BCS Rankings 2012: How Week 3 Games Will Shape Initial Projections

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2012

BCS Rankings 2012: How Week 3 Games Will Shape Initial Projections

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    These days, college football is all about those BCS rankings.

    We have to wait until Week 7 is in the books, but that certainly doesn't mean we can't start our early projections, does it?

    With some important games on the Week 3 docket, including a number of Top 25 matchups, we're entering the part of the season that can and will have the biggest impact on the initial BCS projections and rankings.

    It's time to start paying attention—if you haven't already—as we look at the big Week 3 games that will shape the initial BCS rankings.

North Carolina at No. 20 Louisville

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    Saturday, September 15, 3:30 pm Eastern, ABC/ESPN2

    Louisville is steadily winning games, steadily climbing the B/R College Football Top 25 Poll, and looks as if it could be the early favorites to win the Big East this season, capturing that all-important automatic berth in the BCS.

    But the Cards haven't really faced any serious opposition yet, and North Carolina presents the first real test for a team that could see its Top 25 ranking made or broken in Week 3.

    This game will also be an indicator for the Big East in 2012: How good (or more accurately, how bad) is the conference without West Virginia leading the charge?

    If the Cardinals can pull of a victory, you can expect to see them attracting more and more attention as we near the initial BCS rankings.

Wake Forest at No. 5 Florida State

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    Saturday, September 15, Noon Eastern, ESPN

    Just not enough for an actual ranking.

    Florida State is holding steady in the No. 5 spot in the B/R Top 25, mainly because there's no reason to drop the Seminoles, nor move them up.

    We've only seen Florida State play FCS teams this season, and one of those games was called in the third quarter with the Seminoles sitting on a 55-point lead.

    There aren't a whole lot of people out there predicting a Wake Forest upset, but this game is important because it will give us our first look at the 2012 Seminoles against a team with 85 scholarship players.

    Will the Seminoles be as crisp and dominating against the FBS, or will there be a marked slowdown?

    The answer to that question will sharpen our vision of Florida State's BCS future.

BYU at Utah

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    Saturday, September 15, 10 pm Eastern, ESPN2

    In what is likely the most important game between to non-ranked opponents in Week 3, the BYU Cougars travel up to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes.

    Utah is coming off a devastating loss to in-state rival Utah State, and the Utes will have to rebound quickly if they want to put up more than token resistance to another in-state rival, BYU.

    The Cougars, meanwhile, are just on the outside of the Top 25, and a big win against an AQ opponent like Utah on the road could be just the thing BYU needs to finally break out of the ranks of “also receiving votes.”

    If BYU wins, it may finally begin to generate some buzz out west about the Cougars. It would also paint Utah into a BCS corner; likely the only option left for a Utes trip to the BCS would necessitate winning the Pac-12 title—and we don't see that happening.

Houston at UCLA

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    Saturday, September 15, 10:30 pm Eastern, TV TBA

    After a big win over Nebraska last week, UCLA earned quite a few poll points in the latest B/R Top 25. Just not enough for an actual ranking.

    That could all change this week.

    UCLA gets yet another visit from Houston, only this time Houston is terrible.

    Clearly, Houston was all about Case Keenum. Without him taking the snaps this season, the Cougars are already off to an 0-2 start, one of which was to brand new FBS program Texas State.


    Houston also ranks 118th out of 124 FBS programs in terms of scoring defense.

    Double ouch.

    Add in UCLA's ranking of 18 in scoring offense, and this could be a lopsided win for the Bruins that will finally convince everyone that they can be a force in the Pac-12 South Division this season.

No. 21 Florida at Tennessee

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    Saturday, September 15, 6 pm Eastern, ESPN

    The No. 21 Gators are hitting the road in Week 3, and it's against a team that could be sporting its own Top 25 ranking before too long.

    This is the SEC opener for Tennessee, and the Vols are looking to make a statement the whole conference will hear. Knocking off the Gators will do that.

    The Volunteers are on the cusp of a Top 25 ranking, and a win over Florida will all but guarantee such a jump. But it also will do something else: generate some buzz about Tennessee in the SEC East this season.

    So far, all the talk has been surrounding Georgia and South Carolina—with an occasional mention of Florida. The Vols can, with one fell swoop, eliminate Florida from the early conversations and replace the Gators with themselves.

    And with Georgia on the schedule for Week 5, a Tennessee win could set up an early BCS make-or-break game for both teams.

