Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as a BCS Championship Contender

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2013

Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as a BCS Championship Contender

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Every team that has ever reached the BCS National Championship Game has placed in the Top Five in the fourth BCS poll, as Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com points out.

    The Week 12 BCS poll was released on Sunday night, and by that token, only Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Stanford and Baylor should be taken seriously as national title contenders. Right?

    Well, kind of. It's hard to argue against history, but wouldn't it befit the BCS era to end in historically weird fashion? Wouldn't it seem poetic for such an arcane system to leave on a crazy note?

    Should anyone expect anything less?

    Here's a look at the current BCS Top 10—not just the Top Five—in terms of who should be bought and who should be sold as national title contenders.

10. South Carolina

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Buy or Sell?: SELL

    South Carolina is a very good team, and when they are firing on all cylinders—that is, when Connor Shaw is not injured and Jadeveon Clowney decides to "play hard"—the Gamecocks are capable of beating anyone in the country.

    But they also have two losses. And in 2013, with four teams still undefeated from BCS conferences and five one-loss teams ranked ahead of them, that makes a trip to Pasadena seem highly unlikely.

    South Carolina can still make a BCS bowl, and its chances might ironically be better if it doesn't win the SEC East. The Gamecocks might be best-served by Missouri running the table then losing to Alabama, at which point they would almost certainly slide ahead of the Tigers and secure a BCS at-large bid.

    But if the Tigers slip up and South Carolina is forced to play in the Georgia Dome, don't expect it to back down from the Crimson Tide.

     

9. Missouri

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    Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    Buy or Sell?: BUY

    Missouri has impressed me with its response to collapsing against South Carolina—the kind of loss that is almost impossible to bounce back from.

    The Tigers are already ranked No. 9 in the BCS, and they have plenty of chances to improve their computer profile moving forward. Wins versus Ole Miss, Texas A&M and, ostensibly, over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game would make this team impossible to ignore.

    Like Ohio State, I do not think this is one of the two best teams in America. But I do think that it is good enough to beat anybody on the right day.

    The offense is loaded with playmakers, the defensive line is among the best in the country, and Gary Pinkel is no stranger to coaching important games in December.

    Missouri is this year's wild card, and without one awful quarter of play against South Carolina, it would continue to stand undefeated. Keep an eye on the Tigers.

     

8. Clemson

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Buy or Sell?: SELL

    When push comes to shove, even if Clemson gets a lot of help above it in the rankings, nobody will be able to shake the image of that 51-14 beatdown at Memorial Stadium.

    To get annihilated that badly on your home field is hard to bounce back from. And while Clemson has done an admirable job keeping the ship afloat, its hopes of winning a national title died along with its pride that evening against Florida State.

    The Tigers still could—and probably will—make the BCS, and they are plenty capable of beating the right opponent in one of those signature bowls.

    But that is their absolute ceiling.

     

7. Auburn

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Buy or Sell?: SELL

    By virtue of their schedule, Auburn has the most opportunity to prove itself the rest of this season.

    The Tigers play Georgia this Saturday and end the season by hosting Alabama in the Iron Bowl. With wins in both of those games, they would also have to play the SEC East champion in Atlanta.

    Call me a cynic, but I do not think this team is strong enough to win all three of those games—at least not yet. Gus Malzahn is building the foundation of another national title contender at Auburn, and the team's success this season will go a long way in both recruiting and on-field momentum.

    But I fear that the Tigers are still a year away. Without an injury to Johnny Manziel, which forced him to miss a couple of critical series against them, I think the Tigers would have two losses right now and be more properly ranked in the lower part of the Top 15.

    I'm rooting for them, and I desperately hope this team proves me wrong. But without any semblance of a passing game—along with a secondary that I simply don't trust—I can't rightfully list them as a national title contender.

     

6. Oregon

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Buy or Sell?: BUY

    I'm buying low on Oregon, which definitely didn't look like elite in Thursday's loss to Stanford, but whose situation reminds me an awful lot of Alabama in 2012.

    Like last year's Tide, the Ducks lost to a team that is tailor-made to beat them, even if it isn't necessarily the better overall team. And like last year's Tide, which also lost in a bizarre Week 11, the Ducks didn't plummet so far down the BCS rankings that a late-season run is unfathomable.

