'Bama, Oregon lead unbeatens, but history says BCS picture to change
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy offered some great advice. Always carry a towel, for instance. But the best advice was inscribed on the cover of Ford Prefect's copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide.
Yes, Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame and Kansas State are playing at what seems like a different level than the rest of the teams in the nation. That doesn't mean they'll all finish undefeated and create a BCS mess that rips the space/time continuum. In fact, history suggests they won't.
I'm just as guilty as anyone else of panicking. After Notre Dame beat Oklahoma Saturday, I sent out a tweet imploring the powers that be to figure out a way to stage a four-team playoff if the aforementioned teams all finish undefeated. I still think they should if this scenario unfolds. It would be silly to take less money to stage an inferior championship -- especially since the people in charge have already admitted the BCS is inferior and created a system to replace it beginning in 2014.
But the past 10 years of results suggest those four teams won't survive unscathed. From 2002-11, 62 teams entered the 10th week of games undefeated. Of those, 22 remained undefeated after Championship Saturday. So an undefeated team at this point in the season has about a one-in-three chance of finishing without a loss. Considering Alabama and Oregon have yet to face the toughest stretches of their schedules, Kansas State still has to face last year's Big 12 champ and Notre Dame will visit the Coliseum for what should be Matt Barkley's final home game at USC, the odds seem to favor at least a few of these teams taking a loss before the Dec. 2 poll that will decide who plays for the national title.
If it doesn't happen and we have another 2009 or 2004 on our hands, I remain confident the conference commissioners will find a way to make more money and stage the four-team tournament they already plan to stage beginning in two years. Oh, who am I kidding? They won't do that. It would make too much sense.
Let's hope it doesn't come to that. These historical results suggest it won't.
Entering Week 10: Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Ohio State*
*Ineligible for postseason because of NCAA sanctions
Entering Week 10: LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Boise State, Houston
After Championship Saturday: LSU
Entering Week 10: Oregon, Boise State, Auburn, TCU, Utah
After Championship Saturday: Auburn, Oregon, TCU
Entering Week 10: Florida, Texas, Alabama, Cincinnati, Boise State, TCU, Iowa
After Championship Saturday: Alabama, Texas, TCU, Cincinnati, Boise State
Entering Week 10: Texas, Alabama, Penn State, Texas Tech, Utah, Boise State, Ball State, Tulsa
After Championship Saturday: Utah
Missing: BCS champ Florida
Entering Week 10: Ohio State, Boston College, Arizona State, Kansas, Hawaii
After Championship Saturday: Hawaii
Missing: BCS champ LSU
Entering Week 10: Ohio State, Michigan, West Virginia, Louisville, Boise State, Rutgers
After Championship Saturday: Ohio State, Boise State
Missing: BCS champ Florida
Entering Week 10: USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, Alabama, UCLA
After Championship Saturday: USC, Texas
Entering Week 10: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Miami, Wisconsin, Utah, Boise State
After Championship Saturday: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah, Boise State
Entering Week 10: Oklahoma, Miami, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, TCU
After Championship Saturday: None
Missing: BCS champ LSU
Entering Week 10: Miami, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame, NC State, Bowling Green
After Championship Saturday: Miami, Ohio State
Last week: 1
Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0)While the three undefeated teams below must win and politic for BCS position, all Alabama has to do is win. The Crimson Tide have 168 of 174 first-place votes in the Coaches' and Harris Interactive polls -- the six non-Alabama voters are all in the Harris Poll -- and with games against LSU and Texas A&M in the next two weeks, Alabama's average computer ranking of No. 3 could also rise. Of course, the Crimson Tide aren't really playing LSU or Texas A&M. They are playing against a standard that exists only in the mind of coach Nick Saban and his players. Judging by Saban's demeanor at the end of the Mississippi State game, the Crimson Tide are currently winless against that standard. Meanwhile, Alabama has crushed everyone else. The competition gets much better this week in Baton Rouge, though. Saturday, we'll find out if the Tide are truly playing at a different level than everyone else or if Alabama is just a very good team that might be beaten by another very good team.
