Regular readers (all four or five of you) should remember that the top three games discussed each week in this space are chosen with regard to BCS implications. Now that we're down to about a month of college football regular season, let's take a moment before starting to make a handy-dandy reference guide at how each team and conference's BCS prospects stack up. We'll start with the likely multi-bid leagues, who also include the top national title contenders, and work our way down.
Big 12: Almost certain for two bids. Texas is a title game lock if they win out, with whoever's standing from Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State looking strong for an at-large bid. If Texas Tech wins out, they might not pass Alabama and Penn State, but considering this would involve beating Texas and Oklahoma, they might. A three way tie at 7-1 in the Big 12 South would result in the highest coaches' poll team going, which would probably be Oklahoma. On the off chance the North champion wins the Big 12 title game, whoever of Oklahoma and Texas didn't play in that game will probably go.
SEC: Almost certain for two bids, also. This one's really simple. If Alabama goes undefeated, they'll go to the national championship. If they go undefeated until losing the SEC championship game but lose to the Florida/Georgia winner (hereafter FGW), they'll probably still get the at-large. If a one or two loss SEC West champ loses to FGW, then both FGW and FGL will go (unless FGL loses again in between). If the SEC West champ beats FGW, then FGL will probably jump them and go, which hardly seems fair. See? Simple.
Big Ten: Penn State needs to win their last three and get help, but I think as of right now they have a better chance of playing in the national title game than anyone. They only have to get past Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State to finish the regular season undefeated. If Texas or Alabama loses to any of Texas Tech/Big 12 Champ/LSU/Auburn/FGW/other, PSU is back in business. Also, Ohio State is probably win out and at-large. If they drop another game, the Big Ten might be out of luck.
Pac 10: USC is the clear conference favorite, and are probably second behind Oklahoma in the line of one loss teams. I don't think they should pass a potential one-loss Texas or Alabama, but they would. Oregon has an outside shot at an at-large birth, especially if USC were to sneak into the title game and the Rose Bowl wanted a Pac 10 replacement, but it's unlikely. This conference is really soft.
Big East/ACC: These conferences are disasters. There's not a BCS-worthy team in the bunch, which unfortunately won't keep them from sending two teams. The Big East is favoring West Virginia, Pitt and maybe Connecticut, with temporary favorite South Florida already 1-2 in conference. For the ACC, literally 10 of 12 teams are still in play for the conference title, with one of the other two being Clemson, who is the only team in the whole conference with BCS-level talent top to bottom. Terrible.
Others: There will almost certainly be someone from a minor conference involved in the title discussion. If the Utah/TCU winner wins out, they'll go. Boise State could go undefeated and miss out. Having beaten Oklahoma in the same situation two years ago, they'll complain, but maybe the WAC shouldn't suck so much. They could be bailed out if Utah beats TCU but drops the BYU finale. If all three stumble, Tulsa or, somehow, Ball State will sneak in. They're both way better than anyone they play, and could keep bubbling up the rankings if they keep winning.
If the season ended today, here's how the major bowls would most likely look:
Rose: USC-Penn State
Sugar: Georgia-West Virginia
Orange: Florida State-Ohio State
But it doesn't. So let's go to the games that can change it.
#1 Texas at #7 Texas Tech. We know all about Texas. They score points. Lots. Against everybody. And recently, they've always scored a lot of points against Texas Tech in particular, averaging 48 points in their last five matchups. The Red Raiders score in bunches too, most spectacularly recording touchdowns on eight straight drives (except one halted by halftime) to open the Kansas game last week. While Colt has been unstoppable, his last three opposite numbers have combined for 72% completions and 8 TDs against the Horns themselves, and Graham Harrell is more efficient then any of them. As usual, don't expect a lot of stops.
#6 Georgia vs. #8 Florida at Jacksonville. Two more teams I've said a lot about already. Since halftime of the Alabama game, the Bulldogs have been very good, holding down Tennessee and Vanderbilt with defense and putting up a whopping 52 points at LSU. For their own part, Florida has beaten Arkansas, LSU and Kentucky by 119 combined points since the Ole Miss loss. These teams also have a traditional rivalry beefed up by Georgia's full-team celebration early in a big win last year. Thanks to the talent and the emotion, this game, while featuring one-loss teams instead of undefeateds, will almost certainly be played at a higher level than Texas-Texas Tech.
West Virginia at #25 Connecticut. Yep, one of these games. Someone has to win the Big East, and this game's winner will be the new favorite. Both of these teams have been amazingly up and down. WVU was outgained by Syracuse in a 17-6 win; Connecticut both managed to beat Louisville while being nearly doubled up in yards and outgain North Carolina but lose 38-12. And that was in consecutive weeks. Bottom line: who knows which version of either of these teams will show up? And even if one brings their A-game, it might just lose it for them.
Predictions: Sorry, Colt. Texas Tech has the ability to execute on offense, the Longhorns are both mentally exhausted and have to feel like they're mostly out of the woods by now, and you know Mike Leach's team has saved every wrinkle they've ever practiced on both sides of the ball for just this occasion. It's time. In the SEC, you don't give up 500 yards and 38 points to LSU and expect to stop a rested, prepared and extremely motivated Florida the next week. It's that simple. For West Virginia, Noel Devine's Steve Slaton impression has been getting better by the week. They have no business losing to UConn.
Picks: Texas Tech (40/60), Florida (69/31), West Virginia (60/40)
Overall Adj. WPct: 681-356, .657
I didn't want to give away my picks on TT and Florida ahead of time, but here's my likeliest end of season scenario:
BCS: Penn State-Oklahoma
Sugar: Florida-West Virginia
Orange: Florida State-Ohio State