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Breakdown of Conference Races and National Title Game


By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The 2011 college football season is winding down. With just five weeks of full action left, it's time to take a look at how the BCS conferences and national title picture is shaping up. There's a lot of key games remaining, but let's take a look at what teams need to do in order to seal its division.


Atlantic Division

The Tigers have one loss in conference play, giving them an edge over Wake Forest.

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What Needs to Happen: The mission for Clemson is simple. Beat the Demon Deacons on Nov. 12, and the Tigers are ACC Atlantic champs. If the Tigers stumble, they will have to hope for a conference loss by Wake Forest against Maryland. Losing to Georgia Tech knocked Clemson out of the mix for a spot in the national title game. However, the Tigers can finish with a solid 11-1 regular season record and a chance to play for a conference championship.

Florida State
The Seminoles have two conference losses, so they need a lot of help to win the Atlantic.

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What Needs to Happen: A lot. Florida State needs a Wake Forest win on Nov. 12 against Clemson. If that happens, the Seminoles need the Demon Deacons to lose to Maryland on Nov. 19, and the Tigers to lose to NC State the same weekend.

Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons trail Clemson by one game in the Atlantic. And these two teams meet on Nov. 12 in Death Valley.

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What Needs to Happen: For Wake Forest to have any shot at winning the Atlantic, it has to beat Clemson. If the Demon Deacons upset the Tigers, they need to beat Maryland on Nov. 19 to clinch the division title.

Coastal Division

Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets upset win over Clemson bolstered their ACC Coastal title hopes. Had Georgia Tech lost to the Tigers, its division championship hopes were likely over.

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What Needs to Happen: The Yellow Jackets are a game behind Virginia Tech in the standings. These two teams will meet on Nov. 10 in Atlanta, which will likely determine the Coastal champ. If Georgia Tech wins, it needs to beat Duke the following week to clinch a spot in the ACC title game. If the Yellow Jackets lose to Virginia Tech, it’s unlikely they could win the Coastal with three conference losses.

This might be a surprise to some, but take a look at the ACC standings. The Cavaliers are just a game behind Virginia Tech for the lead and already own a victory over Georgia Tech.

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What Needs to Happen: The Cavaliers are a longshot, but they are definitely in the mix. Virginia has to win out to claim the Coastal title, starting on Saturday at Maryland. Virginia also plays Duke and Florida State, before the season finale against Virginia Tech. If the Cavaliers can navigate a difficult remaining schedule and beat the Hokies in the finale, they will make their first appearance in the ACC title game.

Virginia Tech
With a 4-1 record in ACC play, the Hokies control their destiny in the Coastal.

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What Needs to Happen: If Virginia Tech wins out, it will win the division title. However, there are two major hurdles that have to be cleared. The Hokies play at Georgia Tech on Nov. 10 and face rival Virginia in the season finale.

Big East

Outside of the Big Ten, the Big East is probably the conference with the most uncertainty surrounding its champion. Cincinnati is the only team with an undefeated conference record (2-0). The Bearcats and West Virginia are the favorites entering Week 10, but Pittsburgh, Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse can’t be counted out of the picture. Cincinnati and West Virginia meet on Nov. 12, which should help provide some clarity to the title race. The Mountaineers were the preseason favorite, but a loss to Syracuse has them just behind the Bearcats in the standings.

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Considering Cincinnati still has five conference games remaining, it’s too early to break down the scenarios for each team. There's a lot that could change in the next week or two, but the Bearcats, and the Mountaineers should be considered the favorites.

Big 12

After losing to Texas Tech, the Sooners are on the outside looking in. However, all is not lost. Oklahoma has jumped to No. 6 in the BCS standings and still has a shot to win the Big 12 title.

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What Needs to Happen: Barring another upset, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State’s season will ride on the season finale. The Cowboys host the Sooners in Stillwater, and the winner will not only likely claim the conference title, but a spot in the national championship could be on the line. As long as the Sooners win out, they should be in good shape for the Big 12 crown.

Oklahoma State
With four games remaining, the Cowboys are in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title.

