A couple of weeks ago, an analyst on ESPN remarked that, although at the time there were 4-5 teams with a legitimate case to play for a national title, the BCS usually takes care of itself, and that we would probably end up with a clear top 2 to play for the national title on January 6 in Pasadena. Well, thanks to some of the top teams taking care of business while others fell victim to upsets, it took care of itself, and now Florida State will play Auburn for the national championship.
1. Florida State (13-0).
The Seminoles looked like they could be in trouble for the first part of the game against Duke, as they struggled to a scoreless tie in the first quarter and were only ahead 17-0 at halftime, leaving Duke still in the game. They played a little better in the second half, eventually winning 45-7 for the ACC title. Florida State was in the first 3 BCS championship games, from 1998-2000, but this is the first time since then that they have played for a title (they won 1 out of those previous 3). So, as it turns out, Florida State will bookend the BCS era with appearances, against an SEC champion, in the championship game (in 1998, they lost 23-16 to Tennessee). A big key to the Seminoles success, QB Jameis Winston, is a finalist for the Heisman trophy, and is the overwhelming favorite to win it.
2. Auburn (12-1).
Auburn’s rushing attack on offense had perhaps its best performance yet on Saturday, scoring 59 points on a good Missouri defense in the SEC Championship game to win, 59-42. With the loss of Ohio State, who was previously ahead of the Tigers, Auburn moves to 2nd in the polls and, more importantly, the BCS standings. While a few may argue a case for other teams near the top to be #2, I firmly believe Auburn is the right call (Alabama is probably the better team, but Auburn beat them head-to-head, so they are wholly deserving of being ranked higher). Their only loss was back in September to a good LSU team, and Auburn is a much better team here at the end of the season than they were then. In addition, they are tied for the 2nd longest winning streak in the nation, behind only Florida State. Like Florida State, Auburn has a Heisman finalist in RB Tre Mason.
3. Alabama (11-1).
Most Alabama fans probably didn’t expect their team to be off on the first weekend in December, but after the loss to Auburn, that was the case, as it was the Tigers and not the Tide playing in the SEC Championship. QB AJ McCarron’s 36-3 career record as a starter will be rewarded with a trip to New York this week, as he too is a Heisman finalist. Alabama will travel to New Orleans on January 2 to play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. While a BCS bowl game is a reward for a great season, it certainly must feel like a letdown for the Tide to be playing the 11th ranked Sooners in the Superdome instead of playing Florida State in Pasadena.
4. Michigan State (12-1).
The Spartans defeated Ohio State, 34-24, to end the Buckeyes national title chances in the Big Ten Championship Game. While other teams around them (Stanford, Baylor) also picked up big wins over the weekend, I jumped Michigan State over them because they were the only team to beat a higher-ranked team in their game, and that team was ranked #2. They not only jumped from 10th to 4th in this ranking, but also in the BCS standings. Michigan State is tied with Auburn for the nation’s 2nd longest winning streak, with their only loss coming to Notre Dame on September 21. Their Big Ten title will be rewarded with a trip to “The Granddaddy Of Them All,” the Rose Bowl on January 1 against Stanford.
5. Stanford (11-2).
Out of the 4 “power conferences” with a conference championship game, the Pac-12’s title game is the only one played on the home field of the team with the better conference record. That meant the Stanford Cardinal had to go on the road for their conference championship game against Arizona State, so the fact that they beat the Sun Devils 38-14 is very impressive. The win marked the second time this season the Cardinal had beaten the Sun Devils, and also their 7th win against a ranked opponent. Losses to Utah and USC, both on the road, are what have Stanford playing Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, and not potentially competing for a national title. This will be Stanford’s 4th consecutive BCS bowl appearance, the longest active streak.
