Kragthorpe: Room for two? Non-BCS schools making their pitch
In the wake of BYU's victory over Oklahoma, everyone's rushing to project the Cougars' destination.
At the risk of overreacting to one weekend's developments, I now have BYU following Utah's Bowl Championship Series achievement by playing in New Orleans.
That would be this Saturday against Tulane.
Beyond that, it gets interesting. The convergence of Boise State's win over Oregon and BYU's upset of Oklahoma created some big opportunities in the non-BCS world. Thanks largely to the credibility gained by Utah's Sugar Bowl victory, this genuinely could be the year that two schools from conferences lacking automatic-qualifying access get BCS bids. When the polls are released Tuesday, four of them should be in the top 15, or close to it.
The further issue is whether anybody from the Mountain West could get into the BCS with a loss, recognizing that BYU, Utah and Texas Christian play one another in a five-week stretch beginning in late October.
Conceding two bids to each the Southeastern (Florida, Alabama) and Big 12 (Texas, Oklahoma State) conferences, plus the other automatic berths to the Big East, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-10, two spots would remain. Boise State or an MWC team can qualify with a top-12 finish in the BCS standings, but there's guaranteed room for only one of them.
The others would have to fight with the likes of California, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Georgia Tech for the 10th bid, available to any team in the top 14 -- except a conference can have no more than two BCS contestants.
Here's the working list of prime contenders, to be updated:
» Cal. With Oregon apparently no threat -- the same exemption applies to Utah's schedule -- after its highly offensive performance at Boise State, Cal is positioned for a big run in the Pac-10. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, formerly of Utah, made a strong first impression as the Golden Bears registered 52 points and 542 yards against Maryland.
» Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish's schedule is not as easy as some have suggested, but it does offer the potential for 10 wins. You'd better believe a BCS bowl would take an eligible Notre Dame team over anybody else.
» Ohio State. Does the world really need to watch the Buckeyes lose another BCS game? At least, they were competitive against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl after being picked over Boise State last season, and even if they lose to USC and Penn State, some bowl might pick them again. There's increased access for the other guys these days, but the traditional selection committee mentality is still in play.
» Georgia Tech. The ACC is so wide open that a one-loss team could surface, in addition to the champion. It could be the Yellow Jackets.
Yet if BYU, TCU and Utah are all unbeaten when the Horned Frogs come to Provo on Oct. 24, the MWC may have three top-10 teams and enjoy so much attention that its postseason possibilities would be widened. There's even the chance that a one-loss MWC team would trump an unbeaten Boise State in the BCS standings.
My advice, for now: Keep winning -- or start winning, in the case of TCU, which was forgotten last weekend while waiting to open its season. Utah probably also feels left out, with all the attention devoted to BYU. Now that Oregon is downtrodden, Ute fans have no games on the immediate schedule that rise to the level of campus uprisings, airport greetings or field storming.
When they take a 23-game winning streak to TCU in November, the Utes will have their first defining opportunity of 2009. Until then, they can just cheer against everybody else.
» The BCS standings will be published each Sunday from Oct. 18 through Dec. 6.
» There are five BCS bowl games, and champions from six conferences receive automatic berths.
» One team from a conference lacking automatic qualification will earn one of the other four BCS berths if it finishes in the top 12.
» Teams in the top 14 are eligible for at-large bids (limit: one per conference); Notre Dame automatically qualifies with a top-eight finish.
Conceding two BCS bids each to the Southeastern (Florida, Alabama) and Big 12 (Texas, Oklahoma State) conferences, two spots would remain. A look at the top contenders and their key games:
BYU: Sept. 19 --- Florida State. Oct. 24 -- Texas Christian. Nov. 28 -- Utah.
Boise State: Sept. 18 -- at Fresno State. Oct. 14 -- at Tulsa.
TCU: Sept. 26 -- at Clemson. Oct. 24 -- at BYU. Nov. 14 -- Utah.
Utah: Nov. 14 -- at TCU. Nov. 28 -- at Utah.
Cal: Oct. 3 -- USC. Dec. 5 -- at Washington.
Notre Dame: Saturday -- at Michigan. Oct. 17 -- USC. Nov. 14 -- at Pittsburgh.
Ohio State: Saturday -- USC. Nov. 7 -- at Penn State.
Georgia Tech: Oct. 10 -- at Florida State. Oct. 17 -- Virginia Tech. Nov. 28 --- Georgia.