Just a few weeks remain in the regular season, and the picture for BCS Busters has increasingly come into focus with each extended weekend of action. We’ve effectively narrowed the pool down to a field of three contestants still in the running. After all, if you’re not at least in the top 25 of the standings at this point, there’s likely no way that a non-AQ team is going to vault from nowhere up into at least the top 16 in the coming weeks no matter WHO they play.
Well, there might be some way for it to happen… but it would require an apocalyptic series of losses left and right that make last weekend’s attrition look like a blip on the radar. So this week, the rankings truncate yet again as we take a longer look at the only three non-AQ teams to be sitting in the top 25 at this juncture.
It’s time to break things down thoroughly, see what remains on the schedule for this trio and adjudge their odds of Busting the BCS. So we’ll keep the intro short and sweet this week and let the analysis do the talking just like we let the scoreboard do the talking in the stadium… after all, it was that scoreboard that whittled down the top 25 non-AQ programs from four to three thanks to UAB’s shock upset of Southern Miss. Because of that loss along with Boise State’s prior upset, Conference USA and the Mountain West now have all their hopes riding on one team apiece with one wild-card waiting in the wings praying for salvation…
1. Houston Cougars (C-USA/11-0 – Last Week: 1st)Overall: 8th (.6684) — Harris: 7th (.7165) — Coaches: 7th (.7288) — Computers: 12th (.560)
- W v. UCLA 38-34
- W @ North Texas 48-23
- W @ Louisiana Tech 35-34
- W v. FCS Georgia State 56-0
- W @ UTEP 49-42
- W v. East Carolina 56-3
- W v. Marshall 63-28
- W v. Rice 73-34
- W @ UAB 56-13
- W @ Tulane 73-17
- W v. SMU 37-7
ODDS OF REACHING THE BCS: 5-3
For the longest time it appeared that this weekend’s showdown might be a virtual playoff for the West Division. Remember, just a month ago we were thinking the Mustangs were back in the discussion as an on-the-rise program under June Jones, as they upset TCU in overtime and then preseason C-USA East favorite UCF. Until they lost the Bobby Collins Bowl to Southern Miss and followed with another loss to Tulsa, they looked like real world-beaters. But Houston was able to dispatch of SMU with relative ease, and the Cougars won this game not with video-game passing stats from Case Keenum but with by-committee ball control and defense.
It was a display that showcased a team very different from what people have come to think of the Cougars as being. With sixth-year senior QB Keenum leading the offense, the scores have tended to run high. Likewise the defense has played its way into plenty of shootouts from which Keenum has had to play them back out unscathed, most notably on trips to face Louisiana Tech and UTEP. But the Cougars have prevailed throughout the season, something only one other team among the ten dozen FBS teams can claim after twelve weeks.
There are still two potential landmines on their schedule before they can lay claim to Conference USA’s first-ever BCS berth, though. A trip to Chapman Stadium in Tulsa looms on the Friday after Thanksgiving, as Houston faces the Golden Hurricane in a de-facto division championship. Tulsa has rebounded from a 1-3 start against the toughest non-conference schedule in the country — with losses to then-#1 Oklahoma in Norman, then-#8 Oklahoma State at home and then-#4 Boise State on the Smurf Turf — to roll undefeated through their conference slate. For the Golden Hurricane, the situation is identical to Houston’s… win Friday and they’re in the C-USA Championship Game.
If Houston survives their trip to Oklahoma, they will then have to turn around and prepare for a showdown against the East Division champion. It is likely that their opponent will be Southern Miss, but following the Thursday-night loss by the Golden Eagles to lowly UAB there is still slim hope for Marshall (who beat their division rival on September 10) to crawl into the game. That would require another Southern Miss loss in their home finale against Memphis, which is about as likely as a loss seemed possible to the Blazers in Birmingham… and that came to pass, so there are no guarantees. Assuming a win against the Tigers, Southern Miss would come to Houston on December 3 with their own BCS dreams dead on arrival but a chance to do the same to a rival that soon may be departing for different conference residency.
Should the Cougars win out and get to 13-0, though, the BCS automatic bid for non-AQ teams would be theirs. The only question then would be where they are going. The likeliest landing spot would probably be the Sugar Bowl. But if the five remaining one-loss BCS-conference teams (Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Alabama and Arkansas) were all to take another defeat in the final weeks of the season, would there be enough momentum up the polls to put Houston in the national championship? With as many upsets as we’ve already witnessed in 2011, such a scenario is hardly implausible. The real question is whether there would be enough of a push to get the Cougars to the highest rungs of the ladder.
Barring a stumble, Houston will at least make things interesting (as in uncomfortable) for the pollsters and the computer analysts. We’ve already seen undefeated non-AQs bypassed for one- and two-loss teams in the past, so the actual fruition of such a situation is unlikely. But each time it arises anew, it forces the renewal of the discussion and makes us question things further…
2. TCU Horned Frogs (MWC/9-2 — Last Week: 2nd)Overall: 20th (.3027) — Harris: 19th (.3033) — Coaches: 18th (.3349) — Computers: 19th (.270)
- L @ Baylor 50-48
- W @ Air Force 35-19
- W v. Louisiana-Monroe 38-17
- W v. FCS Portland State 55-13
- L v. SMU 40-33 (OT)
- W @ San Diego State 27-14
- W v. New Mexico 69-0
- W v. BYU 38-28
- W @ Wyoming 31-20
- W @ Boise State 36-35
- W v. Colorado State 34-10
After upsetting Boise State last weekend, the Horned Frogs claimed at least a share of the Mountain West championship with the opportunity to wrap it up outright at home against 2-8 UNLV on December 3. For that reason, and despite the two losses sitting in their record, they leapfrogged the Broncos as the best hope for the Mountain West to get a team into the BCS for a fourth consecutive season.
