Let's take a look into the crystal ball and see if we can predict the road to the BCS. It's so wrought full of pot holes, that I changed my mind on who will be there in the middle of a show, and I'll probably change my mind again by the end of the column.
Week 1 BCS Rankings
Let's make this easy
Texas and Alabama can make this a real short column if they win out. I believe that these are the only two teams that control their own destinies. They're sitting at #1 and #2, and if they win out will have tougher schedules than the other potential unbeaten, Penn State.
What do you mean "other unbeaten", what about everyone else?
Of the unbeatens in the BCS conferences, the Big 12 schools all play one another, so there can be only one unbeaten in the Big 12 (there's 3 now). Of the non-BCS schools, I said it last year about Hawaii, you're not playing in the same league, you don't play for the same prize. It's called the BCS Championship for a reason. Utah did step out of conference to play Michigan and Oregon State, but winning in Ann Arbor isn't what it used to be, and unless you're USC, beating Oregon State doesn't qualify you for a BCS title shot.
The non-BCS schools are playing good enough football, that they should hold their own championship, and make a push for an "and 1", but that's for another day.
What of the 1 Loss teams?
If there are two unbeatens, it doesn't matter who the 1 loss teams are this year, but if there aren't then it gets real interesting. I believe if there is one or less unbeaten at the end of the season, the selections will come from the SEC or Big 12. Those two conferences have more ranked teams and the benefit of a championship game to boost the resume'.
Why does it matter which conference has more ranked teams? Take a look at the computer polls. The teams from the conferences with the most ranked teams (SEC/Big 12) get a bump.
What does this mean for the Big Ten and Pac 10?
It means USC and Ohio State are all but out of the BCS hunt, and Penn State
needs to win out to be considered. Why? While the media puts USC ahead of
everyone but Oklahoma, the computer polls are much less forgiving of a weak
schedule. USC is ranked 10th by the computer polls and Penn State is already
closer to 14th than they are 2nd, and that's when they're undefeated.
There's precedent for this conclusion. In 2003, USC was passed over by Oklahoma and LSU despite being ranked No. 1 in both the AP and the Coaches poll. Do you think it would be any better this year if there were a host of one loss teams and USC had a win over 1 ranked opponent?
A look USC's and Penn State's schedule right now shows one team on each that is currently ranked... Ohio State. With no Championship game to boost the schedule, a one loss team in the Pac 10 or Big 10 is all but eliminated.
Let's take a look at each team and it's chances moving forward.
Let's assume that every game is a key game for teams if they lose it. So assume that it's key for everyone to avoid the big upset.
The Longhorns are sitting in the pole position. If they win out there will be no keeping them out of the BCS Title game. Texas already has two big wins over #4 Oklahoma and #15Missouri. The road still isn't an easy one with games against #6 Oklahoma State, #8Texas Tech, #23 Kansas, and a rematch with (likely) Missouri or Kansas in the Big 12 Championship game.
odds: Texas looks to be the class of the nation right now. The rest of their schedule is rough, but Texas looks to be the best bet to make the BCS Championship of anyone.
The Crimson Tide also controls its own destiny, but unlike Texas, Alabama isn't likely to be heavy favorites in the rest of its games. Alabama still has a road trip to take on #13 LSU and would likely face either #10 Florida or a rematch with #7 Georgia.
odds: I think Alabama still has a loss on the schedule somewhere. A three point win over Kentucky and a four point win over Ole Miss doesn't inspire the confidence to think that the Tide can continue to run the table in the SEC including the SEC Championship game. However, a one loss SEC team is still a very viable candidate to play for it all. Aside from 2004, the SEC gets picked when everyone else is tied.
3. Penn State
Whoever thought that missing Northwestern and Minnesota would be hurting Penn State's strength of schedule this year? As stated, Penn State's schedule has one currently ranked team on it. Make no mistake about it, this weekend at Ohio State is a single elimination game.
odds: I don't think there's anyway the BCS chooses a one loss team over an undefeated team from a BCS conference. Penn State has the easiest schedule of any of the remaining unbeatens. If Penn State wins this weekend, they can sit back, take care of their own business, and watch everyone else beat eachother up. If Penn State wins, I like them for making the BCS title game.
Oklahoma is sitting in a similar spot to Penn State; they don't control their own destiny, but the Sooners are also poised for a jump up should the teams above them start losing. This one gets really interesting though depending on Texas winning out. Let's say Oklahoma State, who's sitting at #6, beats Texas, don't they move ahead of Oklahoma and Texas? Does Texas fall below Oklahoma? If Oklahoma then beats Oklahoma State, which of the 7-1 teams goes to the Big 12 Championship. Oh yeah, what about Texas Tech?
Not so Bold Prediction: The winner of the Big 12 South plays for the BCS Championship.
Bold Prediction: If Texas and Oklahoma both win out, Oklahoma will be sitting no lower than #3, and might be slated for a rematch with Texas in the BCS title game (I guess that wasn't a prediction, just something to keep an eye on.)
odds: Don't count out the Sooners. If they win out, they'll be more attractive than both a 1 loss Big Ten and Pac 10 team. Should the SEC Champion end up with two losses, pencil the Sooners into the #2 spot. Stranger things have happened.
