College football season feels like it started mere days ago, but in the blink of an eye, summer fun has given way to mid-November chills and the BCS National Championship race is sharpening into refined focus.
The fourth batch of BCS rankings was released on Sunday, and in the past, that release has held a special significance. As noted by ESPN's Brett McMurphy, no team ranked outside the top five of those rankings has ever played in the national title game.
By that token, the only teams with a chance to play in this year's BCS National Championship Game are Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Stanford and Baylor—the top five teams in Sunday's fourth version of the BCS standings.
A lot can surely change in the next month-plus, and the BCS is notoriously volatile. It would be unprecedented, but not unthinkable, for someone outside that top five to crash this year's big game.
But for now, operating under the premise that only those five teams have a chance at playing in Pasadena on Jan. 6, let's take quick stock of the best potential matchups:
3. Stanford vs. Alabama
This one would not be easy on the eyes, featuring two of America's five best defenses in an old-school slugfest that might set the sport back 20 years.
It would also be very awesome.
Stanford has been branded as "Alabama West," building its program in the mold of Nick Saban's with a massive offensive line, a dominant defense and a team that refuses to beat itself.
Watching it go up against the original version, for some fans, would be an absolute treat.
For others, however, this is anathema; it's the worst BCS National Championship Game that is still within the realm of plausibility. The risk that this might to turn into another 2012 national title game—a snoozefest where Alabama beat LSU 21-0—would outweigh the potential reward.
But I'm a traditionalist. The thought of Stanford's front seven vs. Alabama's offensive line makes me tingle with excitement, as does the thought of the converse, Alabama's front seven vs. Stanford's offensive line.
Call it a matter of preference.
2. Florida State vs. Baylor
Yes, I'm a traditionalist, and sure, I prefer defensive football. That doesn't mean I'm too dense to recognize the appeal of this game.
Honestly, how could you not?
Jameis Winston and Bryce Petty would square off in a battle of Heisman-candidate quarterbacks, leading the Nos. 1 and 2 respective scoring offenses in college football. The Bears average a tidy 61 points per game while the Seminoles check in at 52 PPG.
Both teams also feature elite three-headed rushing attacks, deep stables of explosive wide receivers and big, athletic offensive lines. Neither offense has been rightfully stopped by anyone this season, and neither shows any signs of slowing down.
The chess match between Jimbo Fisher and Art Briles—both of whom are offensive wizards—would be a joy to watch, with each coach working tirelessly to get his players into space against an athletic defense.
Both teams need to run the table for this game to happen, and even then, Alabama and perhaps Ohio State (and maybe even Stanford) would also need to lose.
But if it happens, oh man, you'd better get your popcorn ready.
1. Florida State vs. Alabama
This is the BCS National Championship Game that America deserves—two teams that have played a decent amount of quality teams but still looked head-and-shoulders better than each opponent.
Alabama has lost just once in its last 27 games, but that sole loss came against a mobile redshirt freshman quarterback who produced Heisman-caliber numbers in his first season. Would Winston evoke bad memories for Tide fans?
Could he enjoy the same success?
Having head coach Jimbo Fisher at his side would help. FSU's current boss spent five years on Nick Saban's staff at LSU, acting as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In the last of those seasons, 2004, current Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart joined the staff as a defensive backs coach.
Nobody outside of the SEC—and perhaps nobody in it—has more familiarity with what Alabama does than Fisher, who learned it from the inside before mentoring under Bobby Bowden and eventually taking the reins for himself in Tallahassee.
With a roster that is arguably—repeat: arguably—as talented as Alabama's, would that advantage be enough to propel the Seminoles to a win? It's hard to say.
But I would definitely buy a ticket to find out.