6. Baylor (11-1).
When Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Baylor-Texas game was suddenly a de facto championship game in the Big 12. When Baylor won, 30-10, it put the Bears in the Fiesta Bowl after their first conference title since 1980 (in the now-defunct Southwest Conference), and clinched their first 11-win season ever. Adding to the emotion of their accomplishments was the fact that Saturday’s game was the last at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco. Some would put Baylor higher, but I like them here due to a slightly weaker schedule than the other 1-loss teams, and the blowout loss to Oklahoma State just 2 weeks ago. Baylor will cap off their best season in school history with a trip to the Fiesta Bowl to play a UCF squad that is also having their best season in school history; there can, unfortunately, be only 1 storybook ending.
7. Ohio State (12-1).
The Buckeyes had their shot at a national title, but it ended Saturday with a 10-point loss to Michigan State. The loss was Urban Meyer’s first loss in 2 years as Ohio State’s head coach (he had previously been 24-0). Ohio State was the lowest ranked of the undefeated teams from the “Power 6” for most of the season, so now it’s appropriate they are the lowest ranked 1-loss team from the “Power 6”, excluding UCF and Louisville from the AAC (I guess we should start saying the “Power 5”). This is because of a weaker schedule, and because some games were closer than expected. The Buckeyes have only defeated 2 ranked opponents, and one of those was ranked at the time but went on to win only 1 conference game. Ohio State’s consolation after falling short of a national title game appearance is a trip to the Orange Bowl to play Clemson. (History reminder: the last time Clemson and Ohio State played, it was in the 1978 Gator Bowl, and was Woody Hayes’ last game after he punched Clemson player Charlie Bauman)
8. South Carolina (10-2).
South Carolina stays 8th in these rankings after a week off, coming off their in-state rivalry game victory over Clemson. They actually dropped a spot in the BCS, being jumped by Michigan State while failing to pass Missouri. I have them ahead of Missouri, however, because both teams lost twice, but the Gamecocks won head-to-head. While Auburn-Alabama and Auburn-Georgia are on everyone’s short lists of games of the year, the South Carolina-Missouri double overtime game also ranks right up there on mine. The Gamecocks couldn’t get into the BCS due to a rule that only allows 2 bids per conference (no such rule will exist in the playoff system next year, including bids to the “Big 6” bowls), but still get a quality bid with a trip to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, where they will play the Wisconsin Badgers. In an unusual spread, the Badgers have opened as 2-point favorites, although they have 1 more loss than the Gamecocks and come from what appears to be a weaker conference.
9. Missouri (11-2).
Missouri made their first trip to the SEC Championship Game on Saturday in just their 2nd season in the SEC. The trip, however, was not a happy one, as the Tigers defense allowed 59 points to Auburn’s rushing attack, and the Tigers offense just couldn’t keep up, scoring just 42 (it’s not everyday I put the words “just” and “42” together when talking about football). The loss was Missouri’s first loss in regulation, with the other loss coming in double overtime to South Carolina. Nevertheless, Missouri has had an outstanding year, and will be rewarded by playing Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
10. Clemson (10-2).
Clemson moves back into the top-10 in these rankings, after spending just 1 week all season outside of them, following their 31-17 loss to South Carolina. Clemson should still be considered among the nation’s elite, because their only losses this year are to teams currently ranked 1st and 9th in the BCS. One negative point people find when talking about this team, and perhaps the reason they are down at 13th in the BCS, is the fact that they only have 1 win over a ranked opponent, and it was back on August 31 when they beat Georgia. The Tigers will have an opportunity to change that when they play Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
Also considered: Oregon (10-2), Oklahoma (10-2), Oklahoma State (10-2), UCF (11-1), Louisville (11-1), LSU (9-3), UCLA (9-3).
Fell from rankings: Oklahoma State (10-2, lost to Oklahoma 33-24)
As for a breakdown of some good bowl matchups, stay tuned.
Note: The remaining Heisman finalists are (in alphabetical order) Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, and Boston College RB Andre Williams. This is the first time since 1993 that no one from the Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac 12 was a finalist.