Oklahoma survived an early scare against Missouri that could have shaken up the top of the rankings, but once again we got through a weekend of college football without any major upsets. We still have the same three teams that control their own destinies. Oklahoma, LSU, and Alabama still all know that if they win out they will make it to the BCS National Championship Game. Alabama and LSU will meet on November 5th in Tuscaloosa.
In this section as the year develops we will update a weekly list of those teams that can still make a BCS bowl. For now, we will try not to make assumptions, no matter how obvious they seem. So since there is not yet any AQ team that has been eliminated from their conference races, they all could make a BCS bowl by winning out. At this point, only Mississippi, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State, Indiana, Minnesota, Boston College, Virginia, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh can be reasonably eliminated from at-large contention. The only non-AQs who, at this point, still have any chance at a BCS bid are Boise State, TCU, Air Force, San Diego State, Wyoming, Colorado State, and Houston.
The Harris Poll does not come out until the second week of October, so for now we still only have the Coaches’ Poll to look at. Remember, the only thing the BCS cares about is how many votes a team gets, not what place they are in in the polls. Thus, while some people are making a big deal about the fact that Stanford passed Boise State for #4 this week, for the intents and purposes of the BCS the two teams are basically tied. In fact, each gained votes this week. This means that a number of voters had Texas A&M behind each of them this past week and they each slid up. Presumably, based on the number of votes changes, a net six voters had Texas A&M between Boise State and Stanford this past week.
The obvious big movement at the top of the poll this week is actually an irrelevant one. LSU gained a good number of first-place votes and jumped to a tie for #2 with Alabama this week. Of course, those top 3 can jockey positions all they want right now. The fact is, it doesn’t really make any difference. If any of those three win out then they will be in the championship game. The interesting change in the poll is that Texas A&M only dropped 5 spots from their loss. So it’s possible the voters are loosening up on losses to good teams after the plummets that Oregon and Florida State took. Or the top 12 or so are so clustered in the voters’ minds that any loss will send a team to the bottom of that list but there is a big drop-off after that points that a team will not fall behind after losing to a good team. I noticed one final interesting thing in the poll this week. Since it’s not my intention in this column to complain about the polls, all I will do is point out that Northwestern received five votes in this week’s Coaches’ Poll.
Colley’s and Massey’s rankings are quickly becoming usable, but they still are not connected enough to really give us any indication of how the rankings will look as the season plays out. I think starting next week we should be able to actually look at each of these and figure out how the top teams will relate to each other in these polls throughout the season. Sagarin really does not have any glaring points worth noting this week. The teams shift in his rankings fairly fluidly this early in the season. Alabama and LSU have jumped out to quite a large lead due to fairly top-heavy early schedules but that lead should even out to something a bit less drastic as other top teams play more quality opponents.
And now we get to our weekly recap of the Billingsley Report. Texas Tech jumped 20 spots to #19 for their win over then-#12 Nevada. Boise State will also get credit for playing a top 25 team this coming week at Nevada only fell to #24. LSU’s lead expanded with their good road win against West Virginia but Alabama’s trip to the Swamp this week could cut that lead to almost nothing this week. There is not much else too far out of the ordinary in Billingsley’s rankings, though Washington at #16 (due to a huge boost from their upset bowl win over Nebraska to end last year) makes them a prime target for a team to get a huge undeserved boost sometime within the coming weeks.
As the season moves into conference play this part of the column will become irrelevant. Not enough happens each week that we will be able to say with any certainty that any set of games will greatly impact a specific group of teams. No conference had an exemplary or terrible showing this past week, thought the Big XII’s week should help and the two worst Big Ten teams suffered very bad losses.
Minnesota’s and Indiana’s losses to terrible teams does bring up something that we should mention though. With the exception of the Anderson&Hester computer rankings, a team’s conference will not necessarily directly affect their ranking. Unless the conference plays a round robin schedule, (by definition) each team will not play certain others. So any Big Ten team that does not play Indiana or Minnesota does not have to worry about the SOS drop that playing those teams will entail. Now, those two are in separate divisions so no Big Ten team can miss both of them, but the fact remains that three teams avoid each of them. It’s something to keep in mind when looking at your team’ schedule-avoiding the worst teams in the conference is a great help for schedule strength.
One game from last week that could cause a huge scandal is Toledo @Syracuse. Syracuse quite clearly missed an extra point late in the game which the refs and replay officials rules as good. The game ended up going to overtime when Toledo kicked a field goal to tie at the end of regulation. By all rights, Toledo won that game. Toledo has requested that Syracuse vacate the win, but the Orange have not responded yet. With how interconnected all of the games are due to the computer rankings, it is not inconceivable that this game will have an effect on the NCG participants, especially if Boise State or Ohio State barely misses out (granted, it is incredibly unlikely that Ohio State ever gets close, but Boise is a definite possibility). Even if Syracuse does vacate the win, the BCS has no protocols for how their computers should treat that game.
Week 5 Implications:
We have another strong slate this coming week. First, I’ll mention two games that are under the radar (nowhere near the radar, actually) but shouldn’t be overlooked. Boise State hosts Nevada. Now, aside from being the only team to beat Boise State since 2008, Nevada should also be the favorite in the WAC. A win over them will actually be beneficial to Boise State in the computer rankings, regardless of the public’s perception of Nevada. Also, Oklahoma hosts Ball State. Ball State is a traditionally bad MAC team and anything short of an absolute rout will be embarrassing for Oklahoma. Still, Ball State has actually looked decent this year and may end up as a mid-to-top MAC team. They could win 8 games and end up around 60-80 in the computers. Since Ball State is (by quite a large margin, actually) the worst team that Oklahoma will face all year, the Sooners are setting themselves up very well to be the top 1-loss team in line for a chance at the title game should they not run the table.
Week 5 opens up with South Florida visiting Pitt. USF probably represents the last chance at a Big East team making the championship game this year and the Bulls will have to survive their first conference road test of the season. Texas A&M @Arkansas is a game of two teams with outside hopes at reaching the NCG, but those hopes will all be over for the loser. Michigan State visits Ohio State in a game that has obvious Rose Bowl as well as at-large BCS selection implications.
Clemson @Virginia Tech is one of our 3 huge in-conference battles of undefeated teams in this week”s absolutely loaded lineup. This is a cross-divisional meeting, so the game will not matter very much in the ACC race. Still, the winner will put themselves in a very good position to be on the periphery of the NCG conversation all year long should any of the top teams slip up. Clemson is looking for a third straight win over a ranked team, a stat that will be very hard for voters to ignore if properly played up.
Nebraska travels to Camp Randall to play Wisconsin in what many expect to be a preview of the first Big Ten Championship Game. This game will not affect the Rose Bowl so much because it is also a cross-divisional game. Still, the loser will have their names out of the NCG discussion for a while while the winner will promptly place themselves next to Stanford and Oklahoma State as next in line should the top three slip up. And speaking of the top three, Alabama travels to the Swamp in their biggest road test so far this season. Florida is still quite untested this year, but they have slid up close to the top 10 and the Swamp is never an easy place to play.
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