It seems like we get to this point every year. We reach the halfway point of the college football season, the first BCS Standings come out, and everyone begins to panic. You hear things like, "the system is unfair", "the system is broken", "this is the year the BCS will blow up", "what if there are 5,6 or 7 undefeated teams at the end of the season?" I've even said those things myself over the years.
This year, those clammorings are more magnified. With seven Saturdays left in the college football regular season, there are 10 undefeated teams, and nine of them would have a legitimate claim to the BCS Championship Game if they run the table. Only Houston, who has a great shot to win all of it's games thanks to senior QB Case Keenum, has no realistic shot at the Sugar Bowl on January 9th. Everyone else will want a trip to New Orleans if they go undefeated.
That's not good for a system that prides itself on pitting the top two teams against one another every January. It's even worse for college football fans, who may feel cheated if their team is left out when bowl assignments are announced on December 4th. And, imagine being on an undefeated team from a power conference, and learning you wouldn't play for college football's top prize. Any player or coach from Auburn's 2004 team can tell you how painful that can be.
So, it's obvious, the system isn't ideal. It certainly creates plenty of chatter and debate, which is just what college football's power players hoped for when the BCS was created. But, it's still the strangest way for one of America's most popular sports to decide it's champion.
Let me qualify what I'm about to say; I don't like the BCS. The system has been very fortunate since it's inception in 1998 to not have more failures than successes. That being said, it's the system we're stuck with. So, let's not panic or ring our hands just yet. Remember, some teams still have seven games to play, and a lot of this logjam will clear itself out before December 4th.
Here's a look at the 10 undefeated teams, and the road they face to get to New Orleans. We'll go in the current BCS order.
#1 LSU (7-0)
The Tigers have the potential of six more games before selection Sunday in December. Everyone is focused on the Tigers trip on November 5th to Tuscaloosa, and with good reason. If both teams win their next game, they'll enter one of the most hyped regular season games of the past decade, and maybe one of the biggest ever in the SEC. The winner will have the inside track to Atlanta and possibly New Orleans. The loser will have to hope for a lot of help to get back in the title picture.
LSU has three very winnable regular season games remaining, beginning with Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers also face Western Kentucky and Ole Miss, before hosting Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving. The Razorbacks always play the Tigers tough, and have pulled upsets in this rivalry in the past. So, LSU has two huge games remaining, and possibly one more in the SEC Championship Game if they get that far. If LSU wins out, they're into the BCS Title Game on January 9th.
#2 Alabama (7-0)
The Crimson Tide has big tests ahead. After Saturday's rivalry game with Tennessee, the Tide gets a bye week before that November 5th showdown with LSU. After that, Alabama still has road games with rivals Mississippi State and Auburn. Remember, the Tigers nearly derailed the Tide's BCS dreams in 2009, and the teams are in nearly identical roles this season.
If Alabama can navigate this schedule, punch it's ticket to Atlanta and win the SEC Title, the Crimson Tide is bound for the Big Easy.
#3 Oklahoma (6-0)
The Sooners have to be wondering what happened. Oklahoma opened the year at number one, went 6-0 and fell to third behind LSU and Alabama. The Sooners control their own destiny, much like the Tigers and Crimson Tide. If Oklahoma wins out, they'll earn a trip to New Orleans.
But, that won't be easy. Oklahoma's biggest tests are still to come. The Sooners will potentially face two undefeated teams and one one-loss squad down the stretch. Trips to Kansas State and Baylor bookend a home showdown with a poweful Texas A&M squad. If Oklahoma runs that gauntlet, it will enter the final day of the regular season no worse than second in the BCS, and possibly first. That's when the Sooners will face their biggest test, at Oklahoma State on December 3rd. The winner of this game could be bound for the BCS Title Game. And, remember, there's no Big 12 Title Game this year, so a potential Big 12 BCS contender can't help or hurt it's standing after the regular season. Both have happened in the past.
#4 Oklahoma State (6-0)
The Cowboys may have their best team ever this season. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon give OSU one of the nation's most dynamic pass-catch tandems. Oklahoma State gets it's three toughest games at home down the stretch, hosting Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma. If the Cowboys run the table, they'll be in the big dance in the Big Easy.
That's where the sure things appear to end. If Alabama/LSU and Oklahoma/Oklahoma State get through undefeated, we'll have and SEC-Big 12 National Championship Game. Everyone else, needs to win and get help. Here's the rest of the best.
#5 Boise State (6-0)
The Broncos have the best chance to run the table, but their schedule is utterly unremarkable the rest of the way. There's a real chance Boise State could win all of it's games and not get into a title game, even if every other team in the country has a loss. A one-loss Alabama-Oklahoma match-up would be much more attractice to everyone than Boise State against anybody. Sorry Broncos fans. That's just the way it is.
#6 Wisconsin (6-0)
The Badgers can prove they belong in the BCS discussion in the next two weeks. Wisconsin will visit Michigan State and Ohio State on back-to-back Saturdays. The Badgers finish with Illinois and Penn State, both currently top 25 teams. And, Wisconsin would get the benefit of a Big 10 Title Game, if they get that far.
The Badgers offense has been unstoppable so far, with N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson leading the way. With four of the team's final six games on the road, and the weather getting colder by the weekend, Wisconsin would be a battle-tested group if it could go 13-0. However, the Badgers aren't jumping over any of the top four teams, so Bret Bielema's team must continue to win and hope for help to earn the school's first national title shot of the modern era.
#7 Clemson (7-0)
The Tigers have burst onto the scene behind an explosive offense, anchored by Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins. The Tigers have two big tests ahead, both on the road against Georgia Tech and South Carolina. Clemson could play six more games, if the Tigers earn a trip to the ACC Championship Game.
Clemson will need lots of help. The Tigers defense was just gashed repeatedly by Maryland, who suffered a blowout loss at home to Temple. Clemson also plays in the weaker ACC, which means the Tigers must win out and have nearly everyone lose to get their shot.
#8 Stanford (6-0)
Stanford has the country's most recognizable player, Andrew Luck. The team hasn't missed a beat, despite the loss of several key players and Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. But, the Cardinal's biggest obstacles are still to come.
After a home game with streaking Washington on Saturday, the Cardinal will travel to USC and Oregon State, both traditionally tough trips in the Pac 12. After that, the Cardinal will get a chance to make it's biggest statement, hosting Oregon. A win in this game could vault Stanford into possible national championship contention. Stanford finishes the year with it's two biggest rivals, Cal and Notre Dame.
The Cardinal is in the same boat as Wisconsin and Clemson. Stanford needs the teams ahead of them to lose, but the Cardinal also needs other teams to win. Luck and company would benefit from wins over ranked USC, Oregon and Notre Dame teams. Oregon will be there for sure, and the Trojans and Fighting Irish could be ranked if they keep winning. Stanford needs help both ways to get into the discussion, but remember, the Cardinal did win a BCS game (Orange Bowl) last year.
Neither team is likely to be in the discussion come December 4th. The Wildcats still have to play Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas. K-State has been a nice story, but that run of games will probably knock the Cats out of the conversation. As mentioned earlier, Houston doesn't have a strong enough schedule to get through, but the Cougars could hope for something else.
If Houston reaches a high-enough ranking in the BCS, they would be gauranteed one of the five biggest bowl games of the year. Even that is a longshot, but the Cougars are joining Boise State as the teams most likely to crash the BCS party in January.
So, let's all take a breath and have some perspective. All of these teams have big games ahead, and most will play in a conference championship game during the last week of the regular season. We'll get to December 4th, and the picture should be much clearer, and possibly even perfect... at least, we hope so.