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The BCS Top 12 - How To Play For The Title
LSU WR Rueben Randle
LSU WR Rueben Randle
Posted Oct 26, 2010

What do the top 12 teams have to do to play for the national title? With the field wide open, and teams like LSU (at No. 12) still deep in the BCS Championship chase, nothing is close to being settled yet. In part two of this week's Cavalcade of Whimsy, Pete Fiutak breaks down the title race.

Cavalcade of Whimsy

Oct. 26 - Week Eight, Part 2

By Pete Fiutak

- Oct. 26,  Cavalcade of Whimsy, Part One. What if everyone comes back?

The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength
In 2003 LSU started out No. 12 in the initial BCS rankings, but it worked its way through the trash and ended up finishing No. 2 and went on to beat Oklahoma for the national title. This year, with so many crazy upsets and no team that appears to be a sure-thing, the No. 12 ranked team, like 2003, LSU, is still in the chase. So here’s what each of the top 12 teams needs to do and needs to have happen in order to get to Glendale on January 10th.

One thing to note before diving into all the fun, while No. 13 Stanford is almost certainly too far out of the mix to get back, No. 14 Nebraska might still have a shot. With a win over Missouri, the Huskers would likely move into the top ten, and if they can win out, including beating Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship, they’d have a chance.

12. LSU (7-1)
Oddly enough, at No. 12, the 7-1 Tigers are probably in better shape than anyone outside of the top six. Everyone respects the road loss to Auburn, especially the computers that have LSU ranked sixth, and as long as Cam Newton keeps on rolling, the loss will be more and more forgivable. The problem is that no one is buying LSU as much as they should be, mostly because it took a miracle to beat a horrible Tennessee team at home. The humans aren’t quite on board, with the Harris putting LSU 12th and the Coaches checking in at No. 13, but that could change in a hurry. The Tigers have the SEC’s best defense, even after Newton ran amok, the running game is solid, and the special teams are terrific. If they can beat Alabama and close out with an impressive win over Arkansas to finish 11-1, and if Auburn flounders, they’ll be in the SEC Championship. Win the SEC Championship and be 12-1, and the BCS Championship invite will likely be waiting.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Beat Alabama, ULM, Ole Miss, at Arkansas, and beat the Hogs impressively. It doesn’t matter what the final score is against the Tide as long as the Tigers win.
2) Auburn has to lose twice. A Tiger loss at Ole Miss this weekend would be nice, but losing at home to Georgia would be even better, and, of course, Alabama has to do its job in the Iron Bowl.
3) LSU has to be more impressive. If it comes down to a one-loss SEC champion or an unbeaten Boise State or TCU/Utah winner, the one-loss champion has to make a compelling case beyond just winning the SEC.

11. Ohio State (7-1)
The Buckeyes deserve to be in better shape than they are. Their biggest problem is history, with a series of high profile clunkers, including two national championship losses to SEC teams and problems against USC, and there’s going to be the thought that this isn’t quite a big game team until it wins another big game. Beating Oregon in the Rose Bowl was a plus for perception, but after the loss in Wisconsin, every game from here out has to be impressive.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Win out at Minnesota, Penn State, at Iowa, Michigan
2) Michigan State has to lose, preferably twice including to Iowa this week, and Wisconsin has to lose once more. Ohio State has to win the Big Ten outright to end any doubt about who the best team in the league is. A messy tie would make the Buckeyes a harder sell.
3) Obliterate everyone in the way. A 49-0 win over Purdue was a strong start. No one has come closer than 11 points in the seven wins, and the scores have to be complete and utter blowouts to show that the team is jelling at the right time. With no Michigan State on the slate, the Buckeyes have to do something splashy, and blowing away Iowa in Iowa City would qualify.

10. Wisconsin (7-1)
A cushy non-conference schedule against UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, and Austin Peay is a killer in the overall formula, but no one cares about the cupcakes now. No team in America has two better wins on the résumé than the victory over then-No. 1 Ohio State and last week’s classic over Iowa, but that’s it as far as showcase games. The computers like the Badgers, ranking them No. 9, but the humans have to be a bit more convinced. On the plus side, the schedule is there to finish 11-1, but the negative is the lack of primetime showcases. Wisconsin’s toughest work is done, but going to Michigan will get a decent amount of attention.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Win at Purdue, Indiana, at Michigan, Northwestern
2) Ohio State will get more respect in the national title discussion because it’s Ohio State. Wisconsin has to destroy Michigan in Ann Arbor, and then the Buckeyes have to struggle a bit with Denard Robinson and the boys. There can’t be any close call or any slips. Michigan State has to lose twice.
3) It’s going to take a lot of help, and it’s possible. At least one of the non-AQs has to lose, the Big 12 champion has to have one loss (likely), and the SEC champion might need to have two losses or more.

