The Huskies have reversed fortunes, and now it is the Bulldogs that are left to sweat out the results of the last two weeks of the season. Both squads will play in conference championship games, meaning there are two more opportunities to impress pollsters. Unfortunately for Fresno, the humans might not be enough this year.
While the coaches and the voters in the Harris poll have been bullish on the Bulldogs, ranking the Mountain West leader 13th in both polls after the 13th weekend of the 2013 season, it is the third pillar of the BCS standings that are starting to pull back on the leash.
NIU was ranked 17th in the Harris poll and 20th by the coaches, and yet they are now .0496 ahead of Fresno State where they were .0405 behind them last week. They gained a full nine hundred points in the BCS coefficient thanks not to the flesh-and-blood ballot casters but the jerry-rigged microchips of the six computer rankings. Of the half-dozen algorithms used in the BCS rankings, not one has the Huskies ranked lower than 10th. As a result, Northern Illinois is ranked 7th in the computer composite.
Fresno State, on the other hand, has seen its computer ranking take a nosedive over the past three weeks. After Week 11 games were tabulated, the Bulldogs were in a tie for 14th with a composite computer score of 0.450. A week later, they had dropped to 16th and 0.410 respectively. After the 13th week, they have plummeted further, now ranked 17th with an average down to 0.330.
Will San Jose State and either Utah State or Boise State be enough to boost Fresno’s standing among the computers? With NIU slated to play Western Michigan in their regular season finale and a 9-3 MAC East opponent in the conference championship (either Buffalo or Bowling Green, both currently 8-3 and set to play one another in a winner-take-all showdown on Friday), there might not be enough meat left on the Bulldogs’ schedule to jump back ahead.
I said last week that a BCS Buster candidacy this season would be contingent on which team impresses coaches and Harris voters more over the remainder of the season. But while Fresno State is still four to seven spots ahead of the Huskies in the human polls, the chasm that has widened between the two teams in the computer standings could ultimately play the largest role in deciding whether it is NIU or Fresno that becomes the final BCS Buster in the history of the series. Let’s analyze each team’s position further in this week’s BCS Buster Power Rankings…
1. Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC/10-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 2nd
- BCS RANKING: 14th (.4620)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win at Toledo 35-17
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 26 vs. Western Michigan
The Huskies avoided any potential upset on their trip to Toledo last week, and now all that stands between them and an undefeated regular season is a 1-10 Western Michigan squad that has allowed exactly 200 more points than it has scored in its first 11 games.
For most BCS Buster hopefuls, an opponent this putrid in the home finale would be a detriment. For NIU, though, the fact that they have built up such a cushion in the BCS computers means that they can afford to play their version of Alabama vs. Chattanooga before the MAC Championship Game.
What might be most remarkable is how quickly they have climbed up the BCS standings. Now it is they and not Fresno that is on the cusp of top-12 status, and unless they lose the odds have become quite good that the Huskies will be playing in their second straight BCS bowl game.
2. Fresno State Bulldogs (MWC/10-0)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 1st
- BCS RANKING: 16th (.4124)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win vs. New Mexico 69-28
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 29 at San Jose State
Style points cannot save the Bulldogs at this point, because they already have human sentiment on their side — and, as of now, human sentiment is not enough to negate the significant disparity in the computers. After looking like the front-runner for most of the season, Fresno State is now left to hope for an upset to the Huskies if they hope to play in the Fiesta Bowl.
Unfortunately for Fresno, this has been an especially down year for the Mountain West. Normally there would be a wider gulf between the MWC and the MAC in the computer conference rankings, but teams like Bowling Green, Buffalo and Ball State have had strong seasons while Boise State, Utah State, Wyoming and San Diego State have all had down seasons.
Barring a wholly-improbable upset by Western Michigan or a slightly-more-probable upset in the MAC Championship Game, Fresno State will be headed only as far east as Las Vegas for their bowl game. Without a Husky defeat, Glendale and the Fiesta Bowl is probably out of the cards for Tim DeRuyter’s crew.
3. East Carolina Pirates (C-USA/9-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 4th
- BCS RANKING: 31st (0.0042)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: win at NC State 42-28
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 29 at Marshall
For the first time in East Carolina history, the Pirates knocked off both North Carolina and NC State in out-of-conference play in the same season. All told, ECU finished its 2013 non-conference schedule 2-1 against ACC competition, the only blemish a 15-10 defeat at home to Virginia Tech. If not for the rise of Duke this season, the Pirates would be the undisputed best team in the state of North Carolina in 2013.
But a BCS berth is out of reach for this mid-major dreamer, not because of that loss to the Hokies but because of a later loss to Tulane in overtime that dealt the Pirates a second defeat. A spot in the C-USA Championship Game is not yet assured, as the Pirates must travel to Huntington to face Marshall in a winner-takes-all battle for the East Division crown.
While ECU is playing for a spot in the Liberty Bowl rather than a BCS bowl, it in no way diminishes the successes they have amassed this season. 2013 will go down as a historic season for the Pirates, likely their first season with double-digit wins since an 11-1 campaign in 1991 when they were still an independent program.
4. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (SUN/8-2)
- LAST WEEK’S RANKING: 3rd
- BCS RANKING: 35th (0.0018)
- THIS WEEK’S RESULT: idle
- NEXT GAME: Nov. 30 vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Since losing their first two games of the season in Fayetteville and Manhattan, the Ragin’ Cajuns have rattled off eight straight wins to put themselves in reach of the first outright Sun Belt title in school history. They continue to gain slight momentum in the BCS standings, but they’re now the lowest-ranked of the mid-major teams after East Carolina leaped over them with the win over NC State.
They’ll get to play rival Louisiana-Monroe at home the Saturday after Thanksgiving before taking on Sun Belt newcomer South Alabama in the season finale. A win over the Warhawks would give the Cajuns their third straight nine-win season with two games left to play, and put them in position for the first 10-win season in school history. It ain’t the BCS, but it’d be one hell of a consolation to put up the best season in the long history of ULL football.
- UCF is no longer a mid-major team — well, at least for one season, until the AAC is relegated back to status among the Lesser Five of the FBS in 2014 — but they still deserve a mention in this column for several reasons. First, the Knights are two wins away from playing in the first BCS game in school history, in position to upset the established front-runners of the AAC after realigning with the rebranded league last offseason. For the Orlando school, which only moved up to the I-A in 1996, it would be the high-water mark in the university’s football history. Yet while they are creating their own destiny, they are simultaneously opening the door for either NIU or Fresno State to be guaranteed a BCS berth. Currently ranked 19th in the BCS standings, the Knights are five spots behind the Huskies and three spots behind the Bulldogs. While Northern Illinois could likely move into the top-12 and render subclause 3(b) in the BCS selection procedures moot, the fact that the AAC continues to lag behind the MWC and MAC bodes well for the probability of seeing one final BCS Buster before the series goes goodbye.
- Like UCF and Boise State before them, we have seen several I-AA transplants become budding juggernauts at the I-A/FBS level over the past decade. The next team on the block might be Georgia Southern, which waltzed into the Swamp this weekend and knocked off Florida for the school’s first-ever win over an FBS program. A six-time I-AA/FCS national champion, Georgia Southern upset the Gators by gashing them on the ground; the Eagles put up over 400 rushing yards on Florida without completing a single pass in the 26-20 upset. The Statesboro-based school will make its own transition to the FBS level next season when they join the Sun Belt along with another former FCS national champion, Appalachian State.