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BCS Bowl Projections: Who's Set to Stick Atop BCS Standings?

David LutherFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2011

BCS Bowl Projections: Who's Set to Stick Atop BCS Standings?

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    Another week is in the books, and that leaves just two regular-season weeks for teams to make an impression on the pollsters and the computers before conference championship week.

    With every game, the postseason picture comes into clearer focus, but there is still plenty of time for upsets, missteps and general chaos to affect the BCS rankings.

    With the latest BCS rankings out, it's time to take another look at which teams are set to stick atop the BCS standings heading into the final two weeks of the season.

No. 15 Michigan State

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    If you're a Nebraska fan, you might want to turn away.

    The Huskers now need some desperate help in order to have any shot at winning the Big Ten's Legends Division this year. The likely bump in the road for MSU was Iowa, and the Spartans took care of business 37-21 this past Saturday, winning in Iowa City for the first time since 1989.

    Michigan State now has Big Ten-worst Indiana (1-9, 0-6 Big Ten) next week followed by Northwestern (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten). While Northwestern is capable of pulling out a shocker (as Nebraska fans know), the Spartans will be mindful of what happened last season. The Wildcats jumped out to a big first-half lead, and MSU battled back to pull out the victory late. Mark Dantonio will be keen to remind his team that the division title is on the line, and the Spartans would do well to not give Northwestern even a glimpse of a victory.

    It might also help that MSU's defense is vastly improved over last season.

    The Spartans are now the clear favorites to earn a trip to Indianapolis on Dec. 3.

No. 11 Houston

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    There probably isn't anyone who believes that undefeated Houston should be anywhere near the BCS Championship Game this season, and there's even some lingering question about whether or not the Cougars are a one-horse circus.

    Case Keenum is clearly a quarterback that carries the weight of his program on his shoulders, and he's been very apt at picking apart Conference USA defenses over his career.

    But Houston has yet to face any decent competition this season, and smoking teams like Tulane week in a week out doesn't impress anyone outside of C-USA.

    Still, Houston is getting its due, and the Cougars have risen to the point of being eligible for the BCS as a non-AQ conference champion.

    The only chance Houston has at slipping up is a potential C-USA title game meeting with Southern Mississippi.

    Cougar fans should be addressing their thank-you cards and flowers to Texas Christian University about now.

No. 10 Boise State

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    We picked Boise State to go undefeated this season. Clearly we weren't the only ones surprised by the Broncos' one-point heartbreaker at home to TCU. Boise State now, shockingly, needs a little help to find its way into a BCS bowl this season.

    While Boise State took it in the teeth in the polls this week, the Broncos are still the highest-ranked non-AQ program in the BCS.

    Their remaining schedule consists of San Diego State and New Mexico. The Broncos should be challenged far less by these two opponents than TCU.

    The best-case scenario would be for the Big East champion to not appear in the final BCS poll. That could open up a spot for the Broncos. Unfortunately, Cincinnati will probably squeak by with a ranking somewhere between 23 and 25, keeping the Broncos out.

No. 9 Stanford

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    It looks like Stanford wasn't quite the team the pollsters thought they were.

    Andrew Luck had a completely lackluster outing against the Ducks on Saturday, as Oregon rolled right over the Cardinal 53-30 en route to a stranglehold on the Pac-12's North Division.

    It remains to be seen what Luck's bad night will do for his Heisman potential, but it's clear that the Cardinal are going to have to settle for a runner-up finish in the North Division.

    Still, Stanford isn't out of the BCS conversation quite yet. Stanford should be able to handle Cal with relative ease before a season finale against Notre Dame.

    While the Irish are much improved over the start of the season, it's doubtful the Notre Dame defense will be able to corral Luck, who now suddenly seems to have something to prove.

    If Stanford wins out, it could easily snatch up a BCS at-large bid.

No. 7 Clemson

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    Everyone was waiting for Clemson to slip up this season. When the Tigers lost to Georgia Tech, the Clemson-haters suddenly saw their opportunity to foretell the beginning of the end for Clemson's BCS hopes this season.

    But unlike some Clemson teams of the past, the wheels did not come completely off the Tigers' wagon this season, and Clemson has now clinched the ACC's Atlantic Division crown. Clemson only has South Carolina left on the schedule in what is always a great showdown between two bitter rivals.

    Clemson's opponent for the ACC Championship Game won't be likely decided until the Nov. 26 meeting between Virginia Tech and Virginia. While everyone assumes Tech will be the Coastal Division champion this season, don't count out a 7-3 Virginia team that could definitely put a fly in the BCS ointment.

    Of course, the Cavs need to get past Florida State first.

