Why do I bring this up in a column about BCS Busters? After all, Mizzou and Michigan State are well entrenched in powerhouse conferences; they don’t have to worry about one loss scuttling their shot at reaching a BCS bowl game as long as they can regain their equilibrium and win out the season. But their losses have an even greater effect — further bolstering the BCS standing of the three teams still in the hunt to crack the system.
With a showdown between the Mountain West’s two remaining undefeated teams coming next weekend, we’ll be down to just two BCS Busters in the field. But perhaps the time has come to ask: Would an 11-1 TCU or Utah be a more worthy addition to a BCS bowl game as an at-large selection than once-beaten Missouri, or Michigan State, or Wisconsin or Oklahoma or any other team with one loss that fails to win their BCS conference?
Think about it for a moment… in the BCS conferences, just two undefeated teams remain, but even more startling is the absence of mere one-loss teams. The ACC and Big East have a combined total of ZERO between them, mediocrity that only fuels the case of the Mountain West and WAC champions further. There are three in the Big Ten, four in the Big XII, two in the Pac-10 and two in the SEC. This isn’t quite 2007 — the perception of non-AQ teams has shifted enough in their favor that it is highly unlikely a two-loss conference champion would leapfrog them for a spot in the title game. But a one-loss team? Already the groundswell of support for teams like defending champion Alabama, or an Oklahoma or Ohio State or another blueblood of the sport to rise up with one loss to claim a spot in the title game as a BCS conference champ is rising.
They’d overcome formidable odds to get there, and there are still Oregon and Auburn with which to contend. If either of these teams finishes out undefeated, a title-game slot is theirs. And with both shedding the curse that has brought down #1 teams each of the past three weekends, the Ducks and Tigers have emerged as legitimate championship-game material. The gauntlet of the Pac-10 still has Oregon playing Cal, Washington, and Arizona before closing out the Civil War against Oregon State in Corvallis. Auburn must negotiate a November that includes dates with FCS Chattanooga and Georgia at home before the regular season concludes with the Iron Bowl against the Tide in Tuscaloosa. An SEC Championship spot awaits if the Tigers emerge unscathed in their dates with Georgia and Bama.
Naturally a 12-0 Oregon or a 13-0 Auburn would get in ahead of a 12-0 Boise State, 12-0 TCU or 12-0 Utah. Sadly, even a 12-1 Alabama or 12-1 Oklahoma/Nebraska or 11-1 Big Ten school would probably get the vote in over an undefeated BCS Buster. But with losses getting handed out like Halloween candy across the BCS conferences, anything is possible. As we saw this weekend, no team is safe. That goes for TCU and Utah, whose head-to-head matchup will be the BCS Buster semifinal of sorts for the Mountain West.
Should the Horned Frogs get the road victory, San Diego State (6-2) is still staring at them on the schedule before a trip to hapless New Mexico to close out the year. Should the Utes prevail at home, it will be even trickier for them. Following TCU their schedule lines up with trips to Notre Dame and San Diego State ahead of their Holy War battle with BYU, the last time the contest will be waged between the schools as conference foes. Meanwhile, over in the WAC Boise State still has showdowns with Hawaii (7-2), Fresno State (5-2), and Nevada (7-1) that line up as its own series of roadblocks that must be surmounted if the dream is to stay alive for the #3 school in the BCS standings (barring some muck-up in this evening’s new numbers).
It’s a true test for every team across the land. College football’s regular season, like it or not, has its own series of playoffs weekend after weekend. Hopping back into the race is sort of a double-elimination thing for the BCS conferences and a single-elimination contest for the five conferences outside the BCS umbrella. It’s not always fair (as Nevada would attest should they beat Boise State and go 12-1), but it is a playoff with that unwritten rule now at least codified for the first time. Don’t you just wish the BCS would expressly write something like THAT into its language?
1. BOISE STATE BRONCOS (WAC/7-0)
- LAST WEEK: 1st
- LAST GAME: W v. Louisiana Tech 49-20
- NEXT GAME: November 6 v. Hawaii
The Broncos had a tough time with Louisiana Tech last year when the two teams played in Ruston, and for a while it looked like it was going to be the same way for Chris Petersen’s crew as they hosted the Bulldogs in Boise this year. By “for a while”, I really mean the first quarter, when Lennon Creer capped a 10-play, 73-yard drive to tie up the game at 7 apiece. The Bulldogs had several chances to get back into the game at that point, but when Ross Jenkins was sacked to turn over the ball on downs at the beginning of the second quarter and Boise drove the ball in to take a two-score lead two possessions later, the gambit was up.
