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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 three weeks of 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.


The race to win the Atlantic Division is over. With a 31-28 win over Wake Forest, Clemson clinched the Atlantic and will play in the ACC Championship on Dec. 3 in Charlotte, N.C. The Tigers’ opponent has yet to be determined, as Virginia Tech and Virginia remain alive for the Coastal title.

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The Cavaliers kept alive their Coastal title hopes with a 31-21 victory over Duke last Saturday. Virginia is riding a three-game winning streak entering Saturday’s game against Florida State.

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What Needs to Happen: If Virginia wants to win the Coastal, the next two weeks are both must-win situations. If the Cavaliers lose against the Seminoles on Saturday, and Virginia Tech beats North Carolina on Thursday night, they will be eliminated from the conference title picture.

Virginia Tech
The Hokies strengthened their grip on the Coastal, eliminating Georgia Tech from the mix with a 37-26 victory last Thursday night. Since losing to Clemson 23-3 on Nov. 1, Virginia Tech has won five in a row and vaulted to No. 8 in the latest release of the BCS rankings.

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What Needs to Happen: Beating North Carolina on Thursday night is priority No. 1 for the Hokies. If they knock off the Tar Heels, Virginia Tech could clinch the division title with a Virginia loss at Florida State. If the Cavaliers knock off the Seminoles, the winner of next week’s Commonwealth Cup will decide the Coastal champ.

Big East

Saturday’s loss to West Virginia was the Bearcats’ first in Big East play this year, and it came at a heavy price. Quarterback Zach Collaros suffered a season-ending ankle injury, which forces sophomore Munchie Legaux into fulltime action. Cincinnati holds a one-game lead in the conference heading into Week 12.

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What Needs to Happen: If the Bearcats win out, they will claim the Big East title. However, the remaining schedule won’t be easy, as Cincinnati travels to Rutgers and Syracuse, before closing out the regular season with a home date against Connecticut. If Cincinnati suffers another loss, the door will be open for West Virginia to take the top spot. A third defeat would allow Louisville and Pittsburgh to get back into the mix.

After winning three consecutive conference games, the Cardinals took a step back with a 21-14 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday. Louisville has a 3-2 conference record, but owns a victory over West Virginia, which could be key in case of a tie.

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What Needs to Happen: The race to win the Big East is going to be very tight and there will be little margin for error. The Cardinals have to win their next two games to have any chance at winning the conference – at Connecticut and at South Florida. Louisville also needs two losses by Cincinnati and one more by Pittsburgh.

Despite losing top running back Ray Graham to a season-ending injury, the Panthers remain alive in the Big East. Pittsburgh knocked off Louisville 21-14 on Saturday, bringing its Big East record to 3-2.

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What Needs to Happen: The Panthers enter Week 12 tied with Louisville, West Virginia, Rutgers and Connecticut with two conference losses. They also own the tiebreaker over Louisville and Connecticut and play West Virginia next Friday. To win the conference outright, Pittsburgh has to win its final two games, have two losses by Cincinnati and needs Rutgers to lose again.

The Scarlet Knights stepped out of conference play for the final time in 2011, defeating Army 27-12 in New York last Saturday. Rutgers owns a 3-2 conference record with two games remaining.

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What Needs to Happen: With Cincinnati’s loss to West Virginia last week, the door is open in the Big East race for Rutgers, West Virginia, Louisville and Pittsburgh to make a run. If the Scarlet Knights can beat the Bearcats this Saturday, then the Big East race is wide open and it becomes anyone’s game. Winning on Saturday is a must, but in order for Rutgers to win the conference outright, it needs Louisville, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to lose again.

West Virginia
After losses to Syracuse and Louisville, the Mountaineers were looking at an uphill battle to get back in the conference race. However, West Virginia knocked off Cincinnati on Saturday and moved within one game of the Bearcats. The Mountaineers are off this week, before taking on Pittsburgh on Nov. 25 and traveling to South Florida on Dec. 1.

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What Needs to Happen: The Mountaineers still need another loss by Cincinnati to move back into the top spot. However, that’s certainly a possibility with quarterback Zach Collaros sidelined for the rest of the year. West Virginia also needs a loss by Louisville in one of its final two games – at Connecticut and at South Forida. West Virginia still has its own business to address, which is winning its final two games. The Big East is going to be an interesting conference to watch over the next few weeks and at least for now, looks like a two-team race between Cincinnati and West Virginia.

Big 12

As each week passes, the loss to Texas Tech continues to look even worse. Since winning in Norman, the Red Raiders are 0-3 and have scored only 33 points. Despite that setback in late October, the Sooners still have a chance to win the Big 12 and play for the national title.

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What Needs to Happen: If the Sooners win their final three games, they will claim the Big 12 title. There’s no guarantee about the national title, but Oklahoma will be in the mix if they win out. Of course, there’s a huge obstacle waiting on Dec. 3 in Stillwater against rival Oklahoma State. If the Sooners get past the Cowboys, it may just be enough to make a strong case for a spot in the national title.

