— After a few weeks of undefeated teams getting toppled, there’s some uncommon clarity about college football’s five unscathed teams.
Two of them have virtual byes on Saturday. Oregon (8-0, 5-0 in Pac-10), this week’s Bowl Championship Series No. 1, hosts Washington. Yes, the Ducks and Huskies are longtime rivals, but by Steve Sarkisian’s own admission Washington, which won't have injured star quarterback Jake Locker available, has hit “rock bottom.” Auburn (9-0, 6-0 in SEC), last week’s BCS No. 1, baby-sits Chattanooga. Those two games are already over.
Boise State (7-0, 3-0 in WAC) has to be careful with upstart Hawaii, but the Broncos are yet another heavy home favorite.
Only TCU (9-0, 5-0 in MWC) and Utah (8-0, 5-0 in MWC) have a game to truly worry about ... and it’s against each other in the de facto Mountain West Conference championship game, which already has its set of clear-cut consequences.
With this relative lull among the undefeateds, it’s a good week to start discussing one-loss teams and rank their chances of getting into the BCS title game.
After this weekend, there will be no more than four undefeated teams remaining with four weeks to play. Upheaval is coming.
You can count on more teams to be added to the one-loss pool, but since we don’t know who they’ll be, let’s start with the dozen that we’ve got right now and rank their opportunities to be BCS bound ... perhaps even all the way to the title tilt.
1. Alabama (currently No. 6 in the BCS standings)
Some consider the Crimson Tide (7-1, 4-1 in SEC) to still be the best team in the country. Alabama has a good chance to prove that with a challenging remaining slate that begins on Saturday at LSU.
That’s followed by three home games against Mississippi State, Georgia State and Auburn, which have the ability to catapult a Tide team that currently has an average rank of No. 15 with the BCS computers. If Nick Saban runs a table that includes the SEC championship game, the Tide will get a chance to go back-to-back with another crystal football.
To give you an idea of how strong Alabama is in this top position, there is a remote Armageddon scenario in which the Tide could lose at LSU on Saturday and still make it to the title game.
In any case, don’t expect Alabama to be in the Capital One Bowl.
2. Oklahoma (No. 8)
We can’t say that the Sooners (7-1, 3-1 in Big 12) control their own destiny, but if November goes the way we think it will, Oklahoma has a chance to be in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10.
The unexpected rise of Baylor helps. The Bears are the final hurdle for the Sooners in a Lone Star State trio that begins on Saturday at Texas A&M. Then, a home game against Texas Tech is sandwiched in before that trip to Waco to face the resurgent Bears in a game few would have predicted would help Oklahoma’s standing with the BCS computers.
Of course, the Sooners wrap up the regular season at Oklahoma State. Sweeping all four would put Oklahoma in the last Big 12 championship game, probably against Nebraska. Or if the Cornhuskers falter -- not likely since they face Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas -- the Sooners could get a crack at Missouri and avenge their only loss of the season.
3. Arizona (No. 15)
The Wildcats’ remaining schedule has an SEC feel to it. What we mean by that is there is a distinct control-your-own-destiny opportunity.
Starting with Saturday’s visit to Stanford, there are three significant stepping stones for Arizona (7-1, 4-1 in Pac-10) to climb on. After returning from The Farm, the ‘Cats host USC, which by that time will feature a bunch of guys playing for draft status. Then on Nov. 26, Arizona will play at Oregon in the Friday night spotlight.
High-level opportunities like the ones the Wildcats have mean everything when projecting a run at the BCS’s big game.
The Wildcats’ resumé, which includes a huge win over Iowa in September, would also receive a big boost if the Hawkeyes beat Ohio State on Nov. 20 in Iowa City.
Stranger things haven’t happened, but there is always room for the unexpected in the BCS.
4. Nebraska (No. 7)
With an identical record (7-1, 3-1) in the other half of the Big 12, the Cornhuskers’ situation is very similar to Oklahoma’s. However, a significant difference is that Nebraska’s lone loss is to Texas, which has had a year that only BP can empathize with.
