College football begins its home stretch with this cool scenario: The top five conferences each have an undefeated team, and this quintet holds five of the top six spots in the BCS standings.
Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, Ohio State and Baylor remain perfect, and if they found a way to win out, the final year of the BCS would be the most chaotic of ’em all. The voters and computers will have to sort out the perfectos and explain to multiple 13-0 or 12-0 teams why they can’t play for the crystal ball.
But the odds are strongly against that occurring, and the pecking order could be in for a major shake-up in a matter of days.
This season has produced few big shake-ups, but that means it has left us with some high-stakes meetings in the season’s final third, starting Thursday.
Baylor, one of the nation’s biggest surprises, takes its 64-point-per-game average into Thursday’s game against Oklahoma. It will be the Bears’ first game against a team that currently owns a winning record since they beat Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 21.
But nobody has won more impressively than Baylor, outscoring even Oregon this season. Thursday’s game marks the first of three straight against ranked teams, and as the Bears rack ’em up, their case grows much stronger.
About the time Baylor-Oklahoma reaches halftime, Oregon at Stanford will kick off. Based on this week’s polls, this is the best match of titans remaining this season.
The Ducks are third in the BCS, and he Cardinal is the highest ranked one-loss team at No. 6 in the polls and fifth in the BCS standings. The winner remains a BCS top-five team, and this rivalry couldn’t be any more intense with the teams splitting four games and the road team winning the previous two.
On Saturday, Alabama and LSU tangle in Tuscaloosa in what has become the game’s trendiest rivalry. The Tigers have won two of the last three regular-season meetings, and all of the games have been decided by four points or fewer.
Alabama isn’t out of the woods if it survives LSU, not with a trip to Auburn to end the season and the SEC championship game.
But the Crimson Tide, based on its strong position in the polls, is the one team among the leaders that is all but assured of being in the BCS title game if it finishes undefeated. Oregon, Stanford and Baylor have the best chance of making moves with more difficult remaining schedules.
That means Florida State and Ohio State, teams that have impressively passed every test, must continue to wow and hope their remaining opponents do the same. The Seminoles, and especially the Buckeyes, need more resume-building victories.
Each of Florida State’s four remaining opponents has a losing record, but the Seminoles are the only team among the leaders that have defeated two top-10 teams — Clemson and Miami — which they thumped resoundingly.
Strange as it sounds to Ohio State fans, the Buckeyes need Michigan and Michigan State to play great the next few weeks.
The Wolverines meet Ohio State in the traditional season-ender, and Michigan State is the leader of the Legends Division and working its way up the rankings. If an undefeated Buckeyes team can survive that Big Ten title game, it could make a move in the BCS.
So can one-loss teams like Stanford, Missouri and Clemson. Only two of the last seven BCS title games have matched undefeated teams.
The season has reached its final stages, and the stakes increase every week. This is what college football stakeholders mean when they gush that every weekend is a playoff.