BCS Implications: Week 8

The surprise this week, which really shouldn’t have been a surprise at all, is that Oregon fell to #4 in this week’s BCS rankings. I’ve been saying for a while now that things will get close because other teams will have better computer rankings, but that as long as they keep their unanimous or near-unanimous #2 spot in the polls, they should be okay. Usually, in a case where a team with a good human poll score but poor computer score starts out low in the BCS, they rise quickly because they have room to gain computer points while everyone else stays stagnant. The problem here is that the top 5-6 computer teams have such strong computer profiles that Oregon is not going to pass them after a week against a decent team. Still, their schedule is quite backloaded and they should easily move into the top 4 in computers if they win out. Whether or not that will enough, though, is an entirely different question.

I did say that Oregon will be safe if they can keep a near-unanimous #2 and I stand by that statement. The problem, however, is that the Ducks’ hold on that #2 spot in the polls is slipping. It’s slipping slowly and it’s still strong, but they are slowly losing votes. They haven’t yet lost enough that I will say that Kansas State controls their own destiny (in addition to Florida and Alabama), but Oregon is now no longer the favorite to reach the National Championship Game if both Oregon and Kansas State win out. And Notre Dame is still also right there, though the voters clearly believe they are a cut below the top 4 at the moment.

Teams Still Eligible for BCS At-Large Consideration:
We are just over halfway through the season, but we have already eliminated more than half of the AQ teams from receiving a BCS at-large bid. Therefore, we will only list those teams that still have a chance of reaching the top 14 (until now we listed the teams that were eliminated). Some teams not on this list can still win their conferences, but that is their only available entry to the BCS.
ACC: Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Duke
Big East: Rutgers, Louisville
Big Ten: Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Big XII: Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, West Virginia
Pac 12: Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Arizona State, UCLA
SEC: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, LSU Mississippi State, Texas A&M,
Non-AQs: Louisiana Tech, Ohio, Kent State, Toledo, Tulsa, and Boise State all can still qualify for the BCS. For an in-depth discussion of the race for the non-AQ automatic bid, see below.

The Polls:

The discussion of the top 4 has been beaten to death and beyond, and even minor weekly fluctuations are going to matter in that race, so on some level it’s not even worth discussing how those 4 will play out in the human polls. What is much more interesting to discuss this week are the 1-loss teams. All of the 1-loss teams in the top 10 more or less will still get a say in the national race. Oklahoma still faces undefeated Notre Dame. LSU still plays undefeated Alabama and possibly Florida (or Georgia) again. Georgia plays Florida and either Alabama or LSU. And USC will still face Oregon, Notre Dame, and either Oregon a second time or Oregon State. Now, LSU has a good lead on all of the 1-loss teams. In fact, they lead Oklahoma by more than 1 spot in the Coaches’ Poll and by more than two spots in the Harris Poll. That lead will evaporate if Oklahoma beats Notre Dame this week, but LSU would quickly make up any lost ground (with interest) if they beat Alabama the following week.

LSU is actually in a very good position. The only reason they do not control their own destiny is that 2 of Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame would probably stay ahead of them if they win out. LSU would have great computer numbers though and many voters would probably jump them over 1 or more of the undefeateds. While Oklahoma looks to be in the second-best shape of the 1-loss teams, they are actually in a bit of a bad position. They have a conference mate ahead of them who has already beaten them. Oklahoma won’t jump Kansas State without a Wildcats loss. And there won’t be a rematch of Big XII teams in the NCG. So Oklahoma needs a Kansas State loss, but not one that makes the Sooners look bad as well. Also, Oklahoma will need all of the other undefeateds (aside from Ohio) to lose.

The one team that is in good position in the polls but is really effectively out of the NCG race is Florida State. FSU’s computer profile is abysmal, and that is putting it nicely. And while the Seminoles have a very strong position inside the top 10 in each poll, they would need two losses by every major contender to reach the NCG. Their computer profile is that bad and only a game against Florida will make it a little better. Even that, though, will not be nearly enough for a top 5 computer profile, let alone one which could put them in NCG position.

The Computers:

The computers love Kansas State. And why shouldn’t they? The Wildcats have one of the hardest schedules in the country and have come through it unscathed so far. Their schedule looks slightly frontloaded because they have played their two biggest games already, but actually their remaining opponents are higher on average than their opponents so far. Kansas State is already #1 in Anderson and Wolfe, and could rise to #1 in Billingsley with a win this week against Texas Tech (it would be very close between them and Alabama). In fact, even though they are #4 in Billingsley this week, it is by the tiniest of margins. They are within .062 rating points of #2 Florida. That gap is minuscule and basically irrelevant.

Colley, though, is where the Wildcats can use some help. Colley doesn’t care about individual games or which games were won and lost (don’t let the “best game” column fool you). His system is simple. A team’s rating is based on the record and their SOS. No other factors matter. Because 4 of KSU’s 7 games have been against teams outside the top 50, their ranking is hurt a bit. But as they play the rest of their games against top 50 teams, their ranking will rise. Sagarin, who does not punish a team for losing to a team better than them, has LSU all the way up at #4. If LSU were to beat Alabama, it would push the Tigers (and by extension the Gators, to an incredibly high ranking. Then again, an Oklahoma win over Notre Dame this week would do the same for the Sooners and for Kansas State. (Massey had not yet updated his web site at the time of publishing this article.)

