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Enjoy it while it lasts, Stanford
As always, before diving in, three key things to keep in mind.
1) It’s all about the humans. The computers count for a third of the standings, while the humans account for the other two-thirds. The wires and chips will have their say, but it will take something truly major for the top two teams in human polls to not play for the BCS championship.
2) Again — AGAIN — don’t get into a twist over the computers. Many of the formulas kick into gear once the entire season is over, so the difference between the second-to-last computer rankings and the final ones could be night and day. Basically, the first half of the season doesn’t matter at all according to some of the formulas.
3) The AP poll is meaningless. Many major media outlets still use and reference the AP rankings, but they are not part of the BCS formula. The coaches’ poll counts for one third of the BCS and the ever-mysterious Harris Poll counts for the other human third of the equation. Those are the ones to focus on and scrutinize.
Here’s what matters from the fourth BCS standings of the season . . .
Don't freak out, Baylor
Relax, Bears fans. Your team might be No. 5 in the standings, one spot behind one-loss Stanford, but there is no way, no how, no chance that the Cardinal would get into the BCS championship game over an unbeaten Big 12 champion. At the moment, Baylor is ranked fourth in both the human polls and Stanford is fifth. That doesn't matter if Alabama and Florida State keep on winning, but if the Bears somehow can end up in the top two in the coaches' and Harris, they'll play in Pasadena. To put it easily, no one-loss team will play in the BCS championship over an unbeaten BCS team.
It's now a done deal as long as . . .
Alabama and Florida State win out. The No. 2 Seminoles are 0.0693 ahead of No. 3 Ohio State, which might not seem like much, but it's a 10-mile wide chasm between the two key spots. It doesn't matter if the Buckeyes blow out everyone else by 75; they're not getting into the top two if Alabama or Florida State doesn’t lose. With Oregon out of the undefeated pool, style points are no longer an issue when it comes to the top two spots. And the computers that have the Buckeyes fourth aren't going to provide any sort of a boost.
However . . .
Ohio State is right there ready to pounce.
There's still plenty of time. Entering last week, the Buckeyes needed at least one of the teams above them to fall, and they got one big piece out of the way with Oregon's loss to Stanford on Thursday. Alabama still has to face Auburn and probably has to deal with Missouri in the SEC championship game, while Florida State has to go to Florida and can't slip up in the ACC championship game. It's going to take a major upset, and there aren't any points for finishing third, but stranger things have happened. Baylor proved that last year against Kansas State and Stanford just showed it on Thursday night.
Don't get caught up in the Cardinal
Stanford is the big hot thing of the moment, and being fourth might seem nice as the best of the one-loss teams. But the loss to Utah will rear its ugly head the rest of the season. A one-loss Cardinal won't get into the BCS championship game over Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State or Baylor if any of those four are unbeaten, and forget about getting in over a one-loss SEC champion. There's no way the human polls will allow a Clemson-Florida State rematch for the national title, and Oregon isn't going to get back up over Stanford in the standings if both teams win out, but . . .
Buy now on the Tigers — both of them
Missouri and Auburn don't control their own BCS championship destinies — they need a loss from two of the three undefeated non-SEC BCS teams for that to happen — but they have the SEC world within their own grasp. No. 7 Auburn would rocket up the charts with a win over Alabama, and No. 9 Missouri would fly up the standings with wins over Ole Miss, Texas A&M and, most likely, Alabama. Stanford is the team du jour, but the SEC is still the main dish. The pecking order of one-loss teams for the BCS championship, at least this year, is SEC champion, Pac-12 champion, ACC champion, SEC runner-up.
The Big Ten squeeze
Wisconsin's controversial loss at Arizona State matters. In order to be eligible for an at-large bid, a team must win at least nine games and finish in the top 14 in the standings. The nine-win part doesn't appear to be a problem for the No. 22 Badgers, who are rolling along in the Big Ten, but getting into the top 14 could be a problem with all the traffic ahead of them. Had the officials gotten it right against the Sun Devils and allowed UW to hit the chip shot field goal attempt in the final seconds back on Sept. 14, the computer ranking would be much higher and the humans would be far more generous than 20th in the coaches' poll and 21st in the Harris.
Michigan State has a better shot at being the second Big Ten team into the BCS (if there is one), currently sitting at 16 in the standings and certain to move up over the next few weeks if it can get to 11-1 and into the Big Ten championship game. If the Spartans end up beating Ohio State — assuming it is Ohio State — then obviously they'll be in the BCS going to the Rose Bowl, and then it becomes interesting for the Big Ten. The six BCS conference champions get into the BCS, the Pac-12 and SEC will almost certainly put in two teams and 11-1 Clemson would get in. That leaves one spot available, and that might be taken up because . . .
If a champion from a non-BCS conference finishes in the top 12 in the standings, it's automatically in the BCS. If two teams finish in the top 12, only one has to be taken. Fresno State is sitting at 14 — just two spots out of the automatic spot and just one spot ahead of Northern Illinois. And there are enough games left between teams in the top 13 to ensure a top-12 finish by winning out for either school. The other way to get an automatic bid will be to finish in the top 16 and ahead of a BCS conference champion, which means it's important to pay attention to . . .
The UCF factor
Louisville destroyed a horrible UConn team and moved up in the human polls, ranking 13th in the Coaches' and 14th in the Harris. UCF got past the third-best team in the American, Houston, and it has the win over Louisville on the résumé, and yet it's still ranked 19th in both human polls. At 17th in the BCS, UCF would be much, much higher in the BCS and would be ahead of Fresno State and Northern Illinois if the polls thought more of the Knights.