Friday, November 17, 2006

With so many choices, what's the answer?

The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan play their final games of the season tomorrow. Or rather, final game, as it is against one another. Both teams are currently undefeated, and currently are ranked #1 and #2 nationally. The winner obviously gets into the National Championship game. The question, though, is who would deserve to be #2, and get to oppose either the Buckeyes or Wolverines? There are a few options, and I'll look at them in order of likelihood to reach such a game...

The University of Southern California. The Men of Troy looked like they were out of it three weeks ago, when a comeback against Oregon State fell short--they were unable to get a two-point conversion that would have tied the game. However, since then, they've looked good, even as other teams that had moved ahead faltered, and in most cases, lost. Surprisingly, the Trojans are back as the top contender. However, they have three games remaining, and none of them are especially easy. This both hurts and helps, though; if they beat California, Notre Dame, and UCLA, they will be the most obvious candidate. Their schedule strength may end up as the hardest in the country, so that will help them appear better than any other one-loss team.

Florida has the next best chance. They are in the Southeastern Conference, which isn't really that impressive this year, but has a storied tradition and a great reputation, which is far better than current excellence, as far as public opinion goes. However, they are currently just behind USC, and while they also have three games remaining, only one has a real chance of impressing voters or computers: the SEC Championship against Arkansas. Western Carolina, (a I-AA team) and a quite unimpressive Florida State will do little to help, even if Florida wins big.

The loser of OSU-UM. Sure, they'll have a loss, but it will be to the best team in the country! Especially if Michigan loses a close one on the road, we could see an all-Big 10 rematch in January.

Rutgers is undefeated, but have played a much easier schedule and don't have many impressive wins under their belt. The Scarlet Knights have a close win against Louisville that was quite the impressive comeback, but their only other really impressive win was against Navy. Nothing else was particularly notable. If they have a great win against West Virginia, they can move past Notre Dame, but probably not USC or Florida, unless those teams lose. Before then, they will play Cincinnati and Syracuse. Cincinnati is thoroughly average, (which makes them one of Rutgers' better opponents,) so a win there doesn't help unless it's in spectacular fashion. Syracuse isn't good. Even a relatively close win in that game will hurt Rutgers' chances at moving up.

Notre Dame's fans may like to think they have a chance. They don't. They've got a better record than I expected this year, but that is due, in large part, to close wins. I don't think their luck holds against USC, even though beating Army this week won't require much luck at all. The biggest strike against them is their loss--a thorough beating at the hands of Michigan... in South Bend. If Ohio State wins, it's hard to see voters putting Notre Dame ahead of Michigan. If Michigan wins, it's tough to see voters wanting a rematch of a game that was incredibly lopsided. However, they'll still get a BCS invitation, which will likely end badly for the team.

Arkansas has a similar problem as Rutgers, and they've dropped a game already. They've got quite a bit of ground to make up in the polls, and beating Florida in the SEC Championship will certainly help, but they were beaten far too badly by USC at the beginning of the season. Beating Mississippi State won't impress anyone, but a solid win against Louisiana State will be a feather in their cap, but it won't be enough.

Boise State has two solid wins, against Utah and Oregon State. However, they have too many close games against weak teams. West Virginia, Louisville, and Wake Forest are too far back, and Wisconsin never got a crack at Ohio State and lost to Michigan, so they won't move up far enough.

Two-loss teams are out of contention for the championship game, obviously, so Texas, LSU, California, and BYU are all clearly watching on TV.

About the rest of the BCS invitations:

Interestingly, this season has a simple requirement to be certain of a BCS game: don't lose twice. (Or once, in Boise State's case, since their path has been easier.) There may be a one-loss team left out of the ten selected teams--or even two of them--but they will be the third-place teams from the Big 10 and the Big East. Incidentially, the Big East isn't as bad as some commentators seem to think--it's actually one of the better conferences this year. Not quite as good as the Pac-10, but still quite good. The problem is that the non-conference opponents of the best Big East teams were generally impressive. In any case, Wisconsin--and probably Rutgers, if they lose to West Virginia--will be out, even with only one loss.

Adding a fifth bowl this year means there are four at-large spots available. The teams for those spots currently look to be Boise State, Notre Dame, the OSU-Michigan loser, and either the Big East or the SEC runner-up.

I'll be watching plenty of football tomorrow, so if I've got something to say, you'll hear it. (Or read it, really...)


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