Last game: Beat Mississippi State, 38-7
Next game: Saturday at LSU
Last week: 2
Oregon Ducks (8-0)USC didn't hold up its end of the bargain to give the Pac-12 a showcase that rivals Alabama-LSU in the SEC, but Oregon can still make a statement at the Coliseum. This game might be more important for Oregon's defense, which has been excellent to date. (An example: The Ducks shut out Arizona, which has averaged 44.7 points against everyone else.) Stopping Matt Barkley and dynamic receiving duo Marqise Lee and Robert Woods would earn the Ducks' defense some much-deserved respect. Judging by the performance of the USC defense against Arizona -- which runs the middle-class-man's version of the Oregon offense -- the Trojans won't have any answer for Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. If the Ducks can dominate USC the way they have dominated everyone else, they should siphon some more second-place votes in the human polls away from Notre Dame and Kansas State. Margin of victory won't matter to the computers -- which dislike the Ducks because of a soft nonconference schedule -- but USC's win total will. Oregon sits at No. 4 in the BCS standings, but the Ducks are within an eyelash of No. 3 Notre Dame with the toughest part of their schedule still to come. Jumping to No. 2 in the BCS is plenty possible if Oregon keeps dominating.
Last game: Beat Colorado, 70-14
Next game: Saturday at USC
Last week: 5
Last game: Beat Oklahoma, 30-13
Next game: Saturday vs. Pittsburgh
Last week: 4
Kansas State Wildcats (8-0)Again, this is not intended to slight the Wildcats, who are remarkably consistent. They have fulfilled the prophecy of the three Big 12 coaches who told me during the spring that Kansas State would be the team to beat in the league. Collin Klein remains atop most Heisman ballots, and with good reason. There are no easy answers in this section of the rankings, but the Wildcats may find themselves hopping back up if they log yet another convincing win against an Oklahoma State team that looked great with Wes Lunt back at quarterback Saturday.
Last game: Beat Texas Tech, 55-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Oklahoma State
Last week: 7
LSU Tigers (7-1)It was only 2009, but it seems like forever since there was a time when we didn't consider the Tigers and Crimson Tide equals atop the college football world. Even though this is a night game at Tiger Stadium, LSU is a decided underdog. The betting lines opened with Alabama as an eight-point favorite, and gamblers bet Alabama hard enough to push the number to nine within hours. The Tigers are in an interesting spot here. If they beat Alabama, they'll become the first one-loss team in line for a shot at the national title, but that might not be good enough if any two of Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame remain undefeated. So, if LSU wins, it's possible the Tigers might end the SEC's streak of BCS champions at six. They can't worry about that, of course. They want to win a second consecutive SEC title. If the historical averages hold, they would probably get their title shot by winning out. But that assumes LSU beats Alabama, and even though the Tigers enjoyed an open date while the Crimson Tide prepared to drill Mississippi State, these two teams seem fairly far apart. Still, the thought of LSU as a more-than-a-touchdown underdog at night at Tiger Stadium in a game that could decide the SEC West seems inconceivable. In fact, it reminds me of something Les Miles said at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., in 2009 about the idea of LSU playing spoiler. "I don't think that big tiger lies in the weeds," Miles said. You can insert your own Honey Badger/Jordan Jefferson joke there, but do not easily write off the players currently on LSU's roster.
Last game: Beat Texas A&M, 24-19
Next game: Saturday vs. Alabama
Last week: 6
Oklahoma Sooners (5-2)I have two-loss Oklahoma ranked ahead of undefeated Louisville and a host of one-loss teams. What was I thinking? Ask yourself this: What would happen if Oklahoma met any of the teams below on a neutral field? Exactly. The Sooners have lost to two of the nation's best teams and hung close in both instances. They won't win the national title, and they probably won't win the Big 12, but if your team isn't above them on this list, you don't want to play them.
Last game: Lost to Notre Dame, 30-13
Next game: Saturday at Iowa State
Last week: 11
Georgia Bulldogs (7-1)Ranking the three best SEC East teams was an absolute nightmare. Georgia has the inside track to win the division after beating Florida, but South Carolina stomped the Bulldogs by 28 points. Of course, the Gamecocks also lost to the Gators by 33. For now, Georgia goes in front, but that could change as the teams go forward. Bulldogs safety Shawn Williams called his fellow defenders "soft" as they prepared for Florida, and the tactic worked, because Georgia's defense was as hard as Stone Mountain against Florida. Linebacker Jarvis Jones wrecked seemingly everything Florida tried, and the defense finally looked like the all-star unit everyone predicted when multiple players decided to put off the NFL for a year and return to Athens. This week, the Bulldogs have to avoid a letdown against much-improved Ole Miss. If they can do that, they'll only have to beat winless-in-the-SEC Auburn to clinch a second consecutive division title.
