While No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Kansas State, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Notre Dame sit on top of the BCS standings, playoff proponents—with tear-stained faces—are quietly sobbing, "What if?"
If ever there was a year to see four teams play their way into a BCS championship game, this is it. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait at least two more years (2014) before we see the playoff system go into effect.
Last year, we heard endless debates on who was more worthy of playing LSU in the BCS National Championship Game: Alabama or Oklahoma State? The computers loved Oklahoma State, but the two human polls favored Alabama. In the end, Alabama proved worthy enough to play LSU, while No. 3 Oklahoma State ended up in the Fiesta Bowl, beating No. 4 Stanford in overtime, 41-38.
Oklahoma State finished 12-1, the same record with which Alabama finished, and that does tend to leave a sour taste in some fans' mouths. We'll never know if Oklahoma State was the more worthy opponent for LSU, because hypothetical games can't be won or lost on a real football field.
It doesn't matter if one team is perceived to be superior to another—what matters is that deserving teams get the same shot as other deserving teams to prove their superiority.
Two teams, if the current BCS standings remain the same after December 1, will be left out of the BCS title game in Miami Gardens this January.
Which two teams would be the most deserving?
Obviously, any team that wins its conference via a conference championship game should get extra consideration. Late in the season, attrition sets in, injuries mount and student-athletes face final exams. Those additional factors put stress on a team playing that 13th game. There is also that potential intangible of beating a quality team twice in one season that holds a lot of weight with voters. The bottom line is that going 13-0 is more impressive than going 12-0.
But what about the schedules? Shouldn't Kansas State and Notre Dame get credit in that area?
Alabama never leaves the state of Alabama for its final three games of the regular season, while Notre Dame has two road trips to Boston College and USC. Kansas State also faces two of its three final games on the road at TCU and Baylor.
Furthermore, Kansas State will have played nine regular-season conference games, while Alabama will have only played eight. While Notre Dame's football program isn't in a conference, the Fighting Irish have also stuck to their policy of not playing any FCS teams. That should count for something.
There's also this: Both Notre Dame and Kansas State will have played more BCS teams (10) in the regular season than either Alabama (nine) or Oregon (nine).
So while both Oregon and Alabama get the benefit of ostensibly playing in that 13th game, that extra game only evens up the amount of BCS teams they've played to Kansas State and Notre Dame's total of 10.
We can go on and on about which team is more worthy to go to the BCS National Championship Game, but one thing is for sure: All four teams look good enough to win the BCS title.
And they may stay unbeaten.
When the nitpicking over quality wins, strength of schedule and margin of victory all start inserting themselves into the "Which of the four unbeaten teams can win the BCS?" conversation, the answer is they all can.
But when four teams' potential outcomes are determined by bots crunching stats and spitting out analysis, the sport of college football is not in the hands of humans.
What should be solved on the field through head-to-head competition instead will be solved by transitive theories that have proved to be wrong time and time again, decimal points and the ever-confusing ELO_CHESS.
The question isn't which team can win the BCS title. Nobody knows. Not even the bots.
The question is: Which two teams will actually get that shot to win the BCS title?
Which teams' resume impresses the voters most? Which coach gets the most airtime pandering to voters? Which team argues best over why it should get the votes? Which team gets the most love from The Worldwide Leader?
The elections may have just ended on November 6, but the real sport of politicking will begin in less than a month.