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What Needs to Happen: As long as Oklahoma State wins out, it will win the Big 12 crown. And there could be a bigger prize with an undefeated season. If the Cowboys win their final four games, a berth in the national title is very likely. The biggest obstacle to Oklahoma State’s season will be the Dec. 3 date against Oklahoma.

Big Ten

Leaders Division

Ohio State
The Buckeyes have surprisingly climbed back into the Leaders race, thanks to wins over Illinois and Wisconsin.

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What Needs to Happen: The Buckeyes have two Big Ten losses, but have a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. Ohio State should beat Indiana and Purdue, with Michigan and Penn State serving as swing games. The Buckeyes need the Nittany Lions to lose twice and beating them once in Columbus would certainly help. Ohio State needs a lot to bounce its way with two conference losses. However, the Buckeyes are still very much in the mix.

Penn State
The Nittany Lions aren’t getting a lot of national attention, but they have quietly posted a solid 8-1 record. Penn State’s only loss was to Alabama and it is 5-0 in Big Ten play.

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What Needs to Happen: Although the Nittany Lions have cruised to an 8-1 record, the schedule is going to get tougher over the next few weeks with games against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. If Penn State wants to play in the Big Ten title game, beating Wisconsin and Ohio State are musts. The Nittany Lions are in the driver’s seat, but they can’t feel too comfortable with the upcoming schedule.

The Badgers appeared to be the frontrunner to win the Big Ten, but back-to-back losses have knocked them out of the race for now.

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What Needs to Happen: Wisconsin has a lot of work to do. The Badgers are two games behind Penn State in the conference race, but have a very manageable schedule in November. With Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Penn State upcoming, a 4-0 finish is likely. Assuming Wisconsin beats Penn State, the Badgers need the Nittany Lions and Ohio State to each lose another game. The bottom line for Wisconsin to play for the Big Ten title: Penn State needs two losses (with one coming against the Badgers) and Ohio State to lose to Michigan or Penn State.

Legends Division

Despite a head-scratching loss to Minnesota, don’t count out the Hawkeyes. Iowa is 2-2 in Big Ten play, with losses to the Golden Gophers and Penn State.

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What Needs to Happen: Last week’s loss was damaging, but maybe not as much as some may think. Iowa still has to play Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska in the final month of the season. Win all of those games, and the Hawkeyes will win the division crown. It’s unlikely, but you never know what can happen.

Brady Hoke’s first season at Michigan has been a success. The Wolverines are 7-1 and locked into a three-way tie for the Legends Division title.

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What Needs to Happen: Michigan’s road to finishing 11-1 won’t be easy. The Wolverines take on Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State over the final four games. In order for Michigan to claim the outright division title (assuming it wins out), it needs to hope for a Michigan State loss in the final four weeks. However, the schedule is in favor of the Spartans, with Iowa and Northwestern being the toughest games. The scenarios can get confusing if three teams tie, but the Big Ten would look at the record within the Legends Division. If Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska all finish 6-2, it could work in the Wolverines favor – if they beat Nebraska and lose to Ohio State or Illinois. Why? Michigan’s record within Legends Division play could be better than the Spartans and Cornhuskers.

Michigan State
The Spartans missed a prime opportunity to seize a commanding lead in the Legends Division with last week’s loss to Nebraska. Michigan State is tied with Michigan and the Cornhuskers with one loss in conference play.

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What Needs to Happen: As we mentioned with Michigan, there’s the possibility of a three-way tie at the end of the year. It’s confusing to sort out, so let’s focus on how the Spartans can win the division outright. Michigan State owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan, but needs Nebraska to lose once in its final four. The Cornhuskers schedule has some potential landmines – Northwestern, at Penn State, at Michigan and Iowa. So there’s no guarantee Nebraska finishes unbeaten the rest of the way. The Spartans have a very favorable remaining schedule, getting Minnesota and Indiana at home and Iowa and Northwestern on the road. If the Spartans finish with just one loss in conference play, the focus to win the division outright shifts to Nebraska and its record in the next four games.

The win over Michigan State put the Cornhuskers in control of their destiny in the Big Ten Legends Division. Nebraska has only one loss in conference play: Oct. 1 at Wisconsin.

