Let the fun begin. Photo: USA Today Sports
The polls have had their say and no the computer rankings have calculated who the top teams in college football are. Alabama is number one, Florida State is second and Oregon and Ohio State are hoping to wiggle in to one of the top two spots over the next seven weeks. Fire up the engines because the race to Pasadena is officially underway. Now the question is which of the BCS contenders has the best chance to get to the BCS Championship with one of those top two rankings that awards a chance to play for the crystal ball.
Why They Will Get There: Simply put, Alabama is the best team in the country. You would think by now we are wise enough to not question Nick Saban's program because every time one is raised about Alabama the Crimson Tide goes out and flex their muscle on the scoreboard. Alabama remains the favorite to win the SEC championship, and that has been the ticket to a BCS Championship six out of the last seven seasons. Alabama continues to lead the way in the human polls by taking first place in the Harris poll and the USA Today coaches poll. The computers also respect Alabama as well, ranking the Crimson Tide second in the computer rankings used for the BCS standings.
What's Stopping Them: The SEC has been beating up on their own this season. Take last week for example. South Carolina, Georgia and Florida all lost on the road to pave the road for Missouri in the SEC East. In the west we saw LSU and Texas A&M each stumble. No team appears to be safe in the SEC, and now all sights are set on Alabama's attempt to get through the regular season unscathed. The two games that stand out are against LSU at home and the road game at Auburn. When LSU is playing their best football they may be one of the most complete teams in the SEC. Auburn has surged this season and comes off a win over Texas A&M on the road. This year's Iron Bowl could be wildly entertaining. The SEC East may not have a team capable of running with Alabama, but in a one-game situation like that you just never know.
Outlook: Even if Alabama gets tripped up along the way, they may still lead the pack of one-loss teams, so the odds may still be in Alabama's favor. Bottom line, it is probably going to take two losses to knock Alabama out of contention. It's not impossible to see happening, but it is not at all very likely.
2. Florida State
Why They Will Get There: The Seminoles have the head start by starting the BCS portion of the season ranked second in the polls. After blowing away Clemson the pollsters have been quick to react, but the computers responded even more. Florida State jumped up to third in the human polls but first in the computer rankings. Florida State will have some chances to pad their profile as well, with what could be another battle of top ten programs in a couple of weeks when they face (potentially) undefeated Miami, and of course they will play the regular season finale against their SEC rival Florida. As long as Florida State can avoid a letdown against North Carolina State this weekend, the chances could start to look pretty good for the Seminoles if they continue to play the way they have proven capable of doing. It will help Florida State's cause if Florida can bounce back in to the top 25 by the end of the regular season to add one more win over a ranked team and if they could face Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game instead of a rematch with Miami. The Hokies are currently ranked 14th in the BCS and could crack the top ten if they reach the ACC title game. Florida State will be pulling for the Hokies to finish strong to provide one last respected opponent.
What's Stopping Them: The computer polls may be in love with Florida State now, but will they still have the same outlook after Oregon plays UCLA and Stanford and Oregon State? If the numbers being crunched come down to Florida State and Oregon, which school will have the advantage? This could be something that comes back to hurt Florida State, especially if Clemson takes another hit or two (they do play South Carolina of course) or possibly if they have to play Miami a second time. Maybe Florida State has the computers in their favor, I'm not sure, but if they slip from first in the computers one or two spots, that could end up making a difference in the final BCS standings.
Outlook: Florida State is as deserving of this spot as anyone right now, but their outlook is certainly a question mark. If this Florida State team is different from teams of past years, then the Seminoles will avoid the inevitable letdown game. There appears to be something different about this team though, and that is very encouraging. Ultimately I think another team passes them if the records are identical, but who wouldn't want to be in Florida State's position right now?
