Commentary

Weighing the odds of BCS contenders

Updated: October 15, 2007, 5:43 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

The first BCS standings were released Sunday, and with the way the college football season has played out, they're sure to change between now and Dec. 2, when the final standings will determine the two teams that will play in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 in New Orleans.

With seven weeks of the regular season and conference championship games remaining, here's a closer look at a dozen teams in contention to reach the BCS National Championship Game in the Louisiana Superdome:

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are No. 1 in both the Harris Interactive and USA Today coaches' poll, not so much for what they have done but for what everyone else hasn't done. Ohio State's most impressive victories to date are winning at Washington 33-14 on Sept. 15 and at Purdue 23-7 on Oct. 6. The Buckeyes have beaten only two Division I-A teams with winning records (Purdue and Northwestern), but each of their remaining five opponents is currently 5-2. With only one remaining opponent ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings (No. 25 Michigan), Ohio State will probably have to finish unbeaten to play in the BCS Championship Game.
Predicted finish: 11-1
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 6-1

2. South Florida: The six computer polls used in the BCS formula love the Bulls. South Florida is No. 1 in five of the computer polls and No. 2 in the other one. The Bulls have two impressive victories on their résumé (26-23 at Auburn on Sept. 8 and 21-13 over West Virginia on Sept. 28) and the opportunity for two more (at Rutgers on Thursday night and against Cincinnati on Nov. 3). Like Ohio State, though, South Florida would probably have to finish with an unblemished record to reach the BCS title game because it plays in the Big East and is relatively new to the big stage.
Predicted finish: 11-1
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 6-1

3. Boston College: Unless the Eagles can finish unbeaten, they'll have a tough time reaching the BCS title game. The ACC isn't strong enough to compensate for a nonconference schedule that included Division I-AA UMass and three Division I-A teams with nonwinning records. The Eagles beat defending ACC champion Wake Forest 38-28 in their opener and won 24-10 at Georgia Tech. The heart of the schedule is still to come: at No. 11 Virginia Tech on Oct. 25 and against Florida State on Nov. 3, then road games at Maryland and Clemson. Boston College's home finale is against Miami on Nov. 24.
Predicted finish: 11-1
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 8-1

4. LSU: The Tigers' championship hopes took a big hit after their 43-37 loss in triple overtime at Kentucky. The loss didn't knock LSU completely out of the BCS title chase, but consecutive physically demanding games seemed to take a toll. The Tigers are still in control in the SEC West, but must beat Auburn in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night to stay in front. LSU still faces two potentially difficult road games -- at Alabama (where it will face former coach Nick Saban) on Nov. 3 and at Ole Miss on Nov. 17. The Tigers finish the season against Arkansas on Nov. 23.
Predicted finish: 10-2
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 10-1

5. Oklahoma: If the Sooners can win their final five games, they seem to be in the best position among the one-loss teams. Oklahoma's two toughest games are in the rearview mirror: 28-21 over Texas and 41-31 over Missouri. But three potential stumbling blocks remain: against Texas A&M on Nov. 3, at Texas Tech on Nov. 17 and against Oklahoma State on Nov. 24. Missouri or unbeaten Kansas might await the Sooners in the Big 12 championship game. As well as redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Bradford has played, how will he handle the pressure down the stretch?
Predicted finish: 11-1
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 6-1

6. South Carolina: The Gamecocks, perhaps more than any other team, have benefited from the rash of upsets across the country. Steve Spurrier is probably still a year or two away from turning South Carolina into a great football team, but the Gamecocks are ahead of schedule and in control in the SEC East. South Carolina already has beaten Georgia on the road and Kentucky at home, but the meat of what might be the country's toughest schedule remains. After hosting Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Gamecocks close the season with consecutive road games at Tennessee and Arkansas, then home games against Florida and rival Clemson.
Predicted finish: 9-3
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 15-1

7. Kentucky: The Wildcats made a miraculous recovery from an ugly 38-23 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 4 to upset No. 1 LSU on Saturday night. The real challenge for coach Rich Brooks is to keep his team focused for Saturday's game against Florida, which will have had two weeks to prepare for the Wildcats. If Kentucky beats the Gators, the Wildcats will be heavy favorites in games against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Kentucky closes the season at Georgia and against Tennessee on Nov. 24.
Predicted finish: 10-2
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 12-1

8. Arizona State: Is it time to include the Sun Devils among the legitimate national championship contenders? Not quite yet. Arizona State has beaten seven opponents with a combined record of 19-27. Its best victories to date are 33-14 over Colorado and 44-32 over Oregon State, both at home. But the Sun Devils will be tested during their final five games of the season. They finish the season against Cal on Oct. 27, followed by consecutive road games at Oregon and UCLA, then home games against USC and Arizona.
Predicted finish: 9-3
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 15-1

