Saturday will simplify SEC race -- and national title picture in turn
The BCS propagandists' mantra of "every game counts" seems awfully tough to swallow when a national title contender (Auburn) opens November against an FCS opponent (Chattanooga), but the underlying logic isn't a complete crock. The current system does imbue certain regular-season games with added significance.
It may not make up for all the payday slop we have to watch in September or the gross injustice certain schools suffer every December, but days such as Saturday -- Auburn-Chattanooga notwithstanding -- certainly help. Alabama and LSU will face off in Baton Rouge to decide which one-loss SEC power can cling to its national title aspirations. Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, TCU and Utah will play an elimination game that will decide the Mountain West Conference title. It also will (most likely) elevate the winner into a BCS bowl and leave the loser in the also-ran bowl dust. Most importantly, it will push the winner closer to a berth in the BCS title game.
Saturday also will simplify my ballot. Only one SEC team besides Auburn will remain in striking distance of the top. One top five team is guaranteed to lose, and I'll only have to imagine how four undefeated teams might fare if they played one another. The joy of the day won't make me run and hug BCS coordinator Bill Hancock, but for 24 hours, I won't be a completely insufferable pro-playoff loudmouth.
Last Week: 1
Oregon Ducks (8-0)A lot of Auburn fans believe the Tigers have a better résumé than the Ducks. That's debatable. Auburn has four very good wins (at Mississippi State, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU), while Oregon only has two (Stanford, at USC), and Auburn's opponents have a far better cumulative record than Oregon's opponents. But the Cardinal could beat either three or all four of Auburn's best vanquished foes, and Oregon beat Stanford by three touchdowns. Until someone besides Arizona State gets within 20 points of the Ducks, it's going to be tough to downgrade them.
Last game: Beat USC, 53-32
Next game: Saturday vs. Washington
Last Week: 2
Boise St. Broncos (7-0)Only two teams left on Boise State's schedule can offer the Broncos even the slightest challenge. Hawaii is one of them. The Warriors lead the nation in passing at 395.4 yards per game. Unfortunately, Hawaii ranks 111th in the nation in rushing. Boise State's defense doesn't even have to make the Warriors' offense one-dimensional. It already is. That won't work on the blue turf.
Last game: Beat Louisiana Tech, 49-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Hawaii
Last Week: 3
TCU Horned Frogs (9-0)Looking for an impressive, under-the-radar win? Auburn's road win at Mississippi State looks quite awesome in hindsight, but the gold standard for these wins might be TCU's 45-10 annihilation of Baylor (currently 7-2) in Week 3. If the Horned Frogs can get past Utah, that win could loom larger -- especially if Baylor continues to stun the members of the Big 12 South. Of course, it would be foolish to assume the Horned Frogs will win easily in Utah. The Utes haven't lost at home since September 2007.
Last game: Beat UNLV, 48-6
Next game: Saturday at Utah
Last Week: 4
Auburn Tigers (9-0)Auburn fans constantly want to know why I hate their team so much. On the contrary, I don't hate the Tigers at all. They're a fabulous team, and they have the nation's most dominant player in Cam Newton. I'm not ignoring Auburn's résumé, either. It is excellent. But at the top of the poll, I'm asked to compare apples (AQ-conference teams) with oranges (non-AQs). So I have to try to guess what would happen if Auburn played against Boise State or TCU. My personal opinion is that Boise State or TCU would win because they have prolific offenses and disciplined defenses. I could be wrong, but that's my opinion. Fortunately for Auburn, the voters in the coaches' poll and Harris poll and the computer rankings disagree with me. Guess who you'd rather have on your side? This week's Disgrace to the University doesn't care about that. Here's what Gail in Atlanta has to say, unedited: "just a comment on you article about Oregon and their breakneck speed over USC- you forgot to mention that Auburn has beaten 4 ranked team (that are actually still ranked this morning and all who won yesterday while Oregon has beaten two-one that will be no longer ranked taday- and outside of UCLA and Standford the rest of their opponets have loosing records. Thanks for the luv. If Auburn wins the NC, I would prefer that you don't jump on our bandwagon. Call in sick that day..." Folks, if you're going to misspell the name of the school in Palo Alto, at least call it Stansbury. Then I'll just think you're a big Saved By The Bell fan.
Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 51-31
Next game: Saturday vs. Chattanooga
Last Week: 5
Utah Utes (8-0)Utah is staging a Blackout for Saturday's showdown. As any faithful reader of the Power Rankings knows, this is a terrible idea because the football gods frown on such high-school shenanigans. But the football gods might let this one slide. Utah will wear special black-and-camouflage jerseys that will be auctioned off later to help support the Wounded Warrior Project, which aids wounded combat veterans. The football gods smile on this.
Last game: Beat Air Force, 28-23
Next game: Saturday vs. TCU
Last Week: 9
Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1)Alabama is the one-loss team with the best chance to still make the BCS title game -- possibly over an undefeated non-AQ team -- but the Crimson Tide also have the toughest remaining schedule of anyone in the top 10. If Alabama wins at LSU on Saturday, it will turn around and face a 7-2 Mississippi State team coming off a bye week. After FCS creampuff Georgia State, the Crimson Tide then must face Auburn -- which also will be coming off a bye week. Get through all that, and the Tide would still have to avenge a loss to South Carolina or beat Florida a second time. If Alabama gets through that gauntlet, it may have a case for the title.
Last game: Beat Tennessee, 41-10
Next game: Saturday at LSU
Last Week: 15
Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-1)It was a leap of faith to bring Nebraska this high, but the Cornhuskers' loss to Texas truly does look like a fluke after two impressive wins in the last two weeks. Nebraska controls its destiny in the Big 12 North, but it still has four conference games left to play before the Big 12 title game. Another hiccup could be a disaster, but the Huskers seem to have addressed their issues. What remains to be seen is if quarterback Taylor Martinez -- who sat out Monday's practice -- can recover from the leg injury he suffered against Missouri in time to play Saturday.
Last game: Beat Missouri, 31-17
Next game: Saturday at Iowa State
Last Week: 8
Wisconsin Badgers (7-1)Those who read my rant about head-to-head wins a few weeks back will wonder why Michigan State isn't in this spot. After all, the Spartans and Badgers have the same record, and Michigan State won the head-to-head matchup. But it's more complicated than that. Wisconsin won at Iowa a week before the Hawkeyes crushed Michigan State. The only reason Iowa isn't also a one-loss team is because the Hawkeyes dared challenge themselves by playing at Arizona. Should I punish Iowa for playing a tough schedule? No. So I considered Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State as teams with similar résumés that all beat one another. At the moment, Wisconsin seems to be the best of the three.
Last game: Beat Iowa, 31-30
Next game: Saturday at Purdue
Last Week: 10
Ohio St. Buckeyes (8-1)Since losing to Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have beaten two inferior conference opponents by a combined score of 101-10. They'll get a bit more of a challenge after their bye week, but they should be able to beat Penn State. That will set up a trip to Iowa that should help untangle the Big Ten title race.
Last game: Beat Minnesota, 52-10
Next game: Nov. 13 vs. Penn State
Last Week: 11
LSU Tigers (7-1)Everyone assumes Alabama is the one-loss SEC team with a shot at the BCS title, but what about the Tigers? Yes, they'd need two teams to beat Auburn to win the SEC West, but stranger things have happened. If LSU's offense ever decides to click, the Tigers can beat anyone. Saturday could determine which direction LSU's season will go. Last year, the Tigers were 7-1 going into the Alabama game and wound up losing three of their last five.
Last game: Lost to Auburn, 24-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Alabama