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BCS Rankings 2011: Sorting out the New Top 10

Michael WillhoftContributor IIIOctober 24, 2011

BCS Rankings 2011: Sorting out the New Top 10

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    The latest BCS standings were released Sunday night to the delight of teams like Louisiana State and Oklahoma State, and to the chagrin of teams like Arkansas and Oklahoma. Such is the joy (or pain) of a college football season.

    And to think, we still have six more BCS standings to unveil.

    There weren't any major surprises in the Week 9 edition of the rankings, with the possible exception of how far Oklahoma dropped after losing at home to Texas Tech last Saturday night. (Sorry to bring that up, Sooners fans. Just remember, I'm not the one who lost the game for you.)

    For the most part, teams that won were rewarded with a move up the standings; the lone exception was Arkansas, who actually dropped a spot based on its poor performance against lowly Mississippi. Even though they pulled out a win, the style points weren't exactly there for the Razorbacks.

    The people (and computers) noticed, as they always do.

    This early in the season, there are any number of angles from which we can dissect the BCS standings, since—technically—these teams still have a shot at playing in the BCS Championship game. With that in mind, here are the stories behind the moves for each of the top 10 teams in the BCS.

    (Teams are listed by current BCS ranking with their previous ranking in parentheses for reference.)

No. 10 Arkansas (9)

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    The Razorbacks were the only team to win this past Saturday and lose ground in the BCS standings. It's only a slight drop (one spot overall), but it effectively places Arkansas on the outside looking in with regards to the BCS title game.

    It's true that the Razorbacks could get a ton of help from the teams above them and somehow claw their way into national title contention, but the odds of that happening are pretty slim.

    It took a monumental effort in the second half against Ole Miss for Arkansas to avoid an embarrassing loss to the worst team in the SEC West; as a heavy favorite, a narrow victory didn't do much to improve the team's BCS stock. The latest BCS standings reflect how difficult it is for the Razorbacks to remain relevant in the national title hunt when the teams ranked above them continue to dominate their opponents.

    Playing in the toughest division in college football won't help matters either.

    Arkansas still has home dates with South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State before ending its regular season schedule with LSU. Even if the Razorbacks were ranked in the top three or four of the BCS, they'd still have a difficult time maintaining that spot.

    They probably won't play for the BCS title, but they can improve their postseason bowl bid with a few signature wins late in the season.

No. 9 Oklahoma (3)

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    The biggest news out of the most recent BCS standings is the fall of the Oklahoma Sooners. Dropping from third to ninth overall this week, Oklahoma has only itself to blame for its drop in the rankings.

    With a 6-1 record (3-1 in Big 12 play), there was some speculation that the Sooners wouldn't fall lower than Oregon, another team with one loss on its record. To the surprise of some, Oklahoma is ranked two spots behind Oregon this week.

    Again, the strength of the opponent played a factor in the BCS rankings.

    Whereas Oregon's lone loss came to No. 1 ranked LSU at a neutral site, Oklahoma lost at home to an inferior team in Texas Tech this weekend. The voters and computers took those variables into account when updating the BCS standings.

    Heisman hopeful Landry Jones likely lost more than a shot at the national championship with the loss on Saturday. He'll have to right the ship quickly with a road game at undefeated Kansas State up next.

    Oklahoma can still look forward to the Bedlam Battle with Oklahoma State to close the season; with some help, the Sooners could backdoor their way into the BCS title game.

No. 8 Kansas State (11)

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    The Kansas State Wildcats have surprised plenty of people this season as they continue to string wins together. Apparently, the BCS has caught onto them since they've been promoted into the top 10 of the BCS rankings.

    After a dominant win over in-state rival (and Big 12 doormat) Kansas on Saturday, Kansas State moved up three spots to become the eighth ranked team in the country. While the team's overall stats are nothing to write home about, the Wildcats have managed to remain undefeated to this point in the season. Wins on the road over Miami and Texas Tech, and home victories against Missouri and (then-15th-ranked) Baylor have Kansas State feeling good about itself going into the toughest portion of its schedule.

