The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

BCS Meltdown Scenario - 10 Undefeated Teams

The college football season is still very much in its early stages. Many of the top teams are undefeated, and some teams have yet to play a conference or a ranked foe. This means that it’s the time of year when nearly every team has hope, and there’s still a very distinct possibility that the BCS (Bowl Championship System) could completely blow up in everyone’s face.

That possibility is more likely than ever this year, particularly with the defection of Virginia Tech and Miami from the Big East to the ACC (leaving an easy path to an undefeated season for West Virginia) and relatively strong rosters from some of the “mid-majors.”

At this point in the season, there are twenty-three undefeated teams (going into last week, there were a grand total of twenty-eight) in division I-A football. There are still some pretenders in the undefeated crowd, as I mentioned, it’s early in the season, most notably a four win and zero loss Navy team. By the end of the season, if not the end of October, Navy will likely have fallen to the ranks of the once (or twice) beaten.

Also, many of the undefeated teams will face each other over the remainder of the season, meaning that most of these teams will at least be knocked off by each other, if not another team. Some of the unbeaten teams that will square off later include Oklahoma and Texas (through Colorado and Oklahoma State into the mix of the Big 12 throwdown too), Miami and Virginia (possibly for the ACC crown), Southern Cal, Arizona State, and Cal in the Pac-10, Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee in the SEC, up to two teams from the Big 10 (between Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue, and Minnesota), in the WAC, either Fresno State or Boise State will have to knock the other off. Southern Mississippi will also face their stiffest test towards achieving an undefeated regular season when they face off (at home) against Cal on the last weekend of the regular season. Louisville could run the table too, but to do it they’d have to knock off Miami (who would then need to fall to Virginia in order to have an undefeated ACC champion). Of everyone, now that they’ve beaten regular nemesis Maryland, West Virginia appears to have the easiest path towards an undefeated season.

In total, if I’m doing my math right, a maximum of x teams could go undefeated this season. That’s based on every team that currently has zero losses knocking off any team that has a loss later this year, and every team without a loss right now winning all of their games. Obviously, in the games where two undefeated teams meet, half of the teams will win and half will lose, so the field will be reduced significantly from now until the end of the year.

In conferences with a championship game (Big 12, SEC, MAC), I took the easy road out and assumed that only one team could emerge after the conference championship undefeated. I’m not sure if that’s possible, but I think that it is, because in the conferences with divisions I think you play everyone in your division once, meaning that everyone – except for one team – when it’s all said and done must have at least one loss. There are other scenarios with in conference and out of conference games (say Miami, Virginia, and Louisville) meet up in multiple games, meaning that the team which plays an undefeated team in its conference and out of its conference must lose both games in order to have the maximum number of unbeaten teams when it’s all said and done.

Atlantic Coast Conference
As of today, the only potentially undefeated teams are Miami and Virginia. These two teams square off in Charlottesville in November. However, in order to maximize the number of undefeated teams, Miami must lose this game (and to Louisville in mid-October); obviously this is not a scenario that I’m hoping to see play out.

Big East
It’s West Virginia’s table to run. Many will argue that their fortunes are different this year because Miami and Virginia Tech have fled for the greener pastures of the ACC and the down turn in the fortunes of remaining foe Pittsburgh, but the Mountaineers are a legitimate, experienced team. And there’s no team in the country that relishes a trip to Morgantown. WVU could well find itself undefeated on bowl selection day.

Big 10 (really eleven)
Somehow, amazingly, Minnesota and Ohio State will not face off against each other (again) this year. That leaves the distinct possibility that both of these clubs will end the year undefeated. Since Ohio State has been the conference champion more recently, it is my understanding that Minnesota would be crowned the champion (if for nothing else than BCS berth selection), should both teams reach the end of the season unbeaten.

Big 12 (really twelve)
Pretenders like Colorado and Oklahoma State are still lurking, and in all likelihood will only stand to knock one of the real contenders off of their pedestal down the line. As usual, the conference championship will most likely come down to Texas and Oklahoma. Lately, Oklahoma has owned this series, and there’s no reason to see that changing – despite Texas having all-everything running back Cedric Benson in the backfield. Anything can happen though – and in the end it’s likely that one of those two clubs will be undefeated. Based solely on ranking, I’ll have to go with Oklahoma here.

