Monday, November 4, 2013

BCS Chase: Can the Unbeatens Remain?

By Adam Russell

So here we go, heading into the final month of the college football season. Seven teams remain unbeaten with five of those having legitimate shots at playing in the final BCS championship game come next January. While some commentators have wondered what will happen if there are more than two unbeaten teams, others have had the same questions in the event there are a bevy of one-loss teams.

With both scenarios possible, here is a look at the teams with zero losses and what lies ahead for each of them, who has the best shot at remaining undefeated and who could falter by the end.

Note: Rankings are BCS standings prior to Nov. 3.

#1 Alabama (8-0)

Of the seven remaining unbeaten teams, 'Bama's schedule probably lies in the middle of the pack as far as difficulty is concerned. Next on the docket for the Tide is #13 LSU (7-2), a team that historically plays Alabama tough. Following that game is a tussle with Mississippi State (4-4) on the road, and then a home game with Chattanooga (7-2, FCS), which will be a nice tune-up for the season finale in the Iron Bowl against #11 Auburn (8-1). If the standings hold pat (and the Tide wins out), the SEC championship game would pit Alabama against #9 Missouri (8-1 and current East Division leader).

So the Tide has several tough matchups ahead, a couple of which could present prime opportunities for them to lose. But, speaking of tough, the Crimson Tide defense is allowing less than 10 points per game, and includes giving up 42 to Texas A&M. None of Alabama's remaining opponents have the same type of prolific offenses that the Aggies have, so the likelihood of a stumble before the BCS title game is ... well ... not likely.

#2 Oregon (8-0)

The Ducks have one of the easier roads to perfection, with the exception of this Thursday's tilt at #5 Stanford (7-1). The Cardinal dashed Oregon's hopes for a national title bid last season in Eugene, and they pose the biggest threat to the Ducks' aspirations this season. If they survive that, the road is much easier, although not entirely a cake-walk. After the battle in Palo Alto, Oregon has a home date with Utah (4-4), a road trip to Arizona (6-2), and then the Civil War against Oregon State (6-3) in Autzen Stadium.

Should the Ducks hold serve in the North, they would face Arizona State (6-2, 4-1; South Division leaders) in the Pac-12 championship game. If Oregon takes care of business against Stanford, the only thing they will need to be wary of is a let-down against lesser competition down the stretch. If they can handle the pressure of not playing down to their opponents, there's no reason the Ducks won't finally give college football fans the championship game they've anticipated the past few seasons — a date with Alabama for the national title.

#3 Florida State (8-0)

The Seminoles probably have the easiest schedule remaining, with a road date with Wake Forest (4-5), home games against Syracuse (4-4) and Idaho (1-8), then the season finale at home against Florida (4-4). If the ACC standings hold, Florida State would have a rematch with #7 Miami (7-1, 3-1; Coastal Division leaders) in the conference title game — which FSU just roasted 41-14 this past Saturday. Although Florida beat FSU in Tallahassee last season, this is a different 'Noles team that probably won't lose in Gainesville. And if the game against Miami is any indication of how good Florida State really is, the potential rematch with the 'Canes in the ACC title game will be no contest and the controversy will ensue if they beat out Oregon for the BCS title game, or vice-versa.

#4 Ohio State (9-0)

The Buckeyes have a couple of tune-up games — at Illinois (3-5) and at home against Indiana (3-5) — before the big game at #21 Michigan (6-2). But the Wolverines' loss to in-state rival Michigan State knocked some of the polish off of one of the biggest rivalry games in college football. However, it also added a little spice to the potential Big Ten championship game against the #22 Spartans (8-1, 5-0; Legends Division leader).

Like the three teams ahead of them, Ohio State has been playing so well as of late that it's hard to imagine them losing to anyone left on their schedule, even the good ones. If the Buckeyes end up winning out, it will create a logjam atop the BCS standings, and then what? We'll all be wishing the playoff was happening a year earlier.

#6 Baylor (7-0)

The Bears have the greatest chance of getting knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten with a brutal schedule the rest of the way. The silver lining is that the next two games are at home against #10 Oklahoma (7-1) and #15 Texas Tech (7-2). The bad news is that after that they go to #18 Oklahoma State (7-1) before finishing up on the road against TCU (3-6) and then back home to face Texas (6-2) in the season-ender.

Although Baylor leads the nation in scoring at nearly 64 points per game, the next three games are against teams in the top 26 in scoring defense. With Texas Tech losing to both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in recent weeks, that game might not be as big of an obstacle as it seems. But the Sooners and Cowboys, and even Texas, pose a threat to the Bears' undefeated season. My gut feeling is they'll drop one of those games, most likely the tilt in Stillwater, and be left out in the cold in the BCS chase.

The two other undefeated teams remaining are #16 Fresno State (8-0) and #17 Northern Illinois (9-0). But, with all due respect, they are so far down the BCS list and have such relatively weak remaining schedules that they don't really factor into the conversation.

The bottom line is that it's more likely that there will be more than one or two undefeated teams than not, and the final year of the BCS era will create a ton of controversy regarding who gets left out of the championship game. My instincts tell me that Ohio State and Baylor have the greatest chance of getting knocked off by the end of the season, but that would still leave three undefeated teams at the top of the BCS heap.

It's clear that Alabama is the top team and will deserve to be in the title game if it goes undefeated — but who's to say that Oregon or Florida State don't clearly deserve to be the Tide's opponent in that game if they both remain unbeaten, or even if the other two somehow make it through unscathed? Maybe it will all play out in the end so that controversy is avoided, but I wouldn't count on that happening. After all, that's what the BCS's legacy will be — controversy.

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