Remaining unbeatens could spark another late-season BCS dilemma
As we barrel toward a finish that may help prove why the BCS became a lame duck this past summer, various partisans will tout that a certain way of ranking teams is the only truly good way to rank teams. The reason? Because that particular ranking style puts the partisan's team in the BCS title game.
Things look messy now. At the moment, it's possible we might see an undefeated SEC champ, an undefeated Pac-12 champ, undefeated Kansas State and undefeated Notre Dame sitting atop the BCS standings on Dec. 2 with an undefeated Big East champ lurking somewhere in the top 10. Only two of those teams would be able to play for the national title, which would be an absolute disaster for the BCS if the people in charge hadn't already decided to scrap it. History tells us these entities won't all wind up undefeated and that the final rankings will be less messy than we think, but for a moment, let's imagine undefeated Chaos rules. (We'll ignore the most obvious solution: Realizing they could make a ton more money, conference leaders gather with bowl leaders and ESPN officials and quickly cobble together a two-year bridge deal and start the four-team playoff this season.)
Which teams would play for the title? Based on the current BCS rankings, the undefeated SEC champ (either Florida or Alabama) would face Kansas State. That would make some powerful people awfully angry, and rightfully so. But remember, the strength of schedule components used in the six computer rankings in the BCS formula only take into account games already played. Oregon's and Oregon State's strength of schedule will rise. Ditto for Notre Dame, which still must play at Oklahoma and USC. Because Kansas State has already played the best of the Big 12, its strength of schedule will not jump. That would leave the Wildcats vulnerable to a leap from the Pac-12 or from Notre Dame and would leave the Big 12 vulnerable to getting shafted by the BCS for the second consecutive season.
Oregon, because it is ranked No. 2 in both human polls and because it still must play USC, Stanford, Oregon State and probably USC again, would be the best candidate to jump someone. The Ducks are No. 6 or No. 7 in most of the computer polls because BCS leaders decided years ago that teams would run up the score if margin of victory were a component of the BCS selection process. They have refused to listen to calls for a limited margin-of-victory component -- capping the benefit at 21 points, for example -- that would help separate the teams that scrape by their opponents from the teams that crush their competition. This, by the way, is the same reason Alabama has threes, fours and fives sprinkled into its computer rankings. Jeff Sagarin's rankings at USA Today provide an excellent window into the difference a margin-of-victory component can make. The ELO_CHESS is not a '70s prog-rock band. It is the version of Sagarin's formula the BCS uses. Sagarin says ELO_CHESS is not as accurate in predicting future outcomes as his Pure Points Predictor rating, which does factor in margin of victory.
Here are Sagarin's ratings as used in the BCS:
2. Kansas State
5. Notre Dame
6. Oregon State
Here are Sagarin's ratings according to his Pure Points Predictor:
5. Notre Dame
6. Kansas State
7. Texas A&M
And here is one idiot's opinion as to where the teams should be ranked...
Last week: 1
Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0)The disparity between the human voters' opinion of the Crimson Tide and the computers' opinion is due partially to the lack of a margin-of-victory component in the formulas and partially to the fact that Alabama has not faced the meat of its schedule. The teams the Crimson Tide have played so far have gone 20-22. Alabama's next three opponents (Mississippi State, LSU, Texas A&M) have gone 19-3. Wins against all three would solidify 'Bama's hold on the top spot in the BCS rankings, though the Tide's astounding 32.7-point average margin of victory should take a hit. If, three weeks from today, that margin of victory has risen or remains unchanged, the Tide should probably just skip the Iron Bowl and the SEC Championship Game and advance straight to the AFC playoffs. (Nick Saban LOVES it when we say that.)
Last game: Beat Tennessee, 44-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Mississippi State
Last week: 2
Oregon Ducks (7-0)The computer rankings don't think much of Oregon at the moment, which is further proof that computers don't watch games. That will change beginning Nov. 3 as the Ducks hit the teeth of their schedule, but for now, the epicenter of BCS fretting is in the Pacific Northwest. At ease, Ducks. Only one SEC team can finish undefeated, and games against USC, Stanford and Oregon State will make the Ducks look far better in the eyes of the computers. Just as it would for Alabama, a limited margin of victory component would help the Ducks immensely. Unfortunately, common sense and the BCS never really got along.
