Exploring Chaos (Or Charting Ohio State's Course to the BCS Championship Game)

By Kyle Rowland on November 4, 2013 at 9:15 am
The Rose Bowl, site of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.

Ten weeks into the college football season and three weeks into the chaos that is the Bowl Championship Series, five undefeated power conference teams remain. In the final year of this foolish system that has virtually no support, it would be appropriate if disorder and mass confusion rained down on the powers that be.

College football’s postseason has run amok with poll manipulation and drama in recent seasons. A new four-team playoff – and inevitable eight-team system – can’t get here soon enough for fans who have grown tired of the style points game.

But for now, it’s one final month of scoring points to impress voters, debate about whether Northwestern, Mississippi State or Wake Forest is a more impactful win and hearing about tenths of a point in computer ratings.

So, in the last November in the BCS’ history, who has the clearest path to the national championship game? The answer may surprise you.

Despite a 21-game win steak, Ohio State is not ranked first, second or even third in the BCS. Instead, Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes find themselves behind three undefeated teams and in need of at least two of them to have a mishap. A week on the sideline could be the cure-all. Ohio State does not step foot in a stadium until Nov. 16. Before then, Nos. 1 and 13, 3 and 5 and 6 and 10 face off in three of the most anticipated games of the season.

If the top-five teams win out, Alabama is a shoo-in for the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena with Oregon as the most likely opponent. But in the 16-year history of the BCS, only six times has the championship game featured two undefeated teams. Even rarer is multiple undefeated teams after the conference title games. Only twice during the BCS era have there been more than two unbeatens from major conferences – 2004 (USC, Oklahoma and Auburn) and 2009 (Alabama, Texas and Cincinnati). Odds are it won’t happen again.

Just one year ago, the month of November had, you guessed it, five undefeated teams — Alabama, Notre Dame, Oregon, Kansas State and Louisville. Only the Irish would get through the regular season without a blunder. 

Another strong impossibility is a one-loss team in the championship game if multiple top-five teams stay undefeated. At this juncture of the season, there are fewer opportunities to make up ground if someone stumbles. Important for Ohio State fans fretting about Stanford, who’s close behind, are the words of Jerry Palm and Brad Edwards who believe it’s far-fetched for the Cardinal or any other one-loss team to finish ahead of the Buckeyes.

The least stressful position to be in is first or second in the human polls – Coaches and Harris – which are two-thirds of the BCS formula with six computer ratings comprising the remaining third. That along gives Alabama and Florida State an advantage – for now.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide, winners of three of the past four national championships, do not have the path of least resistance to the Rose Bowl. Alabama hosts LSU this Saturday, travels to No. 8 Auburn the final week of the regular season and will play a solid team in the SEC title game. All three games are possible pitfalls in the Tide’s run at an unprecedented (modern era) third straight national championship. Remember, Alabama has only finished undefeated once in their current string of titles.

Of the remaining unbeatens, Alabama’s opponents’ win-loss record is by far the best. Baylor’s schedule isn’t far behind, but the Bears’ conference is holding them back. The Big Ten might take the brunt of the criticism when it comes to conference bashing. They have a championship game, though, which is something the Big 12 can’t claim. That one fewer game could be a major roadblock for Baylor.

That is, if it gets through the gauntlet of a schedule that remains. The Bears play the entire top half of the Big 12 in November – Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The first of those games is Thursday night against the Sooners.

Computers also aren’t fond of Baylor. It leapfrogged Stanford in both human polls this week, yet Baylor is still behind the one-loss Cardinal in the BCS standings. When you glance at the computers, the picture becomes clearer. Stanford’s average computer rating is 5, while Baylor’s is a putrid 9, second only to Oklahoma’s 11 in the top 10. Escaping their November schedule unscathed would provide a massive boost for the Bears.

On the same night as the Baylor-Oklahoma game, Oregon and Stanford play in a match up of top-five teams. It’s the toughest remaining game for the Ducks or any undefeated team, for that matter. And Oregon still has Oregon State and a possible Pac-12 title game on the docket. 

Then Ohio State and Florida State come into the picture. As far as remaining schedules go, not many teams in the country will have an easier go at it than the Buckeyes and Seminoles. Opponents’ records are well below .500 and conference championship games won’t deliver a much stiffer challenge. Michigan State could enter the contest with one loss, but Ohio State will still be heavy favorites, as will Florida State against a Miami team they just blew out or mediocre Virginia Tech.

Not even both teams’ archrivals – Michigan and Florida – present much of a battle. Those two games have been must-see college football for decades, just not in 2013.

It’s a big reason why Ohio State-Florida State is the most likely title game come Jan. 6.

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