9. Oklahoma (6-1)
While Missouri might be the flavor of the week, losing in Columbia doesn’t carry the same sort of cachet that losing in Madison or at Auburn does. However, the BCS computers that put the Sooners No. 1 in the initial rankings weren’t too harsh with a No. 5 ranking, compared to the No. 11 spot in both human polls. The problem is that the eyes see that this is an inconsistent team that doesn’t seem able to harness all the available talent. However, if it all comes together and the OU that obliterated Florida State showed up over the back half of the season, the entire landscape of the season changes on a national scale.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Win out against Colorado, at Texas A&M, Texas Tech, at Baylor, at Oklahoma State, and in the Big 12 Championship.
2) Missouri needs to win out. Nebraska winning out and getting to the Big 12 title game would be nice, but facing a 12-0 Missouri with a chance at redemption on a neutral field would bring even more attention and more respect. A win over the unbeaten Tigers would all but negate the loss in Columbia.
3) The SEC champion has to have more than one loss. A 13-1 Oklahoma gets into the BCS Championship over a one-loss Big Ten champion and Pac 10 champion, and it probably pushes past an unbeaten Mountain West champion, but it doesn’t get by a one-loss Alabama, Auburn, or LSU.

8. Utah (7-0)
The Utes might be the most interesting team in the hunt. They played one team that will end up going bowling, Pitt, and it took overtime at home to pull off the win. The rest of the schedule has been miserable, putting Utah last among the BCS Top 25 in strength of schedule. However, the team did what it’s supposed to against poor competition blowing away everyone over the last seven games with no one coming closer than four touchdowns. And now there are plenty of chances to shine with spotlight games against TCU and Notre Dame to show off to the world, and solid tests on the road at Air Force and San Diego State, along with the always nasty rivalry date with BYU, that should bring respect from anyone who knows what they’re doing.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Win out at Air Force, TCU, at Notre Dame, at San Diego State, and BYU.
2) A Boise State loss would be nice, but it might not be necessary. The rest of the schedule is far better than what the Broncos have to deal with, and the BCS Computers, who already have the Utes 10th, will notice. There’s a chance that Boise State wins out and still gets leapfrogged by the unbeaten Utes. As is, TCU is a whisker behind at No. 4, and that could be Utah blowing into the top two by taking care of business while everyone is watching.
3) Get Orrin Hatch involved. Now. The cranky Utah Senator went nutso when the unbeaten Utes didn’t get a chance to play for the national title two years ago, and he started getting Washington D.C. involved in the BCS discussion. If Utah beats TCU and blasts Notre Dame, get the political machine revved up.

7. Alabama (7-1)
It’s there for the taking. The BCS Championship will take an unbeaten Boise State or Mountain West champion, but the voters won’t allow both to play for the title. As the highest ranked one-loss team, the pollsters are on board ranking sixth in both, but the team has yet to really prove much of anything and the computers have noticed. That’ll change. Right now No. 9 according to the BCS Computers, thanks to only one win (at Arkansas) worth a spit, the ranking will only go up with dates at LSU (No. 12 in the BCS), Mississippi State (No. 21), and Auburn (No. 1) still to play, not to mention the SEC Championship. It’ll take some help, but if the upsets keep coming and the Tide keeps on rolling, they’ll almost certainly get a chance to defend their crown.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Win out at LSU, Mississippi State, Georgia State, Auburn, and the SEC Championship. Style points aren’t required.
2) Oregon, Michigan State, and Missouri have to lose. The Tide gets to take care of business against Auburn, but it’s not getting into the title game if two BCS conference teams and/or if Boise State is unbeaten.
3) It would be nice if the Mountain West champion and/or Boise State had a loss. If Bama is the highest ranked BCS conference team left on the board and Boise State and the Mountain West champion are the only two unbeatens left standing, there will be some grumbling if it’s not a Bronco vs. Ute/Horned Frog national title. Bama wants this to be clean, and if there’s only one unbeaten team left, everything will be fine.

6. Missouri (7-0)
The Tigers got their one shining moment, and on real TV, too. Wisconsin beat Ohio State on ESPN, but Mizzou got to beat Oklahoma on ABC, and everyone saw it. However, there’s a general feeling that the Sooners were a squishy-soft No. 1 and the win wasn’t that big a deal. However, if the Tigers follow that up with a win over Nebraska this week and go one to finish 12-0, they’ll be in the thick of the national title chase and will move past the non-AQs. It would be even better if Oklahoma rolled through the rest of its schedule to make last week’s win look that much better. The BCS Computers are there putting the Tigers No. 2 with two No. 1 votes among the six formulas.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Win at Nebraska, and then win in a walk at Texas Tech, Kansas State, at Iowa State, and Kansas. Style points aren’t a must, but they’d be nice.
2) Oklahoma has to win the Big 12 South. Beating the Sooners at home is one thing, but doing it again, and on a neutral field, would only validate the first victory and would show that Mizzou really can play under the toughest of circumstances. Winning rematches is never easy.
3) Two of the three other BCS conference unbeatens, Auburn, Michigan State, and Oregon, have to lose. An unbeaten Big 12 champion will play for the national title over an unbeaten Boise State or Mountain West champion, but that’s about it. There’s no way the Tigers get their shot if Auburn and Oregon win out, and it’ll be a roll of the dice if the Spartans are unbeaten.

