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Sunday, November 10
Updated: November 11, 6:03 PM ET
 
Several teams hoping for another round of upsets

By Brad Edwards
Special to ESPN.com

Major college football may not have a playoff, but it sure shakes down like one.

October ended with eight undefeated teams. After the first weekend of November, that number was down to four. And now following another weekend of games, only two unbeatens remain.

It might not be as much fun as a real playoff bracket, but at least the math works well for the comparison. The obvious difference, though, is that the process won't necessarily end when just one team is left standing.

As long as there are weeks left on the schedule, the No. 1 team will have a challenger for the crown. The fun part is determining who will make the final challenge.

Momentary Sigh Of Relief
For now, it seems the BCS has dodged another disaster scenario. We no longer have to worry about an undefeated team being left out of the championship game, and that's a good thing for everyone involved. Through five years of this championship format, the message has become clear: Win all of your games, and you have nothing to worry about. Only after losing do you truly fall to the mercy of the calculations.

Therefore, Miami and Ohio State are currently on track for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, but each still has a couple of chances to be derailed in the coming weeks. And if either slips up, there are a number of teams waiting to pounce from behind.

Texas, Oklahoma, Washington State, Iowa, Georgia and Notre Dame are all still conceivably alive with one loss, and that pecking order will sort itself out over the next few weeks. Hopefully, the poll voters will give some careful thought to what order these teams should be placed in, because their decisions might determine the Fiesta matchup if unbeatens continue to fall.

There are numerous ways to approach this dilemma:

  • Which team is playing best right now?
  • Which team has the strongest wins?
  • Which team has the most acceptable loss?
  • Who would win if the teams played head-to-head?

    All are viable evaluation methods to consider, and the voters should take their time with this challenge. It's only important that they get it right on Dec. 8.

    The Outsiders
    So, which of the teams listed above has the most realistic shot to move into the No. 2 spot if Miami or Ohio State loses? Let's take a look at each one.

    Texas: The Longhorns have two good opponents remaining in Texas Tech and Texas A&M, but even a pair of wins over those rivals will probably not keep them ahead of Oklahoma in the polls if the Sooners run the table and capture the Big 12 title. Texas needs another loss by OU and a chance to strengthen itself even further with a win in the conference championship game.

    Oklahoma: If the Sooners keep winning, you have to assume they will climb past Texas in the polls, regardless of where the coaches are currently ranking them. The big question is whether they can pass Washington State. And if they don't, will they be able to offset the poll margin with computer strength and quality win points? My guess is they will at least do the latter.

    Washington State: The Cougars have two bye weeks remaining in the regular season, so if they beat Washington, they will get plenty of time to regroup and prepare for their closing statement to the BCS on Dec. 7 at UCLA. That game would give them a chance to jump idle Texas in the coaches poll, but it probably won't be enough to trump Oklahoma in the computers. Realistically, WSU needs the Sooners to lose again almost as much as Texas does.

    Iowa: The Hawkeyes end their season at Minnesota on Saturday, and that will put them right where you want to be in the final weeks -- watching everyone else play on TV. If chaos breaks out again like it did last year, they still have a chance to reach the Top 2, but that's not a probability to draw hope from. Ultimately, Iowa will fall short because it did not get the chance to play Ohio State (and because it lost to Iowa State, but that goes without saying).

    Georgia: An answered prayer in Lexington did keep alive the Bulldogs' opportunity to play a 10-2 LSU in the SEC Championship Game, but they still need a few more miracles to come their way. Despite a highly-rated schedule, it's difficult to see UGA rising to the top of the once-beaten ladder.

    Notre Dame: All of a sudden, even Rutgers doesn't look like an automatic win for the Irish, who will face the huge challenge of also knocking off surging USC in the season finale. But even with a win over the Trojans, ND is likely stuck in the same boat with Iowa and Georgia. There's just too much ground to make up and too little time to do it.

    Going BCS Bowling
    Many people will say that it doesn't matter which team is first and which is second in the final BCS Standings, because the top two (in either order) will still play for the national title. That, of course, is true. But the order at the top could make a difference in bowl assignments for other teams -- and for Notre Dame, it could carry more than $10 million worth of significance.

    Because the Irish are not in a conference, they would have to receive one of two available at-large positions to be included in a BCS game. To be eligible for inclusion, they are required to have at least nine wins (they are now 9-1) and also place in the Top 12 of the final BCS Standings.

    A tenth win against Rutgers in two weeks should get them there, and conventional wisdom says that an eligible Notre Dame team is absolutely going to be chosen. But it's not necessarily that simple.

    In 1998, Kansas State lost the Big 12 Championship Game and finished third in the final BCS Standings, only to end up in the Alamo Bowl because nothing was guaranteed to any non-championship team outside of the Top 2. To remedy this injustice, a clause was added to the BCS rules that gives the No. 3 team an automatic at-large spot if it is not a BCS conference champion. And if No. 3 is a conference champion, then the No. 4 team gets an automatic at-large berth if it isn't already included.

    This means that if Texas wins out without capturing the Big 12 South crown, the Longhorns would receive an automatic berth in a BCS game by finishing third or fourth in the final standings.

    As a non-BCS conference team, Notre Dame can also guarantee itself an at-large berth by reaching the Top 6 of the final standings, which it would likely achieve with an 11-1 final record. If that happens -- and Texas is also ranked No. 3 or 4 -- then ND and UT would be locked into the only at-large spots for BCS games. But one more loss would likely leave the Irish in need of an at-large invitation to join the BCS party, and that's where it gets tricky.

    If a BCS bowl loses one of its natural host teams to the national championship game, then it gets to select an eligible, unattached team to take its place. The bowl that loses the team ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings gets first choice. The bowl that loses No. 2 chooses second.

    If Ohio State finishes No. 1, then the Rose Bowl would have priority selection to fill the spot of the Big Ten champion. Notre Dame is certainly an option the Rose would consider, but Iowa might be the more probable choice.

    Aside from last year's BCS Championship Game, the Rose Bowl has matched a Big Ten team against a Pac-10 team every season since World War II. The bowl itself is basically a business partnership between the Big Ten Conference, Pac-10 Conference and the Tournament of Roses. Therefore, some extenuating circumstances would be required for a team outside of those two conferences to be asked to play in the game.

    And considering that one more win would guarantee Iowa an 8-0 Big Ten mark as well as a better overall record and higher ranking than a 10-2 Notre Dame team, the choice seems obvious if the Rose has to make one.

    Mitch Dorger, CEO of the Tournament of Roses, said his group has not yet officially sat down to discuss its options for selecting a possible replacement for Ohio State, but he did suggest that Iowa finishing at 11-1 could simplify the process.

    "To pass up a Big Ten team to take a lower-ranked team would be extremely difficult to do," he said. "Tradition and relationships are extraordinarily important to the Tournament of Roses."

    Throw in the fact that some hard feelings may still exist between the Big Ten and Notre Dame over the school's decision not to join the conference a few years ago, and that only increases the amount of tension that could be caused by a choice of the Irish.

    And if Texas has automatically locked up one at-large berth, and then the Rose chooses Iowa, there would not be a spot left in the BCS for the Irish. Notre Dame's best BCS scenario (outside of an 11-1 record and a Top-6 finish) is for Miami to finish No. 1, giving the FedEx Orange Bowl selection priority.

    BCS Standings

    1. Ohio State
    2. Miami
    3. Washington State
    4. Oklahoma
    5. Texas
    6. Georgia
    7. Notre Dame
    8. Iowa
    9. USC
    10. Michigan

    Brad Edwards is a college football researcher for ESPN. Inside the BCS appears weekly.







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