Monday, November 12, 2007

A WAC-ky Break

Losses by Michigan and Ohio State have a much greater meaning than knocking the Buckeyes out of No. 1, and in all likelihood, the national title race. The Wolverines now have picked up a lot of WAC fans on their bandwagon for Saturday's annual showdown for the Big Ten title.

A Michigan victory will earn it the Big Ten championship outright, and a Rose Bowl berth. But it also should kick in the Top 16 clause: Any non-BCS member will qualify for a BCS bid if it finishes in the Top 16, as long as it's ahead of a BCS conference winner -- a much easier path than being in the Top 12 for the automatic bid.

This scenario not only buoyed the chances for Hawai'i, whose quest was all but in death throes as of last week, but also brought Boise State back to life. Hawai'i now sits at No. 16 and Boise State at No. 18, both well ahead of No. 21 Michigan. It's difficult to see the Wolverines leapfrog either team now that the Buckeyes have also slipped to No. 7 in the BCS standings.

With that being the case, when Boise State plays Hawai'i at the Aloha Bowl on Nov. 23, a BCS berth may very well be on the line.

Yes, if you're a Warriors or Broncos fan, learn the words of "The Victors" and yell "Go Blue!" like you mean it this Saturday.

Besides the exciting WAC news, there is this pesky little detail about the national championship. Ah, with three weeks remaining on the season, the BCS title game race looks to be a three-team affair among LSU, Oregon and the eventual Big XII champion. With regard to that, then there are only 12 meaningful games left on the regular season.

Let's break those down before we get to the Rooting Guide, with rivalry games denoted with an asterisk (*):

Nov. 15 -- Oregon (-12 1/2) at Arizona: A game the Ducks should easily win. Then again, last year, the Wildcats romped in Eugene.

Nov. 17 --
Kansas (-26) vs. Iowa State: This could be a trap game if the Jayhawks get caught looking ahead to the showdown against Missouri a week later.

Missouri (-7 1/2) at Kansas State: The small spread suggests that this is a also a trap game for the Tigers, never mind that the Wildcats gave up 73 points to Nebraska last week.

Oklahoma (-9 1/2) at Texas Tech: Mike Leach is mad about Big XII officiating. Nothing new there. The Sooners will get their share of favorable calls in Lubbock.
LSU (-18) at Ole Miss: This will be a tougher game then it appears, but the Tigers should win going away.

Nov. 23 -- LSU vs. Arkansas*: This may be a rivalry game but the Tigers should have the clear upper hand, playing at home. LSU should be a two-touchdown favorite.

Nov. 24 --
Kansas vs. Missouri at Kansas City*: Originally a Kansas home game, now the Jayhawks probably wish to have remained that way. On the line will be the Big XII North title, and most likely also a chance for the national championship game.

Oregon at UCLA: The Ducks are catching the depleted Bruins at a good time. This UCLA team, ravaged by injuries, might not even be bowl eligible if it loses to Oregon.

Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State*: The Sooners are desperately trying to atone for their lone loss of the season. But they had not better overlook the Cowboys. If it weren't for the fourth-quarter collapse against Texas, this game would've determined the winner of the Big XII South.

Dec. 1 --
Oregon vs. Oregon State*: The Civil War, oldest rivalry in the Pac-10, has yielded some surprising results in the past. The Beavers, with three losses against ranked opponents and another against a healthy UCLA team, are better than your average 6-4 squad.

Big XII championship: For this game to matter, it'll have to pit either an 11-1 Missouri or a 12-0 Kansas against 11-1 Oklahoma. And the winner of this game will have an agonizing wait to see if LSU bombs in the SEC championship game.

SEC championship: Just like last year, the chase will come down to the last game of the regular season. A win will most likely send the Tigers to their first BCS title game since 2003, no matter what happens earlier in the day. A loss might result in mass chaos.

