— Heading into Week 7 of the college football season with the possibility of seven undefeated teams playing in the Bowl Championship Series, it’s time to sift through what remains a murky situation and find out what means what to who and where and when it’ll start clearing up.
Here are the 10 games in the second half of the 2010 season with the most impact on the structure of the upcoming BCS:
No. 10 -- Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 27)
Stop shaking your head. All the cliches apply in this rivalry of rivalries. Even if the Wolverines have no defense to speak of and are little more than a one-man band on offense, anything can happen.
Michigan won’t have any BCS implications riding on this one, but their other bitter rival probably will. The prospect of the Wolverines potentially helping Michigan State, which doesn't play Ohio State this season, to its first outright Big Ten title since 1987 is so fascinating on its own that it lands this game in our leadoff spot.
No. 9 -- Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Nov. 27)
Since the Cowboys will likely lose to Nebraska on Oct. 23, this Bedlam game will be more relevant to Oklahoma, which wouldn’t face the Cornhuskers until the Big 12 Championship Game.
Playing the role of Sooner spoiler is something Oklahoma State is very familiar with and it has what it takes to pull that off, especially at home in Stillwater.
No. 8 -- Michigan State at Iowa (Oct. 30)
Outside of the Hawkeyes, the Spartans' five other remaining opponents are a combined 3-6 in Big Ten play and three of those games are at home. This visit to Kinnick Stadium will mean everything to Michigan State’s undefeated hopes.
No. 7 -- South Carolina at Florida (Nov. 13)
With all due respect to the Gamecocks and Gators, this game is most important to Alabama. Alabama? Yes, Alabama.
Let’s face it, many still consider Nick Saban’s team the best in the land. If the Crimson Tide are going climb back into the BCS title game picture, they need South Carolina to win the SEC East and earn a trip to the conference title game at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 4, where Alabama would have the opportunity to make up for last Saturday’s loss in Columbia with a resounding victory in a rematch.
South Carolina has a decent shot at a BCS berth if it stays clean on the way to Atlanta, but the rivalry game at Clemson on Nov. 27 could put a dent in that resume. Something similar holds true for Florida and its slim-and-none shot at the BCS, because the Gators visit Florida State on Nov. 27.
No. 6 -- Texas at Nebraska (Oct. 16)
Just when you think the Longhorns are short of what it takes to be a factor in the national picture, they could jump up and let everyone know that they’re still around, especially since they had a week off to prepare for this track meet with Taylor Martinez.
Although games at No. 20 Oklahoma State (Oct. 23) and versus No. 21 Missouri (Oct. 30) are next up for Nebraska after this, hosting the Longhorns take precedence. Forget about Texas’ current two-game slide and lack of a national ranking. They’re still the one you’d least like to face from that trio.
No. 5 -- LSU at Auburn (Oct. 23)
Does Les Miles’ deal with the devil include a way to neutralize Cameron Newton? A new law of science says that Newton’s 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame is one thing that can penetrate the LSU defense.
This game determines the team that will have a shot at wrestling the SEC West away from two-time defending division champ Alabama. If LSU prevails, its “Saban Bowl” at home game against the Crimson Tide on Nov. 6 will be gargantuan. If Auburn comes through, the Iron Bowl against Alabama on Nov. 26 will be even bigger (if that’s possible).
No matter what happens at Jordan-Hare Stadium, one or both of those games next month against ‘Bama will have BCS implications, but first thing first. The top Tiger needs to be determined.
No. 4 -- Oregon at Oregon State (Dec. 4)
Last year’s Civil War was fought with a Rose Bowl berth on the line for both teams. Though the season-ending injury suffered by wideout James Rodgers on Saturday in Tucson makes it less likely that the Beavers will have that much on the line in the 114th renewal of this rivalry, there could be even more riding on this for the Ducks, who seemingly control their own destiny in the race to the BCS title game.
This short road trip to Corvallis will be more than a handful for Oregon, which also will be playing for teams eager to be BCS at-large selections. Those schools need the Ducks to win, represent the Pac-10 in Glendale, Ariz., or in the Rose Bowl and steer clear of a late-season dive into the at-large pool.
No. 3 -- Ohio State at Iowa (Nov. 20)
If form holds for the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes, and Michigan isn’t able to get a defensive transplant before finishing up with Ohio State, this will determine the Big Ten’s BCS automatic qualifier. The “if” at the beginning of the previous sentence is a big one, but the statement holds true in any case.
Ohio State and the rest of the league has long understood that the road to Pasadena and/or Glendale, Ariz., goes through Iowa City. Wisconsin (Oct. 23) and Michigan State (Oct. 30, see No. 8) have their own reckoning days there, but this one is bigger as it involves the current top-ranked team and is later in the season.
No. 2 -- Boise State at Nevada (Nov. 26)
Having already cleared what was supposed to be their toughest hurdles against Virginia Tech and Oregon State back in September, why not fast forward to this unofficial Western Athletic Conference championship game?
The Wolf Pack will have many temporary friends on their side for this one, hoping to see the best of the BCS busters get busted.
One entity that’ll be on the Bronco side is the Tournament of Roses. Always eager to maintain its traditional ties with the Pac-10 and Big Ten, the Rose Bowl would like nothing better than to see Boise State make it to the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz. If the Broncos don’t, they’ll likely be headed to Pasadena due to an automatic selection provision that goes into effect this season, linking an “automatic qualifier” from outside the BCS’s six favorite conferences to the Rose Bowl if the Pac-10 and/or Big Ten champ goes to the title game, which seem likely for at least one of them at this point.
No. 1 -- TCU at Utah (Nov. 6)
The de facto Mountain West Conference title game could be the most unlikely Top 10 showdown we’ve seen in a long time.
The Utes would like nothing better than to wear the MWC championship belt out the door as they head to the Pac-12. Utah, which actually slipped from No. 10 to No. 11 this week after registering a 68-27 blowout at Iowa State, doesn’t seem likely to carry a “little five” flag into the BCS (if, of course, Boise State continues to hold serve). An upset of TCU could open up a spot for a Pac-10 team, if for example, Oregon State beat an undefeated Oregon team to earn a Rose Bowl berth, which would land the Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl and give the league a second BCS paycheck.
Even though he’s got two reasons to root for Utah, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott isn’t the league boss who would most likely benefit from a Ute victory. If Oregon continues its reign of terror out west, a Big Ten or SEC team would benefit greatly from a TCU loss, severely damaging the possibility of two teams from outside the “big six” receiving berths for the second year in a row. For teams like Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, South Carolina, Auburn and LSU it’s a big deal to step up to the BCS from the Capital One Bowl.
Simply put, the Utes figure to have lots of new fans when they host the Horned Frogs.
C’mon admit it. Watching all this stuff sort itself out is more fun than waiting for a playoff bracket to be released by a stuffy committee.