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What Needs to Happen: Just like we mentioned with Michigan and Michigan State, the possibility exists for a three-way tie atop the division. However, let’s look at what Nebraska needs to win it outright. The Cornhuskers own a valuable head-to-head win over Michigan State and still have to play Michigan (Nov. 19). Assuming Nebraska sweeps the rest of its games, it will play for the conference title in Indianapolis. That’s not a given, however, as road trips to Penn State and Michigan won’t be easy.


North Division

The Ducks’ only loss came in Week 1 to LSU, and they’ve rolled through Pac-12 play with a 5-0 record.

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What Needs to Happen: Just win out. If Oregon takes care of business in the final four Pac-12 games, it will represent the North Division in the title game. However, it’s not an easy road with Washington, Stanford and USC remaining. The Ducks’ biggest obstacle figures to be a Nov. 12 date against the Cardinal. If Oregon slips once (outside of Stanford), its hopes of winning the conference aren’t dead. However, losing to Stanford would require two losses by the Cardinal.

With a 6-0 conference record, the Cardinal is one win ahead of Oregon in the North standings.

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What Needs to Happen: Just like Oregon, if Stanford wins out, it will play for the Pac-12 title. The Nov. 12 date against the Ducks is the biggest obstacle to an undefeated season and will likely decide the winner of the North Division. If the Cardinal loses to Oregon, they need to hope for two losses by the Ducks. Although there’s a possibility both teams could get upset, it’s safe to say the Nov. 12 showdown on the Farm will crown the winner of the North – and where the first Pac-12 Championship will be held.

The North Division is probably a two-team race, but don’t count out the Huskies just yet.

What Needs to Happen: The Huskies have one loss in conference play (Stanford), and have remaining games against Oregon and USC. If the Cardinal somehow lose twice, and the Huskies win out (which includes a win against the Ducks), Washington would win the North. It’s a longshot, but the Huskies still have a chance. 

South Division

Editor’s Note: USC was not listed due to being ruled ineligible for the Pac-12 South title.

Arizona State
Barring a complete collapse, the Sun Devils should win the South.

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What Needs to Happen: Arizona State has only one loss in conference play (Oregon), and the rest of the schedule is very favorable. The Sun Devils have road trips to UCLA and Washington State, before closing the season with games in Tempe against Arizona and California. The Sun Devils play UCLA this week, which would seem to be the final hurdle to clinching the South. If Arizona State loses this Saturday, it would need a loss by UCLA in one of its final three games.

It may be a surprise to some, but the Bruins are very much alive in the South title picture.

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What Needs to Happen: At 3-2 in the conference, UCLA is just a game behind Arizona State in the standings. And the Bruins host the Sun Devils this Saturday. If UCLA upsets Arizona State, it would move the Bruins into the lead for the division title. However, UCLA would still have to navigate its final stretch – at Utah, Colorado and at USC – in order to win the division. It’s a longshot considering how the Bruins have played this year. However, the matchup with Arizona State this Saturday will be a key factor in determining whether or not the Bruins can legitimately make a run for the conference championship game.


East Division

The Bulldogs are riding a six-game winning streak and a key victory over Florida last Saturday. However, Georgia is still a game behind South Carolina in the East standings.

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What Needs to Happen: The Bulldogs have two conference games remaining (Auburn and Kentucky), but needs a loss by the Gamecocks to go to Atlanta. South Carolina isn’t a lock to win its final two SEC games, especially this Saturday’s matchup against Arkansas. If Georgia wins out and the Gamecocks lose once, the Bulldogs will represent the East in the SEC title game.

South Carolina
Thanks to a 45-42 win over Georgia in Week 2, the Gamecocks own the top spot in the SEC East.

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What Needs to Happen: If the Gamecocks beat Arkansas and Florida, they will win the SEC East. However, with running back Marcus Lattimore sidelined for the rest of the year, it could be difficult. If South Carolina loses once, Georgia will go to the SEC Championship.

West Division

The winner of Saturday’s Alabama-LSU game is going to take a major step towards winning the SEC West. The Crimson Tide is tied with LSU at 5-0 in the West.

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What Needs to Happen: Keep winning. If Alabama beats LSU on Saturday and takes care of Mississippi State and Auburn, it will play for the SEC title. If the Crimson Tide lose to the Tigers, then they will need two losses by LSU in its final two SEC games.