Now, without further ado, the Rooting Guide:

1. LSU (9-1)
Losable games: Nov. 23 vs. Arkansas (6-4); Dec. 1 at SEC championship
National title scenario: LSU is No. 1 in four of six computers and enjoys a decent lead in the polls. As long as the Tigers win out, it's unlikely anyone can jump them.
BCS bowl scenario: A two-loss LSU team is assured of at least a BCS at-large berth. And if the Tigers win the SEC but don't get into the national title game, they'll head to New Orleans anyway, for the Sugar Bowl.
Root for: Georgia and Tennessee. LSU would rather play either of these teams than get into a rematch against a very talented Florida team. A Georgia victory over Kentucky on Saturday will for sure keep the Gators out of the SEC title game.
Root against: Oregon, Kansas, Oklahoma. Just for insurance.

2. Oregon (8-1)
Losable game: Dec. 1 vs. Oregon State (6-4)
National title scenario: The Ducks may be No. 2, but they have plenty to worry about. Since they do not have another marquee game left, they are vulnerable in the polls. And if Kansas goes undefeated, they may not be able to fend off the Jayhawks for the No. 2 spot.
BCS bowl scenario: The Ducks control the Pac-10 race. But one more loss can knock them out of a Rose Bowl berth if Arizona State finishes unbeaten. In that case, they may be headed for the Fiesta Bowl.
Root for: Oregon State. The Ducks need the Beavers to bring a good record to the Civil War so they can make some noise on the final day of the regular season.
Root against: LSU, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arizona State.

3. Kansas (10-0)
Losable games: Nov. 24 vs. Missouri (9-1); Dec. 1 at Big XII championship
National title scenario: Kansas is probably the team that has the firmest control of its own destiny, even more so than LSU. A 13-0 Jayhawks team, with wins over Missouri and Oklahoma, almost certainly will jump to no worse than No. 2 in the polls and collect enough computer support to land in the BCS title game.
BCS bowl scenario: It might be an all-or-nothing deal. A loss to Missouri probably will cost the Jayhawks a spot in the Big XII title game, and with it, maybe even a BCS at-large berth. A win over the Tigers in Kansas City will probably assure KU its first-ever BCS bowl appearance.
Root for: Oklahoma. If the Jayhawks were to achieve this improbable dream, they need the big bad Sooners to be 11-1 heading into the Big XII title game.
Root against: LSU, Oregon, Missouri. Yes, Mizzou. If you're a Jayhawks fan, you need to hedge your bet. A Tigers loss to K-State will clinch the Big XII North for KU and a berth in the Big XII title game.

4. Oklahoma (9-1)
Losable games: Nov. 17 at Texas Tech (7-4); Dec. 1 at Big XII championship
National title scenario: The Sooners will really rue that shocking loss to Colorado back on Sept. 29. It's going to take either Oregon or LSU losing to get them into the national championship game. But their prospect is already much improved just a week later.
BCS bowl scenario: It's possible for OU to reach the Big XII title game but be shut out of a BCS berth altogether. Here's how: If Missouri defeats a previously unbeaten Kansas and then upsets Oklahoma in the Big XII title game, then the Tigers get the Fiesta Bowl berth and KU might steal the at-large berth with just one loss.
Root for: Kansas. That being said, OU wants the Jayhawks to come into the Big XII title game unbeaten and then puts the hurt on them. That will help things if the battle for the national title game spots gets tight.
Root against: LSU, Oregon, West Virginia. The Mountaineers are not really in the hunt, but just in case.

5. Missouri (9-1)
Losable games: Nov. 17 at Kansas State (5-5); Nov. 24 vs. Kansas (10-0); Dec. 1 at Big XII championship game
National title scenario: A week later, Missouri is just a LSU or Oregon loss away from controlling its own destiny when it comes to the BCS title chase.
BCS bowl scenario: The Tigers do control their own destiny here. Win the Big XII, a trip to the Fiesta Bowl is guaranteed, if not the national championship game.
Root for: Oklahoma. For sweet revenge, Missouri wants the Sooners in the Big XII title game with an 11-1 record.
Root against: LSU, Oregon, West Virginia, Ohio State and Texas. Yes, if Missouri loses in the Big XII game, it risks losing a BCS at-large berth to a two-loss Longhorns team. A Texas loss to rival A&M will make things easier.

