The final year of the BCS standings will give fans of a handful of teams a chance to argue one last time.
Alabama, Oregon, Baylor and Stanford were all off Saturday, but Thursday will begin a week that will define the remainder of the season. On Thursday alone, Oregon faces Stanford and Baylor faces Oklahoma, either boosting undefeated teams or clearing paths for Florida State and Ohio State.
Elsewhere in the rankings, though, the machinations are on for other BCS slots. Fresno State has enjoyed an edge against fellow unbeaten Northern Illinois, but that may change in the coming weeks.
Florida State. The Seminoles chipped away at Alabama's and Oregon’s stranglehold on the top two spots. Florida State received three first-place votes in the coaches’ poll and two in the Harris after defeating Miami 41-14. FSU did not have any first-place votes a week earlier. At the same time, FSU also moved from second in the computer average to first. The Seminoles were first in only one computer ranking last week (Sagarin), but they were first in all but one (Billingsley) after defeating Miami 41-14.
Texas A&M. The Aggies aren’t in national title contention, but they’d be an attractive BCS at-large team if eligible thanks to an enthusiastic fanbase and the draw of Johnny Manziel. That’s why it’s probably troubling for the Aggies top drop from No. 12 to No. 15, one spot outside of the at-large threshold. A&M dropped after Oklahoma State defeated Texas Tech while the Aggies faced UTEP. Texas A&M will have plenty of opportunities to get back into the BCS at-large mix when it faces LSU and Missouri on the road. The big winner for A&M falling out of BCS contention, though, would be the Cotton Bowl, which would salivate at a change to pit the Aggies against Texas or Baylor.
Key Games this Week
No. 3 Oregon at No. 5 Stanford (Thursday). Oregon may jump Florida State for good if the Ducks defeat Stanford and both teams remain undefeated. Florida State’s schedule takes a major hit against Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho and Florida while Oregon faces Utah, Arizona and Oregon State to round out the regular season. But let’s not forget about Stanford, which remains the highest ranked one-loss team despite a defeat to Utah. The Cardinal will be back in the title hunt if it can defeat Oregon.
No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor (Thursday). The schedule is holding Baylor back in a major way. The Bears rank ninth in the computer average, but they’ll finish the season against No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 25 Texas Tech, No. 14 Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas. An undefeated Baylor may have a stronger case than Ohio State or even Florida State. Whether the Bears have the mettle to go undefeated will be determined Thursday.
No. 13 LSU at No. 1 Alabama. The Tide staying at No. 1 in the BCS standings seems to be a given. Alabama still has two top-15 games to play during the regular season, starting with this one against the Tigers.
• Fresno State got some breathing room over fellow non-automatic qualifying BCS contender Northern Illinois. The Bulldogs landed at No. 16 and would be an automatic bid by virtue of ranking ahead of No. 21 UCF if the season ended today. The No. 18 Huskies, though, just completed the softest portion of their schedule and will make up ground if they can defeat Ball State, Toledo and the MAC East champion.
• Notre Dame is ranked 23rd, moving up from No. 25. The Irish need to be ranked eighth for an automatic berth. That seems unlikely. Notre Dame finishes at Pittsburgh, against BYU and at Stanford. The Irish will be hoping for losses by Northern Illinois and Fresno State to free up an at-large spot if Notre Dame finishes 14th.
• The coaches’ poll and Harris poll voters are stubborn when it comes to UCF. The Knights are ranked 21st in the BCS, one spot behind Louisville. UCF defeated Louisville head-to-head, not to mention Penn State on the road. The Knights are ranked five spots behind Louisville in the coaches’ and Harris polls but ahead of the Cards in every computer ranking.
Notes on BCS selection:
• Automatic BCS bids go to the top two for the title game, the champions of the ACC (Orange Bowl), Big 12 (Fiesta), Big Ten (Rose), Pac-12 (Rose) and SEC (Sugar). The American’s automatic bid is not tied to a particular bowl.
• Notre Dame receives an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight.
• A champion from a non-automatic qualifying league (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt and non-Notre Dame independents) receive an automatic bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the standings or if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a champion from a non-AQ conference.
• To be eligible for an at-large BCS bid, a team must have nine or more wins and finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings.
• Once automatic tie-ins are placed, the selection order for BCS bids goes as follows: 1. The bowl losing the BCS No. 1 team to the championship game, 2. The bowl losing the BCS No. 2 team, 3. The Orange Bowl, 4. The Sugar, 5. The Fiesta.