With the bulk of the schedule behind us, unbeaten schools now look forward to their remaining schedule with hopes of a place in the BCS Championship Game firmly resting on how each fare over the next five weeks.
With five teams still unbeaten at the top of the BCS rankings, a perilous battle remains ahead. Just one defeat could throw a spanner in the works for any team – including Alabama. This is especially true with the likes of Mississippi State, Louisville, Rutgers and Ohio looking to go unbeaten also. Add to this those teams with one solitary loss (LSU, USC, Oklahoma, Florida State, Georgia, etc.) and we could be looking at one hell of a race to the finish.
Here then is a look at the paths the top five teams face on their journey to remain unbeaten, starting with the easiest* schedule.
*Don’t be fooled: the easiest schedule is by no means easy
#3 Kansas State (7-0, 4-0 Big 12)
Ranked Wins: 2 (Oklahoma, West Virginia)
Oct 27: Vs. #14 Texas Tech (6-1, 3-1 Big 12)
Nov 3: Vs. Oklahoma State (4-2, 2-1 Big 12)
Nov 10: @ TCU (5-2, 2-2 Big 12)
Nov 17: @ Baylor (3-3, 0-3 Big 12)
Dec 1: Vs. #23 Texas (5-2, 2-2 Big 12)
Strength of Opposition: 23-10 (.699)
Ranked Opponents: 2
Toughest Game: Vs. Texas – The Longhorns might not have had the best of seasons, but they’re still a tough out.
Potential Slip Up: Vs. Texas Tech – The Wildcats’ defense should be enough to beat the Red Raiders, but then again, this is a team that put an unthinkable hurting on West Virginia.
Verdict: On paper, Kansas State faces a tough challenge, with its remaining opponents tallying a 23-10 winning record this season. This is testament more to the depth of the Big 12 as a whole than anything else. In reality, the Wildcats have already done the hard work (beating Oklahoma) and look more than capable of knocking off the two remaining ranked opponents. Simply taking care of business will see the side finish 12-0.
#2 Florida (7-0, 6-0 SEC)
Ranked Wins: 3 (Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina)
Oct 27: Vs. #10 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC)
Nov 3: Vs. Missouri (3-4, 0-4 SEC)
Nov 10: Vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (4-3, 2-2 Sun Belt)
Nov 17: Vs. Jacksonville State (4-3, 3-2 OVC)
Nov 24: @ #12 Florida State (7-1, 4-1 ACC)
Strength of Opposition: 24-12 (.667)
Ranked Opponents: 2
Toughest Game: @ Florida State – The rivalry is a bigger factor than the Seminoles’ ability. Arguably Georgia is a tougher game on paper, but this one will be heated. Plus it has the pressure of being the last game of the season.
Potential Slip Up: Vs. Georgia – Getting past the Bulldogs with a win this weekend is possible and probable, but peeking forward would be a mistake.
Verdict: Like Kansas State, the Gators have a tough run-in on paper in terms of opponent’s winning percentages. But two FBS games rip that theory to shreds. Florida’s schedule certainly works in its favor. Most of the conference games – and the tough games in general – are history. After Georgia, it’s a clear run until Florida State.
#1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC)
Ranked Wins: 1 (Michigan)
Oct 27: Vs. #11 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0 SEC)
Nov 3: @ #6 LSU (7-1, 3-1 SEC)
Nov 10: Vs. #20 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC)
Nov 17: Vs. Western Carolina (1-7, 0-6 Southern)
Nov 24: Vs. Auburn (1-6, 0-5 SEC)
Strength of Opposition: 21-16 (.568)
Ranked Opponents: 3
Toughest Game: @ LSU – It might not be a battle of the unbeaten, but this National Championship rematch has been circled on both schools’ calendars since January.
Potential Slip Up: Vs. Auburn – On paper it’s a whitewash but Auburn’s terrible season would be made by an upset victory.
Verdict: Unlike Florida, Alabama still has to play all of its tough games, with the three toughest coming back-to-back. Add to that a fierce rivalry game with Auburn and you have the ingredients for an upset somewhere along the road. The strength of opposition (.568) might seem enticing but take out Western Carolina and things look a little less simplistic. Yes, Alabama can win out, but the potential pitfalls come thick and fast.
#5 Notre Dame (7-0)
Ranked Wins: 3 (Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford)
Oct 27: @ #8 Oklahoma (5-1, 3-1 Big 12)
Nov 3: Vs. Pittsburgh (3-4, 0-3 Big East)
Nov 10: @ Boston College (1-6, 0-4 ACC)
Nov 17: Vs. Wake Forest (4-4, 2-4 ACC)
Nov 24: @ #9 USC (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12)
Strength of Opposition: 19-16 (.543)
Ranked Opponents: 2
Toughest Game: @ USC – A visit to the Coliseum on the last day of the season will be a tough ask for the Irish, but must-see TV if Notre Dame gets past Oklahoma this week.
Potential Slip Up: @ Oklahoma – This is Notre Dame’s toughest game of the season so far, and one that will determine whether the Irish have a shot at the championship. Slipping up here puts all that hard work to waste.
Verdict: Visits to Oklahoma and USC would be tough for any side, and with both potentially still in the hunt for the BCS title, it’s not going to be easy for a Notre Dame side that has already knocked off tough opposition this year. One thing’s for sure: with the Irish’s schedule