6. West Virginia (8-1)
Key games: Nov.17 at Cincinnati; Nov. 24 vs. Connecticut
BCS bowl prospect: If West Virginia wins out, it will claim the Big East championship and an automatic berth to a BCS bowl game.
Needs help from: No one, right now -- unless you're still thinking about the national championship, then the Mountaineers need everybody in front of them to lose.

7. Ohio State (10-1)
Key game: Nov. 17 at Michigan (8-3)
BCS bowl prospect: The loss to Illinois changed everything. Not only is the national title out of the question, the Buckeyes might not even make it to the Rose Bowl. It does appear that Ohio State would be a lock for a BCS bowl berth, even if it ends the regular season with two consecutive losses..
Needs help from: No one, for now. Unless teams in front of them start losing like crazy.

8. Arizona State (9-1)
Key games: Nov. 22 vs. USC; Dec. 1 vs. Arizona
BCS bowl prospect: The Sun Devils might have lost their shot at the national title game, but a Pac-10 championship, with it a Rose Bowl berth, is still very much in play. By winning its remaining two games, ASU will no do worse than Pac-10 co-champ and a Fiesta Bowl berth.
Needs help from: Oregon. A loss by the Ducks will put the Sun Devils back in the driver's seat in the Pac-10 race and their first Rose Bowl appearance since Jake Plummer was their quarterback.

9. Georgia (8-2)
Key game: Nov. 17 vs. Kentucky
BCS bowl prospect: By winning its remaining two games, Georgia is all but assured of a BCS at-large berth even if it fails to earn a spot in the SEC championship game. If the Bulldogs finish the regular season 10-2, they'll likely earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl should LSU advances to the BCS title game.
Needs help from: Tennessee. If the Vols remain unbeaten the rest of the way, they will have the tiebreaker edge over Georgia in the SEC East, by virtue of their victory over the Bulldogs. If you're only rooting for Georgia to get a BCS berth, then you'd want the Vols to win out so UGA can avoid an SEC title game fight against LSU.

10. Virginia Tech (8-2)
Key games: Nov. 24 at Virginia; Dec. 1 ACC championship
BCS bowl prospect: A victory over archrival Virginia will earn the Hokies a trip to Jacksonville, against Boston College or Clemson. An Orange Bowl berth comes with the ACC title.
Needs help from: No one, really. An at-large berth is all but out of the question for any 3-loss team at this point.

11. USC (8-2)
Key games: Nov. 22 at Arizona State; Dec. 1 vs. UCLA
BCS bowl prospect: The Trojans' run as the Pac-10 champ might be over, but they are very much alive for a sixth straight BCS bowl berth, extending their own record. By finishing 10-2 with a win at ASU will assure USC a BCS bowl berth, maybe even a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, should Oregon move on to the BCS title game.
Needs help from: Oregon. Well, depends on what you're looking for. If the Ducks lose two of their final three, USC can still win the conference. Since that's not likely, Trojans fans are better off rooting for Oregon to get into the title game so USC can get back to Pasadena.

12. Florida (7-3)
Key game: Nov. 24 vs. Florida State
BCS bowl prospect: Even with three losses, the Gators are not quite dead yet. But Kentucky controls Florida's destiny as it's finished with SEC games.
Needs help from: Tennessee and Georgia. Both teams still play Kentucky and if UK beats both of them, then the Gators will win a three-way or four-way tiebreaker. If Kentucky loses to one of them, then the Gators are finished and must wait to see if they get a BCS at-large berth.

13. Texas (9-2)
Key game: Nov. 23 at Texas A&M
BCS bowl prospect: Unless Oklahoma implodes, the Longhorns won't win the Big 12 South. That said, a 10-2 Texas is very much in the hunt for an at-large berth.
Needs help from: Oklahoma. Like it or not, 'Horns fans must root for OU in the Big XII title game. An OU victory gives Texas a shot at a BCS bowl berth. An OU loss means the at-large bid will end up with the Sooners.

