College Football Analysis: Clearing Up the Current BCS Picture

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Last night, after the Jerry Sandusky circus got off my television screen, I got the hankering to do a little research and dig through a few info-facts to help clear up the BCS picture for myself. You know going to the official site, looking at past numbers and finishes by BCS teams with one-loss, two-losses and non-AQ teams' highest finishes. All things that an admitted football nerd like myself is want to do when he's got some free time. I went looking to see what the odds were that Boise State would still get a BCS Bowl bid and what I found was a handsome reward in the form of these writings.

First of all Boise State is basically out. It would take a tremendous act of absurd losing weird regular season games but then winning a conference and having teams drop out of the rankings while somehow the SEC (not gonna happen), Pac-12 (not gonna happen) and/or Big 12 (highly doubt this happens) only send one team to the BCS party. Not with LSU-Alabama-Arkansas sitting out for grabs, Oregon-Stanford hanging in the balance and Oklahoma State-Oklahoma both hanging out waiting.

But, in a way, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the start here and outline what exactly we're looking at as the BCS picture starts to clear itself up. We've got some four of the six automatic BCS bid league "probable" champions sitting in the Top Eight right now as the SEC, ACC, Big XII and Pac-12 all have teams deemed to be of that "elite status." In the Big Ten we see four of the teams gunning for the championship birth hanging out between 15 and 21. An ugly, ugly year in the grand scheme by the standard Big Ten view.

Then we get to the Big East; no team ranked in the BCS Top 25 right now. Three teams that all hover just outside of the Top 25 in either poll. Cincinnati in the lead but West Virginia and Rutgers still in the running. Oh, and can't forget Louisville,  Pitt and UConn also have just two losses in the league which means mathematically, with three weeks to go they're in about as good of shape as anyone. I'm sure with some fancy mathifying we'd only fall a game short of being able to concoct a scenario where 1-4 South Florida and Syracuse have a title shot.

However, I'm not hear to slam the Big East. Quite honestly I don't care, they found a way to maintain their status as an Automatic Qualifier so props to them. Right now as it stands I'm thanking the Big East for making this years non-Automatic Qualifier bid process so remarkably interesting. 

Oh, what's that? Houston has to be the non-AQ team because they're the only undefeated left from the non-BCS ranks? False, folks. Totally false. TCU and Southern Miss are still squarely in the hunt for this things and that is absolutely all a product of the Big East not having a team with a stranglehold on the conference.

First we'll clear up the "Boise State is still ahead of Houston and they're way ahead of TCU and Southern Miss" drama so that everyone is clear on how it works. From the BCS official website:

3. The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or

B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

No more than one such team from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference shall earn an automatic berth in any year. (Note: a second team may be eligible for at-large eligibility as noted below.) If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria.

That first line about "The champion" earning an automatic berth doesn't exactly apply to Boise State right now. They're out of the catbird seat for the MWC Championship and will need a combined miracle of sorts out of Colorado State and UNLV, two teams with a combined record of 5-13 and 2-6 in the Mountain West. Both would have to beat TCU to give Boise State the MWC title on account of TCU holding the tie-breaker.

For Boise State that means they're hoping and wishing for an at-large berth. They're in the pool with the rest of folks and that is not a fun place to be when we're looking at 10 spots; 6 automatic bids, 2 conference replacements for BCS Championship Game participants and 1 automatic non-AQ bid. We're steering quickly towards just 1 truly at-large bid being kicked out there for the 2012 BCS Bowl season.

Which leaves Kevin Sumlin's Houston Cougars in that lead spot. Win out, win the Conference-USA Championship Game and the Cougs are in the BCS party, most likely the Sugar Bowl to take on the Crimson Tide should things hold true to form. However, the issue for Houston is the total opposite of TCU's quest for the MWC Championship; they don't have an easy road to travel for their title.

SMU this weekend, Tulsa over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Two teams that have explosive offenses, have beaten some good teams are are going to do their best to keep pace with Houston's frantic scoring pace. The Mustangs are no slouches, they've already handed TCU a loss this season and they can get after it on the offensive side of the ball when Zach Line gets going on the ground. Tulsa and first year coach Bill Blankenship do have three losses for the season. Those three losses coming to three teams ranked in the BCS Top Ten; 5th ranked Oklahoma, 2nd ranked Oklahoma State and 10th ranked Boise State.

And we cannot forget the little affair known as the Conference-USA Championship Game, should the Cougars successfully navigate this tough two week stretch. Then, Sumlin's team would take on the now 20th ranked Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. This is a ball club that's 9-1 and, outside of a "we dropped the ball" week two loss at Marshall, has been clicking for the 2011 season.

So, enter TCU and Southern Miss, numbers 19 and 20 respectively in the BCS rankings this week. Neither has games that are particularly daunting to close out the regular season with the aforementioned Rams and Rebels for TCU and UAB and Memphis, a combined 4-16, 3-10 in C-USA, for Larry Fedora's Golden Eagles. These wins aren't going to give either team a monumental boost in BCS rankings but the Big Ten going straight cannibal absolutely can.

Nebraska or Michigan will lose this weekend; dropping them below the two non-BCS teams, moving the pair closer to the Top 16 that they desperately need to be eligible for the automatic bid from the non-AQ ranks. Going further we'll see Penn State or Wisconsin in the Big Ten's Championship taking on, most likely, Michigan State. With a loss we can expect to see Michigan State or Penn State/Wisconsin tumble below TCU and Southern Miss who are fighting to climb.

TCU's got to sit and hope; they have two games left and will need some carnage to occur ahead of them in the form of teams like Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State, Georgia, Kansas State and South Carolina dropping.

Southern Miss is hoping for all of those same results but with the added caveat of having a game left against a current Top 11 Houston Cougars team to act as a spring board. Beating Houston, in Robertson Stadium, for the C-USA title is going to be the third or fourth best win on Championship Weekend. Only the SEC (LSU/Alabama-UGA), ACC (VT-Clemson), Big XII (OU-Oklahoma State) and possible Pac-12 Championship upset of Oregon/Stanford will have a team capable of beating a higher ranked opponent than Fedora's team upsetting now eleventh ranked Houston.

We're talking about three and four spots up for TCU and Southern Miss respectively and that isn't as daunting a task when you're talking 20 to 16 or 19-16 as opposed to 6 to 2 or 5 to 1 with just a few weeks of the season left. After losing to Baylor and SMU the Horned Frogs faithful saw their season falling apart, now they sit in the hunt for their third straight BCS Bowl. For Southern Miss beating Houston for a Conference-USA title can be more than just a conference championship reward. A win will truly can push Larry Fedora into the spotlight and put the program into that stratosphere that the people in Hattiesburg have been hoping to reach.

It's not out of the realm of possibility and while folks argue over the LSU-Alabama or LSU-Oregon rematch and how Boise State might get screwed this guy is a little excited to see two teams who we thought ruined their shot in September claw their way into the picture.

All thanks to the Big East.

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