The Horned Frogs, however, would need some help to get there. First and foremost, they need Houston to tumble either against Tulsa on Friday or in the C-USA Championship game the weekend after. Then they need to move their way into at least the top 16, which at this point is hardly a guarantee given the bottleneck of two-loss teams sitting in the middle of the BCS standings. This week TCU managed to increase its share of the votes in all three components of the standings, yet fell from 19th to 20th despite the fact.
Therein lies the uphill battle for Gary Patterson’s crew as they sit back and wait to find out if they can become the first BCS Buster to break through in three consecutive seasons — there is nothing that TCU can do to control their fate aside from making sure they don’t get upset by the Rebels in their final MWC game prior to their move next year to AQ status as a Big XII member. They are dependent on the fortune that others create rather than mastering their own destiny.
But in some ways they already have mastered their own destiny. By beating Boise State, and positioning themselves to take advantage of the BCS’s own bylaws and loopholes, it is an enviable position in which the Horned Frogs reside. They are better placed than any non-AQ team has ever been at this point of a season to bust the BCS with defeats on their record. With the Big East in disarray, they need only get into the top 16 — hardly a guarantee, but entirely within the realm of possibility. And all it will take is one more upset in a season that has been chock full of them to finish the deal and allow for the Horned Frogs to write a final chapter in BCS Buster history before they join the establishment…
3. Boise State Broncos (MWC/9-1 — Last Week: 3rd)Overall: 7th (.6881) — Harris: 8th (.7085) — Coaches: 8th (.6558) — Computers: 8th (.690)
- W @ Georgia (@ Georgia Dome) 35-21
- W @ Toledo 40-15
- W v. Tulsa 41-21
- W v. Nevada 30-10
- W @ Fresno State 57-7
- W @ Colorado State 63-13
- W v. Air Force 37-26
- W @ UNLV 48-21
- L v. TCU 36-35
- W @ San Diego State 52-35
ODDS OF REACHING THE BCS: 20-1
No non-AQ team is ranked higher in the BCS standings than one-loss Boise State. But due to their loss to TCU, the Broncos have no guaranteed way of getting into the party — remember that it is the highest-ranked non-AQ conference champion that receives the automatic qualifier, not just the highest-ranked non-AQ team. The Broncos are left to hope for a major reshuffling of the deck in the next fortnight of football, needing enough one-loss teams to stumble in order to make them more attractive as an at-large selection.
If the Broncos accept the football-only bid to the Big East and this is indeed the last season that Boise State is in a non-AQ conference, it is a sad way to end their existence as the minnow that roared more consistently than any other yet faltered too often for its own good. In 2006, Boise State was the Cinderella that out-tricked Oklahoma to capture the Fiesta Bowl. Since then, the school has gone 57-6, finishing the first decade of the new century with a better winning percentage at the I-A level than any other school. But they have also earned just one more BCS berth in the process, falling on their face at the most inopportune of times and suffering the worst of luck even when they do survive unscathed.
In 2007, the team went 10-2 in the regular season, losing at Washington in the second week of the season and then again to that year’s BCS Buster, Hawaii, in the final week. 2008 saw them go undefeated in the regular season and reclaim the WAC throne only to be thwarted by the bad luck of sitting behind a better-ranked non-AQ conference champ in Utah. In 2009, everything came together to earn them another Fiesta Bowl berth — but they were forced to play TCU in the process, an all-BCS Buster BCS bowl that felt as though the cartel was circling its wagons to prevent risking the indignity of a loss by a high-profile powerhouse. Chris Petersen’s team bested the Horned Frogs in Glendale, but it didn’t truly legitimize that season like a win over a big-name AQ program would have, like the Oklahoma game had propelled them forward.
And then there’s the story of the past two seasons, kickers coming unglued to damn the Broncos to a spot on the outside looking in as others played games they knew they were good enough to play in… and win. Of course, were they in the Big East this year, they would not be on the outside looking in. But the simple question of conference affiliation in the BCS era is the difference between mediocrity rewarded and slightly-blemished excellence punished…
OTHERS RECEIVING BCS VOTES
- 4. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (C-USA/8-3 — Last Week: 5th) 31st @ 0.0226
- 5. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (C-USA/9-2 — Last Week: 4th) 32nd @ 0.191
- 6. BYU Cougars (IND/8-3 — Last Week: 6th) 34th @ 0.0061
- 7. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/8-3 — Last Week: 7th) 36th @ 0.0026
- 8. Arkansas State Red Wolves (SUN BELT/9-2 — Last Week: 8th) 35th @ 0.0033
- 9. Ohio Bobcats (MAC/8-3 — Last Week: 9th) 41st @ 0.0002
DROPPING OUT THIS WEEK: NONE
OTHERS MERITING CONSIDERATION: Louisiana-Lafayette (SUN BELT/8-3,L @ Arkansas State 30-21), Wyoming (MWC/7-3, W v. New Mexico 31-10)