Well, we’re five weeks into the season and we are finally beginning to see a little separation at the top of the national championship race. With no upsets yet so far, the top three of Oklahoma, Alabama, and LSU still control their own destinies. Keep the date of November 5th circled on your calendars because that’s when LSU travels to Tuscaloosa in what right now looks like a game that will determine half of the National Championship Game. We clearly have a list of 4 top candidates right behind these three-Wisconsin, Stanford, Oklahoma State, and Clemson. And of course it would be foolish to count any undefeated AQ out at this point and Boise State is lurking as always, knowing that a spot opens up for them if everyone else loses.
Eliminated from BCS At-large Consideration:
This column is not here to predict results, just to tell you the facts. So we will pretend like every team is still capable of winning out. That being said, there are some teams who will not get a BCS at-large bid no matter what they do the rest of the year. Some of these teams could still qualify automatically if they win their conferences. For the non-AQ section, we will list the teams that still have a chance at at-large or automatic qualification. (This section has been very intricately thought out. If anyone has questions why a particular team is or isn’t on this list please feel free to ask and I will explain my thought process.)
ACC: Maryland, N.C. State, Boston College, Duke, Virginia.
Big XII: None
Big East: Rutgers, Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Connecticut.
Big Ten: Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue.
Pac 12: Oregon State, Colorado, Arizona.
SEC: Kentucky, Mississippi.
Non-AQs: Only Boise State, Houston, TCU, Air Force, Wyoming, and San Diego State can still reach a BCS Bowl.
The Harris Poll debuts next week, so for the last time this year we are going to look at just the Coaches’ Poll. The big news from the Coaches’ Poll this week is something we have been expecting all year and I will admit that I am surprised didn’t happen sooner. Boise State failed to blow out an opponent and they were jumped by Wisconsin. Boise’s fall was not solely due to Wisconsin gaining so many votes-we know this because Oklahoma State gained a good bit on the Broncos too. Wisconsin got a huge boost from their blowout win over Nebraska, pushing them solidly into the top 5 and practically catching Stanford for the next one in if any of the top 3 slip up. Remember, the BCS only cares about how many votes a team gets and not what place they are in, so for all intents and purposes Stanford and Wisconsin are practically tied.
With the large number of losses by teams ranked 8-20, we saw a pretty big shake-up in the polls. Texas and Michigan have entered the picture and South Carolina and Virginia Tech did not fall so far. Arkansas and Oregon are back in the thick of it after losses as well. It is very interesting to note that South Carolina is currently 9 spots ahead of the Auburn team that just beat them. It is not so relevant in this case because if both win out then they will meet again in the SEC Championship Game, but it is important to note that, at least at this juncture, voters are not giving that much respect to head-to-head results (there are other examples as well but this is by far the most glaring). It will be interesting to see if they will adjust according to head-to-head later in the season and when the teams are much closer to each other.
Sagarin‘s rankings are beginning to take on a bit of their unique shape but still are very volatile and contain a little remaining preseason bias. Clemson is deservedly very high while Texas is a bit higher than expected. One important thing to note from these rankings is the very low early SOS of a lot of Big Ten teams. Conference play will help boost that, but that is not a good sign for Wisconsin if they are going to have to worry about beating Stanford in the computers.
TCU’s loss to SMU will probably have the biggest effect on the Billingsley Report. Because SMU was #82 in these rankings last week, TCU fell all the way to #48 for losing to them. TCU’s was Boise State’s only real remaining chance at a top 10-15 win in these rankings and the huge point boost that would have come with it. Boise will get the benefit of starting out with a high ranking but it is looking more and more likely that several 1-loss AQ teams could end up ahead of Boise in these rankings, especially if those teams manage to catch big wins at opportune times.
Billingsley is also severely under-emphasizing the Red River Shootout. While it’s a top 10 matchup in most polls, Texas has only moved up to #30 in Billingsley. Thus, the game has huge potential losses for Oklahoma in these rankings without the big upside that it will carry in just about every other computer and human poll. And if you want another example of how Billingsley only using game-time rankings can really skew results all season long, Kansas State currently sits at #14. They got there for beating top-15 Baylor, who was only in the top 15 because they beat preseason #2 TCU in Week 1. And the first team tha manages to beat Kansas State will get a big not-so-deserved boost in this system too.
We can finally mention Colley‘s rankings this week, but don’t take them to mean anything yet. Not enough games have been played for any team to collect enough wins to outweigh a loss. So his rankings are basically tiered right now based on straight-up record. Still, it’s useful to check out how the strengths of schedule are starting to stack up and what quality nonconference wins teams have. Expect these to be very volatile for two more weeks before settling down a bit. Oh, and Colley has a function on his site where you can add hypothetical results and/or remove real ones. It might be worth trying out switching the results of that Syracuse/Toledo game as the season goes on just to see how much of an effect one game really can have.
We will also look at Massey for the first time this week. Massey’s rankings are also nowhere near stable, but he does usually give a very good perspective. The most useful part of Massey’s rankings is the column labeled “SchF”, which tells you a team’s final strength of schedule based on how all of their future opponents have performed so far. The important thing to note here, once again, is Wisconsin’s very low SOS. Being pretty far behind in two computers could be disastrous if they are close to Stanford in the final human polls, even if Wisconsin has a slight lead.
Non-conference play is mostly done, so it is important to note how well the Big XII did. With only three non-conference losses, all of them to currently-ranked AQ teams, the conference has set itself up incredibly well to dominate the computer rankings. The SEC West might be the division with the most top teams, but expect most of the highest SOS teams in the computers’ eyes to be coming out of the Big XII this year.
Week 6 Implications:
This week’s lineup is once again loaded, and it all starts with the Red River Shootout. Two top 10 teams meeting always will shake up the national picture. It’s only amplified when those teams are both undefeated and it’s even bigger when they are named Oklahoma and Texas. It’s a great rivalry, always an enjoyable game for the neutral fans, and will affect the national title picture. Also, Air Force @Notre Dame could have some effects. Boise State desperately needs another opponent to step up and Air Force or San Diego State seem to be the most likely candidates. A win here for Air Force would really help Boise, while a Notre Dame win would be a victory over a solid opponent to keep their slim BCS Bowl hopes alive. Speaking of San Diego State, they host TCU in a game that Boise State (as well as the Mountain West Conference) would love to see the Aztecs win.
Florida travels to LSU in a game that looked a whole lot more interesting 15 seconds into last week’s Florida/Alabama today. Alabama ended up beating Florida in impressive fashion and the Gators have to follow up that painful loss with a trip to Death Valley. Florida showed a good air attack and LSU’s passing defense has been a little suspect, so things could get interesting here. Along with the RRS this game is the biggest chance any of our top teams have at losing this week, though of course anything can happen on any given Saturday.
Arkansas, after keeping their BCS at-large hopes alive with a great comeback against Texas A&M last week, will once again find themselves in what can be billed as an “at-large elimination game” when they host Auburn this week. Michigan will travel to Northwestern for their first road test of the season. They are trying to keep their actually realistic BCS hopes alive as well as trying to re-enter the top 10 for the first time since their famous loss to Appalachian State. Texas A&M and Ohio State, two teams in desperate need of a big win, will travel to Texas Tech and Nebraska, respectively. Each will be in the unfamiliar (for Ohio State especially) position of playing spoiler and trying to get their season back on track as we approach the halfway point of the year.