Sun Oct 26 10:33pm EDT
In a perfect world, the Doc would be given carte blanche to publicly torch the Bowl Championship Series in effigy and institute the elaborate, double-elimination battle royale of his dreams. But we live in the world we live in, so each Sunday the Doc looks at what the new BCS numbers mean for the rest of the season. Rooting interest: chaos. Always chaos.
Not much changes in the big picture this week, with the exception of Penn State's leap in the computer polls: PSU is third after its win over Ohio State, up from seventh according to the machines last week. It's nice to see everyone getting along, all the way up to the inevitable train wreck when the various tracks fail to sort themselves out over the last month. The computers can't agree on anything past the top three teams, with Oklahoma and Georgia sharing No. 4, Oklahoma State, Utah and Boise State sharing No. 7 and Texas Tech and Florida tied for tenth, all in defiance of the human polls. Past the top three, verily, it is the madness we bargained for.
Sitting pretty. Status quo still favors Texas and Alabama, which both remain ahead of Penn State by a miniscule but solid margin that will only grow if the Longhorns and Tide keep winning -- both UT and 'Bama have better wins on their existing resumés and tougher schedules down the stretch than the Lions and won't be budged from the top by anything short of an upset. And even if Texas loses this weekend at Texas Tech, PSU has to look out from below: the Raiders could be rocketing up the polls with the chance to keep rising against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and the Big 12 Championship still in front of them. In other words, if there are three major undefeated teams at the end of the year, strength of schedule virtually guarantees Penn State is the odd man out.
The flipside of that -- assuming any undefeated team from a BCS conference will play for a championship ahead of a one-loss team -- is that the Lions have a much better chance of running the table against Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State than any of the other undefeated teams on their stretch runs:
Texas has at least two, possibly three (depending on what happens to Kansas) ranked opponents left, assuming the requisite date in the Big 12 Championship; even if Texas Tech does come out of next Saturday unblemished over the Horns, it has an even tougher road to navigate. Alabama has annual bugaboos LSU and Auburn (the Tide has lost 11 straight to division rivals named "Tigers") and the SEC Championship against the Florida-Georgia winner. So Penn State's task now is to take care of its business, then sit and wait for the others to fall by the wayside.
A little help? USC is in very bad shape here. The Trojans remain in front of Florida and Georgia for the moment, but that won't last past this weekend, when the winner of the Cocktail Party earns its biggest win of the regular season and effectively punches its ticket to the SEC Championship. SC can't compete with that with only one ranked team (Cal) left on its schedule. So the Trojans not only need at least three of the four unbeatens to lose, but also need Oklahoma and the Georgia-Florida winner to go down with a second loss, as well. Even if it keeps winning, I wouldn't expect USC to advance any higher than fourth without some highly improbable dominoes falling in its favor.
Oklahoma's chances hinge on winning the Big 12 South, and for that to happen, the Sooners need a Texas loss this weekend and subsequent wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to create a two or three-way logjam that somehow ends with OU crashing the Big 12 Championship. The Georgia-Florida winner needs a Texas or Penn State loss, too, with the added bonus that it can knock Alabama out of the way itself in the SEC Championship.
For chaos' sake. Best case scenario: Texas, Alabama and Penn State all finish undefeated and the Lions complain about the snub all the way to Pasadena. Short of that, losses by Texas and Bama could create an insolvable bottleneck of teams with equally legitimate claims -- between a one-loss Big 12 champion, a one-loss SEC champion and one-loss USC, the difference could be a couple hundredths of a point in some algorithm no one understands.
It's quite possible Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all end the season with one loss and a mind-bending win triangle against one another. Maybe Georgia edges Alabama on a field goal or something to win the SEC in far less impressive fashion than Bama won in Athens in September. That's the dream, anyway.