The third weekend of October heralds the midpoint of the college football season for most teams, but it also heralds the scourge of college football fans: The BCS Standings. On the bright side, the endless amounts of debate the BCS brings is a welcome starting point for any discussion. While there is an absolute ton of football left to be played, the battle lines for the BCS Championship and the path to Pasadena has been defined now. For many teams, the national title is not anything relevant to them anymore, but for a select few, the fun begins now. We can discern some things based on these initial standings, and a little fact or fiction is in order, BCS style.
Fact or Fiction? The top two teams in the initial BCS Standings can pack their bags for Pasadena now.
Answer: Fiction. After eleven seasons of the BCS, a fine sample size of teams with the bullseye have played out the string and tried to remain atop the BCS Standings. Only one time in 11 years has the #1 and #2 teams stayed constant throughout the back half of the season, that being 2005 with USC and Texas. Ten out of eleven times, at least one of the two top teams has not been able to stay there. This year we have an oddity as two teams from the SEC lead the way with Florida and Alabama. Like Oklahoma and Nebraska, who led the first BCS Standings in 2000 and 2001, Alabama and Florida face the prospect of playing each other the very final week of the season. Precedent seems to dictate the loser of that game will certainly be eliminated from the national championship. So Gators and Crimson Tide, no packing your bags until you take care of your conference business.
Fact or Fiction? Someone in the top three in the initial BCS Standings will be in Pasadena.
Answer: Fact. In this case the ratio is 10:1 in favor based on the past history. The most highly regarded teams at this point in the season are also the most likely to overcome a loss with everyone else falling around them eventually. Last season was the fluke in this case, when Texas, Alabama, and Penn State started in October at the top but none ended up in Miami. In every other season except for 1998 (Tennessee started at number 3 and ended up in the title game), one of the top two teams in the initial BCS standings has made the championship game. As if the SEC needed more good news, history is on the side of the future SEC Champion whether it's Florida or Alabama. Considering that the conference has won the past three national titles, a one-loss champion from the SEC will get a nod over every other one loss team in the country, including USC. Expect a return to form this year with either the Gators or the Crimson Tide in Pasadena.
Fact or Fiction? Teams outside the top ten in the initial BCS Standings have a chance at Pasadena.
Answer: Fiction. Twenty-two teams have made the BCS Championship game, and with the exception of two teams, the lowest ranking of a championship participant in October is sixth (6). Over 90% of the time, everybody ranked number 7 and below can forget about it this year. The two exceptions were SEC Champions, LSU in 2003, which was number 12, and Florida last year, which was number 10. This has more to do with the conference championship of the strongest conference in America than anything else. This year LSU again sits as that darkhorse contender at number 9 after the loss to Florida, as the Bayou Bengals could beat both Alabama in the regular season and Florida in the SEC Championship, which would likely vault them to the top 2. Again, it appears that the SEC Champion is in this season as a near certainty. Which leaves one spot which most likely goes to #3 Texas, #4 Boise State, #5 Cincinnati, or #6 Iowa. With the exception of Texas, all of these teams would be fresh faces to the national title scene. USC, TCU, and Miami are still somewhat in the mix, but Oregon and everyone beneath the Ducks now should not expect any hope for a trip to Pasadena.
Fact or Fiction? Florida has an advantage because they were in the championship last season.
Answer: Fact. Although there has never been a rematch of the same two teams in the BCS Championship two years in a row, one of the participants in any given year has returned the next year six out of ten times (60%). While it is certainly not a sure bet, it definitely helps your cause with the voters and with the computers to be a team who's been there before. The chances of this year hinge on Florida, as Oklahoma lost their third game last weekend to officially remove them from any national title conversation. However, it remains clear that Florida will need to lose two games or the SEC Championship to miss this year's battle in Pasadena. The odds are in favor of the Gators for sure.
Fact or Fiction? The BCS will get lucky and have two undefeated teams, which it will place into the championship.
Answer: Fiction. The BCS was created to allow conferences who normally wouldn't play each other to send their champions into a game for all the marbles. Sometimes sorting out who is entitled to a national championship is absurdly difficult, as was the case in 2007 when Nebraska went undefeated but so did Michigan. Well the BCS has definitely has to work for it. In the past three seasons, the BCS has only had one undefeated team out of six title game participants, and even a two-loss LSU made it in the 2007 game when most teams lost at least two. Very rarely has the BCS not been tasked with sifting through a muddle of one-loss teams and perhaps one undefeated minor conference team. So far no non-BCS conference school has played for the championship, and so the road is uphill for TCU and Boise State despite their early hot starts. The BCS wouldn't be nearly as interesting without some controversy, so don't expect fate to hand the BCS Texas and an undefeated SEC Champion. Not in this crazy sport.
Fact or Fiction? It makes a difference whether you come into the BCS Championship as the top ranked team instead of #2.
Answer: Fact. If you think about it, this is really unsurprising since the top 3-5 teams in college football are usually pretty well-balanced except for the occassional dynasty. However, even the dynasties of the modern BCS era have failed to win the title game consistently as Florida State, Miami, and USC could not repeat. The #1 team won the first four years, but that streak was dropped in its tracks by the Ohio State Buckeyes who knocked off the Miami dynasty in 2002. Since the 4-0 start, #1 teams are 1-6 and have now fallen behind the #2 team 6-5 in all time victories in this championship. Thus, it does not matter whether you come in as number 1 or 2, just that you make it there.