Last game: Beat Florida, 17-9
Next game: Saturday vs. Ole Miss
Last week: 3
Florida Gators (7-1)For the giant group of Florida fans who believe football was invented in 1990, Saturday was a punch to the stomach. For the Baby Boomers in the Florida fan base, it was a reminder of their youth. In the 1960s and '70s, Georgia used to routinely crush the Gators' dreams. Florida coach Will Muschamp said all along that his team had little margin for error, and he was correct. The Gators couldn't hang on to the ball, and that carelessness cost them a game and probably cost them the SEC East title. Florida still has something to play for, though. If the Gators win out -- which would include a win against a very good Florida State team -- they'll be 11-1. If Georgia wins the East and gets pounded by the West champ in Atlanta, then Florida might be in line for a BCS at-large berth from a bowl skittish about selecting a team that got drilled in a conference title game. For now, the Gators will have to play well and be the world's biggest Ole Miss fans.
Last game: Lost to Georgia, 17-9
Next game: Saturday vs. Missouri
Last week: 10
South Carolina Gamecocks (7-2)Let's hope the prognosis is correct and Gamecocks tailback Marcus Lattimore can recover from the dislocated knee he suffered Saturday and eventually play football again. Lattimore is a class act and a phenomenal player, and the injury is a terrible stroke of bad luck. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier seemed hopeful Lattimore might be able to return to action as a fifth-year senior in 2014. "We're optimistic his football days are still ahead of him," Spurrier said Sunday on a conference call. "There is a history of guys coming back from this." As for the Gamecocks, they'll have an open date to figure out how to move forward without Lattimore. They did it last year after Lattimore tore his ACL, and a running combo of quarterback Connor Shaw and tailback Kenny Miles remains a formidable option.
Last game: Beat Tennessee, 38-35
Next game: Nov. 10 vs. Arkansas
Last Week: 12
Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0)Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier switched from No. 10 to No. 48 Saturday to honor a friend. Gary Curtis, who served as team manager while Shazier played at Plantation (Fla.) High, died recently (Curtis suffered from muscular dystrophy), and Shazier paid tribute with a number switch and the biggest series of his career to this point. With the game still in doubt in the third quarter, Shazier sacked Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin. On the next play, Shazier intercepted McGloin and returned it for a touchdown. Enjoy Shazier, Buckeyes. He's another one of those class acts, and he's only going to get better as a player.
Last game: Beat Penn State, 35-23
Next game: Saturday vs. Illinois
Last week: 13
Florida State Seminoles (8-1)The e-mails will slow down this week for Jerry Fisher, the political science academic coordinator at Florida State who receives much of the e-mail intended for Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher. Florida State has done all it can since a loss at NC State, but the Seminoles will remain stuck behind the other one-loss teams until they get to prove themselves against Florida Nov. 24. Still, they should use this bye week wisely. An impressive performance on a Thursday night at Virginia Tech might help the Seminoles with voters who haven't watched them since the Clemson game.
Last game: Beat Duke, 48-7
Next game: Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech
Last week: 14
Clemson Tigers (7-1)If the ACC could get a second BCS at-large slot for the second consecutive year -- which could be tough considering the general lack of respect for the league -- the Tigers would be an ideal candidate. They would have to end their three-year losing streak to rival South Carolina, but an 11-1 Clemson that doesn't play in the conference title game because of a loss at Florida State would make an attractive candidate. Expect the Tigers to get better down the stretch. Thursday against Wake Forest, receiver Sammy Watkins finally cracked the 100-yard mark and kept going until he became the first Clemson receiver to break 200 receiving yards in a game. Yes, it was only Wake Forest, but if Watkins is finally in a groove, Clemson's offense could be impossible to stop.
Last game: Beat Wake Forest, 42-13
Next game: Saturday at Duke
Last week: 18
Texas A&M Aggies (6-2)In the next two weeks, we'll know exactly how good Texas A&M is. The Aggies have comported themselves well in their first season in the SEC, but they'll get a full taste of the difficulty of the SEC West with trips to Starkville and Tuscaloosa. Beating Mississippi State would firmly plant Texas A&M in the No. 3 spot in the SEC West, and that should scare the hell out of the rest of the league. Texas A&M has the infrastructure of an LSU or an Alabama and a better recruiting base, and the recent struggles of Texas have given elite recruits in the Lone Star State another reason to consider the state's SEC team. If the Aggies can get within striking distance of LSU and Alabama in Year 1, imagine what could happen by Year 5.
