TCU coach Gary Patterson was in the same position last year, with nothing to do on championship Saturday except watch the games and hope for a result that could send his Horned Frogs to the national title game.
TCU is third in the BCS standings and done with its regular season.
Oregon and Auburn, the top two teams, each need one more victory to complete perfect regular seasons and lock up spots in the national championship game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
But what if Oregon State pulls off a huge upset in Corvallis and beats the top-ranked Ducks in the Civil War? Or South Carolina and the head ball coach Steve Spurrier spring a surprise and knock off Cam Newton and the second-ranked Tigers?
Let’s explore the possibilities:
— Oregon loses, Auburn wins. This is easy. Losing to a 6-6 team on the last day of the regular season would be inexcusable and the Ducks would be tossed out of the BCS championship game. TCU would be a lock to move into that spot, despite the objections of teams like Stanford (fourth in the BCS standings) and Wisconsin (fifth).
Oregon would land in the Rose Bowl, essentially switching places with TCU.
— Auburn loses, Oregon wins. Not so easy. It’s the great debate that has held college football hostage this season. TCU (or Boise State) were never going to jump ahead of undefeated teams from the power conferences. The real question is: Does a one-loss Southeastern Conference team belong in the title game instead of an unbeaten BCS buster?
If Auburn had lost a regular-season game, and finished 12-1 with an SEC championship, poll voters might have had time to forget about the one setback or dismiss it. If the Tigers lose to the Gamecocks on Saturday, they won’t even be conference champions.
“Is their reward to play for a better title against a better team?” BCS analyst Jerry Palm asked. Well, ultimately it comes down to the voters in the coaches’ and Harris polls, because even a loss to South Carolina could leave Auburn ahead of TCU in the computer rankings.
“The voters have had more respect for TCU, and Boise before they lost, than they ever had before,” Palm said.
And if Auburn does lose, by how much matters. A close loss could keep the door to the title game open, while a double-digit loss puts the Tigers in big trouble.
The other big loser in this scenario would be Arkansas, which would likely lose its chance to play in the Sugar Bowl. South Carolina would go instead, the Orange would most likely scoop up Auburn, Stanford would end up in the Rose with TCU playing Oregon for the crystal ball.
— Auburn and Oregon both lose. Now the fun really starts. Only once, in 2007, have the top two teams in the BCS standings lost on championship weekend. TCU would be a lock, but who would the Frogs play? Stanford is fourth in the BCS standings, but the Cardinal lost to the Ducks. Instead of choosing between the two Pac-10 teams with the same record, voters could be inclined to go with fifth-place Wisconsin. The Badgers have been crushing their opponents lately.
The problem with that is, if the one-loss teams are stacked up against each other, Auburn has the best resume. The Tigers have five victories against teams in the BCS top 25. Oregon has two, while Stanford, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Boise State each have one. Ohio State? Zip.
TCU, by the way, has one victory against the BCS top 25.
If the whole body of work is taken into account, Auburn would be the most deserving one-loss team. But the timing of the loss might be hard to overcome. And who knows how the allegations of NCAA violations by Cam Newton and his father would affect voters?
Wisconsin and TCU playing for the national championship is a realistic possibility. That could also open the door for Michigan State to play in the Rose Bowl, instead of an Oregon-Ohio State rematch of last year’s game. Auburn would (again) take Arkansas’ at-large spot and — who knows? — it could even push Stanford out of automatic qualifying position.
No. 24 Northern Illinois (minus 17½) vs. Miami, Ohio, at Detroit — Huskies ran for 544 yards against Eastern Michigan last week ... N. ILLINOIS 35-21.
No. 1 Oregon (minus 16½) at Oregon State — Ducks sprint to the finish line ... OREGON 45-21.
No. 2 Auburn (minus 4½) vs. No. 18 South Carolina at Atlanta — Tigers better not have an Iron Bowl hangover ... AUBURN 35-24.
Utah State (plus 39½) at No. 9 Boise State — Dashed BCS hopes won’t cause Broncos to mope .... BOISE STATE 55-10.
Big 12 Championship
No. 10 Oklahoma (minus 3½) vs. No. 13 Nebraska at Arlington, Texas — Sooners have won six Big 12 title games, Huskers have won two ... OKLAHOMA 24-17.
No. 12 Virginia Tech (minus 4½) vs. No. 20 Florida State at Charlotte, N.C. — Seminoles upset Hokies in first ACC title game in 2005 ... VIRGINIA TECH 31-28.
No. 14 Nevada (minus 10) at Louisiana Tech — Tricky spot for Wolf Pack, coming off huge win ... NEVADA 34-21.
Rutgers (plus 20) at No. 23 West Virginia — Mountaineers are 15-0 vs. Scarlet Knights in Morgantown ... WEST VIRGINIA 41-14.
UNLV (plus 35) at No. 25 Hawaii — Warriors QB Bryant Moniz leads nation in total offense ... HAWAII 58-21.
SMU (plus 9) at UCF — Winner gets Liberty Bowl bid ... UCF 27-21.
Connecticut (plus 1½) at South Florida — Huskies are win away from first BCS bid ... SOUTH FLORIDA 23-20.
Last week — 17-5 (straight); 17-5 (vs. points).
Season — 184-57 (straight); 121-111-4 (vs. points).
Best bets — 5-4. Upset specials: 4-5.