Two-thirds of the 2012 season is in the books, and after Georgia won its second straight Cocktail Party to knock Florida into the field of one-loss teams, only four undefeated national title contenders remain: Oregon, Alabama, Kansas State, and Notre Dame. How should they be ranked?
Although change is forthcoming in 2014, we're still locked into the "two teams for the title" system, and while things might look much differently a month from now, were the season to end as it stands right now, two undefeated, highly impressive teams would be shut out of a title chance. But there's nothing we can do about that, so let's shelve that as a separate conversation and spend a few minutes looking at the question within the system still in place.
One might fairly ask if it even matters how these teams are ranked today. The answer is yes and no. On the one hand, with all four teams set to play at least four more games, the results may well render the question moot; if any two teams lose one or more games while the other two win out, there's not going to be anything to discuss a month from now (or there won't be quite the same thing to discuss, at least). In a similar vein, even if all four teams were to win out, the snapshot of how the race looks today is not the evaluation that will be made a month from now, when the teams' performances in their remaining games will factor into the analysis.
With that said, it can matter in one very important sense: many in the herd of voters who will ultimately decide this thing will -- yes, will -- evaluate the two teams that start in the top pair of slots differently than the two who begin from behind. With the frontrunners, the question in voters' minds will be, "Have they done anything to lose their spot?" With the teams ranked No. 3 and No. 4, however, the question shifts to a decidedly different evaluation: "Have they done enough to displace one of the top two?" This is pure foolishness, of course, but don't kid yourself: those who start in the top two will have an advantage.
The computers have a say in all this as well, of course, so I don't mean to oversimplify this, but where the margins between a national title shot and a consolation BCS Bowl potentially are so thin, neither can anyone say that it won't matter. It very well could.
But enough about the premise; let's get to the question at hand: how do you rank 'em? In this week's BCS Standings, the order shakes out (1) Alabama, (2) Kansas State, (3) Notre Dame, (4) Oregon, thanks to Alabama's heavy advantage at the top with human voters, and Oregon's lackluster standing among the computer rankings (presently 5th, still trailing one-loss Florida).
It's useful to look at how these teams compare across a few important metrics.
|Schedule||Points For||Points Allowed||Points Margin||Yards/Play||YPP Allowed||YPP Margin||Best W||2nd Best||3rd Best||4th Best|
|Alabama||26th||40.6||8.1||32.5||6.8||3.5||3.3||Miss St.||Ole Miss||n-Mich||@ Mizzou|
Ultimately, how you order the top four depends on what you want to emphasize, but I think the BCS Standings have it about right as of today, and that's how I ranked these four in my BlogPoll Ballot for this week. Alabama has been the best blend of dominance and resume, K-State and Notre Dame are just a smidge behind, and Oregon just needs some tougher competition.
On that last point, good news for Ducks fans: they'll get to make their case down the stretch, starting Saturday at USC, with #14 Stanford and #11 Oregon State waiting to close out the season. Alabama gets LSU on Saturday, and as reigning national champs, heavy frontrunner, and member of the SEC, there's exactly a 0% chance they will get jumped.
As for Kansas State, the Wildcats will be favored the rest of the way, but can't count any of their remaining opponents as a gimme. They do, however, get both Oklahoma State and Texas at home, with TCU and Baylor on the road in between. That just leaves Notre Dame, and as much as the Irish have done already, they now have to shift gears into "look good, win big" mode, with a trio of mediocre opponents upcoming (Pitt, BC, Wake), before getting to USC to close out the year. Given where the Irish are starting (No. 3, outside looking in), Notre Dame likely needs help. If they can stomach it, Irish fans would do well to throw their fingers into a V and root like hell for USC over Oregon on Saturday -- probably the single most helpful result remaining for the Irish, as it would both knock out Oregon and bolster USC.
How do you rank the top four? How do you think things will shake out? How do you want them to shake out?
My full Top 25 ballot for this week's BlogPoll can be viewed by clicking here.