The race for the BCS National Championship Game became crystal clear in Week 11 of the college football season, as there’s now no doubt that Alabama and Florida State are on a collision course to met in Pasadena for the title. Style points no longer matter for these teams, only winning football games.
There still remains a lot of interesting dynamics going on underneath the surface though, as TheSportsNotebook runs the most consequential developments of the past week and updates its BCS bowl projections.
*Alabama got its 38-17 win over LSU the old-fashioned way, and that’s by shutting down the Tiger ground game. LSU got just 43 yards rushing, and even though Zach Mettenberg played pretty well, no quarterback is going to gun his way past the ‘Bama defense without ground support. The Tide had a balanced attack, with T.J. Yeldon running well and A.J. McCarron playing efficiently (14/20, 179 yards, no interceptions).
*Stanford and Baylor simply muscled up and ran over Oregon and Oklahoma respectively, in the big Thursday night games this week. The Cardinal’s 26-20 win over Oregon–a game Stanford led 26-zip in the fourth quarter–came about because Tyler Gaffney ran for 157 yards on a workhorse-like 45 carries. Dare we put Gaffney’s name in the Heisman conversation?
As for the Bears, the loss of star running back Lache Seastrunk early in the game didn’t affect them. Baylor put in Shock Linwood, and the backup amassed 182 yards on 23 carries in a 41-12 win over Oklahoma. A big shout-out to the Baylor defense–it took most of the first half for the offense to get in gear, and even though OU’s offense isn’t very good this year, the Baylor D turned in a lockdown effort.
The wins by Baylor and Stanford put them in the grouping with Ohio State to see whose first in line if either Alabama or Florida State stumble. Ohio State is currently ranked third and the schedule the rest of the way is not imposing. That very dynamic though, could work against the Buckeyes. While they play a discredited Michigan team, Baylor is going to get its chances against Oklahoma State and Texas. If the Bears go 12-0, it’s tough to argue against them.
Stanford has one loss, but they also have the most impressive win, in dismantling media favorite Oregon. The Cardinal was hurt by Notre Dame’s loss to Pitt, since the Fighting Irish–Stanford’s season-ending opponent–now has a credibility problem themselves.
If it were up to me, I’d give Baylor first crack at the #3 spot.
Central Florida took command of the American Athletic Conference on Saturday with a 19-14 win over Houston. We talked about this conference race as the lead-in to last week’s BCS bowl projections, and though Louisville and Cincinnati are still in the hunt, the remaining schedule strongly suggests that UCF will win this conference and get it first-ever bid to a major bowl.
Then there are the battles for the final at-large spots in the field. Wisconsin and BYU played what boiled down to an elimination game in Madison. The Badgers got 147 yards rushing from James White in churning out a 27-17 win. UW still has a chance at one of those extra spots. BYU, with three losses now, is out of the mix.
Fresno State and Northern Illinois are in the middle of what amounts to their own battle for style points. If both teams win out, they’ll be ranked high enough to qualify for the automatic bid, under the criteria used for the midmajors. Here’s the catch–only one midmajor can get in automatically. The other would have to be voluntarily chosen by the bowls, which we know is not going to happen.
It’s Fresno who has the lead in the polls, currently ranked 14th to NIU’s 15th, and the gap is substantial. The fact Fresno took apart a decent Wyoming team on the road, 48-10, on Saturday night aided the Bulldogs’ cause. They have three games left, but only a season-ending road trip to San Jose State is a serious test. Northern Illinois was idle this week, and has a key MAC battle with Ball State coming up on Wednesday, and if they win that, a MAC Championship Game in December.
I’ve still got Oklahoma holding down the final at-large spot. The Sooners are 18th in the current polls, and if you assume neither Fresno or NIU will make it (which I do, though my confidence is shaking), the only teams the Sooners are behind in the rankings are those from conferences who have already used up their at-large spot along with Oklahoma State, currently ranked 12th. The Sooners have two winnable games before a season-ending battle in Stillwater. Okie State still has Texas and Baylor to deal with prior to that .
Thus, at this point, Oklahoma is still the safest choice. The next team in line would be Wisconsin, who has a road game against suddenly tough Minnesota on November 23. Here’s the current projected field and the bowl matchups that I’d project shaking out as a result…
THE FIELD OF TEN
ACC: Florida State
Big Ten: Ohio State
Big 12: Baylor
American Athletic (old Big East): Central Florida
At-Larges (4): Oregon, Auburn, Clemson, Oklahoma
BCS BOWL PROJECTIONS
BCS National Championship: Alabama-Florida State
Fiesta: Baylor-Central Florida
Rose: Ohio State-Stanford