Time to start counting down the undefeated teams and sorting through which ones have the best chance to reach the national championship game.
With eight weeks left in the regular season, and a week before the first BCS standings are released, there are 13 teams in major college football that have not lost. No more than seven of those teams can finish the regular season (including conference title games) that way. It’s a safe bet that participants in the BCS title game Jan. 9 in New Orleans will come from that baker’s dozen.
While a bunch of undefeated teams entering the postseason would be a good thing at just about any other level of football, at the highest college level it’s a problem because only two teams get to play for the national championship in the Bowl Championship Series.
There’s plenty of time left for this to sort itself out. Or not.
With that, let’s take a look at the field of national championship contenders with their Harris poll and coaches’ poll rankings in parentheses.
LSU (1 and 2) and Alabama (2 and 3). The Tigers and Crimson Tide meet in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5 and fans are already crossing the days off the calendar. The SEC has won the last five national championships, so if either of these two get through undefeated, there’s no question a spot in the title game awaits. The only question is could either get there with one loss.
Oklahoma (3 and 1), Oklahoma State (6 and 7),
Kansas State (17 and 18)
The Sooners are the other team that probably doesn’t have to do much scoreboard watching. If Oklahoma can run the table, beating Oklahoma State and Kansas State along the way, a fifth BCS championship game appearance is very likely.
Though the Sooners might want to at least take a peek at what Wisconsin is doing.
As for the Cowboys, the Bedlam game against the Sooners is in Stillwater and their offense, with All-America receiver Justin Blackmon, is potent. Running the table is possible, but it won’t guarantee a trip to New Orleans.
If the Wildcats can go 12-0, it’ll be the greatest miracle in Manhattan coach Bill Snyder has ever conjured up.
Wisconsin (4 and 4), Michigan (10 and 10), Illinois (14 and 15).
The Badgers are probably in the most intriguing position of all the undefeated teams. They look like the class of the Big Ten, by far. But the Big Ten in general has not been overly impressive. Russell Wilson and the Badgers need to continue to win big and for the rest of the conference to provide opportunities for impressive victories.
It would be especially helpful if Illinois, which hosts Wisconsin on Nov. 19, and Michigan, a possible Big Ten championship game opponent, stay unbeaten as long as possible.
The Wolverines and Illini look like long shots to remain perfect, but if either does and hands the Badgers their only loss, they would have to be in the national championship conversation.
Stanford (7 and 5)
Andrew Luck and the Cardinal are going to be a bit under the radar for a while, but their schedule is back loaded with Oregon and Notre Dame in November.
If the Cardinal can get past the Ducks and into the first Pac-12 title game undefeated, it would help their strength of schedule to have a 10- or 11-win Arizona State team there waiting for them.
Though in a beauty contest, which this system often is, having the best player in the country can’t hurt.
Clemson (8 and 8),
Georgia Tech (12 and 12)
The Tigers’ immediate concern is the health of starting quarterback Taj Boyd, who left Saturday’s win against Boston College with a hip injury.
Beyond that the Tigers and Yellow Jackets meet in Atlanta on Oct. 29. The ACC doesn’t get much respect, especially with Miami and Florida State still playing the role of former superpowers, so an undefeated ACC team probably doesn’t stand much chance of nudging past perfect teams from the other BCS automatic qualifying leagues.
Boise State (5 and 6)
This is the part of the season when the Broncos become virtually invisible. With no big games left, Kellen Moore and crew have to keep rolling up lopsided wins against inferior competition and hope that they are one of two teams without a loss come Dec. 4.
Houston (24 and 22)
Think Boise State has a soft schedule? Take a look at the Cougars’ opponents. No shot.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Lost in the shuffle of LSU’s 41-11 rout of Florida on Saturday was the touchdown the Tigers had taken off the board by the new excessive celebration rule.
This year, if a player starts to celebrate before he gets into the end zone, the officials can throw a flag and take the points off the board.
LSU punter Brad Wing took off on a fake from around midfield and went untouched down the sideline for a touchdown. The play wasn’t called by the coaches, but Wing saw the Gators peel off, leaving him with nothing but empty space, and took off.
But Wing raised his arms to a little above waist level for maybe 2 seconds at around the 5 and drew a penalty.
— Air Force Athletic Director Hans Mueh told The Denver Post that the Falcons’ interest in joining the Big East is high and he sees it as a much better fit than the Big 12. The Big East could hand out invites to Air Force and Navy as soon as this week. The Boston Globe and the Star Ledger of Newark, N.J., also reported Sunday, citing unidentified sources, that the Big East is considering inviting Boise State.
— With his new team 6-0 and his old team a disappointing 3-2, Michigan coach Brady Hoke is looking like a genius right now.
— After beating Ohio State 34-27, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini chastised a reporter who he believes wrote an overly critical article about Taylor Martinez. And by choosing to become confrontational during his postgame news conference, Pelini did a fine job of deflecting attention away from the greatest comeback in school history.
No. 18 Arizona State goes to No. 9 Oregon. The Ducks don’t know if Heisman finalist LaMichael James will be ready to play.
James’ dislocated his elbow during the Ducks’ victory Thursday night against California. The injury looked gruesome, but the running back said it was not season-ending.
No. 22 Texas tries to bounce back from the 55-17 beating it took from Oklahoma at home against No. 6 Oklahoma State. Could be another long day for the Longhorns secondary.