The list of candidates just keeps getting smaller in the race to crash college football’s Bowl Championship Series party, and after a Week 3 that served as something of a reality check for many teams that thought they had a chance, the field of viable candidates hoping to become the next Boise State or TCU has been cut in half.
There’s still plenty of season left to be played, and it’s possible, if not likely, that all but one of the remaining undefeated teams will have a loss by this time next week. For now, however, here’s a look at the state of the BCS busters — or what’s left of them, anyway — heading into Week 4:
Notre Dame: The defense for the Fighting Irish (3-0) was superb on Saturday, keeping host Michigan State not just out of the end zone, but out of the red zone in a stunning 20-3 win in East Lansing, Mich. The victory catapulted Notre Dame to No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, its highest ranking of the Brian Kelly era. But unlike most typical “BCS busters,” who face only one or two top-tier teams a year, the task of reaching the BCS won’t get any easier from here for Notre Dame. Three of the Irish’s next five games are against fellow top-20 competition, starting with No. 18 Michigan on Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
Ohio: The Bobcats (3-0) actually trailed host Marshall heading into the fourth quarter Saturday, but Tyler Tettleton’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Clark tied the score at 24-24 with 10:43 left to play. The Bobcats then recovered a Marshall fumble at the Ohio 21-yard line with less than five minutes left in regulation and returned it 48 yards, setting up Matt Weller for the game-winning 38-yard field goal with 1:37 left. Ohio can file this one away in their “a win is a win” folder, but the Bobcats know that, in order to reach a BCS bowl — even if they were to go undefeated — they need to crush teams like Marshall, not just squeak by. With Norfolk State and Massachusetts up next, Ohio can’t afford not to make a statement.
STILL IN THE MIX (TECHNICALLY)
Louisiana Tech: Offense wasn’t in short supply, but defense certainly was as the Bulldogs moved to 2-0 with a 56-37 win over a Rice team that was coming off a win over Kansas and three tough quarters of football in a loss to UCLA. Louisiana Tech is third in the nation in scoring (56 points per game) and fifth in total yardage (603.5 yards per game), but but it’s also dead last in total defense, allowing 585 yards per game. The Bulldogs will get a tougher test the next two weeks on the road against two lower-tier BCS teams, Illinois and Virginia. Win those — and maybe stop somebody once or twice — and perhaps a move into the “favorites” category is in order.
Texas-San Antonio: Larry Coker won a national championship in 2001 as the head coach at Miami, so he knows a winner when he sees one. His UTSA team, thus far, has been a winner in its first season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, but even Coker knows 3-0 means little for your BCS credentials when your wins come against South Alabama, Texas A&M-Commerce and, most recently, Georgia State. Next week, a meeting with Northwestern Oklahoma State looms large. The Roadrunners are lucky it’s not regular ol’ Oklahoma State, or else they’d be 100-point underdogs. This dream will fade eventually — but UTSA has to play someone first.
OUT OF THE PICTURE
BYU: The Cougars (2-1) lost 24-21 to Utah in the Holy War game in Salt Lake City on Saturday despite the Utes’ (and their fans’) best efforts to give the win away. After giving up all but three points of a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter, Utah blocked Justin Sorensen’s potential game-tying 51-yard field-goal try, but Sorensen got a second chance after the Utah students were assessed a 15-yard penalty for rushing the field too early. It made little difference though, as his 36-yard try hit the left upright, closing the door on BYU’s BCS hopes and opening the floodgates for the Utah faithful to rush the field for real.
Utah State: The Aggies (2-1) played Wisconsin tougher than expected, taking a stunning 14-3 lead into the half at Camp Randall, and they would have won had Josh Thompson’s 37-yard field goal not sailed wide right with six seconds left to play in the 16-14 loss. A backbreaking 82-yard punt return touchdown and a Montee Ball touchdown run in the third quarter proved to be the difference in the game and ended any hopes Utah State had at cracking the BCS.
Louisiana-Monroe: Lightning couldn’t strike twice for the Warhawks (1-1), who this time came up on the losing end of an overtime thriller, falling 31-28 at Auburn. Quarterback Kolton Browning led an unlikely comeback for the second straight week for ULM, which erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit but missed a field-goal attempt in overtime to seal the loss. A 1-1 split against two SEC West powers is nothing to scoff at for a team such as Louisiana-Monroe, but the loss Saturday takes the Warhawks out of a BCS picture they were barely in to begin with.
Louisiana-Lafayette: Last week, I wrote that the Ragin’ Cajuns (2-1) were going to get a rude awakening against a ticked-off Oklahoma State team that was coming off a blowout loss to Arizona, but even I didn’t expect it to be this bad. An early injury to Cowboys freshman quarterback Wes Lunt made no difference as Oklahoma State led ULL 44-0 before the Ragin’ Cajuns even knew what hit them. Early season wins over Lamar and Troy meant very little to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ viability as a BCS buster, and this 65-24 loss showed it.