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Last BCS debate is first Playoff debate

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(Eds: With AP Photos.)By RALPH D. RUSSOAP College Football Writer

The last big BCS debate is in a way the first big College Football Playoff debate.

In this 16th and final season of the Bowl Championship Series, all the talk lately has been about strength of schedule - or the lack thereof for No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Ohio State in comparison to the teams playing for the Southeastern Conference championship.

The conference commissioners who created the four-team playoff that replaces the BCS next year have gone out of their way to say they want the selection committee that picks those four teams to put a premium on schedule strength.

So instead of simply debating No. 3 Auburn or Ohio State, let's play this forward and ask the question: What if we had to pick four teams this season?

Let's assume the favorites win out Saturday. Here are the teams that would be up for debate:

Florida State (ACC champion)

Ohio State (Big Ten champion)

Auburn (SEC champion)

Oklahoma State (Big 12 champion)

Arizona State (Pac-12 champion)

Alabama

Baylor

Others that would be worthy of a mention: South Carolina, Oregon, Michigan State and Missouri, and unbeaten Northern Illinois at least has its resume on the table.

The BCS standings would solve this riddle by picking Florida State, Ohio State and Auburn. Alabama and Oklahoma State would be fighting for that last spot, with the Tide having the inside track.

But the BCS standings are driven by poll voters who generally stack teams in order of record, with the exception of teams such as NIU from BCS non-automatic qualifying conferences.

In a world where strength of schedule is supposed to be at the forefront, how could the Pac-12 champion be left out?

The Sagarin computer ratings currently have No. 11 Arizona State's schedule as the fourth toughest in the country before playing No. 7 Stanford on Saturday night at home for the Pac-12 title.

No. 4 Alabama's schedule is 48th toughest in Division I. Oklahoma State's is 43rd.

ESPN also has a strength of schedule metric that has Arizona State's schedule strength at No. 3 in FBS. Alabama's is 54th. Oklahoma State's 48th.

For perspective, the difference between Arizona State's schedule ranking and those of Alabama and Oklahoma State in both those metrics is greater than the difference between Auburn's and either Florida State's or Ohio State's.

Note to SEC schools: Replacing a patsy on your schedule with another conference game - the way the Pac-12 does - goes a long way toward beefing up your SOS. Especially when your conference is as good as the Pac-12 has been this season, grading out as no worse than a close second to the SEC.

Of course, it's not just about who you play but how you play, and there would be many other factors to weigh. But it'd be hard to argue against the champion of the second-toughest conference that played clearly the toughest schedule. It gets even tougher if Stanford is the Pac-12 champ, because then you can eliminate the whole Wisconsin-game fiasco as it relates to Arizona State.

That brings us back to this season and the current debate. If a one-loss team deserves to trump an undefeated team because of schedule, then why not a two-loss team over a one-loss team for the same reason?

The picks:

MAIN EVENT

No. 2 Ohio State (minus 5 1/2) vs. No. 10 Michigan State, Big Ten championship in Indianapolis

A decisive win by the Buckeyes would end the drama - or a loss ... MICHIGAN STATE 31-28.

MARQUEE MATCHUPS

No. 1 Florida State (minus 29) vs. No. 20 Duke, ACC championship at Charlotte, N.C.

If Blue Devils can pull this off, forget coach of the year, David Cutcliffe gets coach of the decade ... FLORIDA STATE 48-14.

No. 3 Auburn (minus 2) vs. No. 5 Missouri, SEC championship at Atlanta

Just admit it. It's Gus Malzahn's world ... AUBURN 35-28.

No. 7 Stanford (plus 3) at No. 11 Arizona State, Pac-12 championship

Sun Devils can earn first Rose Bowl bid since 1996 season ... ARIZONA STATE 31-27

No. 18 Oklahoma (plus 10) at No. 6 Oklahoma State

Sooners have won nine of 10 in Bedlam, but not the last one in Stillwater ... OKLAHOMA STATE 28-20.

No. 23 Texas (plus 14) at No. 9 Baylor

If Oklahoma State loses, winner here gets Big 12 title ... BAYLOR 42-21.

No. 19 Louisville (minus 3 1/2) at Cincinnati, Thursday

Last Keg of Nails rivalry game for the foreseeable future ... LOUISVILLE 35-33.

No. 16 Northern Illinois (minus 3) vs. Bowling Green, MAC championship at Detroit, Friday

BCS bid on the line for Huskies, and Heisman Trophy ceremony invitation for Jordan Lynch ... NORTHERN ILLINOIS 28-27.

No. 15 UCF (off) at SMU

Mustangs might be without QB Garrett Gilbert (knee) ... UCF 45-24.

BEST BET

Utah State (plus 3 1/2) at No. 24 Fresno State, MWC championship

Last chance for Derek Carr to make a Heisman push ... FRESNO STATE 38-31.

UPSET SPECIAL

Marshall (minus 5) at Rice, Conference USA championship

Winner goes to Liberty Bowl; expect plenty of points ... RICE 42-35.

Last week: Record straight: 12-4; vs. points 6-10.

Season: 216-46; 117-117-3.

Best bet: 9-4-1.

Upset special: 5-5.

---

Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

Tagged: Florida State, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Fresno State, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma

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