Commentary

First time the BCS top three started outside the preseason top 10

Updated: October 20, 2008, 8:45 AM ET
By Brad Edwards | Special to ESPN.com

It's almost as if 2007 never ended.

The first eight weeks of the 2008 season have provided enough upsets and surprises that, for the first time in BCS history (since 1998), the top three teams in the initial BCS standings all came from outside of the AP's preseason top 10.

No. 1 Texas (7-0), No. 2 Alabama (7-0) and No. 3 Penn State (8-0) may be traditional college football powers, but they weren't considered by many people to be national title contenders before this season began. The Longhorns started 11th in the AP poll, the Crimson Tide were 24th, and the Nittany Lions began at No. 22.

The only other teams still unbeaten among the major conferences are No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Texas Tech, which started the season unranked and 12th, respectively, in the AP poll. The Cowboys didn't even appear on a single preseason ballot.

Past 5 Initial No. 1 BCS Teams

The past five initial No. 1 teams all reached the BCS National Championship Game.

YEAR INITIAL NO. 1 FINAL RESULT
2007 Ohio State BCS runner-up
2006 Ohio State BCS runner-up
2005 USC BCS runner-up
2004 USC BCS champion
2003 Oklahoma BCS runner-up
So if 2008 is merely an extension of 2007, we should all know better than to take this week's initial BCS standings too seriously. LSU was the highest-ranked one-loss team (fourth) in the initial standings last season, and it lost again in late November and still ended up in the championship game. South Florida and Boston College were both in the top three at this time last year, and neither was even in the top 12 of the final standings.

The only thing that seems certain about the national championship race is that Texas and Alabama should be safe to finish in the top two if they remain undefeated. Although Penn State has narrowed the gap on the Crimson Tide in recent weeks, the Nittany Lions have only one really big game left on their schedule, and it comes Saturday at No. 9 Ohio State (8 ET on ABC). That means PSU would just be playing out the Big Ten stretch in November, while Bama would still have a couple of high-profile games over the final weeks of the season.

The bottom line is that Alabama has an edge because the SEC is considered by most voters to be superior to the Big Ten, and some of that opinion stems from the results of the past two BCS Championship Games, unfair as that may be to Joe Paterno and his team.

And it's probably not a stretch to think that Oklahoma State or Texas Tech could eventually jump over Penn State if one of those teams beats Texas and finishes undefeated. It's tough to imagine any Big 12 team with a perfect record being denied a chance to play for all the BCS marbles.

But history suggests that time spent speculating about multiple undefeated teams is time wasted. In three or four weeks, we're more likely to be discussing which one-loss team is most deserving of reaching the national title game.

Initial BCS rankings of eventual champions

Only twice in 10 previous years of the BCS has the initial No. 1 team gone on to win the national championship (Florida State in 1999, USC in 2004)

YEAR BCS CHAMPION INITIAL BCS RANK
2007 LSU 4
2006 Florida 6
2005 Texas 2
2004 USC 1
2003 LSU 12
2002 Ohio State 6
2001 Miami 4
2000 Oklahoma 2
1999 Florida State 1
1998 Tennessee 3
At least for now, that discussion would revolve around No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 USC. They are strong enough to be ranked ahead of both Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, and at the moment, are a comfortable distance from the SEC's trio of one-loss powers: Georgia (seventh), Florida (10th) and LSU (13th).

Among those teams, USC seems to have the easiest path to finishing with just a single loss. The Trojans don't have a remaining opponent currently ranked in the top 34 of the AP poll (Arizona is 35th, Cal is 36th).

But even for USC, danger is lurking almost every week. As every college football fan should know by now, analyzing the BCS standings is a fluid endeavor.


Saturday was a rough day for the ACC -- at least for the conference's chances of landing an at-large berth in the BCS. All three of the league's ranked teams (Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest) lost on the road, thereby guaranteeing that only the eventual ACC champion now has a chance to enter the bowl season with fewer than two losses. Any team with at least nine wins and a final BCS ranking of 14th or better is eligible for an at-large berth, but it's looking unlikely that the ACC will have such a team worthy of consideration.

Remaining non-BCS unbeatens

Team Record *Remaining opp win %
11. Utah 8-0 .593
12. Boise State 6-0 .378
19. Tulsa 7-0 .345
20. Ball State 7-0 .438
* Records vs FBS competition
• There are four remaining unbeaten teams from the non-automatic-qualifying conferences (more popularly known as non-BCS). These teams -- No. 11 Utah (MWC), No. 12 Boise State (WAC), No. 19 Tulsa (C-USA) and No. 20 Ball State (MAC) -- are from four different leagues, so there's a chance they could all finish undefeated. The BCS guidelines state that the highest-ranked champion from these leagues will automatically earn an at-large berth into the BCS if it's in the top 12 of the final standings OR is in the top 16 and ranked ahead of the champion of one of the automatic-qualifying conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC).

The important thing to remember is that only one team can automatically qualify this way, so which non-BCS team is the leader of the pack could become very significant as the season progresses.

A few other BCS notes/trends to consider ...

• In each of the past nine seasons, at least one of the top two teams in the initial BCS standings has gone on to play in the championship game.

• Nineteen of the 20 teams to reach the BCS National Championship Game were ranked in the top six of the initial BCS standings. LSU won the 2003 title after being ranked 12th in the first standings.

• In the first 10 years of the BCS, at least one of the top three teams in the initial standings had also been ranked in the top three of the AP preseason poll. But none of this year's initial top three teams was even ranked in the top 10 of the AP preseason poll. Texas was 11th, Alabama was 24th and Penn State was 22nd.

• Alabama's No. 2 ranking is its best in the 11 years of the BCS standings. The Tide's previous high was No. 3 in November 2005.

• Oklahoma State's No. 6 ranking is by far its best in the BCS standings. The Cowboys had not previously been higher than 14th.

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.

• Analyzes college football and the BCS as part of ESPN's Stats & Information Group
• Analyst for both College GameDay on ESPN Radio and the ESPN College Football app