9. West Virginia: The Mountaineers' national title hopes were probably all but dashed with their 21-13 loss at South Florida on Sept. 28. There are no mulligans for Big East teams, especially when Louisville is struggling so much. South Florida would have to lose twice in Big East play for West Virginia to win the conference title, and the Mountaineers must still play at Rutgers on Oct. 27.
Predicted finish: 11-1
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 12-1

10. Oregon: The Ducks might be playing as well as any team in the country. In fact, if not for a fluke fumble through the end zone in the final seconds of a 31-24 loss to California on Sept. 28, the Ducks probably would be sitting among the top three teams in the BCS standings. Oregon won at Michigan 39-7 on Sept. 8, a victory that looks better and better each week, as the Wolverines continue to regroup. After playing at Washington on Saturday, the Ducks can make a statement in consecutive home games against USC and Arizona State.
Predicted finish: 11-1
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 8-1

11. Virginia Tech: Even if the Hokies run the table and finish 11-1, which is looking more and more realistic if they can beat Boston College on Nov. 25, they'd still have to receive a lot of help in reaching the BCS title game. Voters will have a difficult time forgetting Tech's ugly 48-7 loss at LSU on Sept. 8, a game in which the Hokies looked completely overwhelmed. They have won only one game of consequence since: 41-23 at Clemson on Oct. 6. Boston College is the only ranked team among the Hokies' final five regular-season opponents.
Predicted finish: 11-1
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 10-1

12. California: Will the Bears get the benefit of doubt from voters because starting quarterback Nate Longshore was injured and didn't play in their 31-28 loss to Oregon State on Saturday? California still should have won the game, or at least forced overtime, but now the Bears have to regroup quickly. The Bears play four of their last six games on the road, including an Oct. 27 date at Arizona State. USC goes to Berkeley on Nov. 10.
Predicted finish: 10-2
Odds of reaching BCS Championship Game: 10-1

On (and Off) the Mark

On the Mark

Tashard Choice
Joel Auerbach/US PresswireTashard Choice carried the rushing load for Georgia Tech against Miami.
Eight 200-yard runners, the most on any Saturday in college football history. Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice wore down Miami's defense with 204 yards on 37 carries in a 17-14 victory at the Orange Bowl (he became the first player in 10 years to run for more than 200 yards against the Hurricanes). Oklahoma State's Dantrell Savage ran 25 times for 212 yards and one touchdown in a 45-14 annihilation at Nebraska. Buffalo's James Starks had 244 yards and three scores on 35 carries in a 43-33 upset of Toledo. Houston's Anthony Alridge ran 24 times for 205 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-48 win over Rice. Air Force's Chad Hall had 256 yards and four scores on 31 carries in a 45-21 win at Colorado State (the Falcons threw only five passes in the game). Michigan State's Javon Ringer ran 29 times for 203 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-27 blowout of Indiana. Arkansas State's Reggie Arnold had 225 yards and one score on 24 attempts in a 52-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Tulane's Matt Forte ran 32 times for 209 yards and one score in a 26-21 loss at UAB.

(Off) the Mark
Arkansas. The Hogs are 3-3, 0-3 in SEC play. Even with running backs Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, the Razorbacks ran for only 67 yards in a 9-7 loss to Auburn on Saturday. Jones and McFadden were limited to a combined 85 yards on the ground, and the Tigers held Arkansas 271 yards below its rushing average.

Hogs coach Houston Nutt is feeling the heat after his team lost for the sixth time in its last nine games.

"The contract [Arkansas officials] have given me, it's real clear: It says 2012," Nutt told reporters in a conference call on Sunday. "It doesn't say you're gone [in] 2007, 2008. It says 2012. ... Last year, we were getting all the bounces. I just keep waiting for it to turn. I really believe it's going to turn and those balls are going to start bouncing in our favor."

On the Mark

Graham Harrell
AP Photo/LM OteroGraham Harrell continues to pile up impressive numbers at Texas Tech.
Lone Star State quarterbacks. A half-dozen quarterbacks from Texas schools combined to put up unbelievable numbers on Saturday. Texas' Colt McCoy, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, TCU's Andy Dalton and UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe combined to complete 73 percent of their passes for 1,476 yards with 12 touchdowns. McCoy completed 23 of 30 passes for 298 yards with four touchdowns in the Longhorns' 56-3 demolition of Iowa State. Harrell continued to put up record-setting statistics, throwing for 425 yards and three scores on 30-for-37 passing in a 35-7 win over Texas A&M. Dalton had 344 passing yards and two touchdowns on 23-for-34 passing in a 38-36 win at Stanford. Vittatoe completed 38 of 55 passes for 409 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 45-42 loss at East Carolina. Houston's Blake Joseph and Case Keenum combined to complete 26 of 36 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns in a 56-48 win over Rice, and Owls quarterback Chase Clement was 24-for-44 for 355 yards with three touchdowns in the same game.

