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October 26, 2010

Power rankings: A Fairley-tale season

Power Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST
Head coach | Offensive coach | Defensive coach

When Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said three weeks ago that watching Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley on film reminded him of Tracy Rocker, the comparison seemed a bit premature.

Rocker, the Auburn defensive line coach, is a College Football Hall of Famer who won the 1988 Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. Fairley was virtually unknown before bursting onto the scene this season.

Maybe Phillips knew what he was talking about all along.

Fairley continued his brilliant season Saturday with six tackles -- 3.5 for loss -- and 2.5 sacks in Auburn's 24-17 victory over LSU. The performance made him the new No. 1 defensive lineman in the Rivals.com College Football Power Rankings, which measure the nation's top performers at each position.

"Late in the game, No. 90 Nick Fairley broke loose," LSU coach Les Miles told reporters afterward. "He made about three plays in the back end of the game that were pretty significant."

Fairley took over the top spot from LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis, who made two solo tackles against Auburn. Fairley has 17 tackles for loss and seven sacks this season. He ranks third in the nation with 2.13 tackles for loss per game and ranks second in the SEC with 0.94 sacks per game.

"We knew that Nick Fairley was going to be a problem and we had to contain him," LSU running back Stevan Ridley said, "but we didn't do a good job doing that."

The victory over LSU also allowed Auburn's Gus Malzahn to move to the No. 1 position in the offensive coordinator rankings. Malzahn regained the top spot from Oklahoma's Kevin Wilson. Auburn's 440 rushing yards against LSU represented the fifth-highest total in school history and its most ever against an SEC opponent. Auburn accumulated 526 total yards against an LSU defense that hadn't allowed more than 268 yards to any previous SEC foe. Oklahoma committed three turnovers in a 36-27 loss to Missouri.

The only other change atop the power rankings came in the special teams category. The new No. 1 special teams performer is Nebraska's Alex Henery, who made all three of his field-goal attempts and averaged 50.3 yards per punt in the Huskers' 51-41 victory over Oklahoma State. Henery also set up a Nebraska touchdown with a 27-yard run on a fake punt.

Henery has made all nine of his field-goal attempts this season and is 3-of-3 from at least 45 yards out, with a long of 52. He has made 17 consecutive field-goal attempts over the past two seasons. Henery also is the nation's seventh-leading punter with an average of 46.3 yards per attempt. He took over the top spot in the special teams rankings from Oregon's Cliff Harris, who returned four punts for 17 yards Thursday in a 60-13 rout of UCLA.

Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, Oregon running back LaMichael James, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, Missouri tight end Michael Egnew, Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Boise State coach Chris Petersen and TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas remained atop the rankings in their respective positions.

The power rankings measure overall career performances as well as a player or coach's most recent results. The rating of a player and coach can fluctuate each week during the season depending on how he fared the previous week. Our coordinator rankings exclude coordinators who don't call their own plays or signals.

Power Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST
Head coach | Offensive coach | Defensive coach

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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