5. Michigan State (8-0)
There’s the whole “Team of Destiny” thing being thrown around, but the Spartans are no fluke. They’ve made their own breaks. Even when Mark Dantonio had his heart attack scare, the team stepped up and played its best game of the year in the key win over Wisconsin. While the schedule hasn’t been that great, needing a trick to beat Notre Dame and rumbling over Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic, and Northern Colorado, the computers don’t care, putting the Spartans No. 3 behind only Auburn and Missouri. Not playing Ohio State is both a blessing and a curse. By winning out, MSU is at the very least in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, but it could’ve used the big battle with the Bucks to make noise in the national title chase.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Beat Iowa, and then blow away bad Minnesota, Purdue, and Penn State teams by three touchdowns. 35-27 over Northwestern isn’t going to cut it in the court of public opinion.
2) It would be nice if Wisconsin won out impressively. It might happen with a relatively light finishing kick. In a perfect world, Iowa beats Ohio State, and Wisconsin rolls to give an unbeaten MSU the Big Ten title without any question and any real scrutiny about not facing the Buckeyes.
3) Oregon and/or Auburn must lose. MSU can leapfrog Boise State and the Mountain West winner to play in the BCS Championship, but it’s not going to edge out the Ducks or Tigers.

4. TCU (8-0)
Here’s the problem, and it’s completely and totally unfair. We sort of went through this last year when the Horned Frogs went unbeaten in the regular season and came within a heartbeat of playing for the national title, and then pfffffffffft. The Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State wasn’t pretty, and worse, it was BORING. That game isn’t supposed to make any difference in this year’s national title discussion, but it does. The pollsters aren’t going to do any backflips over giving the Horned Frogs a big chance on the big stage again, and it might be a tough sell to put them in over a one-loss Alabama even after allowing just ten points in the last four games. Forget about it if there are two unbeaten BCS conference teams.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Destroy UNLV and New Mexico on the road, like 55-0 destroy, and beat San Diego State by three touchdowns. Oh yeah, beat Utah in Salt Lake City. Style points aren’t a must there, but they’d be appreciated.
2) It would be a huge, HUGE help if Boise State lost. The pollsters will put on non-AQ team in, but they probably won’t put in two unless they absolutely have to. However, as is, TCU is only .0013 behind the Broncos, and would likely leapfrog them if both win out.
3) This isn’t a stretch, but there can’t be any unbeaten BCS conference teams, and a two-loss Alabama would be a nice helper. An unbeaten Michigan State or Missouri would get in over an unbeaten TCU.

3. Boise State (6-0)
Yeah, Boise State is ranked No. 2 in both human polls, but the computers aren’t impressed with a No. 8 ranking, and it’s not going to get much better. The Broncos need to keep winning and winning big, and they might end up needing some help to get past the BCS snobs who when pushed, will put in an unbeaten BCS conference team (Missouri or Michigan State) in. The bigger issue is Auburn. Currently ranked No. 3 by the humans, that will quickly change as the rest of the SEC season goes on. Basically, if Auburn and Oregon win out, there’s nothing Boise State can do. Even if Oregon loses and the Broncos move up to No. 1 in the human polls, that will probably change in early December no matter how good they look.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Go ballistic on Louisiana Tech, Hawaii, at Idaho, Fresno State, at Nevada, and Utah State. Any slip whatsoever, and that might mean a 45-35 win over the Wolf Pack or Warriors, and some pollsters will use that as an excuse to move the Broncos down.
2) Oregon and Auburn have to lose. It would help if Michigan State and Missouri would both lose, too, but all the Broncos might need is to have three of the four BCS conference unbeatens to drop a game to get in.
3) It would be nice if the Mountain West champion had a loss, but it might not be needed. However, it’ll get really, really close if there’s one spot available to a non-AQ team and the computers get involved. It would be a huge help it Virginia Tech rolls on and wins the ACC title, and anything from Oregon State would be a plus (especially a win over the Ducks).

2. Oregon (7-0)
Everyone loves the flash and dash of the nation’s No. 1 offense … except the computers. Among the BCS Top 25, only Utah has faced an easier schedule, but that’s about to change with nasty dates at USC and Cal, along with a home game against Arizona, to come. Ranked No. 1 in both human polls, that’s not going to change as long as the wins keep coming, and in this crazy year, it’s one of only two teams, along with Auburn, that controls its own destiny. If Oregon isn’t playing for the national title, there’s no one else to blame. However, the offense still has to face a real defense, and some test on the road would be nice.

