BCS Report
By Jeff Anderson

(November 18, 2007)

This Week's Rankings

Oregon’s and Oklahoma’s losses have offered renewed hope for several other teams. One thing is certain: with five games remaining that will pair BCS National Championship Game-hopefuls against top-20 opponents (USC at Arizona State, Connecticut at West Virginia, Kansas vs. Missouri, the Kansas-Missouri winner vs. Oklahoma or Texas, and LSU vs. Tennessee or Georgia), the last two weeks of the season will be as riveting as the first twelve—and a lot more so than they would have been in the old (pre-BCS) days, or than they would be if teams were merely jostling for seeding position for an 8- or 16-team playoff.

While no one can foresee how the BCS Standings will play out, here’s my assessment of teams’ prospects of making the BCS Championship Game—if they win out:

LSU Tigers
BCS ranking: #1 (#1 in the Anderson & Hester Rankings (A&H))
Games remaining: #41 Arkansas, SEC Championship Game (vs. #16 Tennessee or #7 Georgia) (A&H)
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game if they win out: Nearly certain
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game if they lose again: Slim to none
Commentary: If LSU can beat Arkansas (at home) and either Tennessee (if the Volunteers win at Kentucky) or Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, then the Tigers will be playing in New Orleans on January 7. If the Tigers don’t win those games, then they will almost certainly be out of the national championship race. However, losses by West Virginia, Arizona State, and the Big 12 North winner—and all three would definitely have to lose—would keep the door open for their being considered, provided the team to which LSU loses isn’t a 2-loss Georgia. Why not Georgia? Because there’s no way LSU would finish ahead of an 11-2 Georgia (or 11-1 Ohio State).

Kansas Jayhawks
BCS ranking: #2 (#3 in A&H)
Games remaining: #4 Missouri, Big 12 Championship Game (if they beat Missouri) (vs. #14 Oklahoma or #13 Texas) (A&H)
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game if they win out: Nearly certain
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game if they lose: Slim to none, closer to none
Commentary: Like LSU, Kansas controls its own destiny. If the Jayhawks beat Missouri (at neutral-site Arrowhead Stadium) and #14 Oklahoma (if the Sooners beat Oklahoma State or Texas A&M beats Texas) or #13 Texas, then the Jayhawks will play in the BCS National Championship Game, simple as that. It isn’t easy to imagine any scenario whereby the Jayhawks could sustain a loss and still go, but it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Their best hope would be to beat Missouri impressively before losing the Big 12 Championship Game narrowly. (Margin of victory doesn’t influence the computer rankings, which are only concerned with the object of the game: winning. But it does influence the poll voters, who like to award and deduct style points). They would certainly need to have LSU, West Virginia, and Arizona State all lose. Then they would have to hope that, as a 1-loss team, they would finish higher than any of the 2-loss contenders. But it’s very hard to imagine that a 1-loss team that loses its final pre-bowl game, and which has only 1 win over the top-25, could prevail over every 2-loss team.

West Virginia Mountaineers
BCS ranking: #3 (#6 in A&H)
Games remaining: #18 Connecticut, #77 Pittsburgh (A&H)
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game if they win out: Good
Commentary: Two weeks ago, I wrote that the Mountaineers probably needed five of the six teams ahead of them in the BCS Standings to lose. Well, that’s three down (Ohio St., Oregon, Oklahoma), one more sure to lose (Kansas or Missouri), and one to go. Now they just need LSU or the Kansas-Missouri winner to lose. That is, that’s all they need if they can hold off the teams behind them (Missouri excluded). Some fans and commentators are assuming West Virginia has the advantage over Missouri because the Mountaineers are third in the current BCS standings. But the lead is narrow, and if Missouri were to beat #3 Kansas (#2 in the BCS) and either Oklahoma or Texas, it seems the Tigers would overtake the Mountaineers—almost certainly in the polls (where the two teams are nearly tied already) and almost as certainly in the computer rankings. No, the guess here is that West Virginia cannot hold off a 1-loss, Big 12 champion Missouri. The better question is whether the Mountaineers could get caught from behind. Ohio State can’t do it, because the Mountaineers are already ahead of the Buckeyes in the polls and tied in the computer rankings, and the Buckeyes, with no games left, have no real opportunity to gain ground. The two teams that could pose a potential threat to West Virginia are Arizona State and Georgia, but the guess here is that neither one could catch the Mountaineers. However, Arizona State plays #11 USC on national television on Thanksgiving night, which is clearly a potential showcase game for the infrequently watched (at least in the East) Sun Devils. And Georgia could potentially play, and beat, #1 LSU in the SEC Championship Game. Still, Georgia has 2 losses, and Arizona State is a ways back. It’s hard to believe Georgia could leapfrog West Virginia, although not impossible. The guess here is that the Mountaineers’ Sugar Bowl win over the Bulldogs two seasons ago would help them in that regard, strengthening the perception that West Virginia can play with the SEC powers in general and Georgia in particular. Arizona State is harder to gauge. The Sun Devils wouldn’t catch the Mountaineers in the polls, but, as a 1-loss team from the tough Pac-10, they’d overtake them in the computer rankings. It seems unlikely this would be enough for the Sun Devils, but it’s not impossible.