Additionally, the Huskers’ final four foes — Iowa State, Kansas, Texas A&M and Colorado — have combined for only five conference victories so far this season (and two of them came against the Jayhawks), which offers zero opportunity to gain BCS ground before a possible appearance in the Big 12 title game.
5. Wisconsin (No. 9)
The Badgers (7-1, 3-1 in Big Ten) and the rest of the Big Ten are nearly certain to be left out of the BCS title game for the third consecutive year.
The best team left on Wisconsin’s schedule is Northwestern. That means there’s not much of a shot to climb the BCS ladder.
The Rose Bowl race, however, will be fascinating. The Badgers, who beat Ohio State and Iowa back-to-back in October, are in the best position to go to Pasadena.
6. Ohio State (No. 11)
Normally the Buckeyes’ final stretch of Penn State, Iowa and Michigan would provide the right set of circumstances to advance. But in 2010, the Nittany Lions and Wolverines, each currently with identical 5-3 records, aren’t much more than big names.
Posting a win in Iowa City on Nov. 20 would keep Ohio State (8-1, 4-1 in Big Ten) in the mix to be an at-large team at the very least. The Buckeyes are wishing for the kind of BCS mayhem that we had in 2007.
7. LSU (No. 10)
The Tigers (7-1, 4-1 in SEC), who benefited greatly from that chaos in 2007, were damaged heavily in the tiebreaker department two weeks ago with that 24-17 loss to Auburn. In addition to LSU having to run the rest of its table, Auburn will have to lose to both Georgia and Alabama for LSU to have a shot to sneak into the SEC title game.
Les Miles always has something under his hat, so don’t wander off just yet.
8. Stanford (No. 13)
As the smarties already know, their chance went begging on Oct. 2 when they lost at Oregon, 52-31. The Cardinal (7-1, 4-1 in Pac-10) host Arizona on Saturday, but after that, their schedule doesn’t present much chance to climb until the finale against Oregon State (yes, this comes after the Big Game against Cal).
Under normal conditions, finishing as the Pac-10 runner-up would be more than enough for Stanford. That would result in a probable Rose Bowl berth if Oregon made it to Glendale. But the non-AQ clause in place for Pasadena this year means Boise State or TCU is likely to be awarded that spot.
The Cardinal likely will go 11-1 and be left feeling very blue when BCS bids are doled out.
9. Michigan State (No. 14)
The Spartans only have home games against Minnesota and Purdue, and a visit to Penn State left on their schedule, so they’ve got a good shot at being 11-1.
But even if Michigan State (8-1, 4-1 in Big Ten) gets there, the ugly 37-6 loss at Iowa last Saturday and the absence of Ohio State on the schedule hurts so much that it could easily drop the Spartans down to the Outback Bowl.
10. Missouri (No. 12)
The Tigers (7-1, 3-1 in Big 12) are an even better bet to go 11-1 than Michigan State. Missouri only has Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas left on its schedule.
The problem for the Tigers is that Nebraska has an even easier quartet to face (Iowa State, Kansas, Texas A&M and Colorado) and just captured a convincing head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri.
The Tigers need an appearance in the Big 12 championship game to have a prayer at cashing a BCS check, but the Cornhuskers placed a huge roadblock on all routes to Jerry’s World.
11. Oklahoma State (No. 17)
Of the four remaining one-loss Big 12 teams remaining, only the Cowboys (7-1, 3-1 in Big 12) have Texas left on their schedule.
Although the Longhorns seem to lose every week, they’re still a tough mountain to climb. Unless Texas is going to lose four games in a row in Austin, Oklahoma State will have at least two losses when it hosts Oklahoma for some Bedlam.
12. Nevada (No. 23)
The Wolf Pack’s role on this list isn’t about getting into the BCS. They’ve got the same chance at that as UNLV. Nevada (7-1, 2-1 in WAC) does, however, have the power to keep Boise State out.
The Broncos’ only remaining game outside of the state of Idaho is at Nevada, which brings a capable pistol to any shootout.
A Wolf Pack victory on Nov. 26 would make a “Big Six” conference at-large team extremely happy.