Monday, October 13, 2008

Battleground: Penn State

While presidential candidates are busy traversing the Keystone State trolling for votes, Pennsylvania just happens to be the epicenter of another important race that will be settled this fall - the battle for the BCS title game.

While as expected, Texas and Alabama are Nos. 1 and 2 in the latest unofficial BCS standings, it's No. 3 Penn State that has the inside track to the championship game in Miami.

The reasons are pretty simple: Penn State doesn't have to play in a conference championship game; and the Nittany Lions have an astonishingly favorable schedule.

With three of their remaining five games at home, the Lions also will face just two ranked teams the rest of the way. Their biggest test, of course, is the Oct. 25 trip to Columbus. But Ohio State has been anything but an offensive juggernaut, having scored just one offensive touchdown in its last seven quarters. Penn State, meanwhile, has averaged over 45 points per game.

The Lions' BCS quest, and Big Ten title hopes, might come down to the season finale against Michigan State. After losing at Cal in the season opener, the Spartans have ripped off six straight. If they can get by Ohio State this Saturday, a Penn State-Michigan State at Happy Valley on Nov. 22 will have Pasadena on the line, perhaps more.

Penn State has been flying under the radar - partly because of a benign schedule devoid of ranked teams, partly because the Big Ten has been so thoroughly discredited after repeated Ohio State debacles, including this season's 35-3 shellacking by USC. But the Lions served notice after Saturday's 48-7 romp over Wisconsin, which nearly defeated the Buckeyes a week prior.

Even Joe Paterno was impressed by his own team, declaring his Lions a national title contender.

"We certainly deserve to be considered," he said. "I thought we'd win, but anybody who thought we'd win by 41 hasn't been in the game very long."

While Penn State's road to Miami seems pretty open, all other top contenders will have to knock heads with one another, and the survivors will have to play a conference championship game. Texas, for example, faces the murderer's row of Missouri-Oklahoma State-Texas Tech in the next three weeks. Not to mention Kansas and the Big 12 title game still to come. Alabama must face LSU in Death Valley, Auburn in the Iron Bowl, and possibly Florida or Georgia in the SEC title game.

Another team with a smoother path that has sneakily returned to the chase is USC. The Trojans, stunningly, are now No. 4 in the standings, behind just the three unbeatens and lead all one-loss teams. USC should be the prohibitive favorite to win its remaining seven games, against only one ranked opponent, Cal - at home.

Other one-loss teams have much taller mountains to climb. Oklahoma, the erstwhile No. 1, now needs Texas to lose twice to get into the Big 12 title game, thus its prospects of going to the BCS title game become a longshot. Florida and Georgia will play each other in essentially an elimination game on Nov. 1 in Jacksonville, but both teams are hampered by low computer ratings and lag behind USC. Both Missouri and LSU, after last week's losses, are just about out of it.

Of the five non-BCS conference unbeatens, both Utah and BYU have a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl berth. And if both remain undefeated, the Nov. 22 game at Utah should be a BCS play-in game. Boise State is waiting in the wings should both teams falter, but the chances of two non-BCS teams getting an invitation to a BCS bowl game are just about nil.

At least one team can be safely crossed off the potential BCS guest list - Notre Dame. After their dramatic loss at North Carolina, the Irish now virtually have no shot at finishing in the top 14 of the BCS standings to warrant consideration. Virtually, unless the Irish run the table from here on out, including an unthinkable upset of the Trojans at the Coliseum on Nov. 29.

Even the most optimistic Irish fan probably wouldn't bet on that.

14 comments:

Tom said...

I just can't believe that we'll once more be witness to an outmatched Big Ten team riding a pathetically weak conference schedule right into the championship game. Same goes for the Pac-10. The only legitimate contenders are the Big 12 and the SEC champions - the champions of the two strongest conferences in the country. If Penn State (or USC) manages to sneak its way in, the BCS is dead.

Doug said...

I'm just hoping for an undefeated team in the WAC and the Mountain West.
Every year the BCS gets it wrong and anything that will bring down the BCS I'm all for.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you said "chances for two non-BCS teams are virtually nil". I think it looks like two non-BCS are virtually assured!

The three Highest ranked runners up in the BigTen and PAC10 are ranked 11, 15, and 24. One of those three teams (OSU, MSU, CAL) are the only options for the final at-large, UNLESS you take a second non-BCS team. #11 OSU plays AT #15 MSU this week, so one of them will lose and drop down. Both #11 OSU and #15 MSU still play #3 PSU, so both could probably have one more loss too.

If MSU beats OSU, and theb both OSU and MSU lose to PSU, where do you think they will be ranked? Certainly not in the top 14? And #24 Cal doesn't have much of chance to get to the #14 or higher level.

Meanwhile #10 Utah, #12 BYU, #14 Boise, and even #21 Ball State, are all sitting in nice positions to get not only 1 non-BCS team, but probably 2.

dethwing said...

