Commentary

Who can run through an open door?

Updated: November 2, 2009, 4:40 PM ET
By Brad Edwards | Special to ESPN.com

We enter the month of November with seven teams in the FBS still unbeaten, and the possibility that as many as six could finish the regular season that way.

The top three teams -- Florida, Texas and Alabama -- all have the luxury of knowing they can reach the BCS Championship Game by winning out, but the outlook isn't nearly so good for Iowa, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa is in the best position to move into the title game if one of the big three falters.

To realistically get into the national title hunt, they need either an improbable loss by Texas, or for Florida and Alabama both to lose. Sounds like a desperate position, but this is college football. Stranger things have happened.

So, let's play the hypothetical game. What happens if an upset or two opens the door for others to make a run at the BCS title?

Unlike the top three, those next four teams are bunched so tightly in the polls (and have been for the past three weeks) that the computers could ultimately be the determining factor in separating them.

Clearly, the computer advantage among this group goes to Iowa. The Hawkeyes are No. 2 in the computer element this week and figure to finish no worse than that if they win out.

Fortunately for Iowa, the computers are not allowed to process margin of victory, and they don't have eyes to see the team's ugly performance in the first three quarters of last week's game against Indiana. That, along with an impressive group of road wins (Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State) that could be strengthened even further by an upcoming trip to Ohio State, has the Hawkeyes in prime position within the second tier of contenders.

Plus, there's no place for Iowa to go but up in the polls right now. If some of the many skeptical voters can be sold on the Hawkeyes over the next three weeks, even greater movement within the BCS is possible.

The next-best-positioned team is Cincinnati. The Bearcats have a looming visit to Pittsburgh that, like Iowa's trip to Ohio State, could have major BCS implications. Because that game will be played on Dec. 5, it has the opportunity to provide a great final impression on voters in addition to being a nice boost for UC's computer ratings.

Cincy's next two opponents, Connecticut and West Virginia, are no slouches either. But within the computers, they will likely do no more for the Bearcats than just offset the weakness of the following opponent, Illinois.

Cincinnati could be ranked as high as fourth in the computer element of the final BCS standings, which means the Bearcats would have a chance to leap Iowa at the end of the season if they can give voters (especially the coaches) a reason to move them up in the polls.

TCU already has a slight advantage on Boise State in the computers, and both teams have a fairly weak remaining schedule, with the exception of TCU's game against Utah. That gives the Horned Frogs all they should need to stay ahead of the Broncos in the computer element and potentially increase their lead there.

The only thing keeping Boise's computer numbers respectable at this point is the win over Oregon. If the Ducks happen to drop a game down the stretch, it could end any chance BSU has of finishing ahead of TCU in the final BCS standings.

On the other hand, if Oregon wins out, that 19-8 win the Broncos had over the Ducks on the season's opening night could very well be the second-most-impressive victory in college football, behind only the SEC championship game winner. That won't provide any more of a boost for Boise State in the computers, but it could be a big deal to the voters at season's end.

In the final analysis, though, TCU and Boise probably need losses by Texas, Iowa and Cincinnati if they want to make a serious run at the BCS title.


It was very interesting to see that the voting coaches were either extremely impressed with Iowa's comeback from near disaster against Indiana on Saturday or they saw only the 42-24 final score. After coming much closer to losing at home than the scoreboard indicated, the Hawkeyes went from 40 points back of Cincinnati in the coaches' poll last week to 11 points ahead of the Bearcats this week.

Ohio State
Penn State

And although Iowa didn't jump any other unbeatens in the new Harris poll, it did gain a second first-place vote after that performance.

Very interesting, indeed.

The Hawkeyes host Northwestern on Saturday but will also have an interest in the Big Ten's premier game of the day, Ohio State at Penn State. If Iowa fans aren't sure whom to root for in that contest, here's one way of looking at it.

A win by Ohio State would set up a battle for the conference title between the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes the next weekend, which would give more voters a reason to watch Iowa and perhaps get a better late-season impression of the team.

But it's also possible that an undefeated season in the Big Ten might get enough respect from the voters, regardless of whether the Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes with the title on the line.

The best-case scenario for Iowa's computer ratings is for Penn State to finish 11-1 with only a loss to the Hawkeyes. And a PSU win over OSU might also take some air out of the Buckeyes and make them less inspired when Iowa comes to town.

If you ask me, the Hawks should be rooting for the Lions this weekend.

Brad Edwards coordinates the college football research for ESPN and is an analyst for "College GameDay" on ESPN Radio each Saturday throughout the season.

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