Last game: Beat Auburn, 63-21
Next game: Saturday at Mississippi State
Last week: 8
Oregon State Beavers (6-1)After the Beavers' closer-than-the-score win against Utah, it appeared the In-N-Out Burger Buddies' time atop the Pac-12 North standings was drawing to a close. Like Florida in the SEC, the Beavers had a thin margin for error. Four Sean Mannion interceptions against Washington pushed the error count too high, and Oregon State fell from the ranks of the undefeated. Coach Mike Riley replaced Mannion, who had missed the previous two games following minor knee surgery, with backup Cody Vaz, but Vaz couldn't rally the Beavers against the Huskies. Monday, Riley named Vaz the starter for this week's Arizona State game.
Last game: Lost to Washington, 20-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Arizona State
Last week: 17
Stanford Cardinal (6-2)Washington State showed no respect for Stanford's passing game, loading the box to stop the run. The result should have been a career day for Cardinal quarterback Josh Nunes. Instead, Nunes struggled and the Cougars held Stanford tailback Stepfan Taylor to only 58 rushing yards. Colorado probably can't beat the Cardinal no matter what scheme it uses, but every other team on Stanford's schedule can shut down the Cardinal's offense if Nunes and the receivers don't punish defenses for stacking the box.
Last game: Beat Washington State, 24-17
Next game: Saturday at Colorado
Last week: 16
Last game: Lost to Alabama, 38-7
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas A&M
Last week: 9
Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-2)This is a prove-it game for Tommy Tuberville and the Red Raiders, whose nonconference schedule was pillow soft and whose wins against West Virginia and TCU don't look as impressive as the season progresses. Texas barely escaped Kansas last week. A team that needs a last-minute touchdown drive to win in Lawrence should not be able to win in Lubbock. Besides, if Tuberville wants one of those SEC job openings this offseason, he'll need to make a strong case. Beating Texas would bolster the claims of the Red Raiders and Tuberville.
Last game: Lost to Kansas State, 55-24
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas
Last week: 19
Last game: Lost to Kansas State, 55-14
Next game: Saturday vs. TCU
Last Week: 24
Louisville Cardinals (8-0)The Cardinals are the last undefeated team in the Big East, but not by much. After convincing wins against Kentucky and Missouri State to open the season, Louisville's average margin of victory in its past six games is 3.9 points. The Cardinals have lived dangerously and thus far survived thanks to a quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) who seems to thrive in crunch time. But the Big East schedule is a cruel mistress, and she'll throw a ho-hum noon start out there against a seemingly lackluster team that has the motivation and specialized knowledge to topple a conference title contender. Temple coach Steve Addazio spent five years playing against Charlie Strong defenses every day in practice at Florida. While this means Strong should also know how to attack Addazio's offense, it makes the chess match that much more intriguing.
Last game: Beat Cincinnati, 34-31 (OT)
Next game: Saturday vs. Temple
Last week: NR
Arizona Wildcats (5-3)Matt Scott left the field after a hard hit late in Saturday's win against USC and vomited. That led most watching to assume Scott had suffered a concussion. Sunday, Scott passed medical tests and practiced. Monday, he said he'll be good to go for the UCLA game. This inspired a lot of understandable hand-wringing. Concussions are serious business. For his part, coach Rich Rodriguez said trainers used the proper procedures when treating Scott Saturday. Scott told the Arizona Daily Star Monday that he didn't think he had a concussion. As for the vomiting, apparently Scott is a puker.
Last game: Beat USC, 39-36
Next game: Saturday at UCLA
Last week: 15
USC Trojans (6-2)The Trojans might need to pull off a shocker at this point to stay alive in the race for the Pac-12 South title. USC's season hasn't gone as planned, but Saturday gives the Trojans a chance to make a statement on a national stage. Unfortunately, a defense that gives up 588 yards to Arizona might give up 700 to Oregon.