Boise State would score again before halftime, Kyle Efaw recovering Doug Martin’s goal-line fumble in the endzone to take the 28-7 lead into the second half. Louisiana Tech’s 14-play, 80-yard drive to open the third quarter cut the lead to 28-13 (with a missed extra point). And then a muffed kickoff by Titus Young was recovered by the visitors and gave the underdog new life. But another turnover on downs handed the ball right back to Boise, this time in the red zone, and a 15-point deficit was as close as Louisiana Tech was getting this evening. Only a last-minute 25-yard scamper by Creer for another touchdown (he would finish with 149 yards on 35 carries with the two scores) cut the deficit under 30.
As previously mentioned, Boise State next has to face off against the Warriors — the only team yet to knock off Nevada this season and a school that knows how to be a BCS Buster itself. Could Hawaii bust this BCS Buster’s chances? Anything is possible, but as long as 29-point victories are “disappointing” performances for the pundits there might be nothing short of 40-point blowouts against a stronger schedule that will impress even computer algorithms programmed to ignore margin of victory.
2. TCU HORNED FROGS (MWC/9-0)
- LAST WEEK: 2nd
- LAST GAME: W @ UNLV 48-6
- NEXT GAME: November 6 @ Utah
The Horned Frogs might just be that team to trigger a response from the computers. Before this weekend’s games the computers collectively liked TCU more than Boise State (4th vs. 6th) already, and next week’s showdown with another team currently in the BCS top ten is going to help matters even further when it comes time to compare the two. With Auburn surpassing both schools in the USA Today coaches’ poll, both will be counting on not dipping too far in the strength of schedule. And with both Michigan State and Missouri dropping their games last week, the two teams standing between TCU and Auburn both melted away. Were the Tigers to lose to, say, Alabama… would the computers put the Horned Frogs at #1?
Next week’s tricky road test against Utah will be their biggest hurdle remaining in the schedule and provides a huge national forum for pollsters to watch two BCS-caliber schools (why else would Utah be headed to the Pac-12 next year and TCU be courted by the geographically-challenged Big East?) that currently lie outside the BCS radar play out their single-elimination battle head to head. TCU has already played nine games, and they’re the top-ranked defense in both yards allowed and scoring. They have a top-ten offense that has only scored less than 30 points once this season (the 27-0 shutout of Colorado State). QB Andy Dalton and RB Ed Wesley provide multiple threats with which defenses must contend…
3. UTAH UTES (MWC/8-0)
- LAST WEEK: 3rd
- LAST GAME: W @ Air Force 28-23
- NEXT GAME: November 6 v. TCU
… but if anyone can contend with this offense it might just be the Utes, who are 6th in the nation in defense and score even more points per game than does TCU. Utah would love nothing more than to end TCU’s dreams of a second consecutive BCS appearance, bolstering their own case for one last fling with BCS Busting before taking their game to the Pac-12 next year. No team has risen to loftier heights as a BCS Buster, and Kyle Whittingham will remind his guys that they could’ve backed up their Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama with their own consecutive Buster berth last season if only they’d taken care of business against the Horned Frogs.
The task won’t be easy, but Utah has an offensive line that has allowed just three sacks all season and should give Jordan Wynn plenty of time to try to find his stable of speedy receivers in space. Eddie Wise and Matt Asiata will have to run hard into gaps that will surely close quick, one of the big positional battles of the weekend to come.
But if any team were to get a huge jump in the perception of both the humans and the computers with a win next weekend, it would be Utah. The computers would see a win over a team they think is top-three in the nation, and the humans would have all those memories of the Sugar Bowl come flooding back. If any team could pull off a come-from-behind spot in the title game and stay clear of charging one-loss teams, it might just be Utah…
- BCS Buster Power Rankings: Week 8
- BCS Buster Power Rankings: Week 6
- BCS Buster Power Rankings: Week 7