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BCS Bustin': The Week in Realpolitik

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It has no bearing on the BCS, but check out the "Also Receiving Votes" segment of the latest AP poll: somebody voted for Northern Iowa, the first FCS vote to take advantage of the smaller division’s inclusion since Appalachian State picked up five points in Week Three. What, has he been reading Kenneth Massey or something? And what about Nebraska-Omaha, huh, buddy? Not undefeated enough for ya? This I-AA, Northern Iowan bias sickens me.

Updated BCS Standings, 11-18
Rank Team BCS Pts. Harris Coaches Comp. Avg.
1. LSU .990 1 1 1
2. Kansas .949 2 2 2
3. West Virginia .888 T-3 3 T-3
4. Missouri .871 T-3 4 6
5. Ohio State .860 5 5 T-3
6. Arizona State .802 6 6 T-3
7. Georgia .744 7 7 7
8. Virginia Tech .680 8 8 8
9. Oregon .627 10 10 9
10. Oklahoma .582 9 9 13

Left for dead last week, West Virginia jumped Missouri in both human polls, in three of the four computer polls that weren’t thrown out and in the poll at large. This seems rather bizarre, as the Mountaineers’ win over Cincinnati Saturday was their first of the season over a ranked team (unless you count the Harris Poll, where the Bearcats fall just outside of the rankings this week). I’m not sure that means the Mountaineers have taken over any driver’s seat for the next two weeks, though:

BCS Top Six: Remaining Schedules (Points Back)
LSU (-) Kansas (-) West Va. (– .061)
Arkansas vs. Missouri Connecticut
SEC Champ. Big 12 Champ. Pittsburgh
Missouri (– .079) Ohio State (– .087) Ariz. State (– .137)
vs. Kansas Southern Cal
Big 12 Champ. Arizona

There’s one dead obvious, completely non-controversial scenario – LSU and Kansas win out, which we’ll just note here as "status quo" and leave at that – and it’s still a widely held assumption that Missouri will be number two if the Tigers emerge as Big 12 Champion with just the one loss (this is, of course, the only way Mizzou can win the Big 12). This is less obvious than it would be if Oklahoma was still playing for the same prize, though, not only because the Sooners have an excellent chance of knocking the North champion out of the second spot it’s likely to occupy next week, but also because a potential win over OU may have been devalued enough in Lubbock Saturday to keep West Virginia in the mix. The Mountaineers may not be able to catch Kansas if the Jayhawks’ run takes them all the way to 13-0, but the Mountaineers might have the caché to hold off Missouri; the Harris poll is split on WVU and Mizzou, but the coaches and especially the computers are West Virginia backers first here. It’s not a foregone conclusion anymore that a one-loss Big 12 Champion will assume the second spot without a major challenge, and the Mountaineers’ jump this week actually makes Missouri the challenger.

In the Tigers’ favor, of course, is their closing schedule, which is more than impressive enough to make up the difference, especially in the computer polls, which are currently very down on Mizzou but should pick up with added value in the SOS. If it comes down to Missouri and West Virginia for the second position (again, assuming 2-0 finishes by LSU and Kansas equal automatic bids), wins over Kansas and Oklahoma/Texas are likely to push the Tigers across the board back in front of WVU, whose UConn-Pittsburgh finish is a microcosm of the Mountaineers’ thoroughly mediocre schedule – at some point, West Virginia will have to answer for the absence of a top 20 opponent, and the week after its nearest competition has defeated two top ten teams in a row is not the ideal time. For now, the ball is still in the Kansas-Missouri winner’s court.

