After a wild week in which BCS championship contenders Georgia, Florida State and LSU all fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, the chase for the national title is now officially up in the air.
Coming into Week 7 of the 2012 campaign, a mere 16 teams remain perfect, and given the way the BCS operates, you have to figure that if two of these squads can stay unblemished, they’ll be playing for all the marbles in January.
The following slideshow not only analyzes the easiest roads to the BCS title game, but it also ranks the 16 squads based on which has the best shot at hitting pay dirt.
As an additional qualifier in the rankings themselves, there is obviously a huge advantage for the 13 teams on our list who either hail from a BCS conference or have an automatic tie-in with the big dance vs. those that don’t.
The Buckeyes actually have the best chance of running the tables of any BCS team that does not hail from the Big East.
But any discussion of the advancement of Ohio State football beyond its final regular-season contest vs. Michigan is obviously null and void due to the postseason ban that prevents all play past Nov. 24.
The Buckeyes may well finish 12-0 despite the ban as they have no ranked teams left to play and have only four upcoming opponents that currently hold winning records.
The big games left on OSU’s slate come at the end of the regular season, a one-two punch at Wisconsin and then vs. Michigan in the Horseshoe.
The timing of the ban is wholly unfortunate for Ohio State as it wound up having one of the easiest major college football schedules in the country this season.
UTSA is another currently undefeated squad that can’t play past their final game of the 2012 season. In the Roadrunners’ case it’s not due to sanctions, but instead because they are in Year 1 of their two-year transition from the FCS to the FBS.
According to a recent article published on mysanantonio.com, UTSA is eligible to win the WAC but it can’t go bowling.
Regardless of whether the Roadrunners can or can’t be eligible to accept to a bowl bid, they simply don’t have the kind of schedule to bust into anything beyond a lower-tier postseason game.
Yes, they are 5-0, but four of their wins thus far were over FCS foes. Other than a road trip to visit newly ranked Louisiana Tech (No. 23) on Nov. 3, UTSA doesn’t face any opponents that would push it upward in the way Boise State, TCU and Utah were in the past.
Though the Bobcats may have the best shot at running the tables in 2012 (based merely on their competition level moving forward), things in the BCS aren’t that simple.
Ohio doesn’t have any ranked teams left to play (not a surprise given it plays in the Mid-American Conference) and its next six opponents currently a hold a 14-20 combined record, the worst mark among the 16 unbeatens on our list.
But that said, the Bobcats haven’t been convincing in many of their six wins this season, with the exception of a 51-24 beatdown of New Mexico State (now 1-5) and a 44-10 drilling of FCS Norfolk State.
Really based on the way they’ve played thus far, you almost get the sneaking feeling that somebody will beat them, regardless of the fact that only one team remaining on the slate has a winning record (Kent State in the finale).
The next fact that doesn’t bode well for Ohio in terms of simply remaining unbeaten is the fact that if it does make it to the end of the regular season without losing, it has to win the MAC title game.
No big deal? Well, the Bobcats haven’t won a bona fide conference championship since 1968.
Let’s say Ohio runs the table and wins the league crown. Yes, the Bobcats are now a sparkling 13-0, so do they go to the BCS title game?
And really it’s completely questionable that they’d even make it to a BCS bowl much less the title game, even if every other team at the top of the rankings had one loss.
Simply put, Ohio doesn’t have the type of schedule to get it beyond a really solid bowl game. The Bobcats did beat Penn State in the opener but that’s their only BCS win.
Ask yourself this...when is the last time a MAC team played in a BCS bowl game?
The 5-0 Bulldogs’ case is similar to that of Ohio’s, only there are a couple of significant differences that make their argument to making a BCS bowl game (not the title game) stronger.
In terms of similarities, both teams hail from non-BCS conferences, meaning that their schedules are inherently “easier” to the point that they couldn’t garner enough BCS points to ascend to the title game but could, as a long shot, make a BCS bowl game.
In regard to what’s different between the two, La Tech already has two victories against BCS teams.
Wins at Illinois and at Virginia back-to-back may not seem all that impressive, but remember this is an emerging WAC team that won these contests, on the road, by scores of 52-24 and 44-38, respectively.
