Humble, God-fearing college football pundit that I am, it's not normally my style to call anyone title contender elect. Especially not this early.
But it dawned on me last night, as I was scooping steamed rice out of a Chinese take out container and watching No. 7 Texas Tech vulture No. 1 Texas -- swooping over the dry, dusty landscape and picking the meat off the Longhorn carcasses -- that I don't have a team in the title race anymore.
Of course I'm rooting for Penn State. They're the representative class of the Big Ten, and there's nothing I'd like more than to see Joe Paterno capstone a 59-year tenure by grabbing one more title and packing for an admittedly abridged retirement.
Better break out the one-piece swim gown. As far as Franz is concerned Joe Pa and the Nittany Lions are going to Miami. Bienvienidos a Miami...
But, the Nittany Lions aren't my team. And accordingly I'm not afraid of jinxing them. (If you happen to be the God fearing Pennsylvania type, perhaps you shouldn't read on. But how could you not?)
So here it is. The Penn State Nittany Lions will play for the 2008 BCS Championship. It's inevitable. Sure, they got jumped by the Red Raiders in this-afternoon's installments of the AB (Associated Bias) and BCS polls. No worries. It's nothing running the table can't fix. Iowa, Indiana, and No. 21 Michigan State are all that really stand in the way of Nittany Glory.
Okay, so you're not convinced. Let's look at the finales for No. 1 and No. 2:
|1. No. 9 Oklahoma State||2. @ No. 4 Oklahoma||3. Baylor (fresh off almost upsetting Mizzou)||4. Big 12 North Champion*|
|1. @ No. 19 LSU||2. Mississippi St.||3. Auburn (where the coaches' job depends on his pulling the upset)||4. SEC East Champion*|
No. 2 Texas Tech faces a fresh-faced gauntlet of fury via Mike Gundy, Bob Stoops, and, well...let's just stick with the first two. Their remaining three regular season conference opponents boast an average Sagarin rating of 82.22. Assuming Tech makes it to the Big 12 Championship game on December 6th opposite Missouri, that average jumps to 82.88.
No. 1 Alabama has to handle being an unwelcome guest in Tiger Stadium, jumping through three SEC foes with nothing to lose. The competition scores a Sagarin average of 72.33. But, it gets better. If Bama survives and lands in Atlantia to represent the SEC East, they'll likely have the pleasure of facing the Flordia Gators, a Sagarin 92.65.
Compare Penn State, whose remaining opponents average a 74.94, and you get the picture. If anyone is winning out, it's them.
But there's more to the prism of finalists than meets the eye. There's the computers and a herd of one-loss teams that remain on the threshold of relevance. These include the likes of No. 4 (AP) Florida, No. 5 (AP) Texas, No. 6 Oklahoma, and No. 7 USC.
Rational, empirical thinker that I am, I've elected to take on the probabilities to determine just who will meet the Nittany Lions in Miami on January 8th. Think you've heard this all before. Answer this: If Oklahoma beats Texas Tech on November 22nd and the Big 12 South race ends in a three-way tie, who represents the division in the conference championship game on December 6th?
No clue? Read on.
It's important to posture this whole thing by noting its a process of assumptions. Since no team has finished its full season, we're forced to rely on certain soft-factors to make predictions about exactly how they'll do down the stretch.
Here's the way I see things going down:
1. No. 2 Texas Tech loses at No. 4 Oklahoma on November 22nd.
I'll admit it. Typing this feels a bit sacrilegious less than 24 hours after the Red Raiders megaton upset of then top Texas. Let me compensate by saying that Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are the most thrilling offensive duo I've ever seen in the game. With coordinated performances more akin to a tight wire at a ring circus than a live battlefield this offense has serious claws. Their absolute domination of the fine fellows from Austin was primed on the strength of their line play, and quick-strike ability.
The beatings will continue until morale improves.
The good news: there's no one I'd rather see make it to the Game. A mid-major program with a dazzling pulse would be a refreshing change of pace from the typical BCS rotation (Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Ohio State, Florida...).
The bad news: they've got a crazy tough way to go, and I won't be surprised if they foam, scream, and explode like molten lava running to the sea. Doubt it? Think about how good Texas looked two weeks ago in the wake of disemboweling Mighty Mizzou.
2. So we're faced with a three-way tie in the Big 12 South Division. Who plays for the conference championship?
Glad you asked. Here at The Rivalry, Esq. we're not afraid of small print. Take a look at the Tiebreaker Procedures from the official Big 12 site. They provide, in relevant part:
If three or more teams are tied, steps 1 through 7 will be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain tied after any step, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.
- The records of the three teams will be compared against each other
- The records of the three teams will be compared within their division
- The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5 and 6)
- The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents;
- The highest ranked team in the first Bowl Championship Series Poll following the completion of Big 12 regular season conference play shall be the representative
- The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative
- The representative will be chosen by draw.
Okay, here goes. We've got a three-way tie between Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma. Each team is 11-1 (7-1 in conference).
Step 1 is no help, they've all got the same record. Neither do steps 2, 3, and 4.
Which brings us to step 5. Assuming a Texas Tech loss in Norman on November 22nd, the Red Raiders will be back in the polls. Would an upset of No. 2 be enough to catapult the sixth ranked Sooners above the No. 4 Longhorns? It's possible
So, by default, it looks like Texas and Oklahoma are still the teams to beat in the South. (Somewhere in Columbia Chase Daniel just used the f-word).
2. Alabama finishes their regular season slate undefeated, and represents the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game.
Assuming Alabama makes it to the Georgia Dome, who will they face? My money is on No. 4 Florida (5-1 conference, No. 1 division), who hold a commanding advantage in the SEC East after snacking on next best No. 14 Georgia (4-2 conference, No. 2 division). Despite their early season loss to Ole Miss the Gators remain undefeated in division play. Florida still does have to handle an away match against Vanderbilt (3-2 conference, No. 3 division) and stay floating at home against expatriate Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks (3-3 conference, No. 4 division).
So the Gators versus the Tide, who rolls? I like Florida here, and the difference is the veteran leadership. Alabama is a young football team that has yet to face genuine adversity. Meyer's offense is deadly in the wide stance. If the game were played today, I think Florida runs away with it.
The Gator's December 6th upset of No. 1 Alabama will be enough to catapult them into the No. 2 slot, behind the Nittany Lions. For the third year in a row we'll be at the mercy of a No 1. Big Ten versus a No. 2 SEC showdown.
Will the North finally show up?