BCS Championship Picture: Title Hopes for Teams Outside the Top Two
First, it was Oklahoma State. Then, it was their Bedlam rival, Oklahoma. Despite playing at home, even Oregon couldn’t get it done.
Three top five teams, three losses in a span of 24 hours between Friday and Saturday. We’ve been waiting for this kind of weekend in college football—it seems inevitable—where top-ranked teams begin falling like dominoes when their matchups initially seem to be “safe” for them to win and move on.
The biggest beneficiary from the losses of the Oklahoma teams and Oregon would have to be Alabama. The Tide had been third in the BCS standings heading into the weekend, and the simple fact that they did not lose will ensure they move back into the second spot. This means a win over Auburn would seem to ensure that Alabama plays in the BCS National Championship Game.
However, given what we saw this weekend, we should know it would be foolish to simply pencil in LSU and Alabama in a rematch for the national championship. One of these teams has two more games to play, the second of which would be the SEC Championship Game.
It’s time to reshuffle the deck and look at what could happen over the next two weeks for several teams who still have a chance to slide back into the BCS National Championship race.
Joe Adams' TD catch vs Mississippi State
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10 – 1, 6 – 1 SEC West
New Poll Rankings - AP; 3, USA Today: 3
BCS Rank: 3
Remaining Games: at LSU (Friday)
Alabama wasn’t the only team to reap the huge rewards from all the top-five defeats this weekend.
Another SEC West team also hit it big this weekend. Arkansas took care of business Saturday with a 44-17 win over Mississippi State, and will likely move all the way up from sixth to third in the BCS, behind Alabama.
What Must Happen: Beat LSU
Arkansas has the opportunity of a lifetime in front of them: playing LSU in Baton Rouge on Friday. Win that game, and the Razorbacks immediately have a great case to be No. 2.
Arkansas’ only loss came at Alabama, 38-14, back in September. That could mean poll voters keep Alabama ahead of Arkansas however, despite a win over LSU.
What Could Help: Alabama Losing in SEC Championship
Knocking off LSU, however, would also mean that Alabama would go to the SEC Championship Game, because of the head-to-head win over Arkansas. That might be a blessing for the Razorbacks, who could cement their spot in the top two if Alabama were to lose to Georgia, the SEC East representative.
All this becomes moot, of course, if LSU takes care of business at home. Two losses would leave Arkansas hoping to make another BCS bowl game as an at-large team.
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10 – 1, 7 – 1 Big 12
New Poll Rankings – AP: 5, USA Today: 6
BCS Rank: 4
Remaining Games: vs. Oklahoma
Just before midnight on Friday, it seemed that Oklahoma State had been all but eliminated from the championship race. A loss to 5-4 Iowa State seemed to be an unacceptable blemish in the Cowboys’ otherwise outstanding season.
However, thanks to teams No. 4 and 5 losing the very next day, OSU may not fall too far. While their in-state rival OU—as well as Oregon and even No. 7 Clemson—lost their second games of the season, the Cowboys only lost their first.
There are only four other BCS conference teams left with one loss: Alabama, Arkansas, Stanford and Virginia Tech. OSU will be behind the first two in this week’s BCS rankings, but should just barely remain ahead of the latter two.
What Must Happen: Arkansas Lose to LSU; Beat Oklahoma
Simply put, Oklahoma State must take care of business in two weeks against the Sooners at home to have any shot. Since there is no longer a conference championship game, this game will decide the league’s BCS representative. The win would give the Cowboys the Big 12 Championship outright.
In addition to beating Oklahoma, Arkansas, who should be third after the new BCS standings are released, must lose to LSU on Friday. That would likely put the Cowboys back into the third spot, where they would still need some help.
What Could Help: Alabama Losing to Auburn; No Loss vs LSU
If Alabama and Arkansas both lose this weekend, OSU will be in good shape once again. Both teams would have two losses, and OSU just one.
We know that Alabama has regained the inside track to being the No. 2 team in the BCS, especially if they can beat Auburn next weekend. However, we also know that Alabama lost to No. 1 LSU.
Suppose both OSU and Alabama end the season 11-1 (remember, if LSU beats Arkansas, LSU plays in the SEC Championship, not Alabama). Obviously, Alabama has the “better” loss—losing to the No. 1 team by just three points. However, unlike Alabama and Oregon, OSU did not get a shot to beat LSU during the season.
When there is not an actual playoff system, the regular season can serve as a playoff system in itself. With that notion, Alabama has already been eliminated. If more voters begin to apply this philosophy, then OSU could potentially sneak into the No. 2 spot.
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10 – 1, 6 – 1 ACC
New Poll Rankings – AP: 6, USA Today: 4
BCS Rank: 5
Remaining Games: at Virginia, ACC Championship game vs. Clemson (with win at UVA)
It seems like a long time ago, but on Thursday night Virginia Tech once again took care of business, beating North Carolina. The win moves the Hokies to within one win of playing for the ACC Championship, against Clemson.
