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BCS BUSTIN': THE WEEK IN REALPOLITIK or DO NOT ACCEPT THE PREMISES

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With two of the three teams currently in spots 3-5 guaranteed to be weeded out, it’s getting a little clearer:

Updated BCS Standings, 11-10
Rank Team BCS Pts. Harris Coaches Comp. Avg.
1. LSU .980 1 1 1
2. Oregon .938 2 2 3
3. Kansas .909 3 3 2
4. Oklahoma .854 4 4 7
5. Missouri .810 6 6 5
6. West Virginia .786 5 5 8
7. Ohio State .774 7 7 6
8. Arizona State .750 8 8 4
9. Georgia .672 9 9 9
10. Virginia Tech .613 10 10 10

I’m a little surprised personally that OSU fell below West Virginia, especially given the Buckeyes’ advantage according to the computers, but such is the pull of Pavlovian Drop Syndrome among the hu-manns. It doesn’t matter the sense this makes, or the justice of a team’s standing hinging so much on when it loses rather than on the circumstances of the loss or the rest of its body of work – at any rate, Ohio State is gone gone gone from the race barring a series of events too unlikely to consider here. For our purposes, there are really only five teams left standing:

BCS Top Five: Remaining Schedules (Points Back)
LSU (-) Oregon (-) Kansas (– .029) Oklahoma (– .084) Missouri (– .128)
at Ole Miss at Arizona Iowa State at Texas Tech at Kansas State
Arkansas at UCLA vs. Missouri Oklahoma State vs. Kansas
SEC Champ. Oregon State Big 12 Champ. Big 12 Champ. Big 12 Champ.

And only one significant question: can a one-loss Big 12 champion catch Oregon?

I think it should be understood that Kansas, by virtue of getting two top five teams as its final hurdles to full respectability, is a no-brainer if it finishes 13-0; Oregon does not have enough pull with its brand (yet – Just do it Nike!) and cannot get enough value from beating UCLA and Oregon State to fend off the Jayhawks if they run the table. As I said earlier today, the nature of this beast ensures that somebody gets screwed, and right now, Oregon is bent over the table. Ohio State and Arizona State, deserving teams whose main demerit re: Missouri, Oklahoma and West Virginia in front of them is that the Buckeyes and Devils lost to good teams in November rather than mediocre teams like Colorado and South Florida in September, don’t even get that much respect – they could play in the Rose Bowl, a nice consolation, but they’re out of the self-declared title game barring a miracle. The Ducks, on the other hand, will be made to suffer the pain of speculation, hope and heartbreak for the second time in seven years, and there is no hope despite their current standing if LSU and Kansas roll on through their last three unblemished. The BCS homepage has this line that will probably be repeated this week, "If the Ducks struggle to a victory, it coudl open up an opportunity..." but don’t buy that. The Tigers and ‘Hawks clearly control their destinies here.

The dilemma comes if Kansas loses to Missouri and/or Oklahoma, leaving the one-loss Tigers and Sooners head-to-head with Oregon for the number two spot. And thus into the long annual tradition of two-three clashes hearkening the system’s imminent doom steps Big 12 vs. Pac Ten, and the absence of a championship game has a good chance of killing the latter (again). They’re a double-edged sword, these conference championship games – Nebraska, Kansas State, Tennessee and Texas have all lost certain mythical title bids over the last ten years by losing on the "extra" weekend, but Florida last year proved the value of adding another quality win while the opponent a few scant tenths away in the polls sits at home. This is Oregon’s problem: the computers will still respect the Ducks’ strength of schedule, but come December, they will have gone nearly a month since their last game in the national spotlight, during which time Kansas and/or Missouri will appear at least twice in marquee national games and voters will have just seen one of those two or Oklahoma lope to an impressive win in the Big 12 Championship. If it comes down to that, much like Michigan last year, I think there’s a very good chance Oregon will simply be forgotten. If I was Mike Bellotti, I would ignore the current, seemingly comfortable lead over Missouri and Oklahoma as well as the computers’ absurd disregard for margin of victory, assume the trailing position at the last leg of the race and go bombs away against L.A. and Oregon State. Pull no punches, show no mercy, and leave no doubt in voters’ minds that the Ducks are at their swoosh-stamped core the dominant team they saw against Michigan, USC and Arizona State. Because you won’t get another chance while the Midwesterners are hogging the attention; Dennis Dixon’s H*i*m*n moment will come too late, and you don’t want Phil Knight to start buying ads the week before the final poll comes out. That would probably backfire. Although a nice gift basket to the right newsroom, maybe...


