Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Pecking Order Emerges

It's only the first BCS Standings of the 2009 season, but there are enough clues to provide a glimpse at what will be the narrative the rest of the year, leading to the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl next Jan. 7.

* It is almost assured that, for the fourth consecutive season, an SEC team will be in the BCS title game and for the first time since the 1946 game, a Southern team will make an appearance at the Granddaddy of 'Em All. It's unlikely that either Florida or Alabama will lose a game until they meet again in Atlanta for the SEC title. The winner of that game will play for the BCS championship.

* Next in line is Texas. Though at times shaky, the Longhorns have managed to keep a clean slate. Their toughest stretch will be the next two weeks, when they go play at Mizzou and Oklahoma State. After that, they do not leave the Lone Star State again the rest of the regular season, culminating with the Big 12 title game in Arlington.

* Iowa would be the first alternate should Texas falter. The Hawkeyes might be only seventh (Harris) and eighth (Coaches) in the polls, but as they continue winning, they will inevitably rise. Particularly crucial is their Nov. 14 game at Ohio State. If they can win in Columbus and beat their remaining opponents, they're just a Texas loss away from their first BCS title game appearance.

* If Texas and Iowa both lose once, USC would be next in line. It may seem far-fetched at the moment, as the Trojans are No. 7 in the BCS Standings, but take a closer look. USC is already the highest ranked one-loss team in the polls (No. 4 in both Coaches and Harris polls), and its computer rankings will only improve as the season goes on. The Trojans need to beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Oct. 31, but other than that, they'll be a double-digit favorite for every remaining game. Wins over Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona will help the Trojans' computer ratings. If they should finish the season without another loss, the Trojans will be among the top 5 teams in the computers.

* Cincinnati and Boise State, though both still unbeaten, may not be able to vault a one-loss USC team for the BCS title game. The Broncos should have clear sailing to 13-0, but their atrocious remaining schedule will keep their poll rankings stuck at about Nos. 5-6. Cincinnati, despite a big win over South Florida, does not have a single signature opponent on its schedule and may finish 12-0 without beating even one team that's ranked at the end of the season. If USC should beat both Oregon (Boise State) and Oregon State (Cincinnati) impressively, then it will win the common-opponent argument.

* TCU is the wild card here. Where the Frogs might go from this point and on is a bit of a mystery. A win at BYU this week and then Utah later in the season should cement a 12-0 record, but would they be enough to put TCU over Boise State for a BCS bowl spot, let along for the BCS title? Where the Frogs go end up might depend on both BYU and Utah finishing with at least nine wins apiece. TCU's problem is its nonconference schedule. Though well intended - with road games at Virginia and Clemson - it just hasn't turned out to help much.

It's difficult to see anybody outside of this eight-team pool to emerge in the BCS title game picture without a spate of upsets. The chances for utter BCS chaos remain, but most likely it will result in a debate over the merits of a one-loss BCS behemoth such as USC vs. an unbeaten non-BCS entry (or in Cincinnati's case, BCS-lite).

If the choice for the voters - and ultimately, it will be the voters who decide things - is a delicious and long-awaited matchup between the SEC champ and the Trojans, or the SEC champ and Boise State or Cincinnati, it's hard to see them going for the latter.

It's not a fair fight. But it never is in the BCS.


Jonathan said...

Nice breakdown. I'm excited to see how things shake out.

James said...

Hi. I appreciate all the work you do and most of your analysis, so please don't take this as a personal attack. I think you're being way premature in reporting the title game death of the other 112 teams. Specifically, LSU almost controls its own destiny. If they win out, beating Bama to force a CCG rematch with UF, probably only Tex and USC winning out would keep LSU out of the NCG. Miami and GT are lurking and can't be counted out if someone falters. Oregon's hopes are far from dead.

Anonymous said...

I am so sick of everyone comparing Cincinatti and Boise. There is a very good chance Oregon State, Pitt, WVU, and South Florida all end the season ranked or at least in the top 30. Four wins against ranked opponents (three on the road) would be a better resume than anyone. Plus, six to seven of their wins would be against teams who are going bowling. Boise will finish with one win against a ranked opponent by a small margin at home and only three wins against teams who will go bowling. Cinci's schedule is head and shoulders above Boise. I still agree with the Guru's order of selection except Cinci would be miles ahead of Boise and TCU. Cinci vs 1-loss USC would be a hot debate and will come down to .001 in the polls in USC's favor. Boise and TCU would be afterthoughts who would not even come close.

Anonymous said...

USC's strength of schedule could end up pretty weak. Most people have OhioST and Notre Dame finishing 8-4 and unranked. Oregon should also finish 9-3 and barely ranked. This means USC could finish the season with only one win against a ranked opponent and a loss against a team that won't even be bowl elligable. The only way USC could make the title game is if Oregon, OhioST and Notre Dame win all remaining games and finish ranked.

Anonymous said...

Last year OregonST finished second in the Pac-10 and ranked in the top 25 and it was still viewed so poorly against USC that they were held out of the title game. This year their loss is to a team that is projected to finish 4-8 or 5-7. That will kill their computer score down the stretch. A national champion team should never lose to a 4-8 team.

Larry said...

Last year people didn't respect Oregon St like they should have. They finished 9-4 JUST LIKE Ole Miss but since they were in the SEC they were labeled "better" which is far from the truth.

Actually the Pac-10 is very strong this year (i.e., #1 in the Saragin rating and have a ton of teams in the top 50 in ALL the computers). USC would have beaten 4 ranked teams on the road, no one can claim that. You can't knock their schedule.

Plus, there are teams in the top 25 that have ONLY beaten right now 1 ranked team (Florida, Texas, Cincy, Okla St, Boise St, LSU, etc).

Then the teams that HAVEN'T beat a ranked team (Penn St, TCU, Utah, Pitt, W Virginia, and Kansas). So let's not knock the Trojans yet.

Anonymous said...

I'm not knocking the trojans, I'm just saying that it will be difficult for them to make it to the title game. They still have to win all remaining games and their signature wins have to mean something, i.e Ohio ST and Notre Dame better get better real fast. I think USC versus SEC in Pasadena would be a dream national title match-up but USC does not control it destiny even if it wins all remaining games. It needs about 6 or 7 other teams to all do just the right things at just the right moments to make it happen. Plus, a one loss Miami, Georgia Tech, Texas, or Oklahoma St would all finish 12-1 rather than 11-1 and would all have a better SOS and would have lost to a highly ranked team rather than a dud.

LAprGuy said...

@Larry - Uh, there are teams ranked in the top 25 that have only PLAYED one ranked team! ;-)

The Cincy vs. Boise comparison is a good one, because as bad a schedule as Boise plays, wow, I actually think they play better teams in conference than does Cincy. Fresno State is better than Pitt, for one, and arguably better than So. Florida.

Larry said...

LApr guy, that's my point. People are complaining about schedules and resumes, but the top teams resumes aren't as good as Miami's or USC. Texas won't have a great SOS because they really don't play anyone besides Oklahoma and Okla St, so it doesn't matter if they go 12-1.

I hope that Cincy and Iowa both go undefeated though. Nothing would make me happier than seeing two undefeated BCS champions not invited to the BCS CG over a 1 loss team.