    Regardless of whom the Tigers face in the ACC title game, Clemson will be the heavy favorites, and Tiger fans are already drooling over the BCS possibilities.

No. 6 Arkansas

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    Absolutely everyone now has their eyes fixed firmly upon the Nov. 25 meeting between the Arkansas Razorbacks and LSU Tigers

    If Arkansas wins, it will be one of the biggest upsets of the year, as LSU is now the undisputed No. 1 team in America. A win could also propel the Razorbacks as far as a possible BCS Championship Game appearance.

    Even if the Hogs come up short against the Tigers, we can be certain that the Hogs won't drop far. After all, we've seen what a home loss to LSU does to a team's ranking (Alabama from No. 2 to No. 3), so a loss to LSU at LSU won't result in Arkansas crashing through the BCS floor.

    Unfortunately, a loss would likely mean the end of the Razorbacks' BCS hopes for this season.

    Funny, isn't it? Arkansas is likely to play in either the BCS National Championship Game or miss the BCS entirely.

No. 4 Oregon

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    Well, the Ducks got past their big test of the season.

    Oregon simply ran over, past, through and around Stanford on Saturday to claim the top spot in the Pac-12 outright. It now seems inevitable that we will see the Pac-12 Championship Game played in Eugene on Dec. 2.

    The Ducks have just USC and Oregon State left on the schedule, and while USC isn't a bad team by any measure, neither the Trojans nor the Beavers really stand much chance against Oregon with the way the Ducks have been playing as of late.

    The Ducks are also likely to defeat whatever team comes out of the South Division (Arizona State, UCLA and Utah all have a shot), and Oregon fans can start preparing for a trip to Pasadena.

No. 3 Alabama

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    This probably isn't much of a surprise, given whom Alabama has left on the 2011 schedule, but the Crimson Tide are likely to stick around the top of the BCS right until the end.

    The only open question is how high will the Tide rise if either LSU or Oklahoma State loses? Will the pollsters actually go for a rematch this year? Leaving the fairness question aside (we have to remember back to 2006 when No. 2 Michigan lost to No. 1 Ohio State by three points, but wasn't given a chance at a rematch), is it the game we all want to see again, given what happened the first time around?

    Believe it or not, the Alabama Crimson Tide actually need to be LSU fans from here on out if they want to see the BCS. While Alabama certainly won't be dropping much—if at all—in the BCS rankings before the final results are announced, it is possible that if Arkansas beats LSU, the Tide could find themselves the third-highest-ranked SEC team. BCS rules prohibit three teams from one conference from earning BCS bids.

    Right now, the Tide should be hoping for a questionable decision to have an LSU-Alabama rematch in the BCS title game. The consolation prize would be a Sugar Bowl trip, but if the Hogs top the Tigers later this month, all bets are off.

No. 2 Oklahoma State

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    The Cowboys offense is virtually unstoppable.

    The Cowboys defense can't seem to stop anyone.

    If defense wins championships, does Oklahoma State really stand a chance this season?

    So far, the answer has been yes, simply because Oklahoma State has been able to put up so many points that most teams can't ever hope to keep pace.

    The biggest test for the Cowboys will easily be the Dec. 3 game when Oklahoma comes to town. The Sooners and the Cowboys will each be fighting for the BCS destinies, and it's conceivable the winner could find itself in the BCS Championship Game.

    It's also possibly that both of these teams will end up in the BCS, regardless of the game's outcome, but the Cowboys are obviously shooting for the big one.

    With the season-ending ACL tear to Ryan Broyles, will the Sooners have enough offensive octane to keep up with the Cowboys?

No. 1 Louisiana State

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    Really now, what are the chances that LSU loses to Arkansas on Nov. 25?

    With the way LSU has played this season, it probably isn't looking good for the Razorbacks, but stranger things have happened.

    Still, if LSU is able to complete the perfect regular season in the SEC, it might go down as one of the more impressive runs in recent memory.

    Yes, yes, we all know the SEC is God's gift to football, what with its weekly gauntlet against this year's powerhouses of Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky, but LSU has done a terrific job of not only scheduling ranked teams in non-conference games, but beating those teams.

    Arkansas will be the seventh ranked team LSU has faced this season, and if the Tigers win, there's no question a 12-0 record against that kind of competition is downright impressive. And we acknowledge that Vandy wasn't actually on LSU's schedule this year (not that it would have mattered).

    At this point, we feel pretty safe guaranteeing a BCS trip for LSU this season. The only question is which game—a question to which we'll have the answer on Nov. 25.

BCS Bowl Projections

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    Here are our picks, as they stand now.

    Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Oregon

    Fiesta Bowl: Stanford vs. Houston

    Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Cincinnati

    Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

    BCS Championship Game: LSU vs. Oklahoma State

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