And now, a little did you know? Did you know that the unluckiest spot in the BCS Standings is obviously number 3 in December, but no team can claim they've been stuck there more than once? Indeed, eleven different teams have had that sinking feeling so far: Kansas State, Nebraska, Miami, Colorado, Georgia, USC, Auburn, Penn State, Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Texas. Did you know that nobody has won more than two BCS Titles? LSU and Florida have added a second championship the past two years, but nobody else has more than one in the eleven years. Did you know that the three most prolific participants in the BCS Championship are the most unsuccessful? Indeed, Oklahoma is only 1/4, Ohio State is 1/3 and Florida State is 1/3, while the aforementioned two-time champions Florida and LSU are each two-for-two. These and other fun facts will make their way back out into the mainstream as the season unfolds.
So with those fun facts and fictions in mind, let's take a brief look at this season's initial standings. The seven undefeated teams are (1) Florida, (2) Alabama, (3) Texas, (4) Boise State, (5) Cincinnati, (6) Iowa, and (8) TCU. The remaining top ten teams are USC, LSU, and Miami. At this point and looking at the remaining scheduled games for each of the contenders, the true pecking order looks like (1) an undefeated SEC Champion, (2) undefeated Texas, (3) undefeated Iowa, (4) one-loss SEC Champion, (5) undefeated Cincinnati, (6) one-loss USC, (7) one-loss Texas, (8) undefeated TCU, (9) undefeated Boise State, (10) one-loss Miami. We'll see if that heirarchy proves true, but pick whichever first two down the list you can find and that will be your national title game. I believe the only way the SEC Champion misses the BCS Championship is if they lose a regular season game and if Texas and Iowa go undefeated. This will be a tall order, but it is possible. TCU and Boise State will be killed by their schedule strength yet again, which is just bad luck for the non-BCS conference schools. One thing's for sure: if both end up undefeated, there should be a rematch of a good non-BCS bowl last year when TCU knocked off undefeated and overlooked Boise State.
The top three games of the week are a tough lot to pick this weekend, as the top national title contenders are mostly untested. However, last weekend's upsets of Virginia Tech and Ohio State prove nobody should be taken lightly. That being said, out first game of the week is Air Force at Utah. Air Force gave TCU a great test and is never an easy out for the trifecta of Utah, TCU, and BYU. The Falcons do not have much of an offense to speak of through the air (which may be true irony), but the rushing attack and defense are some of the best in the nation. RB Jared Tew will look for another big game and the defense hopes to keep the ball out of talented QB Terrance Cain's hands. Cain is a true dual-threat who has slashed defenses equally with his legs and his arm. While Utah will certainly struggle against this good Falcon defense, look for the difference in the game to be the Utes defense. Air Force will be facing one of the best front sevens in the country and that should slow the prolific rushing attack enough to force Air Force to make mistakes in the passing game. Utah wins by 10.
The second game of the week is one of the final two stiff road tests in Iowa's brutal Big Ten road schedule, as the Hawkeyes visit Michigan State. The Spartans are the hottest team in the conference after a 1-3 start thanks to the overtime win against Michigan and two wins against the Illinois schools. Iowa is 7-0 for the first time since the mid-1980's and is a legitimate national championship contender for the first time under Kirk Ferentz. Despite falling behind by double digits at Penn State and Wisconsin, QB Ricky Stanzi and company have stayed tough and come back to dominate these Big Ten road games. With Ohio State struggling mightily, the trip to East Lansing shapes up to be possibly Iowa's hardest remaining game. The offense goes as TE Tony Moeaki goes, which means Michigan State will be truly tested in pass defense up the middle. The Spartans have been hurt by the injury bug, losing their top two running backs and one of their two quarterbacks two weeks ago. Nevertheless, QB Kirk Cousins and LB Greg Jones will be key leaders to watch in this game. Each team has survived a lot of battles, but you have to like Iowa's resiliency. Even if MSU jumps out to a double-digit lead, the Hawkeyes are never out of it. Iowa continues the dream season with a 4 point win.
The top game of the week is the only game between ranked teams as TCU visits BYU. TCU has a good defense as usual, but the real story is how well the Horned Frog offense has developed with QB Andy Dalton. TCU will churn up the ground game with senior Joseph Turner, and establishing the run has to be the gameplan against the explosive Cougars. Senior QB Max Hall has played one bad game this season in a loss to Florida State, but no weaknesses are evident in his game at this point in the season. BYU will be facing the best defense they have seen all year, and that includes Oklahoma. That does not bode well, as OU held the Cougars down for most of the game to start the season. The Cougars should be a lot closer than last year's 32-7 embarassment, but TCU will go into Provo and get a very rare road win there with a 10 point win.
2009 GOTW Record: 11-10
Fitz Top 10 - Week 7
So now the battle lines are drawn, the top 10 teams are in a chase similar to the one happening over in NASCAR this time of year. Will the SEC and Texas continue their dominance? Will the upstart Hawkeyes and Bearcats sneak into the title picture? Will the non-BCS schools finally break through to a title game? So many questions and seven weeks left to find those answers. We'll see you next week!