Marcus Mariota will have plenty of time to pass Florida State. Photo: USA Today Sports
Why They Will Get There: Oregon is the second best team in the country and they will have their chance to start making their case this weekend and next. Oregon hosts UCLA, who despite losing to Stanford last weekend is still considered the Pac 12 South favorite, and travels to Stanford next week. If Oregon wins both of those games, then the computers should start swinging in their favor to close the gap on Florida State. After that, Oregon should be able to keep pace in the BCS race on their way to a trip to Pasadena. The key game may actually be The Civil War, the regular season finale against Oregon State. People have forgotten about Oregon State since losing to Eastern Washington in the first week of the year, but they may be the team that is most capable of knocking the Pac 12 out of the BCS picture entirely.
What's Stopping Them: Stanford still has the defense that can slow down Oregon's offense like few others may be able to, and playing in Palo Alto has seen Stanford play pretty well in big conference games this season. If there is one team likely to beat Oregon, it is Stanford, and given the timing of the game it may be enough to keep Oregon out of the BCS hunt.
Outlook: You still have to like Oregon's chances. As long as they have the human polls in their favor, as they do now, the Ducks could very well turn the computer rankings in their favor in a short amount of time.
4. Ohio State
Why They Will Get There: The Big Ten is Ohio State's to lose. With Wisconsin and Northwestern already behind them, Ohio State's path to an undefeated regular season is beginning to clear up for them. Five games remain in Ohio State's regular season, starting this weekend at home against Penn State. Ohio State should be the favorite the rest of the way in Big Ten play, even when they go to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in the regular season finale. While the Big Ten's Legends Division looks to have more parity in it, none of the teams that Ohio State would likely pair up with in a Big Ten championship game are likely to be favored against the Buckeyes either. So a 13-0 record is entirely in play for Ohio State, which means they may be one Alabama, Florida State or Oregon loss away from sneaking in to the BCS Championship Game. The Buckeyes have the offense and an underappreciated defense and since Urban Meyer has arrived in Columbus the Buckeyes just find different ways to win games.
What's Stopping Them: The Big Ten's national reputation is clearly not up to the standards exhibited by the SEC or the Pac 12, and even the ACC is getting more respect right now. That reflects in the human polls as well as the computer rankings. Ohio State is ranked fourth in the Harris and coaches polls and fifth in the computer averages used in the BCS calculation. With the strength of schedule the rest of the way, it does not look as though Ohio State will be able to get the computers to fall in line for them in time, which will leave it up to the human voters to have their say. Unless some teams take a loss, Ohio State may continue to be on the outside looking in.
Outlook: I'm personally higher on Ohio State than others, but I can see how this all plays out without Ohio State getting a chance even if they happen to be undefeated. Given the overall profile and body of work, it is arguable that an undefeated Ohio State could be passed by for a one-loss SEC champion and perhaps even a one-loss Pac 12 champion. Ohio State needs to go 13-0 with a Big Ten championship and may still need some help from around the country. Ohio State is still sitting in a decent position at this point in the season and as long as they take care of their own games they could very well get a chance.
Why They Will Get There: The computers love Missouri, and if the Tigers finish off a three-game SEC East run against Georgia, Florida and South Carolina the human polls may catch up. Missouri debuted in the BCS rankings with the third highest computer ranking, trailing only Florida State and Alabama despite being ranked sixth in the Harris poll and seventh in the coaches poll. Missouri still has a tough road ahead of them to get to Pasadena but if they manage to get to Atlanta with one loss, a scenario that is becoming more and more likely, the Tigers could very well be in the running. They need to beat South Carolina but can afford a loss if they take out Ole Miss on the road and Texas A&M at home in the final two weeks. Then an SEC Championship Game victory sends Missouri to the championship game.
What's Stopping Them: James Franklin's injury did not hurt Missouri last weekend, but how much will it hurt in the next few weeks? South Carolina is not the world-beater they were coming in to the year and could be vulnerable, but with a freshman quarterback you have to be concerned about freshman mistakes, which in this game can cost a team a game. Missouri must also take on one of the bets offenses in the final week of the regular season when they host Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Given the timing and a potential date with Alabama in Atlanta the following week, the timing of it all could blow up in Missouri’s face.