    Gone are the matchups with Eastern Kentucky and Kent State; here come the true tests of character.

    The next four games for the Wildcats are all against teams ranked in the BCS: versus (9) Oklahoma, at (3) Oklahoma State, versus (16) Texas A&M and at (24) Texas. If Kansas State is going to prove that it's for real, the team will have to do so against stiff competition.

    Help would be needed, but it's possible that an undefeated K-State team could be a sleeper pick to play in the BCS National Championship game. But they'll have to prove themselves first.

No. 7 Oregon (10)

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    Playing in the Pac-12 against relatively weaker competition than the other front-running BCS teams, Oregon seems to have been forgotten. Ranked seventh overall in this week's BCS standings, the Ducks have certainly taken care of business so far.

    Even the injury to star running back LaMichael James hasn't slowed down the high octane offense they run in Eugene.

    None of Oregon's victories have come by less than 14 points, and they continue to lead the nation in touchdown drives of two minutes or fewer. You'd think that after a year of seeing the Ducks run up the score on seemingly every team they played, opposing coaches would catch up with Chip Kelly's team.

    Apparently, that's still not the case.

    Oregon is the one-loss team with the highest BCS ranking, and it can gain on some of the undefeated teams in front of it as the season plays itself out. A late season matchup with Stanford (as well as a potential rematch in the Pac-12 title game) will provide Oregon with the chance to make its case for national title contention.

    If Oklahoma State and Clemson stumble later on, and if Alabama or LSU steamrolls their way to a conference title without a loss, the Ducks could again find themselves in the BCS Championship against an SEC team.

    At least they'll know what they're up against this time around.

No. 6 Stanford (8)

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    While the so-called "Suck For Luck" campaigns (allegedly) run their course in the NFL this season, the Stanford quarterback continues to lead his team up the BCS standings.

    Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal were eighth last week but find themselves two spots higher in this edition of the rankings, which is good news for Stanford's national title hopes. It's been made clear that the voters would love to see Luck on the biggest stage in college football at the end of the season, playing for the BCS title against the best competition possible.

    It's almost like the BCS Championship would take a backseat to the extended NFL combine that would be taking place if Luck were to play in the title game.

    Undefeated Stanford (both on the field and against the spread) has a great shot to make the NFL draft scouts' dreams come true; if this team wins out, it'd be difficult to deny the Cardinal a spot in the championship game.

    And while it might not seem fair to "better" teams from "better" conferences, let's remember that the BCS is all about politicking. Why would having Luck play for the title be such a bad thing? At least the heads of the BCS would be standing by their principles.

No. 5 Clemson (7)

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    Perhaps the most surprising team in the BCS top 10 is Clemson. Yes, that Clemson.

    If you had told me that an ACC team would be 8-0 and challenging the likes of Big 12 and SEC powerhouses for top billing in the BCS after Week 9, I wouldn't have believed you.

    Quarterback Tajh Boyd has the fifth ranked Clemson Tigers slowly moving into what's supposed to be restricted BCS airspace. It's hard to argue with the results, though; Clemson might be for real. The Tigers continue to blow out their opponents in the ACC much like Oregon blows out its opponents in the Pac-12.

    The only blemish on the Tigers' résumé might be their relatively weak strength of schedule. They also haven't had that signature victory yet, although Clemson fans might argue that winning on the road at Virginia Tech fits the bill.

    Unfortunately for Clemson, Tech isn't as good as people first thought.

    Clemson will need to win out and win out by a lot. Realistically, they need large margins of victory and some losses by teams ahead of them if they want the chance at a national title. There's definitely enough of the season left for the Tigers to make a move, though.

No. 4 Boise State (5)

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    It's almost expected that Boise State will create some sort of BCS controversy each season. And with its march into the top four of the BCS rankings, it brings calls for a college football playoff.

