A regular series of articles breaking down the how the different components of the Bowl Championship Series affect the teams vying for those elusive BCS bowl bids.
By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
Chaos has arrived. It took us a very long time, but the floodgates were opened this past week on insanity in college football. 3 top 5 teams lost for only the second time in BCS history, another top 10 team lost, and two other top 10 teams (Stanford and Virginia Tech) withstood fourth-quarter comebacks to win by a field goal. We have three teams from one division at the very top of the rankings and a rematch between LSU and Alabama looks like the likeliest possibility at this point.
Many fans think that a rematch is unlikely. Certainly we saw in 2006 that voters did their best to avoid seeing a rematch in the National Championship Game. And the arguments against a rematch are very valid. It would not be fair to LSU to make them beat a team they already beat on the road again in a neutral location. It would not be fair to LSU for them to have to beat Alabama twice to be national champions while all Alabama would need would be to split 2 games against LSU. And yes, it would do a tremendous amount of damage to the BCS’s argument that “the regular season is a playoff”. And, because of all this, until this weekend I thought that a rematch in the NCG would be very unlikely. Now, however, it doesn’t look like there will be much choice. LSU has a huge lead over everyone else and the entire field took a giant step back while Alabama took a tiny step back. It looks like, to avoid a rematch, voters will have to manipulate their ballots to slide Virginia Tech or Stanford into the NCG (assuming neither of those two lose another game), both of whom have an SOS in the approximate range of Boise State’s. Oklahoma State looks like the best candidate for avoiding a rematch, and we will discuss their chances in detail later.
LSU actually has an incredible lead on the entire country right now. The gaps in the computers between LSU and everyone else are tremendous. Even if LSU loses to Arkansas this week or Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, they will still be #1 in most computers and won’t fall below #2 in any of them. LSU will also have a much stronger paper resume than Arkansas or Alabama even if they lose to the Razorbacks. It would be pretty unprecedented (but not entirely, see 2003), but we have to be open to the possibility that LSU could stay at #1 or #2 in the human polls even after this loss. Even if they don’t fall farther than #3, we could still very easily see them stay at #1 or #2 in the BCS due to having a stronger computer profile.
Teams With a Reasonable Chance of Receiving a BCS At-large Bid:
The season is winding down and we can really start looking at the BCS picture. The list of teams who can still get an at-large is now very small as the top 14 is taking solid shape. With 5 SEC teams and 3 Big XII teams cluttering up the top 14, the at-large pool is currently very small. That could expand in the next few weeks, however, with big games looming for Georgia and South Carolina. Of course, Baylor is also within reach of sliding into the top 14 and taking another spot out of the at-large pool. With so few teams in the discussion now, we can explain each team’s chances much better.
ACC: Virginia Tech- The ACC has never received an at-large bid in BCS history. If Virginia Tech loses to Virginia or in the ACC Championship Game, they should end up around #10 in the final BCS Standings. The Hokies travel well and could be a good option if the only other two viable choices are Boise State and Stanford, especially for the Sugar Bowl on the east coast.
Big XII: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma- Oklahoma will remain in the top 14 unless they lose out, but Kansas State might (probably won’t though due to much smaller fanbase) be picked as an at-large if Oklahoma ends up 9-3. Expect a Big XII team in the Sugar Bowl if we see an all-SEC NCG or to replace Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl if the Cowboys manage to make it to the NCG.
Big Ten: Michigan- The Wolverines are one of the very few schools who, unless there are very extreme circumstances, will never be passed up for an at-large bid. If they can beat Ohio State and end up in the top 14, they will go somewhere, probably to the bowl with the first available pick. Even though Jerry Palm thinks that the pull of Andrew Luck will outweigh UM’s massive fanbase, I would be shocked if the Fiesta took Stanford over Michigan. Expect Michigan to meet a Big XII school in the Sugar Bowl if they are available and we have an all-SEC NCG.
SEC: LSU, Alabama, Arkansas- We will either see an all-SEC NCG or a second SEC team goes to the Sugar Bowl if only one makes the NCG. It’s that simple. (Well, actually, it’s far from that simple if Georgia manages to win the SEC Championship Game, but we’ll leave that for next week.)
Pac 12: Stanford- The Cardinal have a pretty weak traveling fanbase and aren’t a great TV draw. Andrew Luck, on the other hand, is. If Stanford will get an at-large, it will be due to his popularity. They want to see an all-SEC NCG so that the Fiesta won’t have a Big Ten team to take (or for Michigan to not reach the top 14).
Non-AQ: Boise State- With such a small at-large pool, the Broncos get their name added in as well. They need Michigan to not be available and would love if Tulsa beat Houston, freeing up a fourth at-large slot. It would also be best for Boise if Oklahoma won Bedlam so that the pull of a Boise State vs. Oklahoma rematch would be too much for the Fiesta Bowl to pass up. Stanford losing to Notre Dame and becoming a less-enticing option wouldn’t hurt Boise’s case either.
It looks as if TCU will not reach the top 16 no matter what, unless real mayhem occurs directly in front of them. So, if Houston is not the Conference-USA champ, we will have no non-AQ earn an auto-bid to the BCS for the first time since 2005.
