By Ray Hamill
With the release of the first BCS standings of the season on Sunday, three teams are primed to make a run at the national championship, with the rest of the chasing pack hoping at least two of them will slip up somewhere along the way.
The question now is whether No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State or No. 3 Oregon will slip up somewhere along the way.
If the history of sports has taught us anything, however, it’s that you should never take anything for granted, and the remainder of the schedule has some potential traps, particularly for Alabama and Oregon.
The Tide, in pursuit of a modern-record third straight national title and a fourth in five years, has two ranked teams remaining in the regular season – a deflated No. 13 LSU, which lost to Ole Miss on Saturday, as well as a surging No. 11 Auburn – and if Alabama wins those two, No. 5 Missouri or whoever comes out of a weakened SEC East awaits in the SEC Championship.
Aside from its notable troubles containing Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense, the Bama defense has been strong all season, holding five of its other six opponents to an average of less than five points a game.
And with an offense that makes few mistakes, it’s difficult to see anyone beating Alabama this side of a national championship showdown.
OREGON WILL BE TESTED
Oregon, meanwhile, plays three ranked teams the remainder of the way – No. 12 UCLA and No. 6 Stanford in the next two weeks, and in-state rivals No. 25 Oregon State in the final regular season matchup – and if the Ducks win those three, the winner of the Pac-12 South awaits, perhaps UCLA again.
The Ducks’ defense has shown some frailties against better opposition the past two weeks, although their offense has been so dominating it’s difficult to see anyone containing them enough, even with such a tough remaining schedule.
Playing Stanford at Palo Alto, however, is the big one and could well define their national title ambitions one way or the other, providing, of course, they don’t look past the Bruins.
Florida State, meanwhile, has perhaps the easiest run-in of the three, which could very well end up costing it a chance at a national title.
The Seminoles, who won a massive statement game against Clemson on Saturday (and I mean MASSIVE!), has just one ranked team remaining on the schedule – No. 7 Miami – as well as (presumably) the winner of the ACC Coastal Division in the ACC Championship, which will probably be No. 14 Virginia Tech.
But it’s difficult to see either of them stopping the Seminoles, who have put up more than 50 points in four of their six games, including twice against ranked opposition, and could be the most complete team of the top three.
But that schedule isn’t as tough as Oregon’s, which will reverse their current positions in the BCS standings if both win out.
BEST OF THE REST
Of the chasing pack, No. 4 Ohio State could also go unbeaten, but in the Big Ten that may not impress enough, while Stanford is perhaps the best placed of the one-loss teams, and if the Cardinal can close out unbeaten they’ll need just one of either Alabama or Florida State to lose in order to get right back in the national picture.
No. 5 Missouri is perhaps the most intriguing of the chasing pack. If the 7-0 Tigers close out unbeaten – they have very winnable games against No. 21 South Carolina and No. 16 Texas A&M – they will likely play Alabama in the SEC Championship, and a win there could catapult them into the title picture depending on other results.