Thursday, November 15

the seven contenders

The tenth BCS season is almost over, and for the seventh time there won't be a clear #1 and #2. As the debate begins to take shape, seven teams have emerged with anything more than a snowball's chance in hell of making in into the National Championship game. Here are their resumes and my early thoughts on their chances of actually playing in the title game. Additionally I have noted their starting quarterback, offensive ranking, and defensive ranking (recall that all 9 BCS champions have had a Jr/Sr QB and a top 10 scoring defense).

1. LSU
Key Wins:
* Va Tech (BCS #10) 48-7
* Florida (BCS #12) 28-24
* Auburn (BCS #28) 30-24
* at Kentucky (BCS #23) 43-37 3OT
Big Games Remaining:
* SEC Championship (prob - BCS #9 Georgia)

QB: Matt Flynn (Sr, 125.4 rtg)
Off: #11 scoring
Def: #9 scoring

Outlook: While Kansas could theoretically pass LSU by running the table, Oregon is both too far behind in the BCS points table and plays a weaker schedule from here out (due to SECCG), so the Tigers have all but assured themselves of at least the #2 spot in all polls assuming they win out. LSU controls their own destiny more than any other team right now. However, the SEC East winner will be a huge challenge and, though the team is not very strong, the McFadden-Jones duo could pull an upset in the regular season finale.
LSU has numerous victories over ranked teams, but all have either come at home or possibly in a neutral setting (SECCG?). However, their only loss was on the road in 3 OT's to a ranked team.

2. Oregon
Key Wins:
* @ Michigan (BCS #21) 39-7
* USC (BCS #11) 24-17
* Arizona State (BCS #8) 31-20
* Cal (BCS #31) 31-24
Big Games Remaining:
* none

QB: Dennis Dixon (Sr, 163.1 rtg)
Off: #5 scoring
Def: #31 scoring

Outlook: First thing's first. While nobody on Oregon's schedule ranks among the BCS top 32, both Arizona and UCLA are road games and both Arizona and Oregon State defeated the Ducks last season. 2007 has had little in common with 2006 for UO, and they will have to focus on their own games and not what's going on in the BCS to make sure things stay that way.
Then would come the next part. Twice in the past, Oregon has finished a season with just one loss and wound up shafted by the BCS. In 2001, a one-loss Nebraska team was controversially chosen to play against unanimous #1 Miami over Oregon despite the Ducks #2 ranking in the polls versus the Huskers' #4. Computer polls and additional numerical modifiers to the more complicated BCS formula of the day, specifically Strength of Schedule, hurt the Ducks. In 2005, it was the human polls that had Oregon at #6 getting edged out by two teams with two losses apiece, #4 Ohio State and #5 Notre Dame, for an at-large berth. Never fear, the computers had Oregon at #5 while they had Notre Dame all the way down at #11 -- more than enough for the Ducks to move to second in line for an at-large berth. However, a special clause Notre Dame has with the BCS allowed the Irish to circumvent the actual rankings, and the Ducks were left out once again.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, this season could wind up the same way. If LSU and Kansas both win all the rest of their games, then it would be tough to justify leaving out the 13-0 Jayhawks, fresh off back-to-back victories over two teams currently in the BCS top 5, in favor of a pair of teams with a loss apiece. Historically, the only unbeaten BCS team ever left out of the championship game was Auburn in 2004, and that was in favor of two other unbeaten teams. With LSU comfortably in first place at the moment, that would mean Oregon once again getting the short end of the stick. Fortunately for the Ducks, the same jump is unlikely to happen should Oklahoma or Missouri win the Big 12. Ducks fans should don their Chase Daniel jerseys (come on, everybody loves Chase Daniel) in the regular season finale and probably pull for the Sooners in the B12CG regardless of which North team makes it... even though there is no love between OU and UO after their last two games.
Oregon has a statement road win at Michigan, and they'd really like the Wolverines to stay in the top 25 by beating Ohio State. However, their loss was at home and that team, Cal, is currently unranked in the polls.

