Two teams are already in position to snag a lucrative berth. Fresno State, projected this week at #19 in the BCS standings, needs merely for a team like Louisville or Baylor or Ohio State to bomb out and take a loss. The way football is looking this season, we very well might see a non-AQ team invoke the top-16 stipulation that put Northern Illinois into the Orange Bowl last season.
Speaking of NIU, they survived yet again to improve to 6-0 on the season. Moving up to #22 in the BCS projections, they’re just three spots behind the Bulldogs. Of course, if Fresno State keeps winning the Huskies will continue to be looking up at the MWC front-runner. But a single stumble by the Bulldogs would position the other undefeated canines to leap into pole position.
Amazingly, beyond those two schools there is only one other non-AQ team that has a single loss. All other contenders are sporting at least two defeats, meaning that the odds are becoming increasingly stacked against anyone else being in contention to bust the BCS by the time December rolls around.
Then again, there are only a dozen undefeated AQ schools at this point… and several of them will have to play one another before the season winds down, meaning that we conceivably could have a scenario where no BCS-conference teams emerge unblemished. In that instance, two losses might not be the death sentence that we’ve long expected for BCS Buster hopefuls.
But first we must determine the pecking order for these two-loss teams. The top trio should surprise nobody this week; but just as upsets reshuffled the Top 25 this week, so too have they impacted where non-AQ teams stand. Let’s look at which squads are in the hunt and which conferences are best-postured for a BCS breakthrough in this week’s BCS Buster Power Rankings…
1. Fresno State Bulldogs (MWC/5-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 1st
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 19 vs. UNLV
Fresno State was the team who got to sit on the sidelines this week, taking advantage of the chaos in the rest of college football to bump four spots up the AP poll and three spots in the coaches poll. Their test next Saturday against UNLV suddenly looks like one of the two biggest challenges of their remaining schedule; the other is their trip to Wyoming on November 9. Considering that the are just seven spots removed from a guaranteed BCS berth, the Bulldogs merely need to take care of business against the Rebels, the Cowboys, and the rest of their Mountain West schedule. Even though they will not be able to replay their game against Colorado, Fresno is in pole position to become the final BCS Buster if they reach the MWC Championship Game 11-0 and beat whoever comes out of the Mountain Division.
2. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/6-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 2nd
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. Akron 27-20
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 19 at Central Michigan
It was ugly as hell, but the Huskies survived Akron’s visit to DeKalb on Saturday. Jordan Lynch has hardly looked like a world-beater this year — the quarterback was just 16-of-35 passing for 220 yards and a touchdown. He also added 83 rushing yards and accounted for another touchdown on the ground, but for the season his numbers have looked dismal compared to last season. Despite that fact, though, NIU is undefeated halfway through the season, and they have a top-20 offense despite Lynch’s regression. The defense is the only true thing standing in the way of the Huskies’ path toward a repeat BCS Buster berth… Northern Illinois’ defensive unit rates just 108th in yards allowed and 77th in points given up. If that isn’t merely a factor of time of possession and quality opponents, NIU might fall by the wayside in the second half of the season.
3. Ball State Cardinals (MAC/6-1)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 6th
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. Kent State 27-24
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 19 at Western Michigan
Ball State dealt with quite the scare this weekend against Kent State. The Cardinals were forced to rally from a four-point deficit after Kent State had taken the lead earlier in the fourth quarter, and it wasn’t even guaranteed when Keith Wenning hit Willie Snead for a seven-yard touchdown pass with 1:29 remaining. We’ll see soon enough how overtime treated a few contenders, but suffice it to say that Ball State remains Northern Illinois’ greatest challenger largely because they decided to avoid the craps shoot that is overtime.Their position, even after remaining just one of three one-loss-or-better teams in the mid-major ranks, is in large part dependent on either NIU being upset in MAC play or the Cardinals knocking off the Huskies in the league championship game.
4. BYU Cougars (IND/4-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 7th
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. Georgia Tech 38-20
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 19 at Houston
Once again, this team is fighting against public perception — look no further than the two human polls, which offer points to a Texas team that the Cougars demolished but leaves BYU completely unranked. According to the Sagarin rankings, the Cougars have played the 25th-hardest schedule to date. And they still have road games against currently-undefeated Houston, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame, along with a Friday-night date with Boise State at the end of October. The Cougars should be ranked by the humans if they get past their eponymous opponents this Saturday, and they’ve got plenty of room to climb given the competition left on their schedule. If anything, it is that schedule which positions BYU better than any other two-loss mid-major to bust the BCS.
5. Boise State Broncos (MWC/4-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 9th
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win at Utah State 34-23
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 19 vs. Nevada
What works in Boise State’s favor is the underlying perceptions about the Cinderella story that have developed and matured over the past decade. The Broncos have played just the 83rd-rated schedule in the country, but the fact that they have been consistently elite for so many years plays right to their favor. The offense under Joe Southwick has improved into a top-25 unit; the defense; usually the underrated hallmark of Chris Petersen’s teams, has stumbled this season. This week they run into an old nemesis, Nevada; the Wolf Pack were the team that kept the Broncos from playing in a BCS bowl in 2010. Get by Nevada, and BYU awaits. They’ll also have to play Wyoming, their November 16 showdown against the Cowboys likely to determine the division title in the first year of expanded MWC play. Get through all that unscathed, win the league title, and there’s still hope for the Broncos.