Although Alabama and LSU are the overwhelming favorites to win the West, the Razorbacks are still clinging to slim division title hopes. Arkansas lost to Alabama in Week 4, which was its only defeat in SEC play this season.

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What Needs to Happen: The Razorbacks need a lot of help. Alabama needs to lose twice. And Arkansas needs to beat LSU in the season finale. The latter part of that scenario would seem to be more likely. This scenario also assumes Arkansas beats South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Getting to Atlanta seems like a longshot, but the Razorbacks need to keep winning and let things fall into place over the next few weeks.

Determining the winner of the SEC West race will become clearer with LSU’s game against Alabama. The Tigers are undefeated in conference play, winning all five games by more than 13 points.

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What Needs to Happen: Beating Alabama on Saturday is step No. 1 to a SEC title. If the Tigers knock off the Crimson Tide, they will jump into the driver’s seat for a spot in the national title. LSU still has games remaining against Ole Miss and Arkansas, but it will be heavily favored in both matchups.

National Title Picture

Alabama – The road to the national title is simple for Alabama. Most importantly, the Crimson Tide need to beat LSU on Saturday and finish the season undefeated. If Alabama loses to LSU, it would need two losses by the Tigers to win the SEC West. Even if the Crimson Tide loses to LSU on Saturday, there’s the possibility of a rematch in the national title game. It’s a slim chance, but something that will hang in the balance over the next few weeks.

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LSU –Just like Alabama, the Tigers just need to win out and they will play for the national title. However, LSU’s biggest obstacle just happens to be Alabama – ranked No. 1 in Athlon’s 120. If the Tigers lose to the Crimson Tide, their national title hopes aren’t over. The possibility exists for a rematch, but will largely depend on how Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oklahoma and Boise State perform over the next month.

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Oklahoma State – Mike Gundy has done a good job of elevating this program, and it’s on the doorstep of playing for a national championship. If the Cowboys win out, it’s very likely they will play the winner of Alabama/LSU for the national title. Oklahoma State still has one very large hurdle to overcome: a date with rival Oklahoma in the season finale.

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Stanford – The Cardinal survived one major hurdle to an undefeated season, beating USC in triple overtime last Saturday. However, there’s still a date looming against Oregon on Nov. 12 that will likely decide the Pac-12 North title. Stanford has a lot of ground to make up in the BCS standings to catch Oklahoma State at No. 3, but the numbers gap may not matter. The Cowboys still have to play Oklahoma, which is no guaranteed win. Stanford’s best shot at playing for a national title rests with finishing undefeated, along with an Oklahoma win in Bedlam on Dec. 3.

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Boise State – The Broncos are facing an uphill battle in order to play for the national title. Although Boise State is likely to finish undefeated, its best chance to play in the championship game starts with losses by Stanford and Oklahoma State. Considering the Cardinal still has to play Oregon, and the Cowboys have to take on Oklahoma, there’s a strong possibility that will happen. There are two wildcard possibilities that could hurt Boise State’s title hopes. What if LSU-Alabama is a close game? Would the loser stay ahead of the Broncos? Also, Oklahoma is just behind Boise State in the BCS rankings. If the Sooners beat Oklahoma State, it’s likely they will jump the Broncos. Bottom line: Boise State needs a lot of help in order to play for the national title.

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Oklahoma – Most wrote off the Sooners’ national title hopes after a loss to Texas Tech. Not so fast. Oklahoma is very much alive in the title picture, but it has to win out, including a Dec. 3 date at rival Oklahoma State. If the Sooners can knock off the Cowboys, that should provide a boost in the BCS rankings. Will it be enough? Take out Oklahoma State as an unbeaten, which leaves Boise State and Stanford. The Broncos are unlikely to lose the rest of the way, but the Cardinal are no lock to finish unbeaten. If the Sooners get a loss by Stanford, combined with a win over Oklahoma State, it may be just enough to move back into the top two. Depending on how Saturday’s Alabama-LSU game plays out, the loser may not fall far in the BCS. The guess here is the Sooners would get the nod over the loser of that game, largely to prevent a rematch.

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