Re: the impending West Virginia-Ohio State imbroglio if Oklahoma (or Texas) wins the Big 12 Championship or LSU loses one of its last two, I don’t see much of a debate – not formulaicly, anyway, unless human voters who currently have the Mountaineers two spots in front of the Buckeyes have no problem with rank hypocrisy after WVU wins its last two while Ohio State looks on. Never rule out hypocrisy and/or inscrutable logic in matters of polling, but this is a different leapfrog scenario than Florida’s hopping Michigan last year, when the Gators moved ahead of the idle Wolverines by winning the SEC Championship; again, I don’t know what it is exactly that is so much more appealing to voters about West Virginia, but Ohio State literally can’t do anything to close the relatively wide gap if the Mountaineers keep winning. Compared to ‘Idle’ rather than the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma, UConn is a good enough opponent that a win is a win is a win over the Huskies (i.e. voters will not significantly punish a close game to reward a team that didn’t play at all), and Pittsburgh, well, the Panthers have been reamed by White and Slaton the last two years in truly merciless, hira basami fashion, so there’s no reason to believe Pitt might suddenly set off alarms by taking its tormenters to the limit.

At least the Devils are feeling loved at home.
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Realistically, Ohio State’s inclusion in the equation for the top two is symbolic, to show that a lot of people recognize the Buckeyes’ merit and right to be a part of the picture down the stretch, that they’re victims in large part of timing as much as anything else. But when the smoke clears, the only way Ohio State is going to make up more than two-and-a-halfhundredths of a point without Kansas, West Virginia and Missouri all losing is an unpredecented media blitz intentionally designed to sway enough voters to forcibly push OSU into one of the top two spots. Without a convincing game to back up the campaign, though, a la Florida’s SEC Championship last year or Nebraska’s Orange Bowl rout in 1997, this is not going to happen. The Buckeyes are going to the Rose Bowl.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, if I was in charge of PR in Columbus, the drumbeat would be "We’d rather be in the Rose Bowl," and that wouldn’t be much of a spin. I’ve said this before, and it’s becoming more clear: if Arizona State can survive Thursday against USC, there will be nothing less championship-worthy about an Ohio State-ASU Granddaddy than a matchup of another pair of one-loss teams in New Orleans, and the winner will have no less right to a poll championship in the AP and elsewhere than any potential winner of the nominal title game – with the possible exception of Kansas. The Jayhawks, by virtue of finishing 14-0 with three straight major victories to close the year, are the only team that can still claim in any serious way to rise above the pack. But if the team emerging from the Superdome is LSU, Missouri or West Virginia, the Disney/Fox/AllState-sponsored distinction will be painfully arbitrary, in fitting with the whimsical selection process.

The situation now is such that, if Arizona State wins its last two while Missouri defeats Kansas and wins the Big 12 Championship, it’s very possible the current top six will all enter the bowl season with one loss apiece, ensuring at least two and up to four of them will finish that way after the bowls, and that at least two and up to four then will be about equally deserving of a number one vote. There is no decent way to distinguish between the mob now except hashing over barely significant minutiae and rank propaganda – Arizona State, for example, is tied for third according to the computers, ahead of Missouri, and the Devils are not even properly in the end game discussion (behind two-loss Georgia in the AP!) at the moment despite a strength of schedule universally aknowledged (that is, by all six BCS algorithms) as stronger than all four of the teams immediately in front them – and there will be no proper way to distinguish between them after the bowls. It’s a royal mess, only waiting to get messier.

Face it, fans: these teams are all the same. There is no wrong choice, and that means none of them are right, either.

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Hawaii Watch: It is the standing position of this blog that Hawaii has done nothing to warrant consideration in any poll until it beats Boise State and Washington to complete an undefeated regular season, an opinion that holds fast after the Warriors’ last second win at Nevada Friday night with Colt Brennan on the bench. That win was impressive enough to push UH in front of Virginia in the BCS, thanks largely to its improved standings in the computers: two weeks ago, the Warriors appeared in the top 25 of only one algorithm, that of Peter Wolfe, and that was dropped from their final tally as the high score. Wolfe’s points are still dropped, but Hawaii now appears at the bottom of every other computer poll except Kenneth Massey’s (also dropped as the low score), giving UH by far its highest computer score of the season, 0.160, and keeping it on track for an automatic BCS bid. Three teams is this week’s poll have lower computer scores: No. 21 Wisconsin (0.110), No. 25 BYU (0.060) and No. 19 Boise State (0.030).