14. Virginia (8-2)
Key games: Nov. 24 vs. Virginia Tech; Dec. 1 ACC championship
BCS bowl prospect: A win over the Hokies will give the Cavs the division title and a spot in the ACC title game. A win in Jacksonville will earn them an Orange Bowl berth.
Needs help from: No one.

15. Clemson (8-2)
Key games: Nov. 17 vs. Boston College; Dec. 1 ACC championship
BCS bowl prospect: A victory over BC will give Clemson the ACC Atlantic title and a chance for its first conference championship under Tommy Bowden.
Needs help from: No one.

16. Hawai'i (9-0)
Key games: Nov. 16 at Nevada; Nov. 23 vs. Boise State; Dec. 1 vs. Washington
BCS bowl prospect: The losses by Michigan and Ohio State have dramatically improved Hawai'i's chances for a BCS at-large berth ... but Colt Brennan's injury might offset that. Hawai'i's final road game of the season, at Nevada, might become perilous if Brennan doesn't recover in time from a concussion.
Needs help from: Michigan. Completely different from last week, now Hawai'i needs the Wolverines to beat Ohio State. While Hawai'i's hopes for a Top 12 finish and a guaranteed bid have all but evaporated, it's now very much alive for an at-large bid via the Top 16 rule. If Michigan wins the Big Ten, most likely it will still rank behind Hawai'i and therefore the Warriors qualify for a BCS bid by finishing in the Top 16 in the BCS standings.

17. Boston College (8-2)
Key games: Nov. 17 at Clemson; Dec. 1 ACC championship
BCS bowl prospect: Saturday's game at Clemson will decide who wins the ACC Atlantic. And then it's onto Jacksonville for the ACC title game against the Virginia-Virginia Tech winner.
Needs help from: No one.

18. Boise State (9-1)
Key game: Nov. 23 at Hawai'i
BCS bowl prospect: Believe it or not, the Broncos suddenly have a shot to become the first non-BCS school to earn back-to-back BCS appearances. Upset losses by Michigan and Ohio State opened the door for Boise State, just as they did for Hawai'i.
Needs help from: Michigan and Hawai'i. Like the Warriors, a Wolverines win might get the Broncos in the BCS picture via the Top 16 rule. And of course, Boise State wants the Warriors to win all their remaining games and be a perfect 10-0 before the showdown.

20. Tennessee (7-3)
Key games: Nov. 17 vs. Vanderbilt; Nov. 24 at Kentucky; Dec. 1 SEC championship
BCS bowl prospect: The Vols control their own BCS destiny. Win their remaining three games, including the SEC title game, they will be in the Sugar Bowl. Lose just once, it will all go kaput.
Needs help from: No one. One Tennessee loss will hand the SEC East to either Georgia or Florida. There is no backdoor way in.

21. Michigan (8-3)
Key game: Nov. 17 vs. Ohio State
BCS bowl prospect: The loss to Wisconsin didn't really cost Michigan anything, after the Buckeyes also lost to Illinois. A victory gives Michigan the outright Big Ten title and its fourth trip to the Rose Bowl in five years. A loss, it might be, gulp, the Champs Sports Bowl.
Needs help from: No one.

22. Cincinnati (8-2)
Key game: Nov. 17 vs. West Virginia
BCS bowl prospect: The Bearcats need a little help, but if they can beat West Virginia at home, they will have a great shot at winning their first Big East title and a BCS bowl berth.
Needs help from: Connecticut. If the Huskies lose one of their remaining two games, then the Bearcats will claim the Big East championship by winning out. UConn finishes the season with a trip to Morgantown.

24. Connecticut (8-2)
Key game: Nov. 24 at West Virginia
BCS bowl prospect: This should be basketball season in Storrs by now, but the football Huskies still have all the marbles to play for. Most likely, the Big East title will be decided in Morgantown.
Needs help from: No one. UConn controls its own destiny, but a loss will end all hope.

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