Monday, October 19, 2009
Six things you need to know about the BCS standings
By Mark Schlabach

What did we learn from the first Bowl Championship Series standings released on Sunday?

You won't have Ohio State to kick around in the BCS title game this season.

For starters, Florida and Alabama are in the driver's seat in the race for the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.

Defending BCS national champion Florida is No. 1 in the initial BCS standings, followed by No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Texas.

In the first 11 years of the BCS, the top two teams in the initial standings have reached the title game once (Texas and Southern California in 2005). Nearly half of the 22 teams that debuted at No. 1 or 2 advanced to the BCS National Championship Game.

So as long as the Gators and Crimson Tide win the rest of their regular-season games, the Dec. 7 SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome will be a play-in game for the BCS National Championship Game.

The bad news for those SEC teams? Ohio State and Oklahoma won't be their sacrificial lambs for the fourth straight season.

The Buckeyes, who lost badly to Florida and LSU in two of the past three BCS championship games, were all but eliminated from the BCS championship race with their stunning 26-18 loss at Purdue on Saturday. Oklahoma fell to 3-3 following its 16-13 loss to Texas in the Red River Rivalry game in Dallas.

Here are a half-dozen other things to know about the initial BCS standings:

1. Could we have an Alabama-Florida rematch in Pasadena?

It seems unlikely, and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany might threaten secession from the BCS if it happened. The last such scenario happened in 2006, when No. 1 Ohio State defeated No. 2 Michigan 42-39 in the teams' regular-season finale.

Two weeks later, after UCLA upset No. 2 USC 13-9 and No. 4 Florida beat Arkansas 38-28 in the SEC championship game, the Gators jumped to No. 2 in the final BCS standings. The one-loss Gators, instead of the one-loss Wolverines, got a shot at the undefeated Buckeyes. Florida blasted Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS title game.

The Crimson Tide have a sizable advantage (.0615 points) over No. 3 Texas in the initial BCS standings. The gap between Alabama and No. 4 Boise State is more than twice as large (.1443). So if the No. 3 Longhorns lose one of their final six regular-season games, an SEC rematch in Pasadena might not be completely out of the question.

2. Why is Florida ranked ahead of Alabama?

Using the eyeball test, Alabama looks like the country's most complete team right now. But Florida is ranked No. 1 in each of the three components of the BCS formula -- the coaches' poll, Harris Interactive Poll and average in six computer rankings (the Crimson Tide are No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, which is no longer used in the BCS recipe).

The BCS computers love the Gators, who are No. 1 in four of the six computer polls. I'm not sure which season the computers have been watching. The Crimson Tide have already beaten two teams ranked in the BCS standings: No. 14 Virginia Tech and No. 24 South Carolina. Florida has beaten one ranked team: No. 9 LSU.

3. So how many teams are left in the BCS hunt?

Historical data suggests about a dozen teams are still in the race. Since the BCS began in 1998, no team ranked No. 13 or worse in the initial BCS standings has reached the national championship game. LSU debuted at No. 12 in 2003 -- the lowest initial ranking for an eventual BCS national champion -- before climbing its way to the title game.

That means Georgia Tech is the last team with any championship hopes. The No. 12 Yellow Jackets have already played the meat of their schedule, including a 28-23 upset of then-No. 4 Virginia Tech on Saturday night. Only two of Georgia Tech's remaining five regular-season opponents currently have a winning record, and both of those teams -- Wake Forest and Georgia -- will play at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

[HIGH-LIGHT]No. 7 USC is in the best position among the one-loss teams, but the Trojans are being heavily penalized for their 16-13 loss to Washington on Sept. 19. USC is No. 11 in computer average behind teams like Oregon and Georgia Tech, but with games left at the No. 11 Ducks and home against No. 22 Arizona, USC can greatly improve its computer profile.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

4. Does Boise State really have a chance to play for the BCS championship?

It would probably take a doomsday scenario for the teams from BCS conferences for it to happen. For Boise State to reach the BCS Championship Game, there could be only one unbeaten team from the ranks of Alabama, Florida, Texas, Cincinnati, Iowa and TCU. And even that scenario might not be enough for the Broncos to reach Pasadena.

Even if Boise State finished the regular season with a 12-0 record, it might be passed by one-loss teams such as USC, LSU and Miami.

The Broncos are No. 4 in the BCS standings, but it's hard to imagine them going any higher because of their future schedule strength (104th, according to the NCAA). They lost 17 points in the coaches' poll last week, even after winning at Tulsa 28-21.

The good news for Boise State? It has seven more chances to impress voters and the computers (the Broncos play a 13-game regular-season schedule because they play at Hawaii). The bad news? Its remaining seven opponents have a combined record of 19-25.

Boise State really needs No. 8 TCU to lose. The Horned Frogs would probably pass the Broncos in the BCS standings if they win at No. 16 BYU on Saturday and beat No. 18 Utah at home Nov. 14.

Only one team from a non-BCS league is guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl game -- if it finishes in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or in the top 16 and is ranked ahead of one of the six champions of the BCS leagues.

5. Does Cincinnati or Iowa have a better chance of reaching Pasadena?

Based on schedule strength, the Hawkeyes seem to be in a much better position than the Bearcats. Iowa has played the country's ninth-toughest schedule, according to the NCAA, and it's getting a lot of mileage out of its nonconference victory over No. 22 Arizona and road win at No. 13 Penn State.

Iowa plays only five more games, starting Saturday at improving Michigan State. The Hawkeyes' future schedule is ranked No. 36 by the NCAA and they could get a big bump by winning at No. 19 Ohio State on Nov. 14, too.

Cincinnati's schedule strength (tied-67th, according to the NCAA) is worse than Boise State's, which is surprising. The Bearcats have already won at Oregon State and South Florida. The Bearcats can make up ground by beating No. 23 West Virginia at home Nov. 13 and No. 20 Pittsburgh in their Dec. 5 regular-season finale. But Cincinnati's future schedule is ranked 80th-toughest in the country, according to the NCAA.

6. So how does Texas get jobbed this season?

As long as the Longhorns win their final six games, it's hard to imagine them being left out of the BCS Championship Game. The Longhorns don't have to worry about Oklahoma, so a three-way tie in the Big 12 South seems like a very remote possibility.

Texas still plays two ranked opponents: at No. 15 Oklahoma State on Oct. 31 and No. 25 Kansas at home Nov. 21.

"We were sitting here in this same position last year and after we lost to Texas Tech we let it go back into a system and the system kept us out," Texas coach Mack Brown told reporters after beating Oklahoma. "Now next week's game becomes bigger than this one and it'll progress like that for the rest of the year."