What Needs To Happen: 1) With everyone watching, pull a UCLA game, at least offensively, on USC. Wins over Washington, at Cal, Arizona, and at Oregon State are must, and fortunately, style points don’t matter.
2) Okay, so style points might matter a little bit. If Michigan State and/or Missouri go unbeaten, the last thing an unbeaten Oregon will want is a debate about how it looked once it had to face a few real teams. Comfortable wins over USC and Cal on the road would keep things quiet.
3) An Auburn loss would be nice. Oregon can hold off an unbeaten Michigan State or Missouri, and keeping Boise State and TCU/Utah winner at arm’s length won’t be a problem. However, Auburn isn’t going to budge out of the No. 1 spot as long as it keeps winning.

1. Auburn (8-0)
Alright, Auburn, if you don’t play for the national title, it’s on you. Forget about missing out in past years and forget about past heartbreaks; win out, play for the whole ball of wax. While the Tigers might be No. 3 in the human polls behind Boise State, that will change with more wins, and especially a victory over Alabama. No way, no how does an unbeaten SEC champion get left out of the BCS Championship.

What Needs To Happen: 1) Win at Ole Miss and beat UT Chattanooga, Georgia, at Alabama, and win the SEC Championship. Margin of victory doesn’t matter.
2) Oregon losing would be a plus. The Tigers will push over Boise State for a spot in the top two by winning out, but it would be nice if the humans didn’t have to shove aside the Ducks if they don’t have to. Pollsters don’t like to move out the No. 1 team if it keeps winning.
3) Cam Newton has to stay healthy. This is a good team; it’s not a great one. Newton isn’t exactly carrying the Tigers, but he’s the difference between Auburn being the BCS No. 1, and Auburn losing to Alabama and probably missing out on the SEC title game.

Random Acts of Nutty … Provocative musings and tidbits to make every woman want you and every man want to be you (or vice versa) a.k.a. things I didn’t feel like writing bigger blurbs for.

- I pointed out in the Friday Final Thoughts piece that the Bowling Green rushing yards vs. the Kent State run defense might be a quirky-fun stat to watch out for. -10. Now the Falcons are last in the nation in rushing, and the Golden Flashes have the No. 2 run defense behind Boise State.

- Outside of the 32-29 double-overtime win over UAB, Tennessee hasn’t scored more than 17 points against any other FBS team, and has only scored more than 14 against UT Martin, Florida (17), and UAB.

- I don’t know why I’m obsessed with this, but I wish baseball would do a better job of being on bigger networks before the World Series. Baseball had the Texas markets and New York, and the Yankees’ brand name for a national appeal. It had Cliff Lee throwing one of his masterpieces, and it was on TBS, which is in more households than ESPN, and the ALCS game still got blown away in the ratings by a snoozer Tennessee-Jacksonville matchup on Monday Night Football. Everyone was either chasing, or praying for Chris Johnson or Maurice Jones-Drew to score.

C.O.W. shameless gimmick item … The weekly five Overrated/Underrated aspects of the world
1) Overrated: TCU at No. 4 … Underrated: Utah at No. 8
2) Overrated: Spinal Tap Drummers … Underrated: Purdue skill players
3) Overrated: Juan Williams ... Underrated: Actually understanding the meaning of the First Amendment
4) Overrated: Denard Robinson’s knee ... Underrated: Denard Robinson’s shoulder
5) Overrated: Good ‘N Plenty ... Underrated: Anything with coconut

“Tracy did mention we shouldn't let him gamble. Or drink too much.”… Compared to how I’ve done ever since I started this bit a few years ago, Wyatt, I am rolling … Week 8 Results: 1) Iowa -5.5 over Wisconsin (L 31-30), 2) Hawaii -3.5 over Utah State (W UH 45-7), 3) Western Michigan -7.5 over Akron (W, WMU 56-10) ... Record So Far ATS: 14-7 This week's picks: 1) Michigan -1.5 over Penn State, 2) Northwestern -3 over Indiana, 3) Western Kentucky -3.5 over North Texas

If the college football season ended right now, this would be my Heisman ballot cast for the Most Outstanding College Football Player in the United States for 2010. … 1) Cam Newton, QB Auburn, 2) LaMichael James, RB Oregon, 3) Robert Griffin, QB Baylor

Sorry this column sucked, it wasn’t my fault … According to Mack Brown, he thinks there’s a sense of entitlement to it. However, he admits that I write hard, and I write with passion, fun, and excitement.

- Oct. 26,  Cavalcade of Whimsy, Part One. What if everyone comes back?