October 23, 2011
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 royal 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.
It was a bloody Saturday in the top ten thanks to late-night losses by Oklahoma and Wisconsin, killing two of the major assumptions in the wake of the initial standings last week. For its part, Oklahoma no longer controls its destiny where the BCS Championship Game is concerned — though it may not be as far out of the mix as it seems at the moment, either (see below) — and the Dec. 3 finale at Oklahoma State is no longer a de facto semifinal game. From this vantage point, the Sooners can only serve as a spoiler there. Wisconsin's heartbreaking ouster at the hands of Michigan State means one less darkhorse in the soup, and evicts the Big Ten from the top of the standings altogether.
But the basic blueprint presented last week remains: The only direct paths to the title game belong to a) The winner of next weekend's blockbuster Alabama/LSU showdown in Tuscaloosa, and b) Oklahoma State. The Crimson Tide, Tigers and Cowboys are entrenched in the top three positions and clearly control their own destiny. Everyone else needs help.
• If one of the frontrunners shall fail to fulfill its duties… The more interesting question at this point: If Oklahoma State and/or the Alabama-LSU winner takes a bullet down the stretch, who's first in line to fill one of those slots? Right now, the standings say Boise State, followed by Clemson. But my guess is, by the first weekend in December, it will be Stanford.
The human polls were sufficiently impressed by the Cardinal's 65-21 trampling of Washington — along with the losses by Oklahoma and Wisconsin — to move them into the top four. The computers have been more reluctant, at least in part because they're not allowed to acknowledge the huge margins of victory that have helped mitigate Stanford's weak schedule. That should change, though: Washington was easily the best team the Cardinal have seen, and they take another step this week against USC. Oregon and Notre Dame follow in November, followed by the Pac-12 Championship Game. Meanwhile, the best team on Boise State's remaining schedule is unranked TCU, and Clemson won't have a chance for a win as potentially impressive as Oregon. If they run the table, I think the Cardinal have the inside track on "Next Man In."
• I love you, Team#IAMI40. The human polls are coming around to the Cowboys, too, but Oklahoma State nearly sweeps the machines for the second week in a row, taking the top spot in five of six computer polls after dispatching Missouri. (Richard Billingsley's wonky formula ranks OSU No. 2, behind LSU.) The only other thing all of the computers seem to agree on: Kansas State is a lot better than puny hu-mahn brains are giving it credit for. Let's see what they say about the Wildcats a month from now, after they've taken on Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas in consecutive weeks.
• For chaos' sake. Wisconsin's exit from the national picture means there's one less undefeated team to worry about being excluded from the self-ordained championship game. But as long as Stanford and Clemson are carrying goose eggs in the loss column there's still a chance for the BCS' perennial nightmare: More than two undefeated, "Big Six" conference teams vying for just two tickets to New Orleans. Telling a 13-0 Pac-12 champion with wins over USC, Oregon and Notre Dame and/or a 13-0 ACC champion with wins over Auburn, Virginia Tech and South Carolina that their seasons weren't quite good enough would be nothing short of a catastrophe for a system that has enough problems on its plate as it is.
Historically, that's a long shot. On a more optimistic note, paths also exist for one-loss teams to play themselves back into the picture if some of the top teams start to fall — specifically Oregon and Oklahoma, because they still get to play two of those top teams. The Ducks and Sooners are both in position to inflict losses on Stanford and Oklahoma State, respectively, and thereby take their place in the pecking order. If that happens, they're only one Clemson loss away from being locked in a three-way battle with Boise State for the second championship slot opposite the Alabama/LSU winner — and quite possibly in a four-way battle that includes the Alabama/LSU loser, depending on how close that game is.
Do not even ask me what happens in that scenario if LSU beats Alabama, only to get upset by one-loss Arkansas, creating a three-way logjam between one-loss national contenders at the top of the SEC West. But it will be great.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.