If the college football season ended today, ACC leader Florida State would take on Big Ten leader Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game, slated at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the BCS standings.
Alas, with one week left to play, there are still plenty of scenarios in which both of those teams could play their way out of the national title game.
At No. 3 and No. 5 respectively, Auburn and Missouri will play for the SEC championship, and the winner will make a strong case for the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings. If either OSU or FSU falters, one of the two Tigers will be in.
While those are the four most likely national title contenders, there is still some hope somehow for Alabama at No. 4.
Click on to find out what each of the top five teams must do to book a trip to Pasadena, Calif., to play for the Coaches' Trophy.
Note: All rankings based on Week 15 BCS standings.
Week 15 Matchup: vs. No. 20 Duke—Sat, Dec. 7, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC
Key Wins: No. 13 Clemson, Miami (Fla)
The road to Pasadena is clear for Florida State.
Firmly entrenched at No. 1 in the BCS with the highest poll and computer averages, there is no chance the Seminoles will be jumped by any team behind them, so they just need to win their final game to sew up a BCS national title berth.
FSU, the ACC Atlantic Division champion, will meet Duke (10-2), the champion from the ACC Coastal, in Charlotte, N.C., for the league title.
The Blue Devils aren't overpowering in any discipline, but their strength is in the return game, where Jamison Crowder and DeVon Edwards have powered them all season. Crowder has two punt return scores on the year, while Edwards has taken back two kickoffs for touchdowns.
FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher met with the media and spoke at length on Duke's consistency and the improvements the program has made under head coach David Cutcliffe, per Seminoles.com:
Duke plays tremendously consistent. They make very few mistakes. They’ve become so athletic in the back end with their skill guys and their secondary guys, (which) allows them to make plays. And they’re very physical up front. I don’t think we’ve faced anybody that plays as consistent as Duke does.
Duke has been one of college football's charmed teams, winning several close games en route to its first 10-win season and first Coastal title in school history.
Even with destiny on its side, Duke will have a very difficult time matching up with Florida State.
Unless the 'Noles lay an egg in this game, they'll be playing for the crystal football in January.
Week 15 Matchup: vs. No. 10 Michigan State—Sat, Dec. 7, 8:17 p.m. EST on FOX
Key Wins: No. 21 Wisconsin, Iowa
Sitting at No. 2 in the BCS, Ohio State's situation is much more tentative than Florida State's.
The Buckeyes have a tougher conference title matchup than the 'Noles, and they also face the possibility of being leapfrogged by a one-loss SEC champion.
First, OSU, the Big Ten Leaders Division champ, must make its way past Michigan State, champion of the Legends Division, for the conference title in Indianapolis Saturday.
I made this comment many times. You wish you could get your guys, like raising your children, put them away on a desert island until they're ready to make the right decisions and focus.
On top of, that it's been finals week at Ohio State. A lot of things going on. A busy week.
I like the maturity of our team. You lean on the coaches and the leaders on your team to stay focused. We'll see how we play.
As of Friday afternoon, I'm very pleased with our focus this week.
The Spartans rank No. 1 nationally in total defense, allowing 237.7 yards per game. They also rank first in the country against the run, yielding 65.8 yards per contest.
The big matchup will take place on the ground. Against that top-ranked rush defense, OSU will uncork its rushing offense, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 2 in the nation, tallying 321.3 yards per game.
If Ohio State can win that battle up front and beat MSU, it'll still need to hold strong in the BCS. Going into the weekend, the Buckeyes hold a modest lead (.270) over Auburn at No. 3.
There's no telling what might happen in the final BCS rankings after all conference titles are decided, so all Ohio State can do is win and hope for the best.
As of right now, the Buckeyes look like they'll be in with a win as the undefeated Big Ten champion and winners of 25 straight, but their fate will ultimately be in the cold hands of the BCS.
Week 15 Matchup: vs. No. 5 Missouri—Sat, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m. ET on CBS
Key Wins: No. 4 Alabama, No. 22 Georgia, No. 24 Texas A&M
Losses: No. 15 LSU
Auburn jumped into the national title conversation and into the SEC title game with its astonishing win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
As hard as it might be to believe, the Tigers, after finishing 3-9 a year ago, could make the national title game by beating Missouri for the SEC title.
Mizzou, the improbable SEC East champion, will head to Atlanta to take on Auburn, the champ from the West, in the Georgia Dome.
