Making Sense of the BCS Picture: It's Anyone's Game to Lose

That's Leslie Edwin Miles to your right, holding the one thing that all college football teams want. And this year, lots of teams can still get it, even with one loss on their resume -- or so say the latest polls, bowl projections, and curious circumstances.

First, here are the "players". It's supremely likely that two of these teams will play for a national championship:

BCS Standings

1. Alabama (9-0)
2. Texas Tech (9-0)
3. Penn State (9-0)
4. Texas (8-1)
5. Florida (7-1)
6. Oklahoma (8-1)
7. USC (7-1)

The Top 3

Of these teams, the top three are sitting within striking distance of a championship, but only two control their destiny completely. If Alabama wins out and emerges from the SEC unscathed, they will, without a doubt, book a trip to Miami. No need to look any further into Saban's crew. They hold all the cards right now.


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Next: Penn State. To go unbeaten, JoePa needs only to beat Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State, an enviable slate, but will face strength-of-schedule questions should Texas Tech win out. And in fact, sitting at #3, Penn State has to hope that Bama or Tech loses a game. It is conceivable that Penn State gets bumped for a one-loss SEC or Big XII champion.

Speaking of Texas Tech: they're unbeaten, but to earn a title berth they'll have to travel a far more difficult road. The Red Raiders must face No. 9 Oklahoma State next week, followed by a fortuitous bye, then No. 6 Oklahoma on the road. To round out the regular season they'll get Baylor, who just gave No. 14 Missouri a scare, losing 31-28. Assuming they get that far, they must cap it off with a win in the Big XII championship game, where they'll likely face Missouri representing the Big XII North. That's one hell of a row to hoe, folks.

It'd be a travesty of epic proportions if an unbeaten Tech is left out in favor of JoePa's sentimental story, but the way the BCS standings are sitting presently, that won't happen. The more interesting question is, what will happen to Tech if they lose one of those games, but still win the conference championship?

The Big XII could eat itself alive

It's obvious to all of us now that the Big XII is one of the two best conferences in college football this year. The BCS standings reflect this, with four teams representing the Big XII in the Top 10. However, only one of them will get a shot at the title game. Here's where it gets interesting.

... Texas?

Highly respected and at #4 in the BCS Standings, Texas is definitely still in the game despite their recent loss in Lubbock. The dynamics are such that Texas has to hope for Tech to lose not one but two of their remaining games to get a chance to play in the Big XII championship matchup. Considering the competition that Tech must play, this is not necessarily far-fetched. The Longhorns would need to win out, which they should, as the most competitive games on their schedule are behind them. Should this scenario occur, Texas will likely play Missouri for the conference title, and should they win, will be considered one of the best one-loss teams in the country. Perhaps the best.

... Oklahoma?

And don't forget about the Sooners, who lost a relatively close game to the Longhorns. The Sooners have a chance to knock off Texas Tech on November 22, and then must also win at No. 9 Oklahoma State. There are some tiebreaker scenarios (between Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma) that Oklahoma will need to avoid be sure they'll get a date in the championship game; most of those ties favor Texas. But the Sooners need to beat Texas Tech first, then hope the Longhorns lose another game. Frankly, Oklahoma is a bit of a longshot. It's amazing that these three top teams are not only in the same conference, but in the same division.

... Florida?

Believe it or not, the Gators have racked up such massive style points from their beatdowns of Georgia and LSU that they've now put themselves in a position to play for the title despite losing to Houston Nutt's Ole Miss squad a month ago. Here's what they have to do to get there. The Gators must beat Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Citadel and Florida State, games in which they'll all be heavily favored, and then beat likely SEC West champion Alabama. It would helpful to the Gators if the Tide remain unbeaten until they meet in Atlanta to help with their strength of schedule argument, but even if Bama loses to LSU they'll still be highly regarded.

Florida has to hope for help from the Big XII, however, to climb high enough in the standings to book a trip to Miami. The most ideal scenario for Florida is that Texas Tech loses at least one game and that any team not named Texas wins the Big XII championship. That should seal off the Big XII and promote Florida as SEC champions to face off against Penn State.

... USC?

Without a doubt, the team with the most difficult hill to climb is Southern California. The Trojans' only loss came to Oregon State, a team that the Nittany Lions had their way with early in the season. Penn State destroyed the Beavers 45-15, and Oregon State paid it forward to USC just two weeks later with their 27-21 win. USC's problem isn't that it lost only one game; it's that they don't have any opportunity to make up for it with a marquee win. Only Cal (ranked at No. 21) remains as a game which offers even the slightest element of prestige for the Trojans. It doesn't matter how big the Trojans win in their remaining games, the only way they get back to playing for a crystal football this year is by hoping Penn State loses a game, and the Big XII or SEC champion has two losses when all is said and done. It's an unlikely scenario at best, but possible.

... Outliers?

We'd be remiss not to consider the chances of teams like Utah, Oklahoma State, and Boise State; so let's give them their due.

Utah, at 9-0, has not played a single ranked team this season. Normally beating Michigan puts a lot of bling on your resume, but not in the first year of the Rich Rodriguez era. The other teams Utah has played and beaten? UNLV, Utah State, Air Force, Weber State, Oregon State (hey!), Wyoming, Colorado State, and New Mexico. They'll play their first ranked team, No. 12 TCU, this week, and have San Diego State and No. 15 BYU remaining.

Utah's good, but they simply don't have the resume to make it to the top of the pile, even if they go unbeaten.

Oklahoma State may have a reasonable case that they don't belong in the "outlier" category. After all, they're 9-1, play in the toughest conference (and division!) of college football, and still have a chance to beat No. 2 Texas Tech, Colorado, and No. 6 Oklahoma. FanHouse feels that running the table is unlikely, but should it happen, the BCS formula still may not favor the Cowboys. Remember, Alabama, Penn State, and Florida all sit ahead in the standings. Oklahoma State winning out as conference champs likely favors an SEC vs. Big 10 matchup in the title game, for the third time in as many years.

And finally, lovable Boise State. The Broncos do have a decent road win over then-No. 17 Oregon, but have played absolutely nobody of consequence thereafter. A title is simply not in the cards for the Smurf Turf crew.

Making Sense of the BCS Picture: It's Anyone's Game to Lose originally appeared on NCAA Football FanHouse on Mon, 03 Nov 2008 11:54:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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