Oklahoma State
The Cowboys continue to occupy the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title. Last week’s 66-6 thrashing of Texas Tech moved Oklahoma State to 10-0 and 7-0 in conference play.

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What Needs to Happen: There’s a lot at stake for the Cowboys, but the mission is really simple: Win out. If Oklahoma State defeats Iowa State this Saturday and Oklahoma on Dec. 3, it will not only claim the Big 12 title, but a spot in the national championship. There’s a lot of pressure on this team, but with senior quarterback Brandon Weeden leading the way, the odds are in favor of the Cowboys finishing the year undefeated.

Big Ten


Penn State
The Nittany Lions suffered a setback in the Big Ten race, dropping their first conference game of the year 17-14 to Nebraska.

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What Needs to Happen: Penn State currently sits atop the Leaders Division, but faces a difficult two-game stretch to close out the year. The Nittany Lions travel to Ohio State this Saturday, before finishing the year at Wisconsin. With all of the distractions surrounding this team, it would be a surprise to see it finish 2-0 and champions of the Leaders Division.

Everything seems to be falling into place for the Badgers to claim the Leaders Division. Wisconsin knocked off Minnesota last Saturday, but also caught a break with Ohio State losing to Purdue and Penn State losing to Nebraska.

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What Needs to Happen: If the Badgers win out, they will clinch a spot in the first Big Ten title game. With Penn State’s loss last week, Wisconsin controls its destiny. The Nittany Lions visit Madison on Nov. 26, and the Badgers will be heavy favorites in that game. If Wisconsin loses to Illinois this Saturday, it will need a lot of help to get to Indianapolis.


The Wolverines remained within striking distance of Michigan State, defeating Illinois 31-14 on Saturday. Michigan has two losses in conference play with two difficult home games remaining – Nebraska and Ohio State.

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What Needs to Happen: Michigan has to beat Nebraska and Ohio State to have any chance at the Legends Division. Also, it will need Michigan State to lose its final two games – Indiana and at Northwestern. The Wolverines need a lot of help, but it can knock Nebraska out of the division race with a win on Saturday.

Michigan State
The Spartans kept control of the Legends Division with a convincing 37-21 victory over Iowa last Saturday.

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What Needs to Happen: As long as Michigan State wins out, it will win the Legends Division. If the Spartans slip up against Indiana or Northwestern, that’s where they could be in trouble. Nebraska owns the tiebreaker over Michigan State and is only one game back in the standings. If the Spartans lose once, they would need the Cornhuskers to lose against Michigan or Iowa.

The Cornhuskers defeated Penn State 17-14 last week, improving their Big Ten record to 4-2.

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What Needs to Happen: Nebraska has a difficult stretch to end the year (at Michigan and Iowa), but it has to win out to have any chance of knocking off Michigan State at the top. The Cornhuskers also need the Spartans to lose once. The odds of that happening aren’t great, especially with Michigan State taking on Indiana and Northwestern. Even if Nebraska can’t win the Legends Division, finishing 10-2 would put it squarely on the radar to play in a BCS bowl.



Thanks to their convincing 53-30 win over Stanford last Saturday, the Ducks are in full control of the North.

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What Needs to Happen: Oregon just needs to win one of its final two games (USC and Oregon State) to clinch the division title. If the Ducks somehow lose both of their remaining contests, they would need a loss by Stanford against California this Saturday to still win the North.

The Cardinal watched their grasp on the North slip away with a 53-30 loss to Oregon last week. Stanford is still in good shape for a BCS bid, as it has a 9-1 record and a spot inside of the BCS top 10.

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What Needs to Happen: If the Cardinal wants to claim the North, they are going to need a lot of help. Stanford needs to beat California this Saturday, and hope for Oregon to lose its remaining contests (USC and Oregon State). It’s a longshot the Ducks will drop both games, so Stanford appears likely to finish in second in this division.


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

Arizona State
Since a 41-27 loss to Oregon on Oct. 15, the Sun Devils have been in a bit of a free fall. They have lost three out of their last four games, including a crucial 29-28 defeat to UCLA and a surprising 37-27 loss at Washington State.

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What Needs to Happen: Arizona State is in trouble, but the division is still within its reach. The Sun Devils finish the year with Arizona and California visiting Tempe, and they need to win both games to keep the pressure on UCLA. Arizona State also needs a loss by the Bruins in one of their final two games – Colorado and at USC – to move back into the top spot. Considering UCLA still has to finish the year with the Trojans, the Sun Devils still have a strong possibility to represent the South in the first Pac-12 title game.

One week after scoring a huge victory against Arizona State, the Bruins crashed back to Earth with a 31-6 blowout loss to Utah. Despite the setback against the Utes, UCLA still controls its destiny in the Pac-12 South.

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What Needs to Happen: Win out. If the Bruins win out, they will represent the South in the Pac-12 title game. But that’s easier said than done. UCLA hosts Colorado this Saturday and travels to USC on Nov. 26. Beating the Buffaloes is realistic, but getting past the Trojans won’t be easy.