    Yes, Oregon will need some help above it, most notably from Stanford, which will need to find a loss somewhere on its schedule. But with a tricky game coming up at USC this week and Notre Dame still left on the schedule, the Cardinal are no sure thing to finish with one loss.

    If the cards start to fall as they did for Alabama last year, Oregon could reap the benefit of losing the earliest out of all the top one-loss teams. And if the Ducks get a shot at the national title, does anybody really want to bet against them (despite what happend at Stanford)?

5. Baylor

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Buy or Sell: BUY

    I was tempted to sell on Baylor in the wake of Tevin Reese's injury, and I am definitely curious to see how this team replaces its most explosive receiver on the outside.

    But after watching them dismantle Oklahoma on a big stage, it's hard to do anything but buy the Bears' stock. We were clamoring for them to beat a quality team, and that is exactly what they did. Mission accomplished.

    The biggest takeaway from Thursday's game was the potential legitimacy of this defense, which shut down OU's very strong running game and kept the Sooners offense disjointed the entire evening.

    I'm scared that Baylor will struggle to do that away from Waco, and I still have the game at Oklahoma State circled with the big red marker.

    But if they can get past that hurdle—especially with no conference championship game—I think the Bears deserve to be taken seriously.

     

4. Stanford

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Buy or Sell?: SELL

    No one has been more bullish on Stanford than I have. I listed the Cardinal at plus-10.5 among last week's best bets, and I even went out on a limb to call their upset of Oregon straight up.

    I still don't think they can win a national title.

    As good as Stanford is, I think that its offense plays down to competition the same way that it plays up to it. Look no further than the Utah game, when the Cardinal produced roughly the same amount of success against a crummy defense as they did against a very good one from Oregon.

    With a road game at USC, a home game against Notre Dame and the potential Pac-12 Championship Game looming, I think it's likely that Stanford finds at least one more loss on its schedule.

    If it wins out and gets enough help to play for the title, though, I might need to amend this prediction. In a one-game sample—as it made explicitly clear on Thursday—this team is good enough to beat anybody.

     

3. Ohio State

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Buy or Sell?: BUY

    I do not believe that Ohio State is the best, or even one of the two best teams, in the country. But I still think it has a realistic shot at winning the national title.

    Say what you will about the Big Ten schedule—most of which, if it's derogatory, would be justified—but the Buckeyes still had to beat Wisconsin this year, and the Badgers are criminally under-ranked at No. 22.

    Even in Columbus, and even by a short seven-point margin, that was a quality, signature win.

    If the Buckeyes play Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and come out victorious, that would be a second win over a very good team, which is more than Florida State might have (depending on how you classify Miami) come season's end.

    I don't think this team could beat Alabama or Florida State in a five-game series. But the BCS National Championship Game is not an exercise in sample size—it's a one-game affair in which the winner just needs to outplay its opponent for 60 minutes.

    The Buckeyes have more than enough talent to pull off that feat. They would just need a little bit of luck to get there.

     

2. Florida State

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Buy or Sell?: BUY

    Oregon's loss spared us all a little potential controversy.

    Florida State has done nothing to prove it doesn't deserve a shot at the national title, but had the Ducks continued to run the table, it's likely the Seminoles would have been left on the outside looking in.

    Now, however, FSU basically controls its own fate. And without a guaranteed game against anyone in the current BCS Top 25, that fate should include a trip to Pasadena.

    As long as it stays healthy, this team—which doesn't have any discernible weaknesses—is probably best-suited to give Alabama a scare.

     

1. Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Buy or Sell?: BUY

    Alabama might have made the most important statement of Week 11, reaffirming what America already knew but has tried so hard to forget: This is definitely the best team in the country.

    No one does the little things better than the Tide. Their game plans are sound, they're rarely caught out of position, and they have a quarterback who simply refuses to lose.

    A road game at Auburn in the Iron Bowl will be tricky, as will whoever it has to play in the SEC Championship Game.

    But Alabama is still Alabama, and until someone takes away their title belt, it's hard to imagine when the Tide will stop Rolling.