Don't celebrate your place in the standings too early.
For the second straight week, we were guaranteed to have a shake-up in the BCS standings this week. Two undefeated teams -- Stanford and Boise State -- lost to conference-mates at home. The latter could tumble out of the BCS altogether, leaving their spot to Houston.
So what would happen when the rankings came out this week? No. 7 Notre Dame? No. 13 Mark May? No. 24 Auburn? Except for the last one, no, and the changes that did take place were relatively tame.
2 Oklahoma State
8 Virginia Tech
10 Boise State
Full rankings here. (Don't try to figure them out for too long; your head might actually explode.)
As with most of the weeks when there's a bit of a shake-up in the standings, there's a lot of important information packed into those rankings. We'll get to some of it in a minute, but there's something we as an SEC blog need to address as conventional wisdom is passing the facts: Arkansas is not in control of its own destiny.
Yes, I know, Arkansas can still defeat LSU and force a three-way tie. And wouldn't that mean that the tie goes to the highest ranked team in the BCS team, which could very well be Arkansas if they actually defeat the Bayou Bengals?
Not exactly. For everyone that's talked about the final tiebreaker rule for SEC divisions, very few of them seem to have read it -- something yours truly finally got around to doing today. It says:
8. The tied team with the highest ranking in the Bowl Championship Series Standings following the last weekend of regular-season games shall be the divisional representative in the SEC Championship Game, unless the second of the tied teams is ranked within five-or-fewer places of the highest ranked tied team. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the SEC Championship Game. [Emphasis added]
What does all that gobbledygook mean as a practical matter? Let's say Arkansas defeats LSU and Alabama wins out. Because voters seem to think it's perfectly okay to drop a team more because it loses later in the season, LSU could very well drop below both Arkansas and Alabama. Arkansas fans, in fact, seem to be counting on just that scenario under a three-way tie. And let's say that the rankings the next week look something like this:
1 Oklahoma State
In that case, the rules tell us to go to the head-to-head results. In that case, Arkansas loses. Alabama goes to the SEC Championship Game from the West and, if they beat Georgia or long-shot South Carolina as soundly as most expect them to, likely move back past Arkansas and into the BCS National Championship Game. As long as Alabama's win doesn't do too much to boost up LSU's computer ranking and no other bizarreness takes place, the Hogs can enjoy another trip to the Sugar Bowl. (At least they won't face any shouldn't-be-eligible players this time.)
So, Arkansas really needs Alabama to lose another game and fall out of the Top 5, and preferably the Top 7 just to be safe. Since a loss to Georgia Southern in Tuscaloosa seems rather unlikely, that means the Hogs need to become Auburn fans for the next couple of weeks.
Next important point: Could Boise State still get into the BCS ahead of Houston? Probably not. The BCS selection rules give the "automatic non-AQ spot" to the highest-ranked conference champion. Unless TCU loses to both Colorado State and UNLV in its last two games, then Boise will not be the champions of the Mountain West Conference, and currently No. 11 Houston will still get in.
Last bit of significance: The odds of a rematch between LSU and Alabama if Oklahoma State loses -- and I don't think the Cowboys will drop a game, but that's beside the point right now -- are still relatively high. Stanford and Boise losing obviously helps out a lot. But to be absolutely sure, I want to see what happens after the Tide plays Georgia Southern. If their strength of schedule continues to hold up to Oregon and Oklahoma, I think it might do that regardless of what else happens. If Auburn remains ranked.
What? Auburn's ranked? According to the BCS standings, they are indeed. You can blame the computers for that one. While Auburn gets 16 points from the Harris Poll voters, they aren't ranked in either human poll. The computers, though, love the Tigers -- only the Colley Matrix has them outside the Top 25. Jeff Sagarin has them showing up at 15th. Fortunately, that result is dropped from the rankings before they're calculated.
Now, let's go through our bowl-seeding exercise for this week. Again, this is meant to be a snapshot and not a projection; it will change week-to-week as the rankings do. Conference championships and head-to-head are decided by the highest BCS rankings, regardless of what I think will happen. The one exception is Cincinnati, because they're in the lead in the Big East right now and no conference teams are ranked.
BCS National Championship Game: LSU vs. Oklahoma State
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Michigan State
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Houston
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Cincinnati
The first two are self-explanatory; the Fiesta then takes Oklahoma to fill its Big 12 spot while the Sugar Bowl takes Alabama as the SEC replacement. Stanford makes the most sense for the Fiesta after that, and Houston fans would probably travel well to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. And I become a Cincinnati fan for the night, because the Bearcats have to go somewhere and the Orange Bowl selects last.
I like a lot of these games, though as much as I like Mark Dantonio I'm not sure Michigan State would be in that game for much more than a quarter. Oklahoma-Stanford could be the NFL Draft Bowl if Landry Jones decided to skip his senior year, while Alabama-Houston gives us a sequel of Alabama-Utah with what will hopefully be a better ending. Clemson-Cincinnati could get very, very ugly very, very early.
Richard Billingsley is actually relatively well-behaved this week, though he tragically overranks Wisconsin, still joins me in hating Texas more than the rest of the computers, and is skeptical of Kansas State and Georgia while being really, really high on Michigan State (No. 12). That said, at least he doesn't rank Auburn at No. 15 (they're 21st), so that's a start.