After a slow start, the world of college football has fallen into chaos once again. It is a beautiful thing to see, an insane free-for-all that, for better or worse, is only possible in NCAA football. Every non-SEC team in the top 7 of the BCS rankings lost this week, and the national title picture has been shrunk as Oklahoma and Oregon have been eliminated beyond doubt. Realistically, barring a stunning upset by Auburn (vs. Alabama) or Georgia (in the SEC Title Game), no team outside of the SEC West has any shot at even reaching the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans. This week, the rankings will be capped by LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas. The Razorbacks have roared from nowhere and now control their own destiny for a national championship—but perhaps not for the SEC West. All Texas A&M fans looking at the rankings this week could be forgiven for wondering what the hell they were thinking by moving to the AFC…er, SEC West.
Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State are the teams most likely to crack the top-ranked triumvirate, but their potential remaining quality wins – Clemson and Oklahoma, respectively – lost a lot of their luster this week. Stanford is essentially out of it, as the Cardinal’s strongest remaining opponent is Notre Dame, and unless Oregon somehow loses to Oregon State, the Cardinal will not even reach their conference title game. In the Pac-12, Oregon needs a win to clinch the North Division, while due to USC’s postseason ban, the South is up for grabs between Arizona State, Utah, and UCLA. Clemson awaits the winner of Virginia and Virginia Tech for the ACC title, while the Big East has quietly slipped into a nightmarish five-way tie of rampant mediocrity. It seems highly unlikely that this conference will maintain its BCS automatic qualifying status for much longer. Unless West Virginia wins out, the conference will have to invent a new rule on the spot to solve the tiebreaker crisis, because the Big East has no tiebreaker beyond the BCS standings, and only the Mountaineers are even receiving votes in any BCS human poll. West Virginia is most likely to make it through, but anything can still happen. The Big 12 comes down to Bedlam, as OU and OSU will square off with the title directly at stake. Michigan State has clinched the Legends Division title, and Penn State, leaders among the Leaders, will travel to Wisconsin with the division title at stake. Houston continues to roll, and in breaking news, Case Keenum has just set a record for most records set. The Cougars appear destined to for Sugar Bowl berth, but they will avoid the SEC power trio if two SEC sides meet for the championship. Regardless of what happens, the third-place SEC West team will almost certainly be the highest-ranked team to miss a BCS bowl, because of the two-team-per-conference limit in place.
So how will all of these races play out? Oregon should have no trouble gunning down Oregon State and the South champ to win the Pac-12, and Wisconsin seems a good pick to handle Penn State. The Badgers should manage to beat Michigan State in a rematch of the Spartans’ miracle win earlier this season. Virginia Tech and Clemson will play a good game, but the Tigers have already routed Tech on its own field, and they have the star power to win the rematch. Clemson should have little difficulty should Virginia make it through, as well. I honestly have no clue about who will win the Big East mess, but the favorites at this point are West Virginia and Rutgers, and the Mountaineers won the head-to-head match. I have long suspected that for the high-scoring, defense-optional teams that abound in the Big 12, motivation and mental preparedness are more crucial than anything else. This was emphatically reaffirmed this week, as both teams were apparently caught looking ahead past road trips against underrated traditional punching bags Iowa State and Baylor. Earlier, I thought that the mental anguish of a sky-high ranking would come back to bite Oklahoma State, and I was right in the wrong way. Now that the national title hopes are gone and the Oklahoma game is just the Oklahoma game again, OSU should be under far less pressure. Throw in a strong, post-loss bounce-back and a ravenous home crowd, and Bedlam looks likely to go to the Cowboys this time. The only remaining mess is the big one in the SEC West, and what an incredible mess it is.
Under the Magnifying Glass – Arkansas.
This new, weekly segment will focus on the strengths and weaknesses of one team of interest. Arkansas is suddenly the most interesting team in all of football. The Razorbacks have lost only once, a competitive game at Alabama that was closer than the 38-14 score indicated. Aside from that, however the Razorbacks’ resume is questionable. They have a desperate comeback win over a not-so-great Texas A&M team, as well as comfortable wins over iffy South Carolina and Auburn. Arkansas also has a number of unsightly close calls, most notably at Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks are an offense-first team, although their defense is capable. They try to draw opponents into shootouts because of their dynamic playmakers. Once again, reference the highlight reel of the Razorbacks’ game against Tennessee. However, Arkansas is just as inconsistent as the Big 12 leaders, and they tend to play up and down to the competition. Earlier in the season I referred to the Razorbacks as a “Good Bad Team”, one that wins the games it should win and loses against the big boys, and although the South Carolina game raised my opinion of the Hogs somewhat, this largely remains true. The fact is, outside of the incredible top three, the SEC is in a notable down year, with the second tier of Auburn, Georgia, and South Carolina being well short of the top teams. A complicating factor is that the Razorbacks have always played strong against LSU. As a Tiger fan, I am terrified of having to go through Arkansas to reach the title game. The Razorbacks were responsible for what would have been the most devastating loss in LSU history, 50-48 in three overtimes in 2007, handing the Tigers their second loss and seemingly knocking top-ranked LSU out of the national title hunt. Of course, the season-ending meltdowns of Missouri and West Virginia let the Tigers sneak back into the title game. In 2007, Arkansas was playing for pride. This time around, they are playing for a shot at a crystal football.
LSU is clearly the better team, but in college football that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I expect the Tigers to take it in a thriller, and I personally hope to attend the game. It should be an incredible spectacle regardless. As I understand them, here are the possibilities for the SEC West race.
An LSU victory over Arkansas means the Tigers win the SEC West. Arkansas will drop out of the national title picture with its second loss. LSU cannot afford to lose to Georgia in the SEC title game, unless Alabama is upset by Auburn in the Iron Bowl. If LSU wins out and Auburn beats the Tide, the Tigers will face either Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, or Oregon, in that order of priority, for the national championship.
An Arkansas win throws the SEC West into a three-way tie. Alabama or Arkansas would become the new overall number 1, and because of the SEC’s tiebreaker rules, Alabama would advance to the conference final regardless. Arkansas can only win the division if it beats LSU and Alabama also loses to Auburn. Should the Iron Bowl upset occur, Arkansas would likely face off against LSU again for the national title, assuming that the Razorbacks handle Georgia. If Alabama wins the West, Arkansas would still be in the top two in the BCS and would take on the Tide for the title. Regardless of what happens, the team that finishes third in the division will not be allowed to play in a BCS bowl.
Because of Thanksgiving break, I will be picking games from the next two weeks, with the matchups of the second set contingent upon the expected results in the first.
-LSU by 3 vs. Arkansas
-Alabama by 24 at Auburn
-Wisconsin by 10 vs. Penn State
-Oregon by 30 vs. Oregon State
-Utah by 21 vs. CU
-Upset: Virginia by 6 vs. Virginia Tech
-Oklahoma State by 7 vs. Oklahoma
-SEC Championship: LSU by 17 vs. Georgia
-Big Ten Championship: Wisconsin by 10 vs. Michigan State
-Pac-12 Championship: Oregon by 27 vs. Arizona State
-ACC Championship: Clemson by 14 vs. Virginia
BCS Bowl Predictions
-Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Houston
-Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon
-Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. West Virginia
-Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
-BCS Championship: LSU vs. Alabama