Last game: Beat Arizona State, 43-21
Next game: Saturday vs. Colorado
Last week: 3
Florida Gators (7-0)Gators coach Will Muschamp was a tad peeved at the officials going into halftime of Florida's win against South Carolina Saturday. In the first quarter, the refs had pulled out the rare Roughing the Snapper call on a punt and kept alive a Gamecocks drive that ended in a field goal. In the second quarter, they had flagged the Gators defense for jumping offsides and nullified a Jelani Jenkins interception that had ended with Muschamp making a beautiful tackle on Jenkins on the sideline. That call allowed South Carolina to kick a field goal as the half expired, and Muschamp was fuming as he left the field. That anger produced this brilliant interview with Brady Ackerman of the Gator Sports Network. This is not a criticism of Muschamp's sideline demeanor. He's a football coach, not a Sunday School teacher. Football coaches yell. Sometimes they curse. This goes for Muschamp, Nick Saban, Brian Kelly or any other coach who occasionally explodes in the heat of a game. But this is a reminder that, every once in a while, we all must OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD! Though the two teams seem to be on opposite tracks in recent weeks, don't be shocked if Florida faces some adversity on the field against Georgia. Though they haven't done it much lately, the Bulldogs have a long, storied history of breaking Gators' hearts.
Last game: Beat South Carolina, 44-11
Next game: Saturday vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.
Last week: 4
Kansas State Wildcats (7-0)The knock against Kansas State in 2011 was that the Wildcats survived several tight games because of sheer luck. That is giving luck too much credit, but when a team wins seven games decided by seven points or fewer, luck plays some role. Saturday's win at West Virginia showed the 2012 Wildcats aren't merely lucky. They're significantly better than most of the teams they play. They're better than Texas Tech, too, but the Big 12 schedule is an absolute meat grinder. The Wildcats had their scare at Iowa State, but another one isn't out of the question in the nation's deepest conference. Still, if Kansas State can get past the Red Raiders Saturday, the odds of the Wildcats going 12-0 rise significantly because they'll have already survived the league's best. Then the epicenter of BCS fretting will shift to the Little Apple.
Last game: Beat West Virginia, 55-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas Tech
Last week: 5
|BYU into the end zone last week. The Sooners spread the field and work fast, and they will provide the ultimate test for a Notre Dame secondary that so far appears much improved. Notre Dame's defensive backs will have to prove they can cover one-on-one this week, because even the Irish's excellent front seven is going to have a hard time reaching Sooners quarterback Landry Jones before he releases the ball. This could be a huge week for 6-foot-6, 303-pound Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt's height and wingspan make it possible for him to knock down passes even if he can't get to Jones. Tuitt will have to swat down some balls to knock Oklahoma's offense out of sync. |
Last game: Beat BYU, 17-14
Next game: Saturday at Oklahoma
Last week: 6
Oklahoma Sooners (5-1)The Sooners are a fascinating team when viewed through the prism of advanced statistics. According to both Jeff Sagarin's real rankings and the Football Outsiders F/+ combined rating -- both of which include a margin-of-victory component -- Oklahoma is the second-best team in the nation behind Alabama. That isn't fair to Kansas State, which beat the Sooners in Norman, but it does offer a hint at future performance. It's also slightly jarring when juxtaposed with the Sooners' rankings in the computer rankings used by the BCS -- which don't factor in margin of victory. In those rankings, Oklahoma floats between No. 8 and No. 13. A win against Notre Dame would help the Sooners rise in those rankings, but it also would provide a non-computer prestige bump that could help immensely if a game in another Big 12 city goes a certain way. If Texas Tech beats Kansas State, it would create a three-way tie atop the Big 12. If that tie held, the Sooners' prestige and name-brand status would probably help them with human voters even more than a win against Notre Dame would help them with the microprocessor-powered ones.