Coming off an emotional Iron Bowl win, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn touched on the mindset of his team, which will now move on to another daunting foe, via Charles Goldberg, AuburnTigers.com:
We're worried about Missouri, and we should be...We're playing one of the Top 5 teams in the country. We're going to have to improve from last week's game to have a chance to win.
I knew our guys would flip the switch. We're playing the SEC Championship. They've been extremely focused. It's been a business-like approach.
As previously mentioned, the whichever team takes care of business in Atlanta will have a shot at jumping Ohio State for No. 2 in the BCS, though nothing is guaranteed. To make things easier, Auburn will become a Michigan State fan this weekend—if it beats Missouri first.
Mizzou has been equally surprising this season, turning a 5-7 campaign into a run at the SEC banner. The Tigers are no fluke either, as they rank No. 2 in the league in scoring offense and No. 2 in scoring defense.
They have strong leadership at quarterback, playmakers on offense and talent on the defensive end. Mizzou's biggest weakness is its defensive secondary, but Auburn's biggest weakness is its passing offense, making that matchup an overall wash.
The SEC title game is sure to be thrilling, and it might come down to whichever team is better able to move on from the drama of the previous weekend.
If Auburn takes down Mizzou, though, it'll still need help from either MSU, by some miracle Duke or the BCS computers to complete its national title run.
Week 15 Matchup: Idle
Key Wins: No. 15 LSU, No. 24 Texas A&M, Virginia Tech
Losses: No. 3 Auburn
Yes, there is still (some) hope for Alabama to make the BCS title game and complete its three-peat.
The scenario would end in an all-SEC title game, which could be a problematic result, but more on that later.
First, to make that a possibility, Crimson Tide nation will have to don Duke Blue Devils blue and Michigan State Spartans green, hoping that both Florida State and Ohio State fall in their conference title games.
Both FSU and OSU must drop for 'Bama to play for the BCS title, as it won't make the game ahead of the champion of its own conference. As improbable as that might sound, it would fit right along with the deranged script that has played out so far this college football season.
If someone presses the Buffalo Wild Wings buttons in Charlotte and Indianapolis and FSU and OSU lose, 'Bama might still have to worry about what the voters will do. Many won't want to see another all-SEC title game, so the Tide will still have to hope that they can make the move up to No. 2 in the standings.
In the meantime, the Tide will be taking a week off to regroup. And as quarterback AJ McCarron commented over the week, he expects his team to be ready for whatever opportunity comes its way in the postseason, per Cliff Kirkpatrick, Montgomery Advertiser:
We have a lot of time off and we have a lot of great seniors. We’ll be ready to play. We are a hungry. I mean, one loss — we hate it, but the sun comes up tomorrow. The world isn’t ending. We’ll be ready to play.
With Alabama sitting at No. 4 and quite possibly still the most talented team in the nation, wouldn't this be the perfect year for a playoff?
Week 15 Matchup: vs. No. 3 Auburn—Sat, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m. ET on CBS
Key Wins: No. 22 Georgia, No. 24 Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Losses: No. 8 South Carolina
Missouri's scenario is almost identical to that of Auburn.
After winning the SEC East over preseason favorites South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, Mizzou will take on Auburn from the West in Atlanta.
Just its second season in the SEC, Mizzou will be vying for its first SEC title.
But to make the BCS title game, the Tigers will not only have to beat Auburn, but also hope for the same help from the BCS, Michigan State or Duke.
Whether it is Auburn or Missouri, a strong case will be made for a one-loss SEC team, with a stronger resume than Ohio State, to earn a national title berth.
Many will want to see if the SEC can extend its seven-game national title streak, but if the BCS rankings don't change, that won't happen.
Just like Auburn, and Ohio State for that matter, Missouri can't worry about the BCS. The Tigers will have to focus on what they can control and do what they must to beat the other Tigers across the field.
Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel talked this week about keeping his team focused on the task at hand, per MUTigers.com:
The beauty of it is that you just got to go and play. We can't do any more than that. You got to go play, and take care of your own business. So, that is what we do. The main difference is all of those teams have won national championships and we haven't. We are the new kid on the block. That doesn't phase us. I just want to win our game. I'm focused on Auburn. We got a tough task, and I don't care about anything after that. Let's just focus on Auburn.