Notre Dame is sitting at #22 in the BCS with one game remaining. A win over Stanford will be very valuable, but they will need quite a bit of mayhem to reach the top 14. Still, the polls are notorious for unrealistically favoring the Irish and they are definitely one of the few teams who will never, ever be passed up for an at-large (and they would trump Michigan if the choice was between the two of them). It’s extremely unlikely, but not impossible, that we will see Notre Dame in a BCS bowl this year.
The important thing in the polls this week was how badly they punished Oklahoma State for their loss. The Cowboys are by far the most viable option of avoiding an SEC West rematch in the NCG. The only three other non-SEC 1-loss teams in the country (Stanford, Virginia Tech, and Boise State) all have strengths of schedule around the same range, which will hurt them in the computers. Barring an Alabama loss, it would take some massive voter manipulation for any of those 3 to pass Alabama in the BCS. But, for now, the Pokes are stuck behind Virginia Tech and Stanford in the human polls. If they could get closer to Alabama they would probably actually have a shot at jumping them in the BCS. We will have to see if voters are cognizant of this fact and intentionally jump Oklahoma State up even if Virginia Tech or Stanford don’t lose, or if the voters honestly will view a Bedlam win as strong enough to jump Oklahoma State over those teams anyway.
I was honestly saddened to see that Tulsa did not manage to gain any traction in either the Coaches’ or Harris Polls this week. The Golden Hurricanes have accomplished basically the same things as Houston has this year. The one difference is that Tulsa played a massively difficult nonconference schedule to start off, with games against Boise State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. If the pollsters had respected this and started sliding them up earlier, they may have had a chance of reaching the top 16 if they won out and won Conference-USA. There is no chance of that now. TCU also gained very little in the human polls this past week, and it was not enough to counterbalance the computer hit they received from playing Colorado State. It would take a lot of teams losing for TCU to move up to the top 16, which means that if Houston does not win C-USA then there will be no auto-bid for the non-AQs. This is important because it means the non-AQs get a lot less money from the BCS, even if Boise State gets an automatic bid.
The computers are mostly stable by this time of year and more-or-less agree with each other. Sagarin, as usual, has the most outliers. His system, more than any other (though this does give all of them problems), has trouble adjusting to conferences that only play 3 OOC games and that do very well in those games. Thus, he had Pac 10 schools with poor conference records very highly-ranked last year and this year he has 4 Big XII teams in the top 10 and 4 more in the top 20, even with poor records. Billingsley also, due to his system that is heavily influenced by his preseason ratings, has several more outliers than the rest of the computers.
The important thing to note about the computers is how little Oklahoma State slid. Oklahoma State has by far the best resume of any of the one-loss teams and stayed #2 in 4 of the 6 computers. They stayed very close behind #2 Alabama in the other 2 (Sagarin and Wolfe) and should pass Alabama in both of those if they beat Oklahoma in Bedlam. The Cowboys will be a consensus #2 after that game, assuming LSU wins out. If LSU loses a game they may actually grab the #1 spot in a couple of rankings (Anderson and Colley, most likely). But assuming that LSU wins out, this would mean that Oklahoma State would only need to be within half a poll spot of Alabama, on average, to jump the Crimson Tide for a spot in the NCG. If they were right behind Alabama, that would mean that they would need to be one spot ahead of Alabama on just about 25% of all human ballots. Of course, that would mean that they need to jump Virginia Tech and Stanford. Both of those teams are saddled behind several teams in the computers and neither could jump Alabama without huge poll manipulation. But if those two lose or if Oklahoma State “mysteriously” jumps them in the human polls within the next two weeks, then the Cowboys should be right back in the driver’s seat for a chance to challenge LSU for the national title.
To see Massey’s rankings, click here.
Week 14 Implications:
We have a great lineup starting Friday morning with bowl bids, BCS at-larges, and NCG hopes on the line. Northern Illinois will try to clinch the MAC West when Western Michigan visits to open the day. At noon, Tulsa hosts Houston with the C-USA West title as a prize for the winner. And the biggie, Arkansas @LSU, kicks off at 2:30 Eastern time. LSU clinches the SEC West with a win and we get total BCS chaos at the top if Arkansas pulls it out. And Friday night, Arizona State hosts Cal in a must-win game if they want to keep their Pac 12 South chances alive. They would then need a Utah win (vs. Colorado) and a UCLA loss (@USC) to win the division. Utah can win the division with a win, an Arizona State loss, and a UCLA loss. UCLA takes it with a win or a Utah loss.
At noon Saturday, there are 2 big games for teams who want to be able to sneak in to an at-large slot (namely, Boise State and Virginia Tech). Georgia travels to Georgia Tech. If the Bulldogs lose, they will fall in the BCS and won’t be able to take up a precious spot in the top 14. Also, Ohio State travels to Michigan. A Wolverines win will almost guarantee themselves an at-large spot and their first BCS berth since the 2006 season. At 3:30, Penn State travels to Wisconsin for the Leaders Division title and Virginia hosts Virginia Tech for the ACC Coastal title. Also, Alabama travels to Auburn in a game that could make the BCS picture a lot clearer if the Tide lose. Also, Oregon hosts Oregon State in a game that will give the Ducks the Pac 12 North title if they win and give it to Stanford if the Ducks lose. Stanford, meanwhile, hosts Notre Dame Saturday night. Clemson and South Carolina will also meet in a game that will probably knock SC out of the top 14 if they lose.
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This article originally appeared on The Sports Headquarters