(Off) the Mark
Along with Nutt, these coaches are feeling a lot of pressure: Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione, Nebraska's Bill Callahan, Washington State's Bill Doba, Syracuse's Greg Robinson, Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt, Marshall's Mark Snyder, SMU's Phil Bennett and Colorado State's Sonny Lubick.

On the Mark
Sure-handed receivers. Houston's Donnie Avery had 13 catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Rice, the fourth-highest receiving total in Division I-A history. Alabama's D.J. Hall had 11 catches for 140 yards in a 27-24 win at Ole Miss. Tennessee's Lucas Taylor had 11 receptions for 186 yards and one touchdown in a 33-21 win at Mississippi State. Kentucky's Steve Johnson had seven catches for 134 yards and one score in the 43-37 upset in triple overtime over No. 1 LSU. Oregon's Jaison Williams had four catches for 108 yards and one touchdown in a 53-7 blowout of Washington State. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree had eight catches for 170 yards in the win over Texas A&M. Michigan State's Devin Thomas caught 13 passes for 148 yards and one touchdown in the victory over Indiana. California's Lavelle Hawkins had nine receptions for 192 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 loss to Oregon State. Rutgers' Kenny Britt caught six passes for 176 yards and one touchdown in a 38-14 win at Syracuse. Hawaii's Ryan Grice-Mullen had 14 receptions for 175 yards and one score in a 42-35 win in overtime at San Jose State on Friday night.

(Off) the Mark
Southern behavior. After Alabama's 27-24 win at Ole Miss ended in controversy, Rebels fans littered the stadium with bottles, cups and even a pair of high-heeled shoes. At least three fans were arrested for throwing objects at the Crimson Tide as they left the field. Ole Miss fans were upset after officials overturned a 41-yard pass to Shay Hodge in the final seconds, which would have given the Rebels the ball at Alabama's 4-yard line with seven seconds left to play. But replay official Doyle Jackson ruled Hodge stepped out of bounds on his own, then re-entered the field to make the acrobatic catch.

"If they want to be classless, that's their business," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told reporters after the game. "They shouldn't be throwing stuff. Our fans shouldn't be throwing stuff."

Alabama fans bombarded Georgia's players with litter while the Bulldogs celebrated a 26-23 win in overtime at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 22.

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt shoved some of his players while they celebrated at midfield after Brandon Coutu kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to beat Vanderbilt 20-17 on Saturday. Richt was upset the players were jumping on the Vanderbilt logo. He was probably more peeved about another lackluster effort.

"I was pushing them off the doggone thing and told them it was bunch of baloney and we are not going to do that," Richt said.

On the Mark
More upsets. Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher (990 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions the past two games, each an overtime victory). Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (166 passing yards and two touchdowns, 122 rushing yards and one score in a 48-45 win in overtime at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night). Wake Forest tailback Josh Adams (140 rushing yards and one touchdown in a 24-21 win over Florida State on Thursday night). South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe (212 passing yards, two touchdowns and 100 rushing yards, one score in a 64-12 blowout of Central Florida). Michigan tailback Mike Hart (102 yards, two touchdowns in a 48-21 win over Purdue). Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon's redemption. Louisville's redemption. Rutgers tailback Ray Rice (196 rushing yards, three touchdowns at Syracuse). Ohio State receiver Brian Hartline (90-yard punt return for a score and receiving touchdown in a 48-3 blowout of Kent State). Georgia Tech's defense. South Florida's defense. Houston's offense (300-yard receiver and 200-yard rusher, a first in college football). Iowa beats a Big Ten foe. Georgia beats an SEC East foe. Penn State's big win. Kentucky's Big Blue Miracle. Wildcats quarterback Andre' Woodson. Another big kick from Virginia's Chris Gould. Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon. Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour (251 passing yards, two touchdowns and 100 rushing yards, four scores in a 47-23 win over Army). North Texas' first win. Auburn's defense. Georgia's Knowshon Moreno (157 yards versus Vanderbilt). Oklahoma's Chris Brown (three touchdowns in a 41-31 win over Missouri). Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard (110 yards, two touchdowns in upset of Cal). Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher (230 passing yards, one touchdown and 180 rushing yards and one score in a 21-7 win at Memphis). Four overtimes and 1,266 yards at Boise State.

(Off) the Mark
Nebraska's defense. California's ending. USC's offense. Arkansas' offense. Miami's offense. Mike Hart's injury. Blown call at Wake Forest. Pac-10 Conference's national championship hopes. Winless teams (Colorado State, Florida International, Marshall). Hawaii's BCS hopes. Off-field troubles at Penn State.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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