Next, the Bulldogs have another “signature” game left to play this season via their Oct. 13 clash with No. 22 Texas A&M in Shreveport, La., a contest that was postponed from its original Week 1 date.
If La Tech can pull off a win vs. the Aggies and then win out, anything could happen.
A BCS bowl game scenario is enhanced by the fact that the Bulldogs don’t have to play in a conference title game and the historical truth that the WAC has sent teams to the BCS before (history is, sort of, on their side).
Though the Bulldogs won’t be playing in the BCS title game in January, they do have a realistic shot of running the table and becoming perhaps the most unlikely BCS buster in history.
With a 5-0 record out of the SEC West, it’s hard to deny Mississippi State its No. 19 AP ranking or its place in the BCS conversation.
But, despite all the happy sentiments, the Bulldogs more than likely have the most perilous path to the BCS of any undefeated AQ school in the land.
Let’s begin with a schedule that is worthy of the spooky Halloween season: vs. Tennessee, vs. Middle Tennessee St., at Alabama, vs. Texas A&M, at LSU, vs. Arkansas and at Ole Miss.
If this all goes well, then you’ve got an SEC title game vs. South Carolina or Florida left on the table.
To get a complete picture of why these Bulldogs might struggle moving forward, it’s critical to look backward.
To date, Mississippi State has beaten FCS Jackson State (by a 56-9 score), Auburn (which has a 1-4 record), Troy, Kentucky and South Alabama.
Not only does this mean that the Bulldogs' 5-0 is way different than, say, Alabama’s 5-0, it also means that that while the jury is still out on the case of the State of Mississippi vs. “Are the Bulldogs for real?” the verdict is in on the rest of their schedule: It’s hard.
Though Kansas State’s performance thus far in 2012 has been nothing short of spectacular, it arguably has the second-most difficult remaining schedule among undefeated BCS teams in the land.
The Wildcats' seven-game slate is impressive: at Iowa State, at West Virginia, vs. Texas Tech, vs. Oklahoma State, at TCU, at Baylor and vs. Texas.
That’s seven teams that combine for a 26-7 record; six have winning records, two are ranked and K-State will get four on the road.
The real upside for the Wildcats—and other perfect teams hailing from the Big 12 or Big East—is the lack of an additional conference title game against a high-quality opponent.
If the Wildcats can make it to the second day of December unblemished, they’ll deserve to play for their school’s first-ever football national championship.
Oregon State presents one of the more intriguing cases in the 2012 season.
Yes, while people bang on about whether the Beavers are “for real” or not, they’ve quietly gone 4-0 and knocked off quality foes such as Wisconsin, UCLA and Arizona.
But, no matter how good (or bad) Oregon State really is, it has its work cut out for it, in a big way, to run the table.
First, these guys have got eight games left when most of the other squads on our list have six or seven; this obviously means there are more opportunities to drop a game.
Secondly, the Beavers have a remaining slate of foes with a 25-13 combined record; five have winning records, two are ranked and two are receiving substantial AP votes just outside of the Top 25.
Among the few upsides for Oregon State is that it still has to play an FCS team, Nicholls State, which was moved from Week 1 to the end of the season.
Other than that, it’s on: at BYU, vs. Utah, at Washington, vs. Arizona State, at Stanford, vs. Cal and vs. Oregon.
At 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the land, the Ducks are one of the few highly ranked preseason teams that have yet to fly the coop.
What stands between Oregon, perfection and another shot at the BCS crown is substantial enough to be considered among the steeper slopes remaining for a legitimate contender.
Reading straight from the schedule, there is the bye week coming up in Week 7, followed by a game at Arizona State, a home contest vs. Colorado and then a closing combination of at USC, at Cal, vs. Stanford and at Oregon State.
That’s three ranked teams, one (ASU) that is a win away from the Top 25 and then a looming date (assuming all goes as planned) with the winner of the Pac-12 South for the second annual conference title tilt.
The kicker for Oregon is that only two of its last six regular-season games (Colorado and Stanford) are at home; the rest are road ventures.
Can the Ducks go undefeated?
Will it be easy?
The defending national champions are still the most complete team in the land—at least on paper—but they’ve still completely got their work cut out for them if they are to run the table in 2012.
