At first glance, the 2012 college football season appears headed to a similarly controversial finish as 2004. Four teams finished the regular season and conference championship games undefeated. Cries for the need for more than two teams having an opportunity to play for the national championship erupted. The two undefeated teams left out of the BCS title game had to settle for challenging the NCAA to amend the post-season rules while pleading their case to voters in the Associated Press poll to receive the AP’s national championship.
However, that year did carry some aspect differentiating it from this current season. It started with Southern California and Oklahoma pre-ordained to meet for the national title. The other two undefeated teams, Auburn and Utah, were given no consideration to move into the top two spots. USC remained in the top spot despite not playing in a conference championship game. Utah’s conference at the time, the Mountain West, had never had its champion included in any BCS bowl game. The mere fact that a member of one of the conferences without an automatic bid for its champion had received an invitation to one of the four major bowls made history. Finally, Auburn received no extra consideration for winning the Southeastern Conference title because the SEC’s current run of six straight BCS titles had not yet started. Auburn won its championship game but could never crack the glass ceiling of “Number Three”.
This year’s circumstances vary from those eight seasons ago. Alabama and Oregon started second and fifth respectively, having risen when others in the initial poll lost and fell. Kansas State and Notre Dame were ranked outside of the top twenty yet have already risen into the top four. Alabama and Oregon should benefit significantly from playing a thirteenth game versus another team in the top twenty-five, assuming both advance to their conference’s title game unscathed. Three of the four belong to major conferences while the other might be able to claim victories over two BCS conferences’ champions. Additionally, a fifth undefeated team, Louisville, is lurking and dreaming of an unblemished finish with no other undefeated teams remaining in December.
Southern California has been eliminated from any consideration for the BCS national championship game. Nevertheless, the Trojans can affect who will advance to that game. USC poses the only serious threat to Notre Dame finishing undefeated. Also, Oregon will have to defeat the Trojans on the road then likely again in the Pacific Twelve championship game. If USC does defeat both Notre Dame and Oregon, the national championship picture will become much clearer.
Kansas State might suffer from the same fate as Utah in 2004. Compared to other three teams in the top five, Kansas State has no historical basis, which might sway some voters. The Wildcats were very near to the bottom of all major college programs in the terms of winning percentage last century. The Wildcats play in a conference, which had four members defect elsewhere in the past two years. That hurts the perception of the strength of the Big Twelve. Once again, the champion of the Big Twelve will rue not having a conference title game to bolster its ranking before the final BCS poll.
Notre Dame does have the advantage of prestige over Oregon and Kansas State. Despite that, the Irish could suffer by not playing on the first weekend of December. The three currently undefeated teams and possibly some teams with one-loss will have one final opportunity to impress voters before the final BCS poll is released. Also, Notre Dame’s three-game sweep of the Big Ten does not impress voters as much considering the overall weak reputation of that conference this season.
The Big Ten’ reputation will be further tarnished after the awful results of its non-conference games. The conference title game appears likely to feature at least one unranked team; both participants seem likely to be outside of the top twenty-five polls. Its two most successful teams in conference play and overall cannot contend for the conference crown. The Big Ten’s hopes for bolstering its reputation this season will require winning at least a majority of its bowl games.
The SEC has revealed that it consists of more than Alabama and LSU competing for the championship. Those from the Eastern Division are not serving merely as punching bags for those on the other side of the conference. Florida and Georgia each have only one loss; the former having beaten LSU. It appears that the SEC East’s representative has a realistic shot of winning in Atlanta on the first Saturday in December for the first time since 2008.
It seems like a team from a conference without an automatic bid to the BCS has little chance to grab an at-large bid. Boise State appears to have the most realistic shot. However, that involves hoping that the Big Ten’s Big East’s champion finishes below the Broncos in the BCS rankings after the conference title games are played. That assumes that BSU even wins the rest of its scheduled contests. Also, pollsters may downgrade the Broncos for having lost to a middle-of-the-pack member of the mediocre Big Ten, Michigan State.
Of course, in college football, rarely do all projections made at this point of the season come to fruition. Everyone will have to wait and see the results of all the remaining games. The joy lies in the process.
COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT OCTOBER 2012