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Cavalcade of Whimsy, 2 - The 10 Contenders

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Nov 12, 2008


Who are the ten teams in the national title hunt and what they have to do to get there ... and do they deserve it if they do get in? In Part 2 of this week's Cavalcade of Whimsy, Pete Fiutak breaks down step-by-step what has to happen for each contender in the chase for a spot in the BCS Championship.

Fiu's Cavalcade of Whimsy

Part 2


a.k.a. Frank Costanza's Festivus Airing of the Grievances

By Pete Fiutak   
What's your beef? ... Fire off your thoughts  
Past Whimsies
2006 Season | 2007 Season
-
Preseason Cavalcade | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4
- Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11, Part 1

The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength

It’s not about what you believe, it’s about what you can prove. When it comes to the BCS and the national championship, it’s about who deserves to be in and not who everyone thinks should be in. With that in mind, here’s the second annual look at the top ten teams still in the hunt for the national title, and what needs to happen for each to get in.

Oh sure, it’s all cut and dry at the moment; it’ll be the team that emerges from the Big 12 South vs. the SEC champion for the national title. Very simple, very easy … yeah, right.

Fact: Things change, no matter how obvious you think things are going to turn out to be. The top ten teams according to the BCS at this exact point last year: 1. LSU (before the loss to Arkansas), 2. Oregon (before the Dennis Dixon injury), 3. Kansas, 4. Oklahoma (before the loss to Texas Tech), 5. Missouri (remember, Mizzou would eventually be No. 1), 6. West Virginia (the Mountaineers couldn’t lose at home to Pitt, right?), 7. Ohio State (yup … seventh), 8. Arizona State (what a difference a year makes), 9. Georgia (Tennessee just wouldn’t lose), 10. Virginia Tech (the Hokies finished the regular season No. 1 according to the BCS computers).

Fact: Last year before the last week of the regular season, it was going to be West Virginia vs. Missouri playing for the national title if the Tigers could get by Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship. LSU was left for dead after losing to Arkansas, and Ohio State needed a ton of help.

Fact: Prior to January 8th 2007, 99% of the population outside of the greater Gainesville metropolitan area assumed there was no need to play the 2006 national title and mentally handed it to Ohio State.

Fact: ESPN, among others, were comparing the 2005 USC team to every great dynasty in the history of mankind before Vince Young had something to say about it.

Fact: Most believed Ohio State didn’t need to bother showing up to Tempe on January 3rd, 2003 to face a Miami team considered to be among the greatest of all-time.

1983 Miami vs. Nebraska. 2000 Oklahoma vs. Florida State. 1992 Alabama vs. Miami. The list goes on and on of upsets that few believed could possibly happen. So with that in mind, forget about what you think you know, and what you think is right. Here are ten national title contenders who are still in the hunt, or would like to be, what they need to do to get a top two spot, and most importantly, how much they deserve to be in the discussion.

10. Ball State
Ball State is currently ranked 14th in the latest BCS rankings and has no shot whatsoever to play in the national title game. After all, Hawaii didn’t get within 200 miles of the BCS Championship Game last year finishing 10th in the final BCS rankings, and that team actually had a few decent wins. The Cardinals have a shot to finish the year as one of the few unbeatens, but even if they’re the lone unbeaten, they might not even get into a BCS game considering BYU would likely be ranked higher (assuming a Cougar win over Utah). All the one-loss teams in the top 10 have to lose again, two more times would be nice, and the unbeatens have to lose at least once. I’ll try to do the impossible and map out a path for the unbeaten Cardinals to play for the national title, and even then they’re unlikely to come close. This is the only way Ball State will have an argument.

What has to happen to play for the national title …
Step One: Win out, including the MAC championship, and put up twisted numbers along the way. 31-16 over Miami University isn’t going to cut it. The Cardinals have to blast away on good Central Michigan and Western Michigan teams, and everyone has to start noticing the margins of victory. If Ball State wins out impressively, no one will have come closer than 11 points of beating Nate Davis and crew.
Step Two: Texas Tech has to blow away Oklahoma, blow through Baylor and the Big 12 title game, and be the unquestioned No. 1 team going into the BCS Championship. 
Step Three: Alabama has to lose out and Florida has to be upset by South Carolina and Florida State before beating the Tide for the SEC title.
Step Four: Texas has to get blown out by Texas A&M, and a loss at Kansas wouldn’t hurt.
Step Five: BYU has to lose to Air Force and beat Utah
Step Six: USC has to lose. It doesn’t matter who it’s to. Losing to Stanford, Notre Dame or UCLA would end it.
Step Seven: Boise State has to lose to Fresno State
Step Eight: Penn State has to lose to Michigan State

The Deserve Factor: It’s a tough sell even if everything breaks the right way and Ball State is the lone unbeaten. The 111th best schedule, playing in the MAC, and the non-conference wins over Navy and Indiana aren’t going to get anyone excited about seeing the Cardinals in the national championship. The BCS would probably take a two-loss Penn State or even a three-loss SEC champion before picking the Cardinals.