Last game: Beat Kansas, 52-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Notre Dame
Last week: 7
LSU Tigers (7-1)Even though swimmer Ryan Lochte picked Auburn to win on ESPN's College GameDay, LSU beat Texas A&M and now has an extra week to prepare for Alabama. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, face 7-0 Mississippi State. Cue the SEC schedule conspiracy theories.
Last game: Beat Texas A&M, 24-19
Next game: Nov. 3 vs. Alabama
Last week: 10
Oregon State Beavers (6-0)Beavers starting quarterback Sean Mannion, who underwent surgery Oct. 10 to repair a torn meniscus, was available to play against Utah, but backup Cody Vaz led Oregon State to a closer-than-the-score-reflected win on a rainy night. Mannion is set to return this week, and the Beavers could use the boost. This excellent analysis of the Utah game from Oregon State site Building the Dam explains how Oregon State took advantage of some good fortune against the Utes, who fumbled on the goal line when they could have easily tied the game in the third quarter. If Oregon State plays that way against a quality Pac-12 opponent and doesn't get a little lucky, it can kiss that undefeated record goodbye.
Last game: Beat Utah, 21-7
Next game: Saturday at Washington
Last week: 13
Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-1)Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville is 5-5 against top-five teams in his coaching career. Those are pretty good odds. The Red Raiders won't have the advantage of the Lubbock vortex that can swallow opponents whole, but they do have a coach who knows how to prepare reasonably good teams to face favored excellent teams. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein has earned some well-deserved comparisons to Tim Tebow, but Klein would be better off not looking up what happened when Tebow played Tuberville's Auburn team during his Heisman season. Tuberville and Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp -- no, it wasn't fair -- designed a game plan to pound Tebow mercilessly every time he carried the ball. The beating affected his throwing, and Auburn pulled the upset. Don't be shocked if Tuberville and defensive coordinator Art Kaufman use a similar plan this week. Meanwhile, Red Raiders quarterback Seth Doege will have to stay hot against a defense that has already shut down Landry Jones and Geno Smith this season.
Last game: Beat TCU, 56-53 (3OT)
Next game: Saturday at Kansas State
Last week: 8
South Carolina Gamecocks (6-2)After a Dylan Thompson interception with five minutes remaining in the Gamecocks' implosion in Gainesville, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier looked to the heavens and covered his face with his play sheet. He had no answers, and he knew it. That's an amazing switch from two weeks earlier, when the Gamecocks pounded Georgia and looked like the second-best team in the SEC behind Alabama. If they can find that mojo again, they can still have an excellent season. If not, they'll find more disappointment. Spurrier said after the Florida game that he expects to start Connor Shaw this weekend even though he benched Shaw in favor of Thompson against the Gators. An interesting subplot to this game: Losses to South Carolina have been the kiss of death for embattled Tennessee coaches.
Last game: Lost to Florida, 44-11
Next game: Saturday vs. Tennessee
Last week: 11
Georgia Bulldogs (6-1)In the locker room following Georgia's way-too-close win at Kentucky, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt encapsulated this week perfectly. "You leaders, I want you to think about what this game means," Richt told his players in a video shown Sunday on his television show. "You've been talking about it all offseason since January. 'Our team, our time, no regrets.' Well, here we are. We're at the moment of truth." That's exactly what this is for Georgia, which seems to have top-five talent but hasn't achieved top-five results. Despite a blowout loss at South Carolina and narrow scrapes against Tennessee and Kentucky, the Bulldogs can still grab control of the SEC East by beating the Gators Saturday, and the ease of their SEC West draw (Ole Miss, Auburn) should allow them to cruise to the division title. That probably wouldn't sit well with Spurrier, whose team beat Georgia and finished second in the East last year because the Bulldogs got a favorable draw. If Georgia beats Florida this year, South Carolina's loss at LSU would keep the Gamecocks from being part of a three-way tie atop the division. Of course, in the words of a certain Georgia grad, the Bulldogs may have to OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD. Linebacker Jarvis Jones, who missed the Kentucky game with an ankle sprain, should be ready to go, but defensive end Abry Jones, who left the Kentucky game with an injured ankle, is not likely to play.