Missouri Tigers
BCS ranking: #4 (#4 in A&H)
Games remaining: #3 Kansas, Big 12 Championship Game (if they beat Kansas) (vs. #14 Oklahoma or #13 Texas) (A&H)
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game if they win out: Very good
Commentary: Missouri very nearly controls its own destiny. The Tigers merely need to win out and to jump West Virginia. As I explain in the West Virginia commentary above, their ability to do the latter (provided they do the former) seems extremely likely. It would help Missouri if Oklahoma rebounds against Oklahoma State. The worst thing for Missouri would be to have Texas lose at Texas A&M and then have Oklahoma lose to Oklahoma State as well. The last thing the Tigers need is for Oklahoma to limp into the Big 12 Championship Game on a 2-game losing streak to unranked teams, especially if the Oklahoma State game isn’t even close. But so long as Oklahoma and Texas don’t both lose this weekend, the Tigers’ two upcoming games, if they emerge from them victorious, should be enough to send them to New Orleans.

Ohio State Buckeyes
BCS ranking: #5 (#5 in A&H)
Games remaining: None
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game: Not good
Commentary: As a friend of mine said today, “There's something to be said for being the leader in the clubhouse, when red numbers are hard to come by.” That’s the Buckeyes’ position. They can’t catch LSU, the Kansas-Missouri winner, or West Virginia, unless those teams lose. But alone among the national championship contenders, they are also not vulnerable any longer to this year’s unprecedented upset bug. And if two teams above them (in addition to the Kansas-Missouri loser) do lose, the Buckeyes will probably be headed to New Orleans—although Arizona State and Georgia could potentially challenge them from behind. Arizona State would have to beat USC (and Arizona) and in the process make up enough ground in the subjective polls to capitalize on the almost-certain advantage the Sun Devils would enjoy over the Buckeyes in the computer rankings (where the two are now tied). Georgia, meanwhile, would have to make the SEC Championship Game and then beat LSU. It seems unlikely that an 11-2 Georgia could prevail over an 11-1 Ohio State, but Georgia hasn’t lost since week-6 (while the Buckeyes, of course, lost in week-11). Furthermore, in that scenario, Georgia would have beaten both LSU and Florida at neutral sites, while Ohio State hasn’t beaten a team in the current BCS top-20. But Arizona State and Georgia both have a lot of work to do, while the Buckeyes have already posted their score.

Arizona State Sun Devils
BCS ranking: #6 (#2 in A&H)
Games remaining: #11 USC, #56 Arizona (A&H)
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game if they win out: Not good
Commentary: Arizona State’s prospects are discussed above (see especially West Virginia and Ohio State). The Sun Devils need either LSU or the Big 12 North winner to lose and, in the meantime, to make enough of an impression with the poll voters to capitalize on a likely #2 finish (if they win out and one of those teams loses) in the computer rankings. They’ll have the chance to do so, playing USC on Thanksgiving night. If they look good in victory, perhaps voters will take a second look at this team that has gone 9-1 despite playing in the nation’s toughest conference.

Georgia Bulldogs
BCS ranking: #7 (#7 in A&H)
Games remaining: at #43 Georgia Tech, SEC Championship Game (potentially) (vs. #1 LSU) (A&H)
Prospects of making the BCS Championship Game if they win out: Not good
Commentary: Georgia must get help from Kentucky. If the Wildcats knock off Tennessee, thereby sending Georgia to the SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs will get their shot at LSU. Even if they win that game, they’ll still probably need either the Kansas-Missouri winner (which they can’t otherwise catch) or West Virginia to lose as well. And even then, the Bulldogs would still have to catch Ohio State and Arizona State (or else have Arizona State lose). But, as I partly note above (see West Virginia and Ohio State), a 2-loss team on a 7-game winning streak over 7-straight above-average opponents, including Florida and LSU, would have a lot of momentum and perhaps a lot of support.

Oregon (#9 in the BCS, #8 in A&H), Oklahoma (#10, #14), and USC (#11, #11) each need the top-7 in the BCS (aside from Ohio State) all to lose. Hawaii (#15, #24) needs the same thing, but it’s hard to imagine that even this would be enough for the Warriors, whose only games versus the top-65 will be their next two. Virginia Tech (#8, #10) needs LSU to lose twice—because after what happened in Baton Rouge on September 8, a 2-loss Virginia Tech cannot prevail over a 2-loss LSU.

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