However, that one win will be very difficult to get. Va. Tech has to travel to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. The Cavaliers have turned their season around, and have put themselves in position to play for the ACC title themselves if they can beat the Hokies.
What Must Happen: Win Out; Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma St. Each Lose
It seems like a lot, and it is. However, if this weekend tells us anything, it’s certainly possible.
Virginia Tech will have a chance to rack up two very quality wins the next two weeks, perhaps the best two they will have this season. Virginia has cracked the Top 25, and Clemson was a Top 10 team prior to their meltdown at NC State yesterday. These wins would improve the Hokies’ computer rating a bit, which currently lags just a bit behind their poll rankings.
What the Hokies will really need to pin their championship hopes on is being the last one-loss team standing, or at least the best one-loss team. Normally, a team from the ACC would have to be undefeated to have any shot at a title appearance. However, if the three aforementioned teams fall, poll voters could give Va. Tech the benefit of the doubt if they can manage to get to 12-1 with some solid if not SEC-caliber wins.
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10 – 1, 8 – 1 Pac 12
New Poll Rankings – AP: 4, USA Today: 5
BCS Rank: 6
Remaining Games: Notre Dame, possible Pac 12 Championshp game (if Oregon loses to Oregon St.)
Stanford flirted with becoming part of the impressive list of top 10 teams to lose this weekend. They led by just one at the half, and ended up winning by just three over California after a late Bears rally.
Because they won—albeit not too impressively—the Cardinal made a significant jump in both the polls released earlier Sunday. They moved into the top five in each poll, and are ahead of Oklahoma State in both polls, which is very important at this point.
What Must Happen: Beat ND; Alabama, Arkansas Lose; Stay Ahead of Okla. St. and Va. Tech in Polls
Stanford stays at home next week to face Notre Dame in their regular season finale. At 8-3, the Irish just cracked this week’s AP (No. 22) and USA Today (No. 24) Top 25. Stanford still has an outside chance to play for the Pac-12 Championship, but it would require Oregon State to pull off a stunner in Eugune next weekend. Even if Stanford gets there, playing the league's South division representative (either UCLA or Arizona State) wouldn't do very much to help their cause.
A convincing win over a Top 25 team in Notre Dame may give some AP voters reason to bump Stanford ahead of Virginia Tech after next week. That would further help Stanford’s already solid 4.5 poll average, which accounts for 2/3 of the total BCS ranking. Between the two polls, Stanford is just ahead of Va. Tech (5.0 avg.) and Oklahoma State (5.5 avg.). However, if Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma, that could very easily get them ahead of Stanford in both the polls and the computer rankings.
A win next week, in and of itself, can’t do much to push Stanford closer to the second spot in the BCS. It will be up to LSU to help by beating Arkansas, and Auburn upsetting Alabama. Then, the question would become: Is a one-loss Stanford team truly more deserving than a two-loss Alabama team?
Consider that Alabama has two wins—at Penn State and Arkansas at home—that are better than Stanford’s best win, which might come next week against Notre Dame. It may be tough for voters, and computers, to drive Stanford all the way up to the second spot if such a situation occurs.
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(11 – 0, 7 – 0 C-USA)
New Poll Rankings – AP: 8, USA Today: 7
BCS Rank: 8
Remaining Games: at Tulsa, C-USA Championship game (with win over Tulsa)
Houston took care of things once again yesterday, despite the offense having a relatively (for Houston’s standards) mediocre afternoon. The Cougars beat SMU 37-7, setting up a huge game at Tulsa on Friday for the Conference USA West Championship. The winner will play in the C-USA Championship Game on Dec. 3, most likely facing Southern Miss.
With Oklahoma State losing, Houston and LSU are now the nation’s only remaining undefeated teams.
What Must Happen: Win Out
If Houston were to sit undefeated on Dec. 4, when the BCS bowls are announced, it will not have come easy.
The next two games would probably be the two toughest the Cougars have played this year. Tulsa is also undefeated in conference play, and their only losses this year are to top 10 teams—Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. Southern Miss, assuming they do get there, has had an outstanding year at 9-2, despite their tough loss to 3-8 UAB on Thursday night.
These wins, however, can’t improve Houston’s standing relative to the likes of Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Stanford or Virginia Tech—should each of those teams win their remaining games.
What Would Help: Voter Sentiment for an Undefeated Team
The one card that Houston holds that none of the others discussed here do is simple: being undefeated.
It’s very unlikely that every team currently ranked between two and seven loses another game. Even if they do, it still may not be enough if voters take the same line of thought toward ranking teams that they have to this point.
What needs to happen for Houston can’t really take place on the field. It would require voters to step back on the morning of Dec. 4 and say "why not give them a chance; they did everything could do, and there are no other teams (besides maybe LSU) who can say that."
Alabama and Oregon losing to LSU could be viewed as in-season playoff games. The same could go for Arkansas losing to Alabama. The same for Stanford losing to Oregon.
It’s a stretch to say the least, but hey, why not?