Last game: Beat Kentucky, 29-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.
Last Week: 9
Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0)The Buckeyes slapped together a win with coat hangers and duct tape Saturday. If the program rises as the programs have at Urban Meyer's other stops, the Purdue victory will be considered a cornerstone. Pretty much everything went wrong, and the Buckeyes found a way to win. Now they have to go to State College for the Ineligibowl, or, depending how things go the rest the season, the unofficial Big Ten championship game. Under first-year coach Bill O'Brien, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has made a tremendous leap. He might be the best passer the Buckeyes face all season. In three Big Ten games, the Nittany Lions have averaged 90.3 plays a game. (Chip Kelly tips his visor.) Ohio State's thin defense will have trouble with this kind of volume, so the Buckeyes need to bleed the clock when they have the ball.
Last game: Beat Purdue, 29-22 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Penn State
Last week: 12
Florida State Seminoles (7-1)Don't laugh, but the Duke meeting could be a preview of the ACC championship game. No offense to the wonderful job David Cutcliffe and his staff have done at Duke, but if you're wondering why Florida State and Clemson are almost invisible to the computers in the BCS rankings, this is why. The ACC simply isn't very good. Florida State will have to figure out how to deal with this going forward, because thanks to the new $50 million conference buyout, the Seminoles aren't going anywhere.
Last game: Beat Miami, 33-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Duke
Last week: 14
Clemson Tigers (6-1)The Tigers won a game with a major contribution from their defense? Nothing makes sense anymore. Saturday against Virginia Tech, Clemson defenders picked off the Hokies three times and made two critical fourth-down stops. Clemson already has an elite offense. It merely needs an adequate defense to earn national respectability. The Tigers still need someone to beat Florida State to get them back into the race for the ACC title, but if coordinator Brent Venables can keep making the Clemson defense better, it bodes well for the Tigers' fortunes beyond this season.
Last game: Beat Virginia Tech, 38-17
Next game: Thursday at Wake Forest
Last week: 16
USC Trojans (6-1)Penn State isn't the only pro-style offense capable of running at warp speed. The Trojans broke out a hurry-up scheme of their own Saturday against Colorado, and it got immediate results. USC's first three touchdown drives took less than three minutes combined. Granted, the opponent was probably the worst team in any of the six AQ leagues, but Colorado is just the type of doormat to try new schemes against. USC is very quietly keeping itself within striking distance of national title contention, and the schedule sets up nicely. This week, the Trojans will face a fast-moving, productive offense attached to a defense that can't stop Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and company. That, plus work against the Trojans' own hurry-up offense, should allow the defense to be acclimated by Nov. 3, when it will face the fastest offense in America in a game that will determine whether USC belongs in the national title conversation.
Last game: Beat Colorado, 50-6
Next game: Saturday at Arizona
Last week: 17
|Middle Tennessee. |
Last game: Beat Middle Tennessee, 45-3
Next game: Saturday at Alabama
Last week: 18
Stanford Cardinal (5-2)The Cardinal bounced back from a loss at Notre Dame by shutting down their rival. Now, Stanford has two games against the dregs of the Pac-12 to get healthy and sharpen schemes before heading into a two-week stretch that will define the Cardinal's season. Tailback Stepfan Taylor ran for a career-high 189 yards against Cal, and his success going forward should determine Stanford's offensive success. "He's the key cog to the offense," tight end Zach Ertz told The San Jose Mercury News. "We feel like when we can get him going, it sets up everything else."