Outlook: Missouri has certainly been one of the most pleasant surprises in the SEC this season and their standing at this point is entirely deserved, but considering Missouri likely has to run through Alabama in the SEC Championship after games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, it is probably best to wait and see what happens before going overboard with Missouri's BCS championship hopes. Missouri may be more likely to get a BCS at-large, which is nothing to be upset about.
Why They Will Get There: Stanford's BCS chances will come down to the game everyone thought they would at the start of the season. When Stanford hosts Oregon on November 7, the Cardinal will likely have their chance to jump in to the championship hunt even with one loss. Stanford has already knocked off UCLA and has a chance to knock off one of the overlooked threats in the Pac 12 this weekend with a road trip to Oregon State. Stanford then gets a week off to prepare for Oregon and they play at USC the following week. This is Stanford's opportunity to keep pace right now, and they end the season at home against Notre Dame, an opponent that always draws attention. Stanford is ranked sixth in the BCS and they are the highest ranked one-loss team, three spots ahead of Clemson and five spots ahead of the top one-loss SEC team, Auburn. To get through the season with one loss that means they will have defeated Oregon, and Alabama or Missouri will be guaranteed one loss if they meet in the SEC Championship. That leaves Florida State and Ohio State to bypass in the standings, and Stanford may even have a chance to pass an undefeated Ohio State.
What's Stopping Them: Oregon is the team to beat in the Pac 12, and the gap between the Ducks and Stanford may not be as close as it has in recent seasons. Stanford plays a style that should slow Oregon down to an extent, but the Cardinal may not have enough to upset the Ducks despite playing at home. And this is assuming Stanford tops Oregon State this weekend, which is absolutely no guarantee.
Outlook: Stanford may be the best one-loss team in the country, but how long will that be true? Stanford may still get to play in Pasadena in the postseason, but it is more likely they do so playing in the Rose Bowl either as the Pac 12 champion or filling in the spot left by BCS Championship-bound Oregon.
Why They Will Get There: Miami is 7-0 but they will begin to pave their path to Pasadena with a victory over Florida State on November 2. A road win in Tallahassee against one of the top two teams in the BCS standings will launch Miami up the rankings and likely put them in one of the top three spots. With a defense allowing just 17.2 points per game and one of the top running backs, when healthy, in Duke Johnson, Miami has what it takes to make a run for their first ACC championship since leaving the Big East. An undefeated Miami team would have wins over Florida State and Virginia Tech, not to forget the earlier season victory against Florida. Miami could boost their chances by facing Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, to avoid potential duplicate wins. The computer rankings may not be in favor of Miami right now, but if the Canes can run the table
What's Stopping Them: The NCAA. We will find out more today of course, but we'll discuss that as needed. Games against Florida State and Virginia Tech should pose as serious threats though. Miami's offense at times can look ugly, as seen against North Carolina, but the defense has bailed them out at times this season (See: Florida). Can they manage to let sloppy play continue against the Noles or defensively sound Hokies in back-to-back weeks? More importantly, can Miami avoid a letdown game in another game? A road game at Duke and a road game at Pittsburgh look like perfect letdown game environments for Miami. Throw in an ACC Championship Game scenario against Florida State or Clemson, and does Miami stack up? I don't think so. Not now at least.
Outlook: Miami is certainly on the right track ith Al Golden right now, but they are not a legitimate BCS contender as of October 22. Beat Florida State and we'll revisit where Miami sits in the BCS pack. They should still be heading to an ACC Championship Game but that may be the ceiling for Miami this season.
Why They Will Get There: Nobody in the Bi 12 is capable of slowing down Baylor on a consistent basis and the Bears get their biggest games the rest of the way at home, except for Oklahoma State. Baylor plays Oklahoma and Texas at home in the second half of the season, which should give them an advantage, and faces Texas Tech on a neutral field. The benefit of playing in the Big 12 is the absence of a championship game, which can derail any team's chances to play for it all (except for you Nebraska). The Bears are leading the nation in scoring and are seventh in scoring defense. A difference of about 48 points per game on the scoreboard will not continue in the second half, but Baylor's offense is scary good. The human polls also love Baylor, with both BCS human polls ranking Baylor fifth.
