At this point, Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game seems more of a sure thing than Alabama.
Oregon’s loss to Stanford made it two straight years of a November duck walk out of the national championship conversation and once again likely ended Pac-12 hopes for an appearance in the title game.
So, the Seminoles advance to a solid No. 2 position in the BCS standings and the polls with a remaining stretch of Syracuse (5-4), Idaho (1-9) and Florida (4-5) and the ACC Championship game, which they clinched with a 59-3 crushing of Wake Forest on Saturday.
If Florida State, the original BCS standard by playing in the first three title games, doesn’t reach Pasadena, it would have fallen in the biggest upset of the year. The way the ’Noles are playing, that doesn’t seem possible.
One week it’s quarterback Jameis Winston, now firmly planted in small circle of Heisman favorites, leading a powerful offense. The next it’s an athletic and smothering defense. The Seminoles came up with seven turnovers against Wake Forest, two returned for touchdowns.
Yes, the ACC again has a heavy share of lightweights. But treating the toughest opponents on the schedule —at Clemson and Miami, Fla. — like non-conference fluff is why Florida State stands were it does.
Alabama, Ohio State and Baylor are the three other major unbeatens and all have a land mine or two to negotiate.
As impressively as the Crimson Tide closed out LSU on Saturday, Alabama might have the toughest remaining path. If it wins at top-10 Auburn to end the regular season it will likely find a top-10 Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC title game.
Baylor, coming off its best triumph of the season over Oklahoma, meets two ranked teams —Oklahoma State and Texas —in the final month.
Ohio State keeps winning, 21-0 under coach Urban Meyer after Saturday’s demolition of Purdue, but like Baylor would need Alabama or Florida State to lose. The Buckeyes should bounce into the Big Ten Championship Game off a victory at Michigan and would face their most difficult remaining test if Michigan State and its ferocious defense have qualified.
A potential problem for the Buckeyes and Baylor is the strength of the one-loss teams immediately behind them. Could a one-loss Stanford, Missouri or Auburn jump the undefeated Buckeyes if Alabama or Florida State were upset?
The perceived weakness of the Big Ten suggests this is a possibility, and it also foreshadows topics the College Football Playoff folks must address next year.
How would an undefeated team from a conference having a down year be measured against a one-loss team from a stronger league?
Use this year’s rankings as the example by projecting the top four undefeated teams to perfect regular seasons. And say Stanford doesn’t lose again. Is the Cardinal as champion of the nation’s second strongest conference omitted from the national semifinals?
This is precisely the situation that will elevate the football committee’s duties from the basketball committee, which labors over a handful of teams for the final few at-large sports. In hoops, we’re talking about the difference between the 37th and 38th at-large teams. The other 31 automatically qualify.
But the football committee will be opening the playoff for the fourth team and closing it on the fifth.
In this hypothetical, Stanford could be that fifth team, the same Cardinal team that as it thumped Oregon, had analysts gushing that it could beat anybody in the nation and king of the second strongest conference.
That’s for next year. This year, the BCS needs to find only two, and if one of them isn’t Florida State, something will have gone terribly wrong for the Seminoles, who now are favored to end the BCS era where they started it 16 years ago —in the title game.