3. Kansas
Key Wins:
* none
* none
Big Games Remaining:
* Missouri (BCS #5)
* Big 12 Championship (prob - BCS #4 Oklahoma)

QB: Todd Reesing (So, 151.8 rtg)
Off: #2 scoring
Def: #2 scoring

Outlook: The Jayhawks are a very interesting team. Aside from Hawaii, they are the only unbeaten team in division I-A, and they are the only unbeaten from a BCS conference. Statistically they are dominant, having numerical rankings that rival those of 2001 Miami, considered by many to have been the greatest team of all-time. However, they have done all of this against a schedule that ranks #97 on Sagarin's computer (comparatively, Hawaii's ranks #157 - even some div I-AA teams have faced tougher schedules! - but I digress...). While LSU is 5-1 vs Sagarin's top 30, Kansas has yet to face a top 30 opponent with their best victory over #39 Oklahoma State. However, after what should be an easy win against pitiful Iowa State, Kansas will host Missouri and Heisman contender QB Chase Daniel before possibly playing in the Big 12 Championship game against an Oklahoma team they'd managed to avoid with their regular season schedule.
Unfortunately for them, Kansas has had the reputation of a doormat team throughout most of the BCS era, and their easy first eleven games have left them with lots of ground to make up in the polls. If LSU and Oregon win out, it will be difficult for Kansas to move into the #2 spot in either the Coaches or Harris poll, though I wouldn't rule out the possibility. However, that may not matter. If Kansas and LSU both win out, the computer polls portion of the formula will likely put Kansas #1 and LSU #2. Kansas would be a full two spots ahead of Oregon in the computer polls and likely not a full spot behind them in each of the human polls. If the top three win out, I give Kansas slightly better than a 50% chance of being in the BCS title game.

4. Oklahoma
Key Wins:
* Texas (BCS #13) 28-21
* Missouri (BCs #5) 41-31
* at Colorado 27-24
Big Games Remaining:
* Big 12 Championship (Kansas/Missouri winner will be BCS #3 or 4)

QB: Sam Bradford (Fr, 180.4 rtg)
Off: #3 scoring
Def: #11 scoring

Outlook: The Sooners began the season making strong statements that they should be ranked #1, blowing out team after team including a 51-13 win over Miami which had looked more impressive then than it does now. One bad half cost them a game at Colorado, but their freshman QB responded in back to back wins over Texas and Missouri. OU finishes the season at Texas Tech and vs rival Oklahoma State - two teams with explosive offenses but offering much resistance on the other side of the ball. UT scored a combined 97 points against those two schools and Oklahoma should be able to do the same for two victories.
The BCS spells trouble for the Sooners, though. Even if they win out, OU probably will not be ranked in the top two in either poll. For one, they're a Big 12 team which has historically not been viewed favorably by BCS voters (for those who just spat out their drink, I'll explain in another post this week). Second, OU is down around 7th in the computer poll average. It is unlikely that the conference championship can vault them above both LSU and Oregon in the computer average, which is what would need to happen if OU finishes 3rd in the polls.
The Kansas-Missouri game also hurts the Sooners. If Kansas wins then OU will get to face a 12-0 team the first week in December, but it will hurt their other major victory as Missouri will drop out of the top 10. If Missouri wins, then not only will OU never get to face Kansas, but should they beat Missouri then they will have dealt Mizzou a second loss, hurting the strength of their previous victory. I believe it will be slightly beneficial to OU if Kansas wins that game. Either way, though, they are hurting from the lack of a big-time nonconference victory (LSU doesn't have to worry about Va Tech and the SEC East champion giving each other a loss). And the fact that they lost to Colorado, rather than a team hovering in or around the top 25 like Kentucky and Cal, also hurts them. Because of this, Oklahoma will have the most difficult time out of all the Big 12 contenders trying to jump Oregon. Realistically, they need LSU or Oregon to lose.
Oklahoma does not have an impressive road victory, but they have won one big game at a neutral site (vs Texas in Dallas) and will have the possibility to win another in the B12CG. Their only loss was on the road, but against an unranked opponent.

