Since we reviewed the undefeated teams a couple of weeks ago, their ranks have dwindled to 6 from 8, and now there are just 4 legitimate undefeated contenders for the BCS championship. With several weeks left in the season, it's almost time to consider several 1-loss teams as legit contenders, too, but for now we're still going to concern ourselves with the undefeated teams, and how likely they are to stay that way.
So here is our new account of all 6 undefeated teams: four who are striving to be national champs, and two that are aiming for a BCS bowl berth. As before, we use our game-comparison system to come up with odds of winning each game, and carry the odds through to an overall percentage chance to go unbeaten.
Odds of Going Undefeated (in order of most- to least-likely)
- Florida State 9-0 (88.4%)
Florida State again tops our list of most likely to go undefeated. The Seminoles are still #2 in our Strength power rating and beat Miami handily, removing one of the biggest obstacles in their path. Moreover, the Florida game is looking a lot easier now as the Gators are reeling from massive injuries. And while the opponent for the ACC title game is completely up in the air, it doesn't look any harder than it did when Miami was expected to make it there. All in all, FSU has about a 7 in 8 chance of going undefeated (up from 4 in 5 two weeks ago), and that would put them in the BCS title game, as they now have firm control of the #2 BCS spot following Oregon's loss to Stanford.
- Baylor 8-0 (71.8%)
=Texas Tech 96%
@Oklahoma St 82%
Baylor too has a fairly easy path to going undefeated despite a tough schedule down the stretch—that is, if you believe they are the best team in the country as our Strength power rating does. The Bears demolished Oklahoma by 29—just 5 points fewer than the 34-point spread our power rating predicted. If they continue to live up to that they'll go unbeaten—but that's no guaranteee they'll play for the title. Their biggest potential hit is playing at Oklahoma State, but they still have over a 4 in 5 chance of winning that one, and over 7 in 10 overall. We'll see later how this translates into odds of playing for the national title.
- Ohio State 9-0 (52.0%)
=Michigan St 76%
The Buckeyes have looked good the last several weeks and that puts them over the hump at 52%, so we now expect them—barely—to finish unbeaten (two weeks ago they were at 44.3%). The projected game against Michigan State for the Big Ten title looks like the toughest job, with each game just a bit harder than the last one. The Buckeyes just keep winning, but will back-to-back undefeated regular seasons be enough to land Ohio State in the BCS title game? Look past this list for the overall odds.
- Alabama 9-0 (49.7%)
Believe it or not, we still expect Alabama to lose a game. Well, let's just say a 13-0 season is a coin flip at this point—not a lot different from Ohio State, but just barely on the wrong side of the odds. Each game, of course, is strongly titled toward the Tide, at 70% or more. But just like a player that shoots 70% from the line only makes 2 in a row 50% of the time, the cumulative odds say there's about a 1-in-2 chance that Alabama loses a game. Not to Tennessee-Chattanooga, which we give them outright. But maybe at Auburn, or to Missouri assuming that's who they play in the SEC title game. But Alabama is #1 in the BCS which means if they're unbeaten, they're in.
- Fresno State 9-0 (28.2%)
New Mexico 89%
Boise St 48%
Fresno State is playing for a BCS at-large berth, and we still don't think they'll get it. Their odds have rocketed from 10% two weeks ago to over 28% today, but they have some challenges left. Chiefly Boise State, whom they beat by a point and looks like a favorite to win the rematch (they would host that game, which helps). Fresno State has played better the last few weeks but still ranks just #45 in our all-Division Strength rating. Even if they win out, too, they have to stay ahead of Northern Illinois; they're currently one spot ahead at #14.
- Northern Illinois 9-0 (18.3%)
Like Fresno State, NIU plays a game where we consider them a slight underdog (at Toledo) and they have a few other tough games—9-1 Ball State tonight, and 7-3 Buffalo or 7-3 Bowling Green in the MAC title game. If Jordan Lynch and co. come out unscathed they have to hope Fresno State has lost a game, or else they might not get to a 2nd straight BCS bowl game anyway.
