After a week down in Queens and Long Island, NY, the Jug is back online. Some real devastation out there folks, and if nothing else it served as a reminder to support your local Red Cross. Making the Big 12 connection, that ugly monstrosity known as the new Yankee Stadium came out unscathed, the subway system is being brought back online at a remarkable clip, airports are no longer covered in water, and fans should have no issues getting to and from the Pinstripe Bowl. This knowledge may comfort Iowa State and West Virginia fans, but football in New York should be the last thing on K-State’s mind. Rather, the goal is to bask in the sun of the Fiesta – or possibly even hoist the crystal football pictured above. The Wildcats have essentially locked up the Big 12′s automatic BCS bowl berth, but what are the odds of this team playing in the big one? The answer rests in the circuit boards of America’s most divisive computers – and the direction of a football’s bounce.
Assuming no Alabama loss from here to January, consider the Tide an easy call to be in the championship game. Voters are afraid to vote anyone else their number one, and their victory over LSU swung some of the #1 rankings K-State was receiving from the computers over to Alabama. And while it looked like the SEC East might field a contender this year, South Carolina lost Marcus Lattimore (the conference’s best running back since… Trent Richardson) and Georgia, the likely representative, just doesn’t offer the talent of Florida. The Gator defense had the potential to make the SEC championship interesting, but Georgia isn’t on the same plane.
That leaves three undefeateds – Notre Dame, Oregon, and K-State – to battle it out for the remaining spot. So who’s a computer to love? The easy answer is “not Notre Dame.” Give Notre Dame’s schedule makers a hand – this slate looked absolutely crushing back in August with Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Stanford, Miami, BYU, and USC all on the schedule. Ten weeks in, the slate looks decidedly less impressive. And while no one is disputing how good Notre Dame looked in Norman, the team looked equally pedestrian at home against Pitt, needing triple overtime and a missed Pitt field goal to beat a team that LOST TO AN FCS SCHOOL earlier this year. Notre Dame needed overtime to beat Stanford as well in a game ending very controversially. The Fighting Irish have managed to earn the second best computer average behind Alabama, but voters remain unimpressed. And with 6-3 USC the only decent team left on the schedule, there’s little chance of the Irish increasing their standing in anyone’s eyes. Notre Dame only plays for the national championship if Oregon and K-State falter. Additionally, the USC game is in Los Angeles, and I believe the Trojans have the talent to earn a victory here and knock Notre Dame out of the running.
Oregon faces the toughest remaining schedule, with games against #14 Stanford and #11 Oregon State left on the schedule, plus the Pac 12 championship (likely against UCLA or USC, who meet head-to-head next weekend). The computers hate Oregon right now, giving the Ducks an average rank of 4.75 (5th place). However, it’s unlikely Oregon will stop receiving #2 votes from human polls unless Oregon has to eek out a couple overtime 23-20 victories that expose its offense. Unfortunately, the Pac 12 doesn’t have a defense good enough to pull this off (with the possible exception of Oregon). Go down to the Swamp in Florida, have tea with the Mad Hatter in Louisiana, or visit Manhattan and the story may be different. It’s not out west. The Jug likes Oregon’s chances of winning out, although three ranked teams remain on the schedule. Could this strength of schedule boost push the Ducks over K-State?
K-State does currently own the #2 BCS ranking, and its path forward has only one real road bump – although that bump is looking increasingly dangerous. Following games at a middling TCU and lowly Baylor, Texas comes to town. The Longhorns have quietly amassed a 7-2 record while climbing back into the nation’s top 20. They wiped the floor with Texas Tech and may be better than we originally thought. Plus they’ve been playing with a team seemingly comprised of 100 percent freshmen – and young teams typically demonstrate the most improvement over the course of a season (assuming they don’t implode). Of more concern than future opponents is the health of Collin Klein. Coach Snyder has remained unsurprisingly helpful in assisting the public with diagnosing Klein’s condition, who injured his hand last Saturday and never returned to the game. Then on Sunday it was reported he had a head injury. Snyder has said nothing more than that Klein will probably play. (Maybe tomorrow we’ll discover he actually suffered a dislocated sacrum but still intends to play on Saturday.) All the same, this team seems destined to finish the regular season undefeated.
In sum: K-State’s average human poll rank is three, and Oregon’s is two. K-State’s average computer rank is 2.5. Oregon’s is 4.75. So the voters like Oregon and the computers like K-State, which averages to K-State at #2 and Oregon at #3. This should come as no surprise as the computers have historically rated Big 12 teams higher than human polls (they often rate the Big 12 as a top-to-bottom stronger conference than the SEC as well). So where do we identify a difference maker? The same place presidential candidates turn when fielding questions about the embargo on Cuba: the state of Florida. Florida University finishes out its season at #10 Florida State. Florida, with one loss, still maintains a higher computer ranking than Oregon. If Florida is able to defeat the Seminoles, they stand a good chance of finishing ahead of Oregon in the final computer standings. If not, undefeated Oregon will jump a two-loss Gator team in the computers, and the human element could put them over K-State. I give Oregon a 10 percent chance of losing a game this before bowl season (remember, they still have three top 20 teams left on the schedule), but that’s about it. It looks extremely possible that a tussle in Tussle in Tallahassee could determine the national championship contenders.