One weekend left—with three key games—and five teams have a shot at getting in the national title game.
Based on this week's BCS standings, those teams are Florida State, Ohio State, Auburn, Missouri, and Alabama.
The two big questions are:
- Can Auburn get into the title game if FSU and Ohio State both win?
Answer: It's very doubtful.
Despite the talking heads making a case for Auburn, it looks like the voters are going with Ohio State. And despite some computer ratings—including our own Success ratings, a BCS-style ranking—putting the Tigers in front of the Buckeyes, it appears that the BCS computers are generally picking Ohio State as well. Since both teams play 11-1 opponents next week, it doesn't appear that there will be a major shift toward Auburn.
It's possible that another nail-biting win by Ohio State coupled with a dominant Auburn victory could shift sentiment, but a win over Missouri just won't carry the weight of a win over Alabama. If a big shift toward Auburn didn't happen this weekend it's just not going to.
- Does Alabama still have a chance to get into the title game?
Answer: Yes, but very slim. See below
So we discount any possibility of Auburn passing Ohio State, and with Alabama the #5 team we're assuming they move up to fill any voids by losing teams. Here are our percentages for each team, in order of likelihood:
- Florida State (95.2% chance to play in BCS championship game)
Duke: 95.2% chance to win
Florida State is #1 in the BCS rankings and a lock if they beat Duke, which is statistically significant certitude in the eyes of our power rating. 19 of 20 times they should beat the Blue Devils on a neutral field. The downside of playing Duke? If they lose, there's no way they'll be in the BCS championship, nor will they be in the Orange Bowl. They'd still get a BCS bowl as an at-large pick, most likely.
- Ohio State (67.9% chance to play in BCS championship game)
Michigan State : 67.9% chance to win
The #2 Buckeyes have one of their toughest tests of the year in the Spartans, who have one of the nation's top defenses. Their rushing defense is #2 in the nation (corrected for opposition) while Ohio State's rushing offense is #1. The Spartan rushing defense is Michigan State's offense isn't nearly the equal of their defense, however. If Ohio State wins all indications are that they will finish #2 in the BCS, barring a major shift of pollsters for some reason. If they lose they have no chance at the title game but they, too, would get a BCS at-large bid however.
- Missouri (20.5% chance to play in BCS championship game)
Auburn: 57.9% chance to win
x odds of FSU loss OR OSU loss: 35.4%
Despite being #5 in the BCS rankings, these Tigers are favored by our power rating to win the SEC. And if they do, they still need help in the form of an Ohio State loss, or a Florida State loss. The odds of that are 35.4%, yielding the final odds of about 1 in 5.
- Auburn (14.9% chance to play in BCS championship game)
Missouri: 42.1% chance to win
x odds of FSU loss OR OSU loss: 35.4%
#3 Auburn needs to beat Missouri to have a hope of making the BCS title game, that's not in dispute. And if they do win, we believe they'll need a loss by FSU or OSU. Without that, they might come very close but just miss out. Two years of undefeated football by Ohio State would carry the day over a 1-loss Auburn, and rightly so. The real question is: if Auburn loses, do they get an at-large bid ahead of Alabama? That's the real question up for debate.
- Alabama (1.5% chance to play in BCS championship game)
Odds of FSU loss AND OSU loss: 1.5%
Here's where things get crazy. If BOTH Florida State and Ohio State lose, what happens? As we note above, neither Florida State nor Ohio State looks very good if they lose. FSU would have a loss to Duke that would probably disqualify them in voters' eyes. And Ohio State is precarious even as an undefeated team. So it would be the SEC champion, plus one other team.
That would almost certainly be BCS #5 Alabama. If Auburn beats Missouri, a rematch vs. Alabama would be fairly popular given the Iron Bowl finish. And the Tide should finish #2 anyway, regardless of who wins, under the circumstances.
Let's face it: #6 Oklahoma State isn't going to jump Alabama for beating Oklahoma, and they have a loss to a losing team. #7 Stanford and #8 South Carolina both have 2 losses; they won't even move ahead of a 1-loss Florida State. #9 Baylor has a loss to Oklahoma State; like the Cowboys, they are hoping for a Fiesta Bowl bid, or maybe an at-large. #10 Michigan State would get a boost from beating Ohio State, but they have the same schedule drawback that has Ohio State needing a perfect season to finish #2; the Spartans are playing to get in the Rose Bowl.
It really looks like another all-SEC final if both FSU and OSU choke. Just that fact that an all-SEC final is possible should be enough evidence that the conference is being fairly rated by the BCS system. There's no need to go putting a 1-loss SEC team in front of an undefeated Ohio State team.
That adds up to 200%, for two teams in the BCS championship game.
Thus, in the final year of the BCS, there could be a matchup of two undefeated, major-conference foes, yet still be much controversy. The four-team lineup for next year is looking surprisingly good for this season's layout: pit the undefeated teams against Alabama and the SEC winner. But no matter the format, people will find things to argue about and will criticize the system. It's college football, after all.