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How Worried Should College Football Be About Three Teams Finishing Undefeated?

Adam KramerNational College Football Lead WriterNovember 5, 2013

Now is not the time to panic, at least not yet. If things look this way one week from now, however, it might be time to gather your things, sound the alarm and slowly drift toward the exits.

A familiar scenario is gaining steam. There are two spots to fill in the last BCS National Championship, and there are—at the moment—more than two undefeated teams warranting consideration for a spot in this final showcase.

Nov 2, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer in the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

History tells us that the losses will come. It tells us things will eventually sort themselves out, just like they always do—just like they did in 2012.

But what if they don’t? What if, after being pelted with rotten vegetables and expletives for more than a decade, the BCS decides to drop the mic on the way out and deliver three (or more) undefeated teams on its way out the door?

This wouldn’t be simply because of the BCS, of course, but the system wasn’t built for the kind of season that is mounting. In 16 years of the Bowl Championship Series, it’s been a rarity when two undefeated teams have met for the national title.

In 16-year history of BCS, only six times has the national championship game featured two undefeated teams.

— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) November 4, 2013

The prospect of having more than two teams finish undefeated in a season is unlikely, but it’s also not unheard of. Just ask undefeated Auburn in 2004. 

The Tigers had to settle for a trip to a Sugar Bowl when Oklahoma and USC—both started the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 and preseason polls—also finished the regular season unbeaten.

Last season was more indicative of what many have grown to expect, and there’s an assumption that the 2013 blueprint could follow suit. Heading into Week 11 a year ago, Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame, Kansas State, Louisville and ineligible Ohio State were all unbeaten, poised to provide chaos and controversy.

It was setting up for madness, and then college football happened.

November 10, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) celebrates their 29-24 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama ran into one Johnny Manziel, and the Crimson Tide’s home loss to Texas A&M—which happened a year ago this weekend—sent shock waves throughout the sport. In that same weekend, Louisville went on the road and got clobbered by Syracuse, dropping out of the title hunt entirely.

For Oregon and Kansas State—the next two teams up—this provided an opening. That opening closed almost instantly.

The Wildcats took over top BCS honors for a cup of coffee (remember that?), while the Ducks moved into the No. 2 position with their biggest game on deck. Neither could avoid a loss, however, as Oregon fell to Stanford and Baylor blasted Kansas State just one week after Alabama and Louisville stumbled.

Four unbeatens gone in a seven-day stretch. The upsets weren’t anticipated, but they unfolded regardless.

The rest, of course, is history. Notre Dame beat a Matt Barkley-less USC team on the road to earn its spot in the title game, and Alabama batted down Aaron Murray’s pass in the SEC Championship to book its trip to Miami.

Fast-forward to the present, and a similar development is taking shape: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor are all unbeaten, and the cozy two-team showcase doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

The College Football Playoff is within reach, but it has never felt as far away as it does right now.

The nation’s top three teams—Alabama, Florida State and Oregon—will almost certainly be double-digit favorites in all of their remaining games. The nation’s next team up, Ohio State, could be more than a touchdown favorite in each game going forward, depending on the draw in the Big Ten Championship.

Baylor, the great mystery team of the group and perhaps unfairly an afterthought, still has its toughest games ahead. The Bears will take on Oklahoma as a two-touchdown favorite this week—a significant upgrade in competition—and they will travel to Oklahoma State in Week 13. A suddenly revived Texas squad is also on deck. 

While the path to an undefeated season is far hazier than the teams in front of it, Baylor’s hopes are by no means far-fetched. And with a strong showing against the Sooners on Thursday night, “possible” will no longer be good enough. If the Bears look the part in Week 11, they will be favorites over every team going forward.

Respect from Las Vegas by no means guarantees victories. For evidence of this, go back 365 days. With that said, the closing part of the season isn’t exactly loaded with meaningful matchups, and the likelihood of undefeated controversy will increase if things stay as is heading into Week 12.

If the losses are going to come, this weekend's matchups are a likely spot.

How this scenario plays out will be the most intriguing—and painful for some—storyline to follow over the final month of the season. Although the race for crystal football always consumes the spotlight, the subplots generated in the final year before the postseason hits "reboot" will be riveting.

Fanbases hoping for a loss will have a much different word for it.

It’s impossible to put a number on the teams that will eventually finish unbeaten. Upsets happen, the unexpected does occasionally arrive without invitation, and college football will not go down this easy.

History tells us the losses will mount and that it will all sort itself cleanly, one major upset at a time. But with immensely talented teams and manageable schedules taking shape at more than two schools, there’s a growing possibility that the final act of the BCS will look more like 2004 than 2012.

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