Even before the latest BCS standings were released Sunday night, this burning question lit up Twitter and talk show phone lines alike: Will a one-loss SEC champion get past Ohio State in the final BCS standings without the Buckeyes losing in the Big Ten Championship Game?
The answer is no—not at least without some sort of "conspiracy."
The Buckeyes ascended to No. 2 in the BCS standings after Alabama's dramatic and epic fall in the Iron Bowl. They have a solid, but not commanding, lead on No. 3 Auburn in the two polls and a firmer advantage in the computers. With a win over Michigan State next Saturday, Ohio State will maintain their No. 2 ranking in the polls, and that alone will be good enough to send it to Pasadena for the BCS title game.
Which team is most likely to face FSU for the BCS title?
Since the BCS tweaked its formula for the last time in 2004, every team that's finished either first or second in the two polls has played in the BCS title game, no matter what their computer rankings were. In five of the last six seasons, a team played in the BCS championship despite finishing third in the computers.
Ohio State will be No. 2 in the polls, even with the most clumsy, uninspiring victory over Michigan State. No matter who wins the SEC Championship Game and how impressively, that team is not going to break precedent and leapfrog the Buckeyes. Again, since 2004, no unbeaten team ranked in the top two spots has ever been jumped by a one-loss team this late in the season.
Of course, should Ohio State (or, much less likely, Florida State) lose, then the SEC champion will absolutely be in the BCS title game. In the very unlikely event that both OSU and FSU lose, then Alabama might re-enter the picture in a potential all-SEC BCS title game, as we contemplated previously.
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Aside from the title game, there is also plenty of fodder for the "down-ballot" BCS bowl games:
* Northern Illinois will clinch a second consecutive BCS bowl berth and head to the Fiesta Bowl with a win over Bowling Green in the MAC title game. The Huskies are No. 14 now and ahead of all American Athletic teams. With their lofty computer rankings (10th overall), they will not be caught by No. 16 Central Florida or No. 26 Cincinnati—the only two teams that could win the AAC's automatic berth. NIU will have to hope for a better showing against the Big 12 champ than it had last year against Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
Which Orange Bowl matchup is most attractive?
* The Orange Bowl will have a big decision to make should the SEC champion not qualify for the BCS title game. The easy part is grabbing Alabama with the first pick, then it must choose between Clemson and Oregon. Out of loyalty to the ACC, its BCS partner since 2007, the OB might pick the Tigers. If it desires better TV ratings and a bigger buzz, the Ducks would be the choice.
* The Rose Bowl will take Michigan State if the Spartans lose the Big Ten title game but stay in the top 14 of the final BCS standings to remain eligible as an at-large. If they fall out, then the Granddaddy might be in a big pickle as to which team to grab to replace Ohio State. If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 title and MSU isn't eligible, there is a possibility of an all-Pac-12 Rose Bowl between ASU and Oregon, who didn't meet during the regular season. That's happened once before: Due to wartime travel restrictions, USC defeated Washington in the 1944 Rose Bowl.
* The Sugar Bowl is going to end up with the AAC champion, unless NIU loses the MAC title game. It'll have the SEC champion, or Alabama, in a pretty ho-hum matchup.
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