Last week the teams were separated by .0506 in the standings. This week, Fresno State has opened up a lead of .0812. Fresno State is in position to think about passing Oklahoma State and UCLA for a top-12 spot. Northern Illinois is in danger of being surpassed by Michigan State and UCF teams that are hot on their heels.
Part of this can be attributed to the fact that NIU was idle this weekend, enjoying a bye week ahead of their Wednesday-night battle with Ball State that will almost certainly decide the MAC West champion. They will surely get a bump in the computer rankings if they can defeat the Cardinals, and the prime-time weeknight slot allows for every pollster to direct his or her eyeballs at the MACtion.
Another part of the separation can be attributed to the continued perception among both computers and human pollsters that the Mountain West is a deeper, tougher conference to navigate than the MAC. One has a cute nickname for its weeknight thrillers and the Cinderella story by NIU last season. The other has the cachet of having previously spawned Utah and TCU from among its ranks; and while both schools are now gone to the Pac-12 and Big 12 respectively, their achievements linger in human minds as to what is possible from a Mountain West school.
At this point any loss is going to doom a team, so anyone hoping to stay alive in the BCS race must win out from here. Teams with two losses that keep winning are in better position than either Fresno or NIU if either loses, the old adage that losing early is better for your chances than losing late proving prescient in this situation.
With the Bulldogs firmly positioned ahead of them and opening up a gap, NIU is probably not positioned well enough to force the BCS to take both teams (a la TCU and Boise State in 2009). So now the battle to be the last BCS Buster in history comes down to these nuances of perception. With only a half-dozen teams still alive after Week 11, let’s see how perception will affect the final six standing in this week’s BCS Buster Power Rankings…
1. Fresno State Bulldogs (MWC/9-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 1st
- BCS RANKING: 14th (.4317)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win at Wyoming
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 23 vs. New Mexico
A month ago, Saturday’s trip to Laramie was penciled in as one of Fresno State’s biggest potential roadblocks in its path to a perfect season. But once Wyoming took a nosedive in October, the game lost a bit of its luster. Still, slotted as ESPN2’s nightcap coverage, the game afforded the Bulldogs a chance to make an emphatic statement to fend off what seemed to be a hard-charging Northern Illinois squad.
Wyoming scored the first 10 points of the game and went into the locker room at halftime only down four, but any chance of a Pokes’ upset was rendered a mirage by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Derek Carr and the Bulldogs would put up 34 points in the second half, and the defense shut out Brett Smith and the Cowboys after the intermission, giving Fresno State the blowout victory they needed to make a serious push up the BCS standings. Now just two spots away from a top-12 position that would guarantee a bid no matter what happens in the AAC or any other AQ conference, the Bulldogs would have to lose both of their final games against New Mexico and San Jose State to not host the Mountain West Championship Game.
2. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/9-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 2nd
- BCS RANKING: 15th (.3505)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 13 vs. Ball State
3. Ball State Cardinals (MAC/9-1)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 3rd
- BCS RANKING: 31st (.0077)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. Central Michigan 44-24
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 13 at Northern Illinois
Fire up the MACtion! A Wednesday-night showdown between the Huskies and the Cardinals will leave one of these two teams effectively out of the BCS hunt. Northern Illinois is already in position to take advantage of the same subclause in the BCS selection procedures that got the team to the Orange Bowl last year. Unfortunately for NIU, though, the Huskies continue to fall further behind Fresno State in terms of their BCS percentage share.
A win against a Ball State team that is steadily climbing toward the top 25 would do much to improve Northern Illinois’ standing among the computer algorithms. Both teams currently have a .450 share from the computers, but even a significant boost there might not be enough for NIU unless either Fresno State loses or the human voters start to find themselves more impressed with the Huskies than the Bulldogs.
Ball State, meanwhile, has been waiting for this moment of truth. Other than their early loss on the road to a North Texas squad that has continued to play spoiler through the season, the Cardinals have met every challenger head-on to reach this week’s school-night showcase with a chance to steal away the MAC West as well as NIU’s BCS Buster thunder.