Last game: Beat Cal, 21-3
Next game: Saturday vs. Washington State
Last week: 19
Texas A&M Aggies (5-2)The Aggies should be kicking themselves about the loss to LSU. What, too soon to bring up kicking? Field goal woes aside, Texas A&M hung with one of the nation's best teams Saturday. That should inspire confidence in a group that still has to play Alabama and Mississippi State. Coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff won't be satisfied with moral victories, though. Given the Aggies' talent level, if Sumlin and company can make this team believe it belongs at or near the top of the SEC West, it can get there and make things very interesting down the stretch.
Last game: Lost to LSU, 24-19
Next game: Saturday at Auburn
Last week: 15
|Dana Holgorsen plans to do. |
Did you watch? Yikes, indeed. West Virginia's defensive coaches will have to earn their paychecks during this bye week.
Last game: Lost to Kansas State, 55-14
Next game: Nov. 3 vs. TCU
Last week: 22
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-0)Rutgers coach Kyle Flood called Kent State tailback/kick returner Dri Archer the most dynamic offensive player in the country, and with apologies to the recently retired De'Anthony Thomas Yards-Per-Touch-O-Meter, Flood might have a point. Archer averages an absurd 10.1 yards a carry (on 68 carries!), 13.9 yards a catch and 47.4 yards a kickoff return. If Rutgers kicker Anthony DiPaula wants to remain on Flood's good side, he won't kick the ball anywhere near Archer Saturday.
Last game: Beat Temple, 35-10
Next game: Saturday vs. Kent State
Last week: 20
TCU Horned Frogs (5-2)Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson put it best after Saturday's loss to Texas Tech. "Welcome to the Big 12," Patterson told reporters. Instead of facing one or two conference foes a year that are capable of beating them, the Horned Frogs now play in a 10-team league in which eight of their conference rivals can beat them on a given day. It won't get any easier in Stillwater this Saturday, either.
Last game: Lost to Texas Tech, 56-53 (3OT)
Next game: Saturday at Oklahoma State
Last week: 21
Michigan Wolverines (5-2)It might have been a hideous win that reinforced every notion that the Big Ten is way down this year, but a win against Michigan State is a win against Michigan State for a senior class that had yet to beat the Spartans. Now comes another important hurdle. If Michigan, which dominated Nebraska in Ann Arbor last year, can beat the Cornhuskers, it can take complete control of the Legends Division. The Wolverines would still have to fight off Northwestern and Iowa, but they should be favored in both games. This group hasn't even sniffed a Big Ten title, but a win Saturday puts the Wolverines a huge step closer.
Last game: Beat Michigan State, 12-10
Next game: Saturday at Nebraska
Last week: 23
Arizona State Sun Devils (5-2)As I wrote last week, until some team proves it can play in the same zip code as Oregon, I'm not penalizing teams for getting crushed by the Ducks. The other positive news for the Sun Devils is that defensive tackle Will Sutton's knee injury wasn't as serious as it looked Thursday. Sutton is listed as week-to-week, but that is far better than the alternative.
Last game: Lost to Oregon, 43-21
Next game: Saturday vs. UCLA
Last Week: 24
Louisville Cardinals (7-0)This will be the biggest test of the season for the Cardinals, who have yet to show they can put away an inferior team. Cincinnati -- which might be just as good as Louisville -- is coming off a loss to Toledo, and the Bearcats will be eager to overcome that embarrassment on a national stage. This is the Big East, so the loser of this game shouldn't consider its conference title chances dead. Still, the winner will be in a far more comfortable position.
Last game: Beat South Florida, 27-25
Next game: Friday vs. Cincinnati
Last week: NR
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (6-1)The Bulldogs bounced back from their wild loss to Texas A&M by crushing Idaho, but nothing they can do from this point forward will resurrect their BCS buster chances. Still, they belong in this spot. If you're a fan of the teams just below, ask yourself this: Would you want your team playing the Bulldogs? No. You wouldn't.
Last game: Beat Idaho, 70-28
Next game: Saturday at New Mexico State
Next five: Boise State, Texas, Ohio, Penn State, Arizona
Andy Staples' Power Rankings also serve as his ballot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.