9. Boise State
Boise State should at least merit a little bit of consideration for a spot in the national championship based on its body of work over the last ten years. After all, take out USC, and the Broncos have won as many BCS games over the last two seasons as everyone in the top eight. Unfortunately, even with the classic win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State still suffers from being in the WAC and still doesn’t get a lick of respect.

What has to happen to play for the national title …
Step One:
Annihilate Idaho, Nevada, and Fresno State. Boise State won’t finish first in the nation in any offensive category, but the defense could challenge USC for the points allowed title. .
Step Two: Texas Tech has to blow away Oklahoma, blow through Baylor and the Big 12 title game, and be the unquestioned No. 1 team going into the BCS Championship. 
Step Three: The SEC champion has to have three losses. The BCS would probably put in a two-loss SEC team over an unbeaten Boise State.
Step Four: Texas has to get blown out by Texas A&M, and a loss at Kansas wouldn’t hurt.
Step Five: BYU has to beat Utah.
Step Six: USC has to lose. It doesn’t matter who it’s to. Losing to Stanford, Notre Dame or UCLA would end it.
Step Seven: Penn State has to lose to Michigan State

The Deserve Factor: If Boise State wins out, it’ll have won 108 games in the last 10 years. For you non-math majors, that’s 10.8 wins a year over the course of a decade. WAC, schmack, you do that, you’ve earned the right to have a shot to play for the national title if no one else appears worthy. The win over Oregon in Eugene is the only win of note this year, and the 81st ranked strength of schedule won’t help, but if everyone else crashes and burns, Boise State is the one non-BCS league team out there that would deserve the chance.

8. Penn State
The standard line after the Iowa loss was that Penn State probably would’ve been left out of the national title mix anyway. Wrong. Very wrong. If Texas Tech and/or Alabama lost at some point, there was no way an unbeaten Penn State wouldn’t be playing for the national title. The BCS hasn’t quite advanced to the point of not putting a one-loss team in over an unbeaten team from a BCS conference. Could you imagine how ballistic the Big Ten head honchos would’ve if Penn State was passed over for a one-loss Florida or Oklahoma? That’s obviously not a worry now.

What has to happen to play for the national title …
Step One: Beat Indiana and Michigan State by a combined score of 110 to 3.
Step Two: The North has to win the Big 12 Championship, and there has to be a general belief that you shouldn’t play for the national title if you didn’t win your league title. It would help if the two top Big 12 South teams that didn’t get into the Big 12 title game each had two losses. In other words, the South has to be neutralized.
Step Three: The SEC champion has to have two losses. Florida and Alabama, this year, wouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt break that LSU received last year after a late-season upset loss.
Step Four: It would be a plus if BYU beat Utah, but it probably wouldn’t matter. Penn State would still likely get in over an unbeaten Utah and it would definitely be in over an unbeaten Boise State.
Step Five: USC has to lose again, or else everyone has to make a big deal out of Penn State’s 45-14 win over Oregon State.
Step Six: Forgive me for taking the discussion here, but we are talking about realistic possibilities. Joe Paterno’s health has to be a question mark or he has to announce that this is his final season.
Step Seven: Iowa has to go nuts. Last week’s loss will look a whole bunch better if the Hawkeyes finish 8-4 and close with blowouts over Purdue and Minnesota.

The Deserve Factor: This isn’t as crazy as it might appear. Remember, Ohio State was a distant seventh in the BCS rankings last year at this time and it didn’t get anywhere near the respect that Penn State receives. Compared to others on this list, the No. 68 schedule ranking isn’t horrific, but being in the Big Ten hurts. When the dust settles there will likely be wins over just four teams that’ll end up going bowling, and the non-conference games against Coastal Carolina and Temple would haunt the argument. However, it’s not like the Nittany Lions got blasted by Iowa. It took a last-second field goal on the road to lose, while a case could be made that the loss in Iowa City was better than Florida’s loss at home to Ole Miss and USC’s loss at Oregon State. The win at Ohio State was as good as anything Florida and Alabama has come up with so far.

7. Utah

Ohio State got to the national title game from this spot last year and it had a home loss to Illinois. The Utes’ win over TCU might have erased any ill-will after close shaves against New Mexico and Air Force. There are some big name wins on the résumé, beating Michigan to start the Rich Rodriguez era and getting by Oregon State. However, and here’s the problem for anyone who has been paying attention, there hasn’t been a big win over a good team. Even so, if the Utes can beat BYU, they’ll have enough decent wins to be in the hunt for one of the top two spots.