Give credit to coach Kyle Whittingham for keeping the Utes in the mix for the Pac-12 South crown. Utah has been shorthanded on offense, as quarterback Jordan Wynn was lost for the year with a shoulder injury against Washington. However, the Utes have rallied with a strong rushing attack – led by junior college transfer John White – and a defense is allowing 19.2 points a game, which ranks first in the Pac-12. Utah has won three games in a row, including a key 31-6 victory over UCLA last Saturday.

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What Needs to Happen: The Utes have four losses in Pac-12 play, so they will need significant help to win the division. Utah needs two losses by Arizona State and one by UCLA to claim the South outright. The Bruins still have to play USC, but the Sun Devils have a very manageable finish to the season. It’s a longshot, but the Utes have played well after an 0-3 start in Pac-12 play.



Since losing their first two games of the year, the Bulldogs have been on a tear. With eight wins in a row, Georgia is now the frontrunner in the SEC East.

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What Needs to Happen: As Al Davis once said: Just win, baby. If the Bulldogs beat Kentucky on Saturday, they will play for the SEC Championship. A loss to the Wildcats would send South Carolina to Atlanta.

South Carolina
The Gamecocks completed SEC play with a 17-12 victory on Saturday over Florida. South Carolina finished 5-0 in games against East opponents this year, but needs a loss by Georgia against Kentucky to return to Atlanta.

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What Needs to Happen: Realistically, the Gamecocks have done all they can do. Now, it’s just about waiting to see if Kentucky can upset Georgia on Saturday. If the Bulldogs win, South Carolina will be eliminated in the SEC East race.


The Crimson Tide improved to 9-1 with a 24-7 victory over Mississippi State last Saturday. Alabama remains one game behind LSU in the SEC West standings.

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What Needs to Happen: There are two ways Alabama could win the SEC West. The Crimson Tide could win it outright if LSU loses its last two conference games – Ole Miss and Arkansas. The other scenario could get a little difficult to sort out, but if Alabama, Arkansas and LSU end up in a three-way tie, the BCS standings will be used. However, Alabama would need to be more than five places ahead of both LSU and Arkansas in the BCS standings in order to claim the West title. Getting that far ahead of both teams is unlikely, so the Crimson Tide’s best chance to win the division is with two LSU losses.

The Razorbacks continue to quietly hang around in the West. A 49-7 thumping of Tennessee keeps Arkansas within one game of division leader LSU.

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What Needs to Happen: To have any chance at winning the West, the Razorbacks obviously have to win their final two games – Mississippi State and at LSU. Unless Alabama loses against Auburn or LSU stumbles against Ole Miss, Arkansas has to hope for a three-way tie atop the standings. If a three-way tie occurs, the BCS standings will be used. However, if the top two teams aren’t separated by more than five places, head-to-head results will be used to determine the West champ from that pairing.

One week after knocking off Alabama, the Tigers turned in a sluggish 42-9 victory over Western Kentucky. Considering the magnitude of the LSU-Alabama game two weeks ago, it was really no surprise the Tigers came out a little flat and uninspired.

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What Needs to Happen: LSU is in the driver’s seat for the SEC West title. If the Tigers win their final two conference games – at Ole Miss and home against Arkansas – they will represent the West in the title game. Assuming LSU wins its final two regular season contests and beats Georgia or South Carolina in the SEC Championship, it will play for the national title on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

National Title

LSU/Oklahoma State: There are a lot of uncertainties remaining regarding the conference title picture, but one thing is for certain: Should LSU and Oklahoma State win out, these two teams will meet for the national title. If one or both teams lose, then the door is open for Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma to jump back into the mix. Neither LSU or Oklahoma State is a lock considering the upcoming schedule. The Cowboys still have to host rival Oklahoma on Dec. 3, while the Tigers play Arkansas and Georgia (most likely) in the SEC title game.

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Alabama: If Oklahoma State loses, the Crimson Tide would figure to benefit the most. Alabama is ranked No. 3 in the latest release of the BCS standings and would love a rematch against LSU. However, if Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, would that be enough for the Sooners to move past the Crimson Tide into the No. 2 spot?

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Oregon: The Ducks were quietly flying under the radar, but last week’s 53-30 win over Stanford put them back into the national title discussion. Oregon has to win its final two regular season games and the Pac-12 title game. Assuming Oklahoma State stumbles, would there be enough support for an Oregon-LSU rematch? Or would Alabama be the easy pick? And don’t forget about Oklahoma. If the Sooners beat the Cowboys, they are going to get a bump in the BCS. There’s a lot of scenarios in play for the Ducks, but their best opportunity is to win out and hope for a loss by LSU or Oklahoma State.

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Oklahoma: After losing 41-38 to Texas Tech, most were ready to write off the Sooners in the national title mix. However, Oklahoma is still in the mix, largely due to the season finale against Oklahoma State. If the Sooners can go into Stillwater and win, that should throw them into the mix with Alabama and Oregon as the top one-loss team. Oklahoma has some ground to make up, but beating the Cowboys could be enough to book a ticket to New Orleans. Consider this: Alabama and Oregon have already played LSU and lost. Would there be some sentiment to give the Sooners a shot since the Tigers have already beaten those other two teams?

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