With Fresno taking a bye week this weekend, this showdown is the marquee matchup between non-AQ schools. Only one school will emerge with the Buster dream still alive.
4. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (SUN/7-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 5th
- BCS RANKING: 35th (0.0016)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. Troy 41-36
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 16 at Georgia State
While losses in the first two weeks of the season left Louisiana-Lafayette on the side of the BCS Buster road, the Ragin’ Cajuns have picked themselves up and fought their way back into the mix. After BYU dropped its third game of the season, ULL steps into the position of being the best-placed two-loss mid-major still in the hunt for an elusive big-bowl spot. Even though Troy outgained them offensively by nearly 100 yards, the Cajuns still managed to pull off a five-point victory.
It was the first time that Louisiana had failed to win by double digits since a trip to Akron in mid-September. With three games left, the Ragin’ Cajuns are in position for the first outright Sun Belt title in school history — needing only to beat Georgia State, rival Louisiana-Monroe, and wily South Alabama to sweep their conference schedule. If they pull off wins in the last three contests, the first ever ten-win season in school history will be ULL’s to savor before they even play in a bowl game. It probably won’t be a BCS bowl barring some serious chaos ensuing, but they’ve still got plenty to play for in terms of achieving unprecedented success in Lafayette.
5. East Carolina Pirates (C-USA/7-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 6th
- BCS RANKING: not ranked
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. Tulsa 58-24
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 16 vs. UAB
In regulation the Pirates are currently 7-1-1; yet because overtime came to college football in 1996, ECU’s overtime loss to Tulane coupled with their earlier home defeat against Virginia Tech has been enough to keep them mired in the lower half of the BCS Buster Standings instead of the top half. Because the western half of Conference USA has kicked the bucket in terms of mid-major relevancy in 2013, the road gets even steeper for the Pirates as they endure the Sisyphean task of trying to claim a BCS berth. Like Louisiana-Lafayette they will need a lot of chaos to transpire to have the slimmest of shots. The fact that they’re currently without either human or computer love is another damning statistic that says a BCS bowl is unlikely to be in ECU’s immediate future. What they do still have on the table is the school’s first C-USA championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
6. Buffalo Bulls (MAC/7-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 7th
- BCS RANKING: 42nd (.0002)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. Ohio 30-3
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 12 at Toledo
Buffalo didn’t merely demolish Ohio when they squared off in a Tuesday-night spectacle last week. No, the Bulls demoralized Tyler Tettleton and crew, allowing the offense nary a chance to find space or rhythm. When Buffalo had the ball, it was more often than not the Branden Oliver show. Toting the rock 34 times, the tailback racked up 249 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the victory. Now that they have the Bobcats behind them, Buffalo needs to get past road games against Toledo and Miami of Ohio to set up a de facto division final against Bowling Green. Unless either the Bulls or the Falcons take a loss prior to that November 29 showdown, the contest should determine which of the two teams gets to play NIU or Ball State in the MAC championship.
Out of the Race
BYU Cougars (IND/6-3)
- BCS RANKING: 43th (.0000)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: loss at Wisconsin 27-17
There was simply nothing that BYU could do on Saturday to counter the home team on their trip to Madison. One minute they were on the cusp of the top 25, the next staring up from the very bottom of the BCS standings. On one hand, the fact that Sagarin’s computers still find the Cougars to be a top-20 team is a testament to their ability to schedule tougher opponents now that they have embraced football independence. On the other hand, the fact remains that BYU has been exposed and will no longer factor into the final few weeks of the BCS Buster race.
Ohio Bobcats (MAC/6-3)
- BCS RANKING: not ranked
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: loss at Buffalo 30-3
Just like last year, Ohio looked like a contender to bust the BCS in September and even through October. And just like last year, the Bobcats have bombed out in the final month when the competition has increased and the stakes have risen. Frank Solich has the team positioned for a fifth straight season with eight or more victories, yet it isn’t consistency but greatness that will be the next step for Ohio. After losing this season, it will get tougher in the future when Tyler Tettleton, Beau Blankenship and the rest of the offensive talent has cycled out of town.