I implore you, Bellotti, your mission is clear: leave the starters in.
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West Virginia is not completely dead, assuming the obvious: everyone in front of the Mountaineers loses. Well, not everyone, but four of the top five; two of them (some combination of KU, Mizzou and Oklahoma) are guaranteed to bite the bullet, but forecasting the other two will require some imaginative stretching. If, say, LSU were to go down to Tennessee or Georgia in the SEC Championship, and, I dunno, Oklahoma State were to upset Oklahoma, but the Sooners still went on to win the Big 12 as two-loss team, WVU would probably slde into the number two slot behind Oregon. Or Oregon could lose rather than LSU, or they both could lose. One of them has to lose, and so does the eventual Big 12 champion before the championship game. Any number of improbable scenarios can get the Mountaineers there if they keep winning, including – and this would be the best thing that could happen to WVU – Kansas State or Iowa State upsetting either of the North frontrunners this week. Voters have made abundantly clear they will not tolerate a loss if that loss occurs past a certain point in the season, so Kansas is hereby on thin ice. Why is West Virginia in this position ahead of Ohio State and Arizona State? Again, kid, don’t ask so many questions – Look! That guy got JACKED UP!

On that note, I’d like to take off the scheming Machiavellian hat for a second and return to the notion of an Ohio State-Arizona State or (especially) an Ohio State-Oregon Rose Bowl as a "consolation" game. The way these scenarios are shaping up, nothing could be further from the truth, unless you are a Grade A sucker for this mass-marketed "national championship" bullshit. Under none of the situations laid out above is there a compelling or even mildly convincing case that any two teams in the discussion will really separate themselves from the pack, much less a consensus about the matter. The only possible overriding argument for any of them is "Well, Kansas is undefeated," which is not guaranteed to last, and if it does, taking the Jayhawks without serious scrutiny based on record alone is total capitulation to the practice of scheduling worthless scrimmages outside of the conference.

That’s not to say that KU won’t be deserving if it finishes 13-0, only that the entire process is arbitrary. And championships are not arbitrary. If Ohio State and Oregon line up in Pasadena, there will be nothing less championship-worthy about that game than Oklahoma and LSU lining up in New Orleans except the paint on the field, and the endless hype. But hype, as you know, is bullshit by definition; we do not elect champions according to hype. Well, except when we do. But if we’re going to operate under the notion the sport should have a national champion, and that the champion will be selected by opinion polls rather than in a playoff like every other sane sport, this facade of a single, monolithic "championship game" is not acceptable. If the voters still matter – and under this system, they most certainly do, and god bless the AP for opting out of it – then every game still matters, and no one should be cowed into casting a championship vote because some company calls its bowl game "the championship." It’s a blatantly fraudulent label. Any honest person will recognize in January that in all probability there will be more than two bizarrely-selected teams playing for the right to be voted number one, and anyone who doesn’t admit it is a shameless huckster, shill or boob. Or an LSU fan, since the farce seems to work for them.

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Hawaii Watch. It is the standing opinion of this blog that Hawaii has done nothing to warrant consideration for inclusion in anyone’s top 25, and cannot do anything to warrant consideration against its impeccably lame schedule until it beats Boise State and Washington to finish a perfect regular season. The Warriors hold at 16, moving in front of sliding Boston College, Michigan and UConn but leapt by USC, Virginia and Clemson; notably, this is only two spots in front of Boise State, up three from 21, and three spots ahead of Illinois. Hawaii does get its first bit of digital love: where the humans continue to slide UH up the ladder (11th in the Harris, 12th according to the Coaches), the only computer that’s ranked Hawaii in its top 25 to date is that of Peter Wolfe, and even that ranking was tossed as the "high" outlier of the six, so the Warriors’ official percentage of the machine vote has remained steady at 0.0000 percent. No longer: the green mark of shame appears this week in the final spot of Richard Billingsley’s top 25 while remaining at No. 12 in Wolfe’s algorithm, and the Billingsley vote bumps Hawaii’s computer score all the way to 0.010. Math, oh math, why hast thou forsaken us?