What has to happen to play for the national title …
Step One: Destroy San Diego State by three touchdowns or more and make it breezy, and the win over BYU has to be comfortable. The Cougars might be 17th in the BCS standings, but they’re not getting enough respect to give any voters on the right coast reason to stick an unbeaten Utah in the national title game.
Step Two: The North has to win the Big 12 title. The one-loss Big 12 South teams have to be eliminated from the discussion by the Tigers’ winning the championship.
Step Three: The SEC champion must have two losses.
Step Four: The Mountain West has to come up with a big-time PR campaign when it comes to USC, and the point has to be hammered home: 6-1. That’s the Mountain West’s record this year against the Pac 10.
Step Five: Utah has to start puffing its chest out. That’s not really the team’s style, but Kyle Whittingham and the program has to start selling it.
Step Six: Penn State has to lose to Michigan State, or at least be unimpressive.

The Deserve Factor: The wins over Michigan, Air Force and New Mexico might have been tight, but they were all on the road. Realistically, if everything breaks the right way, Utah will still have to do some lobbying to get into the national title, and it’ll take a major miracle of breaks to get to Miami. Storyline-wise, it would help if Florida gets into the BCS Championship Game and Alabama lost once before getting to the title. The Urban Meyer vs. his old team angle would seem just juicy enough to influence pollsters.

6. USC
USC appears to be the wedge issue this year. The defense has been a killer, but the offense has been mediocre and the team hasn’t played a decent team since the win over the Beanie-less Ohio State. Some pollsters like the talent level and the speed and athleticism, while others can’t get over the loss to a mediocre Oregon State. The poor Pac 10 has been a disaster, but the USC brand name should overcome the down year for the league if the opening is there to play for the national title. If this was Oregon State or Arizona in this position instead of USC, there wouldn’t be any chance of playing in Miami. Track record counts for something.

What has to happen to play for the national title …

Step One: USC has to win out and annihilate Notre Dame on national TV.
Step Two: Oregon State needs lose again. USC needs to win the Pac 10 outright.
Step Three: Alabama has to win the SEC title and be unbeaten. Florida has to be eliminated from the discussion.
Step Four: Missouri needs to win the Big 12 title and the USC brand name has to overcome a one-loss team from the Big 12 South.
Step Five: The pollsters will need to be blinded so much by the USC talent level that they ignore the Oregon State losses to both Penn State and Utah. 
Step Six: Penn State has to lose to Michigan State. This isn’t a must, but it would help make things smoother.
Step Seven: Utah needs to lose to BYU. USC will have tough enough time overcoming the Pac 10’s record against the Mountain West.
 
The Deserve Factor: No one’s questioning whether or not USC would show up in the national title game. On talent and the past performances, the Trojans might be the favorites against anyone other than Florida in a BCS Championship Game. Could USC win the national title? Absolutely. Does it deserve get the shot? Probably not this year. To anyone who has watched Pac 10 football this year on a regular basis, the USC offense hasn’t been at a high enough level to warrant the consideration for the national title, but the defense has been unbelievable in picking up the slack at times. Would the mediocre strength of schedule (currently 63rd) matter all that much? Not for USC, but if Utah goes unbeaten and USC gets in, the Mountain West will blow a gasket.


5. Oklahoma
Oklahoma is the new Georgia. Last year, it seemed like everyone was waiting for Tennessee to blow it down the stretch so Georgia could go off to play LSU for the SEC title. If the Dawgs had won, they’d have been playing Ohio State for the national title, but instead, they didn’t get their chance to represent the East and they ended up taking it out on poor old Colt Brennan and Hawaii. This year, the offense has been so amazing and the team so dominant at times that no one would be too upset to see what Sam Bradford and company could do in Miami.

What has to happen to play for the national title …

Step One: Beat Texas Tech with ease and then get by Oklahoma State on the road. Human pollsters have a funny way of moving teams up when they win, and if OU blows out the Red Raiders and win impressively in Stillwater, the polls will quickly change. If a three-way tie is needed and it goes to the BCS rankings, expect OU to come out on top despite being currently ranked behind Texas Tech and Texas.
Step Two: Win the Big 12 title. The Sooners probably can’t play for the national title without winning the Big 12 championship. However …
Step Three: … get a groundswell of respect after being hosed by the quirky system (if OU doesn’t play for the Big 12 title).