No. 1 Alabama at Arkansas

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    Saturday, September 15, 3:30 pm Eastern, CBS

    Alabama fans can finally stop the whining about not being the No. 1 team in the nation.

    The Crimson Tide are now the No. 1 team in the nation, according to the B/R Top 25 Poll.

    Alabama fans seem to slip into an apoplectic fit if anyone even suggests that their beloved Tide are not the No. 1 team in the nation.

    Someone should explain to them that a No. 2 ranking is all that's required, and it's not important until the first Saturday in December anyhow.

    But we digress...

    Our Week 3 influence in this game has more to do with Arkansas than Alabama.

    If Alabama wins, nothing really changes for the Tide. They'll still be No. 1, and they'll still be in a perfect position to win the SEC West, the conference championship game and the BCS National Championship.

    But Arkansas, fresh off of its humiliating defeat at the hands of 30.5-point underdog Louisiana-Monroe, took it in the teeth when the new poll came out in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

    The Hogs dropped all the way from No. 9 to No. 19, and you can bet that another loss will knock Arkansas out of the B/R Top 25 Poll and out of any serious BCS talk.

    An Arkansas win, however, would be much more interesting for the college football world, and would springboard the Hogs back into the good graces of SEC fandom.

    It would also set up another very interesting SEC West season, with the Tide now in a one-and-done situation with Texas A&M, Tennessee, Auburn and LSU still on the schedule.

No. 2 USC at No. 22 Stanford

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    Saturday, September 15, 7:30 pm Eastern, FOX

    Sorry, Cardinal fans, but this game is more about USC than it is about Stanford.

    After holding down the No. 1 spot during the preseason and Week 2, USC has been leapfrogged by Alabama.

    Trojan fans shouldn't worry too much, though. There's a lot of season left to be played, and both Alabama and USC have some hurdles to jump over before the BCS bids are handed out.

    The first quasi-major hurdle for the Trojans is this Saturday's game at Stanford.

    What is it a "quasi-major" hurdle? Well, we just don't think Stanford is the team it was last season.

    The Cardinal had a difficult time getting past lowly San Jose State in Week 1, but turned it up a couple of notches in Week 2 against Duke—almost as if to prove that they are still capable of beating the bad FBS teams by more than three points.

    But can Stanford turn it up enough to knock off USC? Not likely.

    But even if it's a close game, some lingering doubts about the Trojans could start creeping into poll ballots, creating some serious doubt.

    And a USC loss could really screw things up!

No. 18 Notre Dame at No. 9 Michigan State

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    Saturday, September 15, 8 pm Eastern, ABC

    Without a doubt, the game with the biggest BCS impact this weekend will come when the No. 9 Spartans host the No. 18 Fighting Irish.

    First, if Michigan State wins, you can expect a confidence boost in MSU's abilities.

    Michigan State has 24 wins since the start of the 2009 season—more than any other Big Ten program—and is poised to become a new perennial power in the conference.

    Add in losses by Michigan and Wisconsin already this season that highlight weaknesses in those programs, and Sparty may be unchallenged for the Big Ten this season.

    A win against Notre Dame will only reinforce that theory.

    And, however unlikely, we do have to mention that a blowout victory over Notre Dame could spark zealous Spartan fans to start talking about running the table. Does the BCS take an undefeated Big Ten team over a one loss team from the Big 12, ACC or Pac-12 for the big game in Miami?

    Across the field, the Irish have been languishing at the bottom of the Top 25—if at all—for several years, and Brian Kelly was hired with the explicit intent of changing those (mis)fortunes.

    It hasn't happened yet, to the glee of Irish-haters around the nation. But Notre Dame is still Notre Dame, and Brian Kelly is still Brian Kelly. That means the recruits are starting to pour in, and things should start turning around any day now.

    Will that day be this Saturday?

    Maybe, maybe not. But if it is, we all have to start asking ourselves one very important question: Can we put our preconceived notions behind us and rank Notre Dame appropriately after knocking off a Top 10 team?

    Notre Dame has plenty of time to trip up this season, with Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma and USC yet to come. But there's a real chance Notre Dame could be 3-0 after this weekend and 6-0 in time for the initial BCS rankings.

    What then?

    With all of the possible BCS reshuffling that could occur with the results of just this one game, it's easy to see why Notre Dame at Michigan State tops our list of Week 3 games that will shape initial BCS projections.

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