    And I tend to agree with those in favor of deciding the champion on the field, rather than inside of a computer.

    We all watched as Boise State overthrew mighty Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, using a few trick plays along the way to shock the nation. The best part of that game? The fact that the little guy won, obviously. And it seems like we're headed toward a BCS National Championship that returns to the traditional way of thinking: only big schools allowed.

    Boise State is doing its best this year to undermine the system, again. The truth of the matter is the Broncos will need some help to crack the BCS top two, and that's not limited to help from other football teams.

    They'll need the voters to show some faith in them as well.

No. 3 Oklahoma State (4)

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    The Oklahoma State Cowboys are an offensive force. (And that's "OFF-ensive," not "off-EN-sive," although opposing defenses might argue that it's the latter.)

    Oklahoma State is ranked second overall in passing yards per game, throwing the ball for an average of 387.4 yards per contest (mostly due to the Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon combination). They're also ranked second in the country in points scored at 48.6 per game (Weeden and Blackmon might have had something to do with that too.) When you throw in the Cowboys' undefeated record at 7-0, it all adds up to a third overall ranking in the latest BCS poll.

    No longer is Oklahoma State famous for head coach Mike Gundy's "I'm a MAN! I'm FORTY!" rant. (Let's be honest, though, that clip has already been retired and put in the YouTube hall of fame.)

    OK, maybe Oklahoma State will always be famous for the Mike Gundy rant. But it should be known that it has a solid football program once people get past the fact that the head coach got really excited about his age during a press conference.

    Oklahoma has the best shot at the BCS National Championship of the teams not named Alabama or LSU. Assuming either 'Bama or LSU goes undefeated, an undefeated Oklahoma State team would definitely earn a bid to play for the title against the better of the two SEC West teams.

No. 2 Alabama (2)

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    The top two BCS spots are the only two in the rankings that remain unchanged from last week. Alabama is wishing that wasn't the case. But, the Crimson Tide will get their chance to overtake LSU as the nation's top ranked team when they host the Bayou Bengals on Nov 5.

    The best-case scenario for a team trailing in the BCS standings is to be able to play against the team in front of it. Alabama has had the LSU game circled on the calendar since the schedule was released.

    At 8-0 overall and 5-0 in SEC play, Alabama hasn't faced a true test yet; its toughest game was on the road at Penn State, which it won 27-11. Although the schedule so far hasn't been challenging enough to prepare the Crimson Tide for a team of LSU's caliber, head coach Nick Saban will have his kids prepared for the Tigers in two weeks.

    'Bama's defense has been its hallmark this season, giving up only 6.9 points to opposing teams. The fact that Alabama has relied on its defense is all the more impressive considering that its star running back, Trent Richardson, is a top Heisman Trophy candidate—scary to think about if you're an LSU fan.

    No matter what the BCS rankings say today, the outcome of Alabama's next game will have the biggest impact on next week's standings.

No. 1 LSU (1)

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    The Louisiana State Tigers have done everything that's been asked of them this season, and then some.

    They've beaten Oregon in Dallas, Mississippi State in Starkville and West Virginia in Morgantown. Oh, and they're averaging 39.3 points per game while only allowing 11.5 points to opponents. The fact that they're ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings for the second straight week accounts for all of that.

    The problem is, they'll be asked to prove themselves again on Nov. 5 in what many are considering to be the defacto national title game.

    LSU will travel to Tuscaloosa for a prime time game against the Crimson Tide with the No. 1 ranking—and likely a spot in the BCS National Championship game—on the line.

    Expectations for LSU at the beginning of the season probably weren't as high as they are now, but the team wouldn't have it any other way. All season long, the Tigers have thrived on pressure; the game at Alabama will be just the kind of environment they're used to.

    Expect LSU to come out swinging in order to protect its top BCS ranking and its perch atop the SEC West.

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