While Carolina fans were focused on aircraft carriers and other trappings of basketball this weekend, college football continued its march to another non-particularly exciting postseason, as two teams, Stanford and Boise State, fell from the ranks of the unbeatens. This left the BCS rankings in a bit of an upheaval, with the end result that Clemson and Virginia Tech, with one loss apiece, are seventh and eighth, respectively. Most of the attention is focused at the op of the rankings, but some people are beginning to ask – is this the year the ACC finally gets two teams in the BCS?
At first glance, the odds don't look too bad. There are ten spots available, and two conferences that are having trouble even getting a single team ranked. With Boise State no longer undefeated, it's chances of getting a bid look pretty slim right now, and there's not a lot of other choices available. Of course, should Tech and Clemson both win out, they'll meet in Charlotte leaving at least one of them as a two-loss team, so what we really have to ask ourselves is, how many one-loss teams will be left, and will a bowl be likely to choose a second ACC team?
It's probably easiest to just go down the selection criteria and see how things would play out. The national championship game will almost certainly be between the SEC and Big XII champions. Even if Arkansas beats LSU and Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, that will probably still hold, but it's not critical for what we're interested in. With those two spots taken, the Orange will take the ACC champion (we'll assume that's Clemson) the Rose will pit Oregon against Michigan State. The next two choices will go to the Sugar and Fiesta Bowls to replace the two teams in the national championship game, and they will almost certainly pick the second highest BCS teams from the SEC and Big XII.
Now here's where things get interesting. There are three spots remaining; one bowl will have to pick the Big East champion, but they'll almost certainly be pick last. And sadly, the bowl with the last spot is the Orange, meaning unless something is worked out behind the scenes, we'll get another boring ACC-Big East bowl game. This leaves the Fiesta, and then the Sugar, to choose the last two teams, and the important thing is they can't choose teams from the SEC and the Big XII. Only two teams can make the BCS from any one conference, which rules out a host of teams currently in the Top 15 of the standings. (The fifth-highest ranked SEC team in the BCS standings is one spot above the best Big Ten team, for instance.) Here are the likely suspects:
Houston (Now 10-0, Likely 12-0): The Cougars wIll almost certainly be an automatic qualifier by virtue of being in the Top 12 – they're currently eleventh, and won't drop as long as they win. There's a bit of controversy here as well, as one-loss Boise State, who everyone's written off, is still above them in the BCS rankings, and could steal the automatic qualifying spot away from them. The Fiesta would in theory get this team, but might work out something with the Sugar if it makes both sides happy.
Stanford (Now 9-1, Likely 11-1): The Cardinal's two games remaining are Cal and Notre Dame, which they should win easily. Stanford is one game below Virginia Tech at present, and are liked more by the voters than the computers. They don't have the problem of a conference championship either; unless Oregon loses twice (and plummets out of BCS contention) they won't make the game.They're the favorite for the tenth and final spot.
Boise State (Now 8-1, Likely 11-1): See above with Houston. The Broncos can still automatically qualify if the computers continue to give them an edge over Houston. (And look for a small controversy to happen if they do.)
VIrginia Tech (Now 9-1, Likely 11-2): And now you see the problem. There will most likely be three one-loss or fewer teams above the loser of the ACC conference championship, leaving no chance of a second BCS bid. For that to change, Stanford would definitely have to drop a second game, and a loss by one of the other two teams above wouldn't hurt either. I suppose one of the Big XII teams could self-destruct and open something up, but that's not very likely. Oklahoma losing a couple of games is the best bet there.
Nebraska (Now 8-2, Possibly 10-2): I throw the Cornhuskers in here as a dark horse. They're currently one spot behind Michigan State in the BCS rankings, and if both teams win out, might slip into the top 15. They also wouldn't have to play a conference championship game, and under certain circumstances – say, an opportunity to pit Nebraska against Oklahoma in a bowl game – might get the nod over a Virginia Tech even if other losses go the Hokies' way.
The long and short of it is that it's very unlikely a second ACC team is going to make the cut this season, and despite the conference being relatively strong in the BCS standings this season, will be be doomed to a single lackluster game against a Big East opponent. Again. No, the story lines are going to be whether Houston gets screwed and how much of a fuss a team like Arkansas will put up since the rules don't allow for a third SEC team.
It's a hell of a way to run a postseason. What's wrong with a simple playoff, again?
(And of course, UNC can end all of this speculation very easily on Thursday by just beating Virginia Tech. Here's hoping the ten day rest allowed them time to get their heads on straight.)