Problem with your argument: Only the top ranked non-BCS team is assured of getting in. After that, they are just part of the at large pool and must be selected against all other at large teams. And there is no way that any big bowl would take a small school. They wouldn't get enough money for it.

They've already changed the rules to say that if they don't have enough BCS teams to pick from in the top 12, they expand to top 16, and so on.

The Guru said...

As it is right now, six BCS conference champions, a second team from both the SEC and Big 12, and one non-BCS team are assured of berths, so that leaves one.

That pick will end up with the second-place Big Ten team, in my estimation. Any combination of PSU-OSU-MSU will yield two teams in the top 14. An outside chance also is there for Cal to finish 10-2 and get into the top 14.

I'd love to see two non-BCS teams in the top 14 and force the BCS to take both, but that's just so unlikely.

Anonymous said...

Dethwing,

I may misunderstand the BCS rules, but I have asked the BCSGURU and he agrees with me on this ...

IF, in the final BCS poll, there are TWO non-BCS in the top 14, (the first pool of at-large teams) and the PAC10 runner up and BigTen runner up are NOT in the top 14, then the BCS HAS TO TAKE the second non-BCS team.

I COMPETELY AGREE that the BCS bowls don't WANT to take a second non-BCS team. But the rules say they can expand the pool to 18 teams ONLY if there not enough eligible teams in the top 14. I don't think it says if the not enough eligble BCS conference teams, just not enough eligible teams.

IF the BigTen runner up is ranked 15 or lower, and the PAC10 runner up is ranked 15 or lower, the ONLY ELIGIBLE AT-LARGE TEAM in the first pool of 14 teams is the second non-BCS team.

MAYBE you are right, or they will change the rule to say, enough eligible BCS Conference teams, but as the rules currently stand, the BCS would be FORCED to take two non-BCS teams. Not happily, and not without lots of complaining and probably lots of discussion of how to make sure this would never happen again.

Anonymous said...

Guru,

So, If MSU beats OSU, but loses on the road to Michigan (rivalry game, could happen) and on the Road to PSU, finishing the season with two consective loses and a 9-3 season, you think they will still be in the top 14?

Of if OSU beats MSU, but loses to PSU and either Ill or NorthWestern on the road, finishing the year at 9-3, including get blown out by USC, they will end up in the top 14?

Even if one finishes at 10-2 (Both lose to PSU), I don't see them in the top 14 to be honest. And I think BOTH have 3 loses is actually more likely.

Anonymous said...

WE ARE!!!!!!

The Guru said...

OK ... here goes ... hope this satisfies everybody:

1. The top 14 rule is sacrosanct UNLESS there are not 14 eligible teams. Therefore, if none of the second place teams in the Pac-10, Big Ten, ACC and Big East are in the top 14, then by rule the BCS MUST take a non-BCS team that's eligible. The top 18 rule can only be invoked if there are not 10 eligible teams in the top 14 (regardless of conference affiliation).

2. All that said, I just don't think it's likely that only the SEC and Big 12 will have more than one team in the top 14, here's why:

The top 14 currently is populated by five Big 12 teams - four from the South Division - and that just won't hold. You'll see at least two of those teams, maybe three, drop from the top 14 after they all play each other.

Remember how far down Illinois was last year? Yet, at the end of the season, a 9-3 record was still good enough to be ranked No. 13 and a Rose Bowl invitation (a criminal one, but I digress).

Anonymous said...

Do you have to win your conference championship to go to the BCS title game? There was talk of Georgia maybe deserving to go last year. What are the chances of a rematch if Texas and Oklahoma both win out and of course Penn State and Alabama both loose?

dethwing said...

You do not need to win your conference to get in. Many people have grumbled saying that it should be arule, and you can bet the polsters will do all they can to avoid it from happening again. But it is still possible.

have you already forgotten about last year? said...

[i]Both Missouri and LSU, after last week's losses, are just about out of it.[/i]


On the other hand, those two teams could play for the national championship if they win their conference championship games.

KJ said...

hey quick question about the big 12. what if OU, Texas & Texas Tech all have 1 conf loss at the end of the year (i.e OU beats Tech, Tech beats UT). Who makes the B12 title game?

The Guru said...

The Big 12 questions:

You don't have to win the conference to get into the BCS title game. But a rematch of OU and UT in the BCS title game is unlikely because OU can't even advance to the Big 12 title game and will be punished by the voters for it. (As Georgia did a year ago)

In the three-way tie scenario, it'll probably come down to the placement in the BCS standings on Nov. 30. Here's the tiebreaker procedure:

1. The records of the three teams will be compared against each other.

2. The records of the three teams will be compared within their division.

3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (fourth, fifth and sixth).

4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.

5. The highest ranked team in the first Bowl Championship Series Poll following the completion of Big 12 regular season conference play shall be the representative.

6. The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative.

7. The representative will be chosen by draw.

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