5. Missouri
Key Wins:
* at Illinois (BCS #19) 40-34
* at Oklahoma (BCS #4) 41-31
Big Games Remaining
* at Kansas (BCS #3)
* Big 12 Championship Game (prob - BCS #4 Oklahoma)

QB: Chase Daniel (Jr, 154.7 rtg)
Off: #7 scoring
Def: #32 scoring

Outlook: Like Kansas, Missouri's name will hurt them more than anything else. And unlike Kansas, their record cannot end in that pretty "-0". However, if Illinois beats Northwestern, and Kansas and Oklahoma don't choke away some conference games which are very winnable for them, Mizzou may end up having played four games against BCS top 15 opposition... possibly three against BCS top 10s (OU twice). The computers are already giving them some love at #5, and their SOS (currently #52 on Sagarin's) would probably drop into the top 20, maybe top 10, should they make it to the B12CG. I can't see BCS voters putting this particular team in their top 2 should LSU and Oregon win out, but if they end the season beating Kansas and OU, Missouri might be able to be behind Oregon by less than a full spot (remember, fractional points awarded based on actual vote totals) and be in position to hope that they somehow vault up to #1 in the computer polls. Truthfully I don't know how likely that is because those comp polls can change significantly from week to week. It'll probably be possible to predict after the Kansas game, but maybe not before it. So I'll tentatively say that if Missouri wins out along with LSU and Oregon, Mizzou has barely under a 50% chance of making it an all-Tigers NC game.
Missouri has faced all of its tough competition on the road. They have a win at Illinois, travel to Kansas in two weeks, and could play the B12CG at a neutral site. Their loss came at Oklahoma, a tough place to visit. They are in the unique position of possibly being able to avenge their loss.

6. West Virginia
Key Wins:
* at Rutgers (BCS #32) 31-3
* at South Florida 21-13
Big Games Remaining:
* at Cincinnati (BCS #22)
* Connecticut (BCS #24)

QB: Pat White (Jr, 157.7 rtg)
Off: #10 scoring
Def: #10 scoring

Outlook: Each of the five teams above WVU in the BCS standings would stay ahead of the Mountaineers if they win out, and Ohio State may be able to pass them with a road win over Michigan. That means that of the six other teams listed here, probably five need to lose. With OSU having just one game left, Oregon having an easy finish, and the Big 12 setup looking like a mini-tournament (meaning one team will probably win out because they can't both lose when they play each other), WVU has very slim odds of even having the opportunity to move into the top 2. On top of that, Cincinnati is a team who could really cause them problems and UConn has exceeded everybody's expectations with their play. At this point, WVU is playing for a conference championship and BCS berth, while hoping for an unlikely multiple-upset miracle to have a shot at playing in the NC game.

7. Ohio State
Key Wins:
* at Penn State (BCS #26) 37-17
* Wisconsin (BCS #25) 38-17
* Illinois (BCS #19) 28-21
Big Games Remaining:
* at Michigan (BCS #21)

QB: Todd Boeckman (Jr, 154.3 rtg)
Off: #30 scoring
Def: #1 scoring

Outlook: While an easier schedule can be the ticket to an unbeaten season, Ohio State is now facing the tradeoff. Lose one game, by having an off week or an outstanding performance by the opponent or a combination of both, and you're getting no help from the BCS computers trying to climb back into the top 2. The fact that they lost just last week doesn't help their poll rankings, but regardless of that the computers have them below LSU, Oregon, Kansas, and Missouri... and Oklahoma would of course pass them if they win the B12CG. This means that the Buckeyes basically need five of the above six teams to lose, an unlikely scenerio. On the plus side, though, they only have to win one more game to put themselves into a position where they've done their part in trying to pull off a BCSCG selection miracle, and it is against LLLLLLLLLLoyd Carr's team. (at 5-1 against Cooper and 1-5 against Tressel, this game will also determine whether Carr has a winning or losing record against OSU, as this is likely to be his last season coaching Michigan)