What's Stopping Them: The computers hate Baylor. While the humans may think highly of Baylor, the computer average has Baylor ranked 12th in the standings. That is a big drop off. If Ohio State has a Big Ten problem, then Baylor has a Big 12 problem. The same problem exists for Texas Tech, as no Big 12 team is ranked in the top ten in the computer rankings. Even if Baylor happens to go 12-0, it looks as though Baylor will still have a lot of ground to make-up.
Outlook: This does not look like a season that sees the Big 12 send a team to the BCS Championship Game. Given the lack of respect for the Big 12 in the computer rankings and the handful of contenders ahead of them, Baylor needs a lot of help to get in to the BCS Championship Game. That is a lot to ask for.
Was one loss all it took to eliminate Clemson from contention? Yeah, probably. Photo: USA Today Sports
Why They Will Get There: Clemson's path to a BCS Championship Game got a little trickier after a blowout loss at home to Florida State, but it is not yet entirely eliminated from the hypothetical situation. Clemson can still run the table the rest of the way in the regular season, which would include a win over South Carolina and Georgia Tech. Meanwhile Florida State could lose to Miami and perhaps slip up against another ACC foe to help get Clemson to Charlotte. A victory over a 12-0 or 11-1 Miami would help Clemson's claim to being the best one-loss team in contention, especially if Georgia can turn things around and South Carolina knocks off Missouri this weekend. Clemson should be a favorite in each of their remaining games, except for possibly South Carolina on the road. The computers have Clemson ranked ninth in the BCS standings, one spot ahead of both human polls.
What's Stopping Them: That Florida State game was brutal, and Florida State does not look like a team that will be losing twice in ACC play. Two Florida State losses in conference play are required for Clemson to even think about getting to the ACC Championship Game, so Clemson's BCS journey may not even reach Charlotte. Clemson also needs to win at South Carolina, which will not be easy.
Outlook: Had Clemson lost in a close game to Florida State, Clemson would be in a much different situation in this conversation right now. I'm not willing to say Clemson has no shot at making a run for the BCS Championship Game, because I still think this is a pretty good Clemson team and a number teams ahead of them will lose I believe, but without an ACC championship game appearance I think Clemson is a BCS at-large at best at this point.
10. Texas Tech
Why They Will Get There: The signature wins are coming. Texas Tech is off to a 7-0 start and they have their biggest games still to come. This weekend will be the first opportunity, with a road trip to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at home next week. The season's final two games are in Dallas against Baylor and on the road at Texas on Thanksgiving night. If Texas Tech's defense can hold up and give up just enough points to allow their offense to get by in some of these big games, Texas Tech could quickly move up the rankings.
What's Stopping Them: Like Baylor, the computers hate the Big 12, and they are not particularly fond of Texas Tech. Texas Tech is ranked 11th in the computer rankings, which is actually one spot higher than Baylor. This means Texas Tech will not be benefitting much from their opposition when it comes to the computer rankings, so they will have to hope to impress the voters enough to start climbing the rankings while having a number of other teams start to tumble. Texas Tech may have the better schedule to make a move than Baylor, given the Red Raiders have to play at Oklahoma and at Texas, where road wins may be more impressive to voters than having those games at home. Of course, does Texas Tech have enough to pull off an undefeated season? I have some serious doubts about that.
Outlook: whoever comes out of the Big 12 is at a disadvantage. Whether it is Baylor or Texas Tech, it is likely they will be on the outside looking in on the BCS fun even with an undefeated record. I'm not sure either pulls off a 12-0 record, and a one-loss Big 12 champion will not be able to get by any one-loss teams in contention from the SEC, Pac 12 or ACC and I'm not sure where they would stand compared to a one-loss Ohio State. Simply put, don't count on it.