The first BCS standings of the 2011 season were released Sunday after the seventh week of games has completed and every team has passed the halfway point of their schedules. Nothing too shocking showed up in the standings… six Big Ten teams, five SEC schools, and five Big XII squads headlined the standings, dominating the Top 25 as the usual suspects start jockeying for position in hopes of landing one of the ten most lucrative bowl berths in college football.
Sure, the shuffling of the rankings by the computers came with some interesting shifts in the standings from what we’ve come to recognize in the coaches’ poll, the one facet of the BCS standings that are showcased from the preseason onward. But in many ways the biggest shocker was how those computers had given greater credence to the two undefeated non-AQ teams still fully alive in their drive to Bust the BCS.
With the big talk of the non-AQ world this week centered around the merger of the Mountain West and Conference USA for football operations, a 22-team behemoth about which I’ll write more soon, the leaders of both demolished conference rivals. Both the Broncos and Cougars would win their most recent game before the release of the first BCS standings by more than 50 points, and the computers rewarded their respective runs to 6-0 with spots in the top five (for Boise State) and top twenty (Houston) in the inaugural release of 2011.
What was interesting is how the computers perceived the teams relative to the other eight undefeated teams remaining in college football. Boise rates ahead of teams like Wisconsin and Stanford and Kansas State in the computer rankings, the aggregated score of the six computer rankings pinning them currently in 6th place in that trirant of the equation. Houston, whose schedule — with UCLA and Conference USA and Sun Belt schools instead of Georgia and a Mountain West/WAC hybrid schedule — was always going to leave them hoping for Boise State to lose as their best chance to acquire the automatic bid for non-AQ teams reaching the top 12 of the standings. But the computers also have pegged the Cougars in the same realm as Penn State and Texas A&M and Michigan State, the humans ultimately the groups holding them back instead of the machines.
What does this mean? Well, when Boise State was 6-0 and rated third in the inaugural BCS standings last season, it was due not to computer help (they were 7th in the aggregate) but the fact that both sets of pollsters had them ranked second in the country. TCU and Utah were also both rated higher by the polls than by the computers, which by and large seemed skewed in terms of relative quality of competition to be predisposed to undervaluing non-AQ teams. This year, it is the humans that seem reluctant to really anoint a BCS Buster.
The rankings are changing up once again this week upon the release of the BCS standings this weekend.
1. Boise State Broncos (MWC/6-0 — Last Week: 1st)
- 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
The big question this weekend was how the Broncos would take to competition in their new conference, as they traveled to Fort Collins to face Colorado State on the road in their first-ever Mountain West showdown. The showdown, though, quickly became a slaughter thanks not just to the highly-touted arm of Kellen Moore but even more so the underrated legs of tailback Doug Martin. Martin’s touchdown runs of 26 and 65 yards within the first six minutes of the game set the tone for a full 60-minute beatdown of the Rams. The senior from Stockton, CA would finish with a tidy 200 yards on 20 carries, nabbing a third touchdown run in the third quarter as well. It was the driving force in another balanced effort from the Broncos, as Kellen Moore also went an otherworldly 26-of-30 for 338 yards and 4 touchdowns passing. Next up is their conference home opener against the ground-pounding offense of the Air Force Academy. After having given pollsters a taste of runaway victories the past few weeks, nothing less might do… especially if they hope to remain in position to pounce at any shakeups above them.
2. Houston Cougars (C-USA/6-0 – Last Week: 2nd)
- 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
The Cougars simply sat back this week and waited to see what would happen in the BCS standings. And boy, did they have reason to be giddy once the results were tabulated and announced. Kevin Sumlin’s team had to be pleasantly shocked when they realized that more of the six computers had them ranked than teams like Michigan State, Georgia Tech and Washington. Especially bullish on Houston is Anderson & Hester, who has the Cougars as the 11th-best team in the nation, while only Richard Billingsley has them outside the top 25 (at #51). The thing that will work against them is schedule strength moving forward… while their schedule to date has been compared to that of Wisconsin and Stanford by various computers, the fact is that those teams’ conference schedules will widen the chasm of schedule strength. Thus Houston has absolutely no margin for error — they must continue winning, and preferably winning like they did against East Carolina, to stay fresh in the minds of the pollsters because in their case that is their best bet for nabbing a spot… especially since a top-12 spot isn’t out of the realm of possibility if they keep a perfect record.
3. SMU Mustangs (C-USA/5-1 — Last Week: 4th)
- L @ Texas A&M 46-14
- W v. UTEP 28-17
- W v. FCS Northwestern State 40-7
- W @ Memphis 42-0
- W @ TCU 40-33 (OT)
- W v. UCF 38-17
The Mustangs didn’t last outside the top three for long, rising to the top 30 in both human polls and receiving votes in the top 25 from two of the six BCS computers by virtue of their beatdown of a UCF team that harbored high hopes entering the season. SMU scored on the ground (RB Zach Line: 16 carries for 82 yards and 2 TDs), in the air (QB J.J. McDermott: 20-of-31 for 358 yards and 2 TD/1 INT), placekicking (K Chase Hover: 1-1 FG/26 yd, 5-5 PAT) and with a sweet 92-yard punt return by senior DB Richard Crawford that extended the early lead to 17-0 in the second quarter. The Knights would get lucky to pull the deficit to two touchdowns twice in the game, but June Jones’ crew has proven they know how to close out games. And next weekend’s trip to Hattiesburg will serve as a de facto elimination game against Southern Miss, providing a third straight October opportunity to show off against a highly regarded non-AQ squad. What the Mustangs lack in a signature BCS-conference victory (their only opportunity a 46-14 loss at Texas A&M in the season opener), SMU has made up for with two straight signature non-AQ wins.
4. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (SUN BELT/6-1 — Last Week: 3rd)
- L @ Oklahoma State 61-34
- W @ Kent State 20-12
- W v. FCS Nicholls State 38-21
- W @ FIU 36-31
- W v. FAU 37-34
- W v. Troy 31-17
- W v. North Texas 30-10
Louisiana-Lafayette won’t benefit any further in terms of schedule strength, but the fact that the computers have regarded Oklahoma State so highly has helped out the Ragin’ Cajuns as well. With just six total points out of a possible 4350 combined in the two human polls, they are one of the most obvious beneficiaries of the computer vote. Both Sagarin and Peter Wolfe have them in the Top 25, and more people are taking notice as to how their six-game winning streak has also helped out the Cowboys in the BCS standings. First-year head coach Mark Hudspeth has the Ragin’ Cajuns qualified for their first bowl game in school history… though the way ULL is playing they could also shoot for far more, including the first 10-win season in school history and their first outright Sun Belt title. Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State will not register much on the radar, and their trip to face Arizona looks much worse for the Wildcats’ ineptitude in 2011… but for a school without any pedigree to even be in the BCS discussion at this point might just merit Coach of the Year honors for Hudspeth.
5. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (C-USA/5-1 — Last Week: 5th)
- W v. Louisiana Tech 19-17
- L @ Marshall 26-20
- W v. FCS SE Louisiana 52-6
- W @ Virginia 30-24
- W v. Rice 48-24
- W @ Navy 63-35
Like Houston, Southern Miss also sat back on a bye week and watched to see where they would fall in the pecking order of both their conference and the wider national picture. Their signature victory of the season, a 30-24 win at Virginia three weeks ago, was bolstered on Saturday when the Cavaliers dealt Georgia Tech their first loss of the season. The Golden Eagles have the benefit of facing a team that’s ahead of them in the BCS standings when SMU comes to town next Saturday, and should they reach the title game and play Houston there would be another opportunity to impress pollsters. But there are still a lot of gaps in their schedule that could hurt their chances as well, considering that their one loss came against 3-4 Marshall (who holds the tiebreaker in any divisional championship scenario by virtue of that upset victory) and last weekend’s victory against Navy has done little to bolster their case as the Midshipmen suffered their fourth straight defeat on Saturday to Rutgers. The Golden Eagles will need some help to reach a top-12 spot, which requires a strong statement against the Mustangs this weekend if they want to keep dreaming.
6. TCU Horned Frogs (MWC/4-2 — Last Week: 6th)
- 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
Despite their bye week, TCU is still positioned as the only 2-0 team in the Mountain West standings at this point. For the Horned Frogs, the perception among voters that a MWC champion is basically the equivalent of a Big East or possibly even ACC champion will always help their case — every one of their points toward a BCS total came from the human voters, as the computers didn’t buy the losses to Baylor and SMU. The six computers have Gary Patterson’s team ranked at an average position of 41st, just ahead of Southern Miss. They do have one computer fan, though… Richard Billingsley, which often seems to undervalue most non-AQ schools, sees TCU as better than the 5-1 Golden Eagles, better than the 6-1 Ragin’ Cajuns and even better than 6-0 Houston. Other than that, most computers have the Horned Frogs no higher than they would be next year with the same record in the Big XII. For TCU it all comes down to that November 12 contest that got shifted from Fort Worth to Boise. Beat the Broncos for the second time in four seasons, and the voters might just be crazy enough to vault TCU as a two-loss non-AQ (though don’t tell 2010 Nevada that).
7. Temple Owls (MAC/5-2 — Last Week: 7th)
- W v. FCS Villanova 42-7
- W @ Akron 41-3
- L v. Penn State 14-10
- W @ Maryland 38-7
- L v. Toledo 36-13
- W @ Ball State 42-0
- W v. Buffalo 34-0
The Owls pitched their second straight shutout to earn their fifth win of the season on Saturday, with Buffalo coming to Philadelphia and taking their beating soundly. Only one team has managed to score more than 14 points on Temple’s defense this season — though, rather than it being Penn State or Maryland, the fact that it was Toledo (in a 36-13 blowout that was Temple’s second loss of the season) might not help the Owls’ case. But the pollsters have taken notice, or at least one, as their three votes received in the coaches’ poll were the only thing separating Temple from a spot off this list altogether. Nothing left on their schedule will bolster their standing in the computers save a lot of losses by the teams ahead of them, so it might take a couple more shutouts in their final five games to impress pollsters enough to get a boost into the top 25. The overall parity in the MAC (read: lack of dominant teams beyond Temple) further requires some incredible defensive performances coupled with opening the throttle on the offense if Addazio’s crew hopes to go to the MAC Championship and into the minds of the greater nation.
OTHERS MERITING CONSIDERATION: BYU (5-2), San Diego State (4-2), Wyoming (4-2), Arkansas State (4-2), FIU (4-2)