5th in the BCS rankings right now, but 10th in the computer rankings, USC desperately needs someone else in the Pac 10 to distinguish themselves. The problem is, the teams with the best records in the Pac 10 have yet to play USC. It's a double edged sword. On one hand, the Trojans need to keep demolishing opponents, but on the other, they sure could use Stanford, Cal, Arizona, and Notre Dame (all future USC opponents that are on the fringe of the Top 25) in the Top 25.
I believe that USC can line up an beat anyone in the country. I also believe that if you only have one ranked opponent on your schedule, you can't afford to stumble if no one else does.
odds: It's going to take something strange to get USC in the BCS Championship game. It's going to take a two loss SEC Champion; Ohio State beating Penn State (not so strange), and a couple of big upsets in the Big 12.
6. Oklahoma State
College football fans should be glued to the Big 12 South the next few weeks. With four of the top eight teams coming from this conference, we're almost guaranteed to see one of these teams in the BCS Championship, right? Well, probably, but where do the Cowboys fit in? I'm almost inclined to put them and Texas Tech into the "controls its own destiny" category, but I'm not sure that the voters would jump either Texas Tech or Oklahoma State ahead of Alabama and Penn State should the latter win out. But if Oklahoma State wins out, it's hard to picture a 13-0 Big 12 team getting snubbed.
odds: Oklahoma State beating Texas in Austin would be considered a big upset. The computers already like Oklahoma State well enough to have them at #3, the key is how far do they drop if they lose to Texas? Seeing an Oklahoma State showdown with Oklahoma on November 29th might be a game for the title of "best one loss team". The best one loss team typically plays for the BCS Title.
No, Georgia hasn't looked great this year. It hasn't all come together on the field for them, but the Bulldogs are still hanging around in striking distance with several compelling games left on the schedule. Showdowns at #13 LSU and #10 Florida along with a resurgent #18 Georgia Tech team and a possible rematch with LSU or #2 Alabama, and Georgia has the schedule to earn the title of "best one loss team".
odds: Georgia was coming off of a blowout loss to Tennessee and a three point win over Vanderbilt before catching fire and finishing as the #2 team in the country in 2007. Do the Bulldogs have it in them again? Not likely. Running the table the rest of the way is going to be a tall order and a two loss team isn't going to make the BCS Championship game this year.
8. Texas Tech
A juggernaut, or a good team with a fortuitous schedule? Texas Tech has gotten fat on unranked teams, but they face four straight over the course of the next five weeks. Vegas isn't convinced that Tech is legit, the Red Raiders find themselves underdogs to 5-2 Kansas this weekend.
odds: The Red Raiders are in the same boat as Oklahoma State. Penn State and Alabama are ahead of them, but if Texas Tech can pull off beating #23 Kansas, #1 Texas, #6 Oklahoma State, and #4 Oklahoma in consecutive games, they'll be hard pressed to keep out of the title game. Here's thinking Tech doesn't have the firepower to keep up in the Big 12 South though.
9. Ohio State
The computers are happy with Ohio State's schedule. They actually have the one loss Buckeyes (#5) ranked ahead of undefeated Penn State (#7) and ahead of one loss teams like (#10) USC. Evidently the computers think it more dastardly to lose to an unranked team (see #12 Florida too) than it is to get shellacked by a highly ranked team.
Either way, with the loss in LA, Ohio State was relegated to spoiler role this
year. Ohio State has been the talk of the Big Ten the past couple of years, and
Penn State is coming to the shoe favored. Ohio State can help gum up the works
by holding serve at home.
odds: If Ohio State is among the one loss teams at the end of the season, the schedule will look better than some of the others, but after the last two years, don't expect the voters to put the Buckeyes in the top 2. Longshot at best.
I have little doubt the Gators were upset at the perceived slight by the initial BCS Rankings, but as I've pointed out, the computers, early in the process especially, frown on losses to unranked teams. Getting upset this early in the process though is premature. Florida is in as good of a position as any other one loss team this side of Oklahoma, maybe better.
Florida's showdown with Georgia looms large, and having a ranked Florida State team on the out of conference slate will be a national game. If Florida makes it to the SEC Championship game with one loss and faces a highly ranked SEC West Champion in Alabama or LSU, the Gators could be playing for a spot in the BCS Title Game.
Where this leaves us?
I've always been opposed to the playoffs because of weeks like we've had since opening day. I'll be on the edge of my seat on Saturday watching Oklahoma State / Texas, Penn State / Ohio State, Georgia / LSU, Texas Tech / Kansas.
The way the schedule is set up, every game is a playoff. There's an elimination game every week.
The problem is... what happens if everyone is eliminated like last year?
If Texas, Alabama and Penn State win out, there are going to be some upset people in Happy Valley. If only two of them win out, the BCS game is an easy choice.
But what happens if Texas loses to Oklahoma State, Penn State loses to Ohio State, Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, Texas Tech loses to Oklahoma and Texas, Alabama loses to LSU, and all of the other endless upset possibilities?
What happens? We have some outstanding football until December, but then January is a mess, just like last year.
My Guess. I still don't know. Texas and... ? Does Penn State beat Ohio State and win out? Can Alabama continue its improbable run? Could we see a Texas / Oklahoma rematch?
The only thing I know for sure, is I'll be glued to the games this weekend, and see if it becomes a little more clear, or if it just gets more confusing.