Honestly, when you look through the extended BCS rankings from this first release of 2013, we find a half-dozen teams that are still technically alive. (It is instructive to remember that last year’s Cinderella, Northern Illinois, was ranked just 41st when the first standings came out in October 2012.)
This year, both NIU (18th) and Fresno State (17th) are in better position than any mid-major was at this point in 2012. The mayhem that ensued last weekend allowed both the Bulldogs and Huskies to continue their surge up the polls and in the eyes of the computers. Even more in their favor, though, is the fact that the American Athletic Conference is still technically considered a BCS conference for one season before dropping to the mid-major ranks with the start of the College Football Playoff in 2014.
It wasn’t essential; being just five and six spots respectively from an automatic invitation, neither Fresno nor NIU necessarily need to finish ahead of the champion of one or more of the six AQ conferences. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that UCF broke Louisville’s heart in a Friday-night thriller. The Cardinals opened the BCS campaign in 20th, two spots behind the Huskies. The Knights are in 23rd, Houston lost its first game of the year to BYU to drop to 34th, and tied with both of them is a 2-4 South Florida team that has inexplicably won both of its conference encounters to date.
Even more noteworthy is the fact that the Big Ten might plummet to those depths itself for a second straight season. Last year NIU benefited from the technicality that kept Ohio State out of the Big Ten Championship Game, allowing a 7-5 Wisconsin squad to knock off Nebraska and snatch the league’s trip to Pasadena. This year, only Ohio State is ranked ahead of the two BCS Busters in the top 20; the next closest competitor is Michigan at 22nd, with Nebraska at 24th, Wisconsin at 26th, and Michigan State in 27th. If the Buckeyes fail to claim the league crown, attrition in the Legends Division could leave the champ looking much like the Badgers did last season.
So even while Fresno State and Northern Illinois might not need to invoke the top-16 clause in the BCS statutes, other one- and two-loss hopefuls still ostensibly have plenty of opportunity to vault up and take advantage. There sits a cluster of four teams — Ball State, BYU, Boise State, and Louisiana-Lafayette — from 35 to 39 that could theoretically pull off a similar feat to NIU’s improbable bid to the Orange Bowl.
So thanks to another slew of upsets that once again reshuffled the Top 25 this week, there is plenty for mid-majors to play for in this final season of the Bowl Championship Series. 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/6-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 1st
- BCS RANKING: 17th (.3379)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. UNLV 38-14
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 26 at San Diego State
The Bulldogs finished up the first half of their season with a resounding 24-point victory over a surprisingly-decent UNLV squad. Derek Carr was 33-of-48 for 412 yards; all four of his touchdown passes were hauled in by Davonte Adams, the fleet receiver who took half of his eight catches for 221 yards to the house. But this weekend, more than just a sixth win transpired in favor of Fresno. The Mountain West suddenly looks a lot more winnable after events that happened in other league games — Wyoming dropped its third contest in the Border War, while Boise State beat Nevada but lost its starting quarterback (see more below). With San Diego State, Nevada, and San Jose State having down seasons, Fresno State can take control of the West Division for good this weekend. The main question after that is which limping Mountain squad will meet them for the MWC Championship Game. Regardless, if the Bulldogs go 12-0 as MWC champions they’ll be BCS bound.
2. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/7-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 2nd
- BCS RANKING: 18th (.3032)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win at Central Michigan 38-14
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 26 vs. Eastern Michigan
Jordan Lynch reminded us this weekend about what he can do with his feet on a football field. After the preseason Heisman dark-horse failed to match his absurd pace of 2012 through the first half of the season, people started to forget just how good the quarterback can be even as he was leading his team to a 6-0 start. Memories were jogged in Mount Pleasant as Lynch rushed for 312 yards and added 155 passing yards in a 38-14 defeat of a Chippewa team that had upset Ohio last weekend. As long as NIU can emerge from its next two tests, the Wednesday-night showdown against Ball State on November 13 should settle which of these two squads emerges from the MAC West and stays alive for a BCS berth. They’ll have a hard time passing Fresno if the Bulldogs keep winning, but the Huskies are already in far better position than they enjoyed leading up to the MAC Championship Game last season.
3. Ball State Cardinals (MAC/7-1)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 3rd
- BCS RANKING: 35th (.0012)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win at Western Michigan 38-17
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 26 at Akron
Ball State, the other contender from the MAC West, played at another of the three directional Michigan schools this weekend. They emerged from Kalamazoo much like the Huskies did, their seventh win of the season firmly in hand. If not for that seven-point loss at North Texas back in mid-September, the Cardinals would likely be sitting in the top 25, but a win over Northern Illinois on November 13 could put fresh memories in pollsters’ heads and slot them into prime position to cash in should Fresno State slip up. The blueprint is in place for Ball State to ease ahead of the AAC leader in the BCS standings with a 12-1 MAC championship… if any mid-major is positioned to steal a BCS berth with a blemish on its record, it is this Cardinals team.
4. BYU Cougars (IND/5-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 4th
- BCS RANKING: 36th (.0006)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win at Houston 47-46
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 25 vs. Boise State
Lurking in the wings is BYU, the top-rated of the two-loss teams. They went to Houston this weekend in a battle of the Cougars, dealing the home side its first defeat of the season. The next four weeks of the season will make or break BYU’s hopes of becoming the first mid-major to reach the BCS with two losses. They host Boise State this weekend, getting a beat-up Broncos team that currently leads the MWC Mountain Division, then play Midwest games at Wisconsin and Notre Dame (sandwiched around a date with I-AA Idaho State). If the Cougars reach their season finale at Nevada with the chance for a tenth victory, they’ll be garnering some serious BCS consideration given the quality of their schedule (24th hardest according to the Sagarin rankings). They could boast wins over five AQ teams by the end of the season as well as preeminent BCS Buster Boise State.
5. Boise State Broncos (MWC/5-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 5th
- BCS RANKING: 37th (.0003)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. Nevada 34-17
- NEXT GAME: Oct. 25 at BYU
Chris Petersen has his work cut out for him in Boise after a costly victory over Nevada. The Broncos won easily, 34-17, over a rival that has been a thorn in BSU’s side over the years. But they lost starting quarterback Joe Southwick (149-of-206, 1589 yards, 11 TD/5 INT) after he broke his ankle in the first quarter. It has been reported that he could return before the end of the season, but for now Petersen must turn to Grant Hedrick. The junior has thrown all of 57 passes in his college career, and now he’s about to get a start on the road in a BCS Buster elimination game at BYU. He filled in accurately for Southwick last week, going 18-of-21, but had no touchdowns, an interception, and racked up just 150 yards for the effort. His biggest danger isn’t through the air, though; he added 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. The offense will look different than it has in the past, but Petersen’s team still sits in the driver’s seat of the MWC Mountain Division and could still contend for bigger spoils.