Odds of playing for the BCS championship
- Florida State (88.4%) - the Seminoles just have to win out, and they're in
- Alabama (49.7%) - The Tide win out, and they're in, too
- Baylor (30.7%) - The undefeated Bears are in if FSU and Alabama both lose; or if one of those two loses along with Ohio State. If either FSU or Alabama loses, but Ohio State wins out, Baylor has about a 50/50 chance of being the #2 team. That's a total of 42.7% chance to be in the big game if the Bears go undefeated, reducing their 70.8% chance of going unbeaten to a 30.7% chance of making it to the BCS championship.
- Ohio State (19.7%) - The Buckeyes are in the same situation as Baylor, hoping either Alabama or FSU loses. If only one loses, then they might need Baylor to lose, too, otherwise it's about 50/50 between the Bears and Buckeyes for the #2 spot. Since we have Baylor much more likely to finish undefeated than Ohio State, the Buckeyes' odds of making the BCS title game are lower. But who knows—our 50/50 split for who would be on top if both are undefeated might be off. Currently Ohio State is #3 and Baylor #5 in the standings, but we expect the difference would all but evaporate by the end of the season. The voters, however, might decide that OSU has earned a shot for going 25-0 in 2012 and 2013.
1-loss teams have a (slim) chance at this point
So in the end the most likely outcome is an undefeated matchup of Florida State and Alabama. Not a big surprise there. But what about Stanford and the other 1-loss teams?
Adding up the odds above comes to 188.5% of a total 200% (for two teams in the finals). That leaves an 11.5% chance for a 1-loss team to play for the title game, which seems about right at the moment. Realistically Baylor and Ohio State would not be among those who could pull it off with a loss; even Florida State might have trouble if they lose a game. Alabama could, as long as they end up in the SEC title game and win that.
The strongest-positioned 1-loss teams right now are Stanford at #4 and Auburn at #7 in the standings. Stanford is solid with the computers and voters and will stay so if they win out, winning the Pac-12 title. The Tigers play Alabama, and a victory there and an SEC title would probably make them about even with the Cardinal in the pecking order. Also, #9 Missouri is in a good position as they would play for the SEC title if they win out; it would be best for them to face and beat an undefeated Alabama team.
#6 Oregon and #8 Clemson are probably out of luck; there are no realistic paths to the BCS title game without a total carnage of losses from all teams considered here. And though these various 1-loss teams have a shot, it would at first require losses from at least 3 of the 4 undefeated teams. No 1-loss team—even Stanford—will finish ahead of any of the undefeated teams should they remain unblemished.
BCS at-large battle: Fresno State or Northern Illinois? Or neither?
Who has the upper hand? We now have Fresno State as more likely to finish undefeated, so that gives them the edge. If both teams finish undefeated, it's about a 50/50 proposition between the two (NIU would be ahead in the computers, Fresno in the polls). That's about a 5.2% chance, so each team adds 2.6% to its BCS at-large chances.
Fresno State going unbeaten while NIU takes a loss is about a 23% chance. And the Huskies winning out while the Bulldogs take a hit is about a 13.1% chance. So the final odds are
- Fresno State: 25.6%
- Northern Illinois: 15.7%
- Neither: 58.7%
So by far the most likely outcome, in our analysis, is that neither team reaches a BCS bowl as an automatic at-large team. And that doesn't even take into account the possibility that Central Florida might pass both teams, making the issue moot. The Knights are at #17, just two spots below Northern Illinois. It's possible that UCF could make a decent move in the human polls and overtake both undefeated teams; after all, they're still well below Louisville, whom they beat on the road. But for the purposes of this simulation we assume that an undefeated Fresno or NIU gets an at-large berth. What it does show is that if either team loses they probably have no chance, despite what Northern Illinois managed last year.
We'll do this again in a couple of weeks, maybe sooner if things get crazy and the 1-loss teams become more relevant.