November 21, 2010
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.
• Status quo. The top five remains unchanged for the third consecutive week, with every computer save Richard Billingsley's still breaking for Auburn as the top team in defiance of the human love for Oregon. Given the broad consensus for the Tigers and Ducks at 1-2, though, the precise order at the top is irrelevant. The real debate is in the on-deck circle, where TCU's lead on Boise State has shrunk to barely perceptible – and probably untenable – proportions.
The Broncos' narrow lead on the Horned Frogs in the human polls widened slightly after Friday's 51-0 trashing of Fresno State, and they moved up a spot in the computer average, from sixth to fifth. Next, they'll make a nationally televised trip to 9-1 Nevada, 19th in every major poll this week, on Friday night (and into early Saturday morning if you're on the East Coast). TCU, meanwhile, closes its regular season Saturday in an un-televised, unappetizing trip to 1-10 New Mexico. Boise has won its first six WAC games by an average of more than six touchdowns apiece. If they put a beating even half that savage on a top-20 opponent, on the road, there's no way the Broncos don't make enough of a move in the computers to jump TCU next week. The only question then will be whether they get help from Alabama and/or Arizona in freeing one of the tickets to the BCS Championship Game.
TCU's only realistic hope for holding its ground from the rising tide is a nailbiter in Reno that forces voters to reassess Boise State's dominance, in the same way they punished the Horned Frogs for a mere five-win point over San Diego State two weeks ago. Otherwise, they're left praying for losses by Oregon and Auburn down the stretch to get them to Glendale, which really would be a Thanksgiving miracle.
• At-large math. Falling out of the No. 3 slot has implications beyond the title game: Only the higher-ranked of the two non-automatic qualifiers is guaranteed a bid to any BCS game. The other is at the mercy of the selection committees, which may be seeing dollar signs in the more traditional heavyweights.
There are four at-large spots. Let's say Boise State clinches one of them. A win at Arkansas Saturday would clinch another for LSU. Let's also say Wisconsin and Ohio State hold off upset bids from Northwestern and Michigan, respectively, to punch the Badgers' ticket to the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten champs. That leaves two spots open for three teams: TCU, Stanford and Ohio State.
Of the three, Ohio State is the name brand, guaranteed to bring a certain following in the stadium and on TV. Give the Buckeyes a bid. The final calculation now comes down to which bowl is handing out the final golden ticket. If Boise State finishes No. 3, the BCS' contact with ESPN mandates that the Broncos go to the Rose Bowl, in this case opposite the Big Ten champion. If that happens, one of the other bowls might consider undefeated TCU more attractive than one-loss Stanford. But say Alabama knocks Auburn out of the championship game: The Tigers are likely replaced in Glendale by Boise, freeing up the Rose to keep its traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup intact by selecting Stanford – potentially knocking the 12-0, third-ranked Horned Frogs all the way back to the Las Vegas Bowl.
You can switch Boise State and TCU in any of those scenarios; the formulations are the same. They're also null and void if South Carolina upsets Auburn in the SEC Championship Game to secure a big-money bid for itself, which would set off an instant wildfire through the rankings that we don't have time to consider here.
• Insert Big East complaint. Yeah, the unranked Big East champ will be cashing a fat check no matter what while far superior teams fall down the bowl ladder to lord knows where. Yeah, it's kind of an outrage. What else is new?
• Fun fact of the week. Five teams in top 20 are ranked behind at least one team they've defeated this season: No. 10 Michigan State (behind No. 7 Wisconsin), No. 14. Missouri (No. 13 Oklahoma), No. 15 Nebraska (No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 14 Missouri), No. 17 Texas A&M (No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 15 Nebraska) and No 18 South Carolina (No. 11 Alabama). The computers also used Arkansas' double-overtime escape at Mississippi State as an excuse to jump the Razorbacks one spot in front of Alabama, despite the Crimson Tide's comeback win in Fayetteville in September.
• For chaos' sake. The outlook hasn't changed, so I'll repeat here what I said last week: The current track is still bound for a fiery crash that leaves TCU and Boise on the outside looking in at 12-0 for the second year in a row, which will make the annual round of condemnation that much easier. But mid-major snubs are also familiar enough that they probably won't produce anything we haven't heard many time before over the last decade.
The really tough question that's going to continue to dog the system over the next two weeks is what happens if Auburn and/or Oregon drops one of its last three: The decision to send either the Broncos or Horned Frogs above the other is an absolute nightmare; the prospect of a TCU-Boise title game if Auburn and Oregon lose may be an even bigger one. And if either was somehow jumped by a one-loss Auburn or LSU into the championship, there will be plagues.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.