Bowl projections: Solving the BCS puzzle

BY foxsports • November 20, 2011

So your head is swimming when it comes to all the college football craziness going on over the last several days.

Welcome to the club.

Then-No. 2 Oklahoma State had a clear shot to the BCS championship game, needing to come up with a win over mediocre Iowa State on Friday night to set up a showdown with Oklahoma on Dec. 3. On the same day that news broke of the tragic plane crash that killed two OSU women’s basketball coaches, and against the fired-up and focused Cyclones, the Cowboys weren’t sharp. Yet Oklahoma still had chances in the end, missing what would have been a game-winning field-goal in regulation and taking the game double overtime before losing. However, with just the one loss, OSU, which fell to No. 4 this week, still is alive in the BCS championship chase.

Then-No. 4 Oregon got its big break with the Oklahoma State loss, but its defense couldn’t handle quarterback Matt Barkley and USC, and Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt that would’ve sent the game into overtime. With two losses, even though the Ducks will play for the Pac-12 title if they beat Oregon State, they’re out of the national-title hunt. They dropped to No. 10 in this week's rankings.

Oklahoma, No. 5 last week and No. 9 this week, had the openings it needed to move up, but Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin put on a show for the ages with 479 passing yards, 72 rushing yards and four scores, including the game winner from 34 yards out with eight seconds to play, for a 45-38 win to end the Sooners’ title hopes.

Clemson entered the weekend at No. 7, and could’ve been the big winner. But it played like a team satisfied that it already had the Atlantic Division title sewn up. So NC State, needing the win to stay in the hunt for a bowl game, blew away Clemson 37-13, dropping the Tigers to No. 17.

Four of the seven teams that were in the national title chase entering Friday now are either out or need a miracle — or three — to have any shot at playing in the BCS championship. Meanwhile, all the upsets set up the possibility for even more chaos over Thanksgiving weekend.

Let’s make this as easy as possible. Putting all the BCS rules aside for now, there are three key parts of the national title puzzle.

1) Without getting into all the tiebreaking scenarios, if No. 3 Arkansas beats No. 1 LSU in Baton Rouge on Friday, two SEC teams almost certainly will play in the BCS championship. The contenders from outside the SEC desperately need LSU to take care of business at home to get the Hogs out of the picture. And then . . .

2) Everyone could use an Alabama loss at Auburn on Saturday. While the Tigers aren’t very good, a win over the No. 2 Tide hardly would be the biggest stunner in the history of the rivalry.

3) Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State on Dec. 3 matters unless LSU beats Arkansas and Alabama beats Auburn. If the Tigers and Tide both win this weekend, the Bedlam rivalry in Stillwater will be for an automatic spot in the Fiesta Bowl, but not the BCS championship.

To add one part of the rule book into the scenarios, because it’s the biggest question being asked right now, if Alabama beats Auburn, LSU beats Arkansas and Georgia stuns LSU in the SEC championship, then three SEC teams still could get into the BCS. Georgia would automatically go to the Sugar Bowl, and it still would be possible for LSU and Alabama, if they were ranked in the top two, to play for the national title without winning the conference championship.

Here’s what else you need to know for each of the six true national title contenders left standing — leaving out Houston, Oregon, Oklahoma, Boise State and a few others in the hunt for an appearance in a BCS game, but not the championship.

• If LSU beats Arkansas, it almost certainly will go to the BCS championship no matter what happens against Georgia in the SEC championship. If the Tigers lose on Friday, the tie-breaker scenarios will get very tricky, very fast, and they’ll most likely end up out of the national title picture by moving down to No. 3 in the BCS standings unless Alabama loses to Auburn. Of course, if LSU beats Arkansas and Georgia, LSU will be the unquestioned No. 1 team in the country going into the BCS championship.

• If Alabama beats Auburn, it probably will play for the national title no matter what happens with Arkansas and LSU. The Tide almost certainly will move up to No. 1 if the Hogs beat the Tigers, and after all the SEC tie-breaker scenarios, likely would play Georgia for the SEC championship.

• If Arkansas beats LSU, then the fun will start. The Hogs almost certainly would move up to No. 2, at least, and LSU probably would drop from No. 1 to No. 3. If that happens, then Alabama would play for the SEC title, and Arkansas would be a firm No. 2 and would all but be assured of a spot in the national championship.

• Oklahoma State, despite the loss to Iowa State, still is alive. The human pollsters will take into account that it was a double-overtime road loss coming on the same day the team found out about the plane crash. If the Cowboys beat Oklahoma handily, they’ll move into the top two if LSU beats Arkansas and Alabama loses to Auburn.

• Stanford still is in the picture no matter what happens in the Pac-12 championship chase. The Cardinal need to beat Notre Dame and needs an LSU win over Arkansas, an Alabama loss to Auburn, and an Oklahoma win over Oklahoma State. A Virginia Tech loss to Virginia or in the ACC title game, if the Hokies get there, could be a must, too.

• Virginia Tech could end up being in a better spot than Stanford because of the ACC title game. If the Hokies beat Virginia and get a shot to avenge their only loss of the season against Clemson, at 12-1 they’d knock on the door, but they’d need LSU to beats Arkansas, Alabama to lose to Auburn and, most likely, Oklahoma State to lose to Oklahoma.

Got all that? Above all else, remember that the most likely scenario is that LSU beats Arkansas and Georgia, Alabama beats Auburn, and the world gets a rematch of the 9-6 overtime slugfest of Nov. 5.

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