Non-AQ Race:

The non-AQ race this year is the most interesting one we’ve had since the non-AQ access rules were expanded 8 years ago. Sure, we’ve had some tight races between Boise State and TCU towards the top of the rankings. But we’ve never had so many teams desperately racing for that #16 spot. Nor has that race actually mattered, because Boise, Utah, or TCU always used to be so far ahead in that top spot. This year, Boise is in the lead once again. But this time that lead comes from respect earned in years past and not in actual on-field accomplishments. Boise’s computer profile plummeted this past week, and expect it to continue to do so as they reach the very weak section of a frontloaded schedule.

Will that be enough for any other non-AQ to pass them? Probably not, so long as they keep this big lead that they have in the polls. If the wrong teams lose in the wrong order and allow Ohio or Louisiana Tech to catch up, though, it could get interesting. Even against a weak Mountain West this year, Boise has not impressed and I am not so confident in their ability to win out. And if they lose, we are going to have one heck of a race on our hands.

Most people thought that Louisiana Tech was dead in this race if they lost to Texas A&M. And before they impressed greatly in that loss, I thought there odds of busting the BCS at 11-1 were highly unlikely. Now, though, I think they have a pretty decent shot at finishing in the top 16 if they can win the rest of their games. A backloaded schedule in a decent WAC means that the computer numbers will go up if they can close out this season (they will drop after playing New Mexico State first though). And as long as they keep sliding up in the polls they will be in good position.

What could hurt their position, however, is a suddenly-strong MAC. The MAC has 4 teams that could legitimately be of BCS-Busting caliber (we will find out if Kent State really deserves that title when they travel to Rutgers this week). Toledo just pulled off a huge win against undefeated and ranked Cincinnati, and their lack of support from that in the two polls that count is a travesty. Still, though, the MAC could have 4 undefeated or 1-loss teams heading into the final weeks of the year. If Toledo and Ohio (or Toledo and Kent State) meet in the MAC Championship Game, that game could very well be a BCS play-in. I thought that this could happen even if Boise didn’t lose a game, but after the lack of poll support I can’t see it happening now without a Boise loss. Those MAC teams definitely can pass Louisiana Tech though, even without a loss by the Bulldogs. One has to wonder whether the voters will retroactively jump Toledo up a lot if Cincinnati can beat Louisville this week. It is already inexcusable that Toledo is behind a team they just beat. Hopefully the coaches can fix that error next week. The real question, though, is if Ohio runs the table, can they jump Boise on the last week of the year if they beat a ranked Toledo in the MAC Championship Game. One thing is for sure, though: an upset win by Kent State over Rutgers would be huge for all 4 MAC contenders.

I added Tulsa on the list this week because they are receiving a similar number of votes to Toledo, albeit with a weaker computer profile. They also have no real high-profile games in which to gain a lot of votes in one week. I do not think that they have a chance, but maybe if a lot of teams in front of them lose they can slide into position. If they don’t gain a decent number of spots this week, though, their stay on the list of non-AQs still alive will only last 1 week.

Week 9 Implications:

Wow! There are a ton of big games this week. Some of them are huge for the obvious reasons while some are big for subtler reasons. Let’s run through them and see what’s there to watch in Week 9. The big games start Friday night when Cincinnati visits Louisville. This game is big for the non-AQs because a Cincinnati win would help increase the already-high chances that an AQ champion finishes outside the top 16. And it would help the MAC in particular because it would make Toledo’s win from this past week look a lot bigger. The same thing would happen if Kent State can knock off Rutgers Saturday afternoon. This has really been a poster year for the MAC and putting 3 (maybe 4, but I’m counting Northern Illinois out) teams in position to try and bust the BCS would be a great way to set up an ending for it.

Iowa and Northwestern meet at noon on Saturday where a Hawkeyes win would further diminish the Big Ten’s quickly-dwindling BCS at-large hopes. UCLA and Arizona State will fight for the inside track to be #2 in the Pac 12 South and both teams still get a shot at USC. Arizona hosts USC, and a Wildcats win would be big for their bowl positioning and it would make Toledo (who lost to them in overtime to open the season) look even better. And Florida meets Georgia for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. Georgia has not looked good at all this year, but a win here would still put them in good position to make a run for the NCG.

Ohio travels to Miami (Oh) for one of their toughest road tests of the season (after that Penn State win, which is looking better and better as this season goes on). Wisconsin hosts Michigan State, where a Spartans win would be big for Boise State and drive another nail in the Big Ten at-large coffin. Texas Tech travels to Kansas State to try and derail the Wildcats’ ever-increasing NCG hopes. A win here for KSU would make them even stronger in the computers and might even sway some more voters away from Oregon. Michigan and Nebraska will play in a pivotal Legends Division game.

And at night, to cap everything off, we have Notre Dame at Oklahoma and Mississippi State at Alabama. Mississippi State could actually be in the awkward position of being able to run the table in the SEC West and still get left out. They have a brutal remaining schedule though, which would probably be enough to outweigh their low early-season ranking. Whether that will be enough to jump both Kansas State and Oregon (or Kansas State and Notre Dame) would be interesting to speculate, but it would all only be speculation. The traditional SEC powers have received a tremendous benefit of the doubt in the polls in recent years. Whether that would be extended to Mississippi State is, well, probably something we’ll never get to find out, unless they can beat Alabama, LSU, and Florida (and Texas A&M too).

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