Last game: Lost to Arizona, 39-36
Next game: Saturday vs. Oregon
Last week: NR
Oklahoma State Cowboys (5-2)If anyone knows how difficult it is to negotiate the Big 12's round-robin schedule, it's the Cowboys. They might have played for the national title last year if not for one bad night in Ames, Iowa. Saturday, Oklahoma State can do to Kansas State what Iowa State did to the Cowboys. The talent gap between teams in the Big 12 is not so great that an above-average team such as Oklahoma State can't go on the road and beat an elite team such as Kansas State. "That's the fun thing with our league right now with fans and media, and not so fun for coaches," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy told The Oklahoman. It could be fun for the Cowboys, too. Quarterback Wes Lunt made his first start in six weeks against TCU and threw for 324 yards. Oklahoma State can control its Big 12 fate with a win Saturday, and it also could shake up the top of the BCS rankings in the process.
Last game: Beat TCU, 36-14
Next game: Saturday at Kansas State
Last week: NR
UCLA Bruins (6-2)Could UCLA win a Pac-12 South title without help from the NCAA this year? Absolutely. The Bruins, who backed into a division title last year because USC was ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, can win their way to the Pac-12 title game with a few more thrillers like their victory in Tempe Saturday -- when Ka'imi Fairbairn kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. This week's visit from Arizona will likely be an elimination game. The Wildcats already have three Pac-12 losses, but all three came to teams from the North Division. So if they keep winning, they'll hold every head-to-head tiebreaker in the South. USC is probably going to pick up its third Pac-12 loss to Oregon, but if UCLA keeps winning, that wouldn't matter. Arizona State only has two conference losses but lost to UCLA and still must play USC and Arizona. If the Bruins, who don't have to play Oregon but do have to play Stanford, can win Saturday, they'll be in the driver's seat.
Last game: Beat Arizona State, 45-43
Next game: Saturday vs. Arizona
Last week: NR
Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-2)Last week's win against Michigan was the analog to last year's win against Michigan State. Each win put the Cornhuskers in the thick of the race for the Legends Division title. What happened last year? Nebraska flopped the following week against Northwestern. Michigan State is wounded, suffering through a disappointing season and holding a 2-3 Big Ten record. The Spartans could salvage some pride by beating Nebraska. Nebraska, meanwhile, could run its Legends Division record to a commanding 3-0. If the Cornhuskers want to go to Indianapolis, they need to win games like this one.
Last game: Beat Michigan, 23-9
Next game: Saturday at Michigan State
Last week: 25
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (7-1)The Boise State fans are mad that I don't have the Broncos ranked despite their seven-game win streak. When I asked them on Twitter which Top 25 caliber teams Boise State has beaten, they couldn't provide an answer. Boise State's best wins are a 7-6 victory against BYU -- which is 5-4 with losses to Boise State, two really good teams (Notre Dame and Oregon State) and Utah -- and a Fresno State team with two good losses (Boise State and Oregon) and one mediocre one (Tulsa). The Broncos have also lost to Michigan State, which has no business being ranked. So if the Broncos have no quality wins and have lost to an unranked team, why should I rank them? You could ask the same of the Bulldogs, who I have ranked here at No. 25. Louisiana Tech has a narrow loss to Texas A&M, a team I ranked No. 13 this week, and no quality wins. It's a judgment call. It's close, but if they played on a neutral field, I think Louisiana Tech would win. If Boise State had another quality win to provide as evidence, I'd probably rank the Broncos. But the premium out-of-conference opponent they scheduled didn't live up to its preseason hype, and their other games don't tell us much. It isn't Boise State's fault that Michigan State flopped, but it is Boise State's fault that it lost to Michigan State. If a team doesn't want a ranking decision to be a judgment call, it has to provide the evidence when it has the chance. And after all that explanation, there's this: If Louisiana Tech isn't crushing teams in the WAC, and if Boise State keeps crushing teams in the Mountain West, then Boise State could hop the Bulldogs and move even higher. The coaches who vote in the Coaches' Poll have Boise State at No. 14. If that holds, I imagine we'll find a concerted effort by non-AQ coaches to boost the Broncos. This is fine with me; coaches in AQ conferences have been voting as blocs for years. If Boise State somehow winds up in a BCS bowl because of this, it's no worse than Virginia Tech getting the Sugar Bowl spot Boise State deserved last year.
Last game: Beat New Mexico State, 28-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas San-Antonio