The Tide’s slate isn’t as scary as others but they’ll have to navigate through games at Missouri, at Tennessee, vs. Mississippi State, at LSU, vs. Texas A&M and then vs. Auburn to win out.
And don’t you know that each of these teams, no matter how good or bad, will be chomping at the bit to knock off Alabama and spoil its opportunity to repeat—especially LSU and Auburn.
All in all the Tide have three ranked teams left to play plus the very real possibility that they’ll represent the West in what could be an epic battle with whomever survives the race in the SEC East.
It’s easy to jump on Alabama’s bandwagon and say it’ll win it all, but the Tide will have to earn every inch to fight their way back to the championship game in January.
There is a lot to both like and fear regarding what’s left on tap in 2012 for the now 5-0 and No. 4 ranked Gators.
On one hand, LSU is out of the way as are Tennessee and Texas A&M, but looming ahead (after a game at Vandy this Saturday) is a combination of South Carolina (in Gainesville) and then the annual clash with Georgia.
After these games decide who is king of the East, there is a tricky game vs. Missouri and then a couple of “breather” games vs. Louisiana-Lafayette and FCS Jacksonville State before the big finale vs. Florida State.
And then there’s that pesky SEC title game, where Alabama might be the final hurdle to jump before finally making it back to the BCS title game.
The upside for Florida is that four of its remaining games are at home; one is at a neutral site (vs. Georgia in Jacksonville), leaving only two true road games (Vandy and Florida State).
There is no way to argue that the Gators will have it easy, but that said, it is conceivable that they could win out.
But, like every other team on our list, this is college football, and anything—and I mean anything (refer to Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State in 2011 and last week’s N.C. State vs. Florida State game)—could happen.
Knocking off Texas in Austin last weekend was astronomically huge for West Virginia on a bunch of different levels.
From a “we can be perfect” approach, it's invaluable—yes, it will be tough moving forward but Texas was the toughest road tilt on the entire schedule.
Standing between the Mountaineers and loss-less glory are a game at Texas Tech (wholly exposed as fluffy last week vs. Oklahoma), vs. Kansas State (no, not easy), vs. TCU (a team that has serious personnel issues), at Oklahoma State (rebuilding, but can still score points), vs. Oklahoma (in West Virginia), at Iowa State and then vs. Kansas.
Though a couple of these contests may well come down to who can score last, West Virginia can win each and every one of these games.
As of now it’s only two ranked teams and you get four of them at home...and there is NO conference championship.
If the Mountaineer defense could manage even a hint of improvement, then suddenly you’ve got a team winning the Big 12 in inaugural campaign in the conference.
Really, it’s silly to try and argue that the Gamecocks' road to perfection is easy or even “easier,” but when you peel back the layers, this is the year South Carolina could (emphasis on the word “could”) win out.
Yes, it has three ranked teams left, and yes, it still has a good Clemson team to deal with and the SEC title tilt (if it can even get there).
But the truth is the Gamecocks can navigate what’s left, especially given a great defensive performance.
Things kick off at LSU this weekend, which could either be the beginning of the end or the beginning of the new beginning. Either way the Gamecocks can play defense (as Florida did), but they can also score points more than one way (as Florida did not).
Next, you’ve got to win at Florida in the Swamp. Not an easy box to check, but this is still a young Gator team with weaknesses, arguably with more than the Gamecocks.
The trick game may be a home one vs. Tennessee, a contest that may feel like a “Whew” game to South Carolina fans if it is 8-0 after LSU and Florida, but this is a good young team with a coach who needs a good win to keep his job.
After the Volunteers it’s a well-deserved bye week, followed by Arkansas and FCS Wofford (both at home) and the road trip to Clemson.
Can they run the table...really?
Combine the No. 4 nationally ranked scoring defense with an offense that scores 36.3 points per game and you have a chance in any game.
Coming into the 2012 season many prognosticators had the Irish’s schedule as one of the most difficult in the nation.
But after wins over Michigan and Michigan State that didn’t quite live up to their early rankings and future contests with Stanford, Oklahoma and USC squads that suddenly look more beatable, you have to wonder.
The Irish have seven games standing between them and a real shot at a BCS title invitation; three are against ranked teams, only four are against winning teams and four are at home.
The keys are crystal clear: beat a young Stanford team at home in Week 7, travel down to scary Norman, Okla., and find a way to beat Oklahoma on the road on Oct. 27 and then beat the Trojans in L.A. after Thanksgiving.
And then don’t lay an egg vs. BYU, vs. Pitt, at Boston College or vs. Wake Forest.
No, it won’t be easy, but then again whizzing along to a national title shouldn’t be.
What really works well for the Irish is that they don’t have a conference to win. They are just playing against themselves and if they play well enough relative to everyone else, they have an automatic golden ticket to punch for the BCS.
It’s a lot like playing golf without having to make the cut after the first two rounds. It still won’t be simple to hoist up the trophy on No. 18 on Sunday afternoon, but you’ll have had it easier than some of the other guys on tour.
Until that golden hour when the BCS scheme is finally modified, winning the Big East remains the easiest launch pad into the BCS.
Though the winner of the 2012 Big East championship will be in a BCS bowl, it’s dicey at best in terms of a straight shot to the title game.
A scenario that involved an undefeated squad from the Pac-12, SEC and the Big East would more than likely result in a Pac-12 vs. SEC title tilt. But, if the perfect Big East squad was one of only two undefeated teams from AQ schools, it could happen.
This leads us to the three undefeated teams with the best shot, at least on paper, of staying untarnished through the regular season; They all hail from the—you guessed it—the Big East.
Cincinnati is 4-0 coming into Week 7 and it has quality wins over Pitt and Virginia Tech.
The Bearcats have a full eight games left to win to go all the way—one more contest than both Rutgers and Louisville—which puts them in a more difficult spot than their in-league mates.
Neither of the three will be hamstrung by the need to win a league title game—an advantage we’ve already highlighted as being invaluable.
The only two ranked teams Cincinnati is set to face are No. 18 Louisville and No. 20 Rutgers—teams that plausibly could fall from the rankings with a single loss.
Other than that it’s a home game vs. FCS Fordham this weekend followed by a road trip to Toledo (don’t forget the Rockets are 5-1), Syracuse at home, at Temple, vs. USF and the finale at UConn.
There is a lot of work left to do for the Bearcats, but they can definitely win out, especially with their defense that has held foes to 13.8 points per game.
Louisville has managed a 5-0 start in 2012, but it has yet to play a conference foe, making a Big East title look a long way off.
The Cardinals have managed to beat Kentucky and North Carolina on their way to perfection, but left in the bag are significant games vs. No. 21 Cincinnati and the finale at No. 20 Rutgers that could decide who gets invited to the BCS ball.
Louisville is a young team and if running the table is a realistic goal, it can’t afford a hiccup in its “other” games at Pitt (which is playing better), vs. USF (still a good team), vs. Temple, at Syracuse or vs. UConn.
What’s promising for Charlie Strong’s team is that it only has two foes left on its slate that currently have winning records.
The Scarlet Knights are 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Big East play with wins at USF (thought to be the front-runner in the conference before the season began) and at Arkansas.
Left on the table for Rutgers this season is similar to what both fellow Big East members Cincy and Louisville will face: the “other” two ranked league teams, two non-conference foes and then the meat of the Big East.
The slate is certainly navigable, especially given the continuing excellence on the part of a Rutgers “D” that has held opponents to 10.8 points per game (No. 5 nationally).
Things kick off vs. Syracuse this weekend, followed by a road trip to Temple. The Knights host Kent State (a 4-1 team), take a week off and then finish vs. Army, at Cincinnati, at Pitt and then vs. Louisville at home in the finale.
What is further agreeable about Rutgers' schedule is that four of its final seven games are at home and it plays only three teams that currently have a winning record.
The first big question regarding Rutgers (and Cincy and Louisville) is can it actually run the table, and the next is whether the BCS would let the Knights play for all the marbles if they do?
Though their schedule can’t stack up with that of Alabama, West Virginia, Oregon or even Florida State, if they are the only or one of only two undefeated teams left when the final whistle blows, it could happen.
And they have the easiest road to perfection of any of the AQ teams.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if the only FBS team that played in the very first college football game in history played in the 2013 BCS championship?