Purdue and Wisconsin are also unbeaten to date this year, but with the round robin conference play, I’m just assuming that these two clubs will get knocked off at some point.

Conference USA
Southern Mississippi, aided by an improbable win over Nebraska early in the year, could coast to an undefeated campaign. The biggest roadblock in their way is a rescheduled game against California which will now take place the first weekend in December.

Pac-10
There are three undefeated teams here, and each has looked impressive at times in the early part of the season. However, Arizona State, California, and defending co-national champion USC all face each other this year. No more than one of them will survive undefeated, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Trojans will win out.

Southeastern Conference
Now that Tennessee has knocked off Florida in a thrilling game at Neyland Stadium, only Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia remain undefeated. No more than one of those teams can be undefeated after the SEC Championship game is played in Atlanta. As much as I’d like to think that Tennessee will be that team, led by the play of their two freshman quarterbacks, Georgia is ranked higher right now, so I’ll assume they hold on.

Western Athletic Conference
The teams that no one wants to play. Until they square off, Boise State and Fresno State are likely to be undefeated. Throwing rankings aside, I’ll take Boise State and their blue uniforms and blue turf.

Potentially undefeated teams
ACC Champion (Virginia)
Big 10 Champion (Minnesota)
Undefeated Big 10 (Ohio State)
Pac-10 Champion (USC)
Big-12 Champion (Oklahoma)
SEC Champion (Georgia)
Big East Champion (West Virginia)
WAC Champion (Boise State)
C-USA Champion (Southern Mississippi)
Undefeated C-USA (Louisville)

That leaves us with ten undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, which is more than enough teams to fill up the eight berths in the BCS bowls. Personally, I’d love to see a scenario like this play out because it would cause utter chaos with the BCS system.

With the way the system is currently set up, the first six berths would be guaranteed to the conference champions. This would put Virginia, Minnesota, USC, Oklahoma, Georgia, and West Virginia on the inside track to the biggest bowls.

That leaves Ohio State, Boise State, Louisville and Southern Mississippi on the outside looking in for the last two spots. Two teams would be left behind and forgotten, likely relegated to the Humanitarian Bowl, or something else grossly unjust. It’s highly unlikely that Ohio State would be left out of the mix, based on their national appeal, recent success, and willingness of their fans to travel. That leaves Boise State, Louisville, and Southern Mississippi to vie for the last BCS berth (and that’s assuming that a one-loss Notre Dame or other such national power doesn’t steal the bowl committee’s attention). I have no idea who would be selected at that point, but one team would be in and two teams would be out – at least.

What happens then? Even more chaos, no doubt. From the four BCS games – and the one other bowl game that the outsiders of the Boise State/Louisville/Southern Mississippi contingent is left with – we would emerge with five undefeated teams. Who could crown a national champion from that?

By that point you’d have five teams that had each knocked off some very worthy opponents – in conference, out of conference, at home, on the road, and in bowl games. Each would have won between twelve and fourteen games at that point. Surely the media and coaches polls would disagree, but not nearly by the degree to which the opinion’s of fans would. We’d likely see championship banners raised in all five stadiums next August/September and we’d be nothing but inundated with Sports Illustrated special pieces featuring the leather-bound commemoratives of each team’s achievement.

But we wouldn’t have the one thing that sports fans everywhere crave, and that’s resolution. Five undefeated teams would answer little (although someone, somewhere would come up with the logic of team x beat team y and team y beat team z, so team x is the true champion) and would only raise the public outcry for a playoff to a fevered pitch.

It’s only late September though, so a scenario while a ten undefeated team scenario may seem possible now, it is very unlikely, if not totally impossible. It’s never happened before, and there’s no reason to think that it would happen this year. There is too much parity in the game and too much that’s simply unpredictable. It sure is fun to think about though.

P.S. As much as I dis-like college football’s overtime system as it does not reflect actual football, it’s a good thing it’s in place this year. Under the old system, when ties were possible and not completely uncommon, we could be in store for even more of a mess than we could be this year.

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