the Tide in a 49-42 Alabama victory.

Johnny Manziel and the Aggies put up 628 yards that day, the most allowed by Saban's Alabama teams. On Saturday, Auburn matched it.

Saban hired former USC coach Lane Kiffin in the offseason to run the offense and Blake Sims, a more experienced and more mobile quarterback, won a competition with Florida State transfer Jake Coker to start.

Alabama's offense will not be mistaken for Oregon's hyper-speed spread anytime soon, but the Tide is going no-huddle, getting its a dual-threat quarterback involved in the running game, and is generally better equipped to win games in this new era of football.

Games such as Saturday's in Tuscaloosa. Not a day to play field position. In the third quarter, down by 12, Alabama went for it on fourth-and-3 only 8 yards into Auburn territory.

"One of the things that comes into my mind when we make those kind of decisions is if we were playing really, really well on defense, I probably wouldn't have made that decision," Saban said. "But the fact is I thought we needed to score to change the momentum of the game — you have to take some chances."

Alabama can still ground and pound with the best of them and even after the Iron Bowl the Tide ranks 10th in the nation in yards per play allowed (4.63).

And now Alabama is No. 1 again, a victory against Missouri in the Southeastern Conference title game from reaching the new College Football Playoff and playing for another national title.

Some things never change.

IN AND OUT

Marshall went from unbeaten to unranked after losing a wild one, 67-66 in overtime on Friday against Western Kentucky.

Also falling out of the rankings this week were Colorado State and Minnesota.

Moving back in were No. 23 LSU, No. 24 Utah and No. 25 Nebraska, which also fired coach Bo Pelini after seven seasons of being good but not good enough for the Cornhuskers.

UP AND DOWN

Georgia Tech moved up to No. 12 after snapping a five-game losing streak to Georgia on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets go to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game against Florida State with their best ranking since they were ninth heading into the 2009 bowls.

No. 15 Georgia and No. 16 UCLA each dropped seven spots this week.

FROM THE ARCHIVE

Florida State received more first-place votes 29-25 from the AP poll media panel this week and trailed Alabama by only three points. The last time No. 2 had more first-place votes than No. 1 this late in the season was Nov. 25, 1968 when Ohio State was top-ranked with 21 1/2 first-place votes and No. 2 USC had 24 1/2.

Florida State is also the first team to drop from No. 1 twice in a season after winning a game since Penn State in 1997.


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

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