The Deserve Factor: Picking a Big 12 South team to play for the national title appears to be on the pollsters’ can-do list. If OU beats Texas Tech and Texas wins the three-way tie-breaker and goes off to lose to the North in the championship, the pollsters might simply want OU in. To put this a different way, Texas will be out with two losses, and Texas Tech will be ranked lower than the Sooners if it loses in Norman. OU, with the one loss coming to Texas, would likely get the benefit of the doubt over everyone but, maybe, USC. OU’s schedule at the moment is the fifth toughest in America.

4. Florida
Is Florida this year’s LSU? Yeah, there was the loss to Ole Miss at home, but that was a lifetime ago and it has been blown off by a public that likes anything from the SEC. Tim Tebow is playing better, everyone is healthy, and the defense is humming. This might be the nation’s most complete team, and no one would have any problems putting it in a second national title game in three years.

What has to happen to play for the national title …

Step One: Beat South Carolina in Steve Spurrer’s return to The Swamp ….
Step Two: … beat The Citadel …. 
Step Three: … beat Florida State ….
Step Four: … beat Alabama ….
Step Five: ….prepare for Miami Beach.
 
The Deserve Factor: If everything else is equal, there’s no way, no how the SEC champion doesn’t play for the national title. The Gators have played the 13th toughest schedule, and when all is said and done, they could close the SEC championship game having played as many as 11 bowl bound teams (but it’ll more likely be nine). Florida is one of three teams that controls its own national title destiny. Win five in a row and it’ll be Urban Meyer’s second national title.

3. Texas
Texas is in a tough spot. Its one loss came on the road with Texas Tech needing to pull off the greatest play in the history of its program to win. However, the sandwich might be coming. If Texas Tech beats Oklahoma, the Longhorns are out of the Big 12 title hunt and, almost certainly, out of the national title hunt (unless there’s a ton of help). If Oklahoma beats Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, it’ll likely be playing for the Big 12 title game and Texas will be squeezed out.

What has to happen to play for the national title …

Step One: Obliterate Kansas and Texas A&M. At this point, a single-digit win might as well be a loss.
Step Two: Oklahoma has to be unimpressive and sloppy in an ugly win over Texas Tech, and then it has to beat Oklahoma State.
Step Three: Texas has to be ranked highest in the BCS rankings and it has to win the Big 12 championship game, OR …
Step Four: … … Texas gets squeezed out of the Big 12 Championship, the South representative loses, and the BCSers can’t find anyone else worthy of playing the SEC champion for the national title.
 
The Deserve Factor: Absolutely. Having played the nation’s third toughest schedule and having lost to Texas Tech in the final second should be enough. The whole idea of a team needing to win the conference championship game to play for the national title might be suspended for a year because of the goofy tie-breaker rules. If it’s Missouri in the title game, and it beats Oklahoma or Texas Tech, Texas will get all the credit and all the benefit of the doubt after blowing away the Tigers earlier in the year.

2. Texas Tech
Sometimes, it’s about when you lose as much as it’s about if you lose. If Texas Tech loses to Oklahoma, it’s over. The pollsters would rank OU higher than the Red Raiders, and the standings would follow accordingly. However, Tech has it’s destiny in its hands. It’s this simple …

What has to happen to play for the national title …
Step One: Beat Oklahoma …
Step Two: … beat Baylor …. 
Step Three: … beat the North representative ….
Step Four: … go to Miami. OR …
Step Five: … Texas Tech loses a nail-biter to OU and gets squeezed out of the Big 12 Championship, the South representative loses, and the BCSers can’t find anyone else worthy of playing the SEC champion for the national title.

Step Six: USC has to lose. It doesn’t matter who it’s to. Losing to Stanford, Notre Dame or UCLA would end it.
Step Seven: Boise State has to lose to Fresno State
Step Eight: Penn State has to lose to Michigan State

The Deserve Factor: If Texas Tech can pull off the trio and beats Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in a row, than it’ll be more than worthy of playing for the national title. The joke of a non-conference schedule is made up for by playing the nation’s 17th toughest schedule overall

1. Alabama
Everyone knew Nick Saban would turn around the Alabama program and make it a national title caliber superpower, but no one expected it all to happen so fast. The national title is there for the taking, but the Tide can’t afford a loss and hope to get in. One regular season gaffe against Mississippi State or Auburn and there will a slew of Barbarians at the gate for one of the coveted top two spots.
 

What has to happen to play for the national title …
Step One: Beat Mississippi State …
Step Two: … beat Auburn
Step Three: … beat Florida.
Step Four: … go to Miami.

The Deserve Factor: It’s not the slam dunk you might think as far as deserving to play for it all. Considering Clemson has been lousy and the SEC has been mediocre, the Tide has the 96th toughest schedule. Of course, if you’re the undefeated SEC champion, at this point after the way the last two years have gone, you’re going off to play for the national title no matter what else happens across the college football landscape.