As always, before diving in, three key things to keep in mind.
1) It’s all about the humans. The computers count for a third of the standings, while the humans account for the other two-thirds. The wires and chips will have their say, but it will take something truly major for the top two teams in human polls to not play for the BCS championship.
2) Again — AGAIN — don’t get into a twist over the computers. Many of the formulas kick into gear once the entire season is over, so the difference between the second-to-last computer rankings and the final ones could be night and day. Basically, the first half of the season doesn’t matter at all according to some of the formulas.
3) The AP poll is meaningless. Many major media outlets still use and reference the AP rankings, but they are not part of the BCS formula. The coaches’ poll counts for one third of the BCS and the ever-mysterious Harris Poll counts for the other human third of the equation. Those are the ones to focus on and scrutinize.
It doesn’t matter who’s No. 3 if Alabama and Florida State win the rest of their games, but in the meantime, Ohio State needs to be afraid of Baylor.
Really, really afraid.
Last week, Ohio State held a solid, bigger-than-it-seemed, . 0237 lead over then-No. 4 Stanford. With the Cardinal loss to USC on Saturday night, Baylor not only flew up to fourth, it’s now a miniscule 0.013 behind Ohio State, and the gap isn’t going to get too much wider from the computers with the Bears playing Oklahoma State and Texas over the next few weeks. By the time everything settles, Ohio State will almost certainly stay ahead of Baylor as long as it’s higher in both human polls, but even with a win over Michigan State in the Big Ten championship — if it’s MSU in the title game — it’ll be close.
No, Auburn isn’t in the national title hunt … yet
Over and over and over again during the broadcast of the Georgia-Auburn all-timer, as well as across the social media world, the idea that the game had national title implications became part of the narrative. SEC championship implications? Absolutely — for the East as well as for Alabama and Auburn — but it’s still going to take a whole slew of amazing things to happen for Auburn get to the BCS Championship Game, much less win it.
First, according to the latest BCS standings, there’s no chance of getting to Pasadena unless at least two of the BCS conference unbeatens — Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor — lose. Even if Auburn wins out, it’s not going to play for the national title over the No. 3 Buckeyes or No. 4 Bears, if they’re unbeaten.
Second, Auburn still has to beat a loaded Alabama team in two weeks, and then it has to get by either Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC title game — that’s not a slam-dunk given for a team that needed a miracle to get by a depleted Georgia. Of course, if the Tigers are good enough to beat Alabama, they should be good enough to beat Mizzou or USC, but again, it doesn’t matter without help.
However, yes, in the pecking order of one-loss teams, the SEC champion would be on top, which begs the question …
What’s wrong with Mizzou?
No. 8 Missouri thumped Georgia in Athens back in early October and didn’t receive nearly the love from the pollsters currently being heaped on Auburn. The gag against South Carolina late last month might have hurt, but the Tigers dominated the game until Connor Shaw became Connor Unitas in desperation mode. Meanwhile, Auburn’s loss came by 14 to LSU.
Not only has Missouri won every other game; it has blown out everyone but the Gamecocks. Granted, there isn’t a win on the résumé anywhere near as good as Auburn’s victory at Texas A&M — this isn’t an anti-Auburn beef — but AU needed everything in the bag to get by Mississippi State, and had to fight to get by Washington State and Ole Miss. Missouri gets it chances against the Rebels and Aggies over the next two weeks, but it doesn’t have to play Alabama.
Meanwhile, Clemson is No. 7 thanks to its big win over — over — Boston College? The Georgia win was great, but Missouri and Auburn have one of those, and the 51-14 home thumping from Florida State was an obvious disaster compared to Mizzou’s loss to South Carolina.
In the end, if Missouri wins the rest of its games, and it comes down to the one-loss teams, it’ll play for the national title. The computers will come around.
A second Pac-12 team?
The biggest loser from Stanford’s loss to USC might be the Pac-12.
OK, follow me here.
If Fresno State or Northern Illinois busts the BCS, and if there’s a push for Michigan State or Wisconsin as the second team from the Big Ten — assuming Ohio State wins the Big Ten title — and if Clemson is a mortal lock to be the ACC’s second BCS team, and if the SEC gets two teams in, there aren’t going to be any spaces left for the Pac-12, despite being widely considered to be the second-best conference this season.
The winner of the Pac-12 championship gets an automatic invite, but Oregon probably won’t get a BCS bid if it loses the title game. Considering the lack of a traveling fan base, Stanford is all but out now for an at-large bid, while Arizona State, UCLA and USC don’t have the résumés and will all most certainly finish ranked behind the Cardinal.
The Michigan State situation
Wisconsin is going to be the trendy pick from the Big Ten to receive and at-large bid, but there’s still a lot of work to do for the No. 19 Badgers to get up into the top 14 in the standings — a must to be among the pool of at-large teams. Michigan State is already there at No. 13, and it could slide up further with No. 10 Oklahoma State playing No. 4 Baylor this week, No. 11 South Carolina still having to face No. 7 Clemson, and No. 12 Texas A&M having No. 8 Missouri on the schedule. That means the Spartans should be able to afford a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game and still be alive for their first BCS bowl appearance and their first big-time bowl since beating USC in the 1988 Rose.
The Alabama situation
Let’s stop this now. The speculation coming from some is that it’s all or nothing for Alabama — either it plays in the BCS Championship Game, or it’s out of the BCS bowl mix entirely. Even if there’s some concern about a dejected fan base not wishing to travel to anything less than the big one, at 11-1 or 12-1 — depending on when the loss would come before or in the SEC title game — this will still be the most attractive one-loss team by a mile. If the SEC champ ends up playing in the BCS Championship Game, Alabama would be an easy pick for the Sugar Bowl, and the Orange would do cartwheels to get the Tide, unless a big deal is made over …
The Johnny Manziel factor
Forgetting that Alabama actually beat Texas A&M in College Station, and dismissing the fact that the Tide would almost certainly finish the season higher in the standings than the Aggies, even with one loss, people will want to see Johnny Football in what would almost certainly be his final game. If A&M closes out with wins over LSU and Missouri on the road, it’ll shoot up the standings well into the top 10. Would Manziel’s appeal be enough to overcome a more deserving Alabama team? Maybe.
Fresno State or Northern Illinois might not be a mortal lock
All of a sudden, the non-BCS champion getting into the fun doesn’t seem like a sure thing. Fresno State or Northern Illinois has to either finish in the top 12 — and there’s a lot of traffic in the way for the No. 15 Bulldogs and the No. 16 Huskies — or finish in the top 16 and ahead of a BCS conference champion. It was always assumed that UCF would finish below Fresno State or NIU, but that’s starting to change. If the Knights win out and move up the human polls even a little bit, the computers will take care of the rest.
UCF is No. 18 right now according to the computers; Fresno State is 16th and NIU 12th. Remember, some of the computer formulas recalibrate once the season is over. So, if you’re not a fan of the little guy playing a big exhibition game, or if you’d rather see a second Pac-12 or Big 12 team get in, start cheering for UCF to look impressive over against USF and SMU — and for the human voters to finally acknowledge the win over Louisville, who’s ranked four spots higher in the Harris and five spots up in the coaches’ polls.