Kansas State has clawed its way up to No. 3 after the new BCS standings were released Sunday night.
The Wildcats deserve that lofty ranking because of their quality wins over West Virginia—which is currently in an awkward free fall in the Big 12—and Oklahoma.
Here's the problem for Kansas State and, coincidentally, for Notre Dame: Neither team plays a conference championship game. That 13th all-important game.
Computers analyze a body of work over the season and a missing conference championship game is significant. That championship game is likely a contest between two ranked teams and in most cases, at a neutral venture—the Pac-12 currently holds its championship game at the school with the better record or the winner of head-to-head competition.
Moreover, that 13th game has a high probability of being an encore of a game previously played in the season. Pollsters know how hard it is to beat the same team twice in one season—if you do it, you're getting rewarded.
Meanwhile, conference realignment took a toll on the 10-team Big 12 because the league no longer meets the required membership of 12 teams to hold a conference championship game. All is not lost, but the path for Kansas State is a giant question mark because of that missing 13th game. How much will it matter?
Kansas State can run the tables and be sitting pretty at No. 3 at the end of the regular season, but unfortunately, it has to wait out conference championship week. Just like Notre Dame.
If Alabama beats Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama is in. But what if it's a tight game? Pollsters may not drop Florida in the polls. They may very well vote that Florida is still the second-best team and the computers could agree—last year Alabama lost to LSU in a tight game, failed to play in the SEC Championship Game and still got the invite to the Big Dance.
How does Kansas State get in beside running the tables?
The Wildcats need this scenario to happen: Notre Dame loses to Oklahoma, Notre Dame loses to USC, USC loses to Oregon, Oregon State beats Oregon, and Oregon State loses to USC in the Pac-12 Championship. That takes care of Notre Dame, Oregon State, USC and Oregon.
That's a lot of iffy scenarios.
Alabama doesn't look like it will lose to anyone in regular season. If Florida loses to either Georgia or Florida State in the regular season, it will drop below Kansas State, but right now, Florida looks like it will beat both teams.
If the East champ is Georgia and it wins the SEC Championship, Kansas State should climb to No. 2 because Georgia still has that 35-7 loss to South Carolina on its resume. But if Florida is undefeated, wins the East and beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, chaos could ensue. How will Alabama head coach Nick Saban spin this into a campaign to get his team in the BCS championship game?
How much a factor does no 13th game for KSU matter?
Undefeated in regular season?
If a 12-0 Alabama wins the SEC, then the East champ is out with at least one loss and Kansas State is in. But last year's debacle has shown a bias toward SEC teams, and even if Alabama suffers a loss in a tight game, the Tide may not be out of the hunt because they will have still played that 13th game.
Kansas State's missing extra game will come into play later on if there are three undefeated teams left (Alabama/Florida, Oregon, Kansas State) after all conference championships have been played. The pandering and campaigning will be endless but in the end, voters will give an SEC team more benefit of the doubt than Kansas State.
If Notre Dame goes 12-0, then Kansas State is in more trouble because the Irish and the Wildcats will have shared a common opponent (Oklahoma), and there are a lot of sportswriters with votes in the Midwest.
Kansas State beat Oklahoma 24-19 on the road and Notre Dame also faces the Sooners on the road. But Notre Dame is going to have to have a greater score discrepancy than five points to impress the human voters because the BCS computers do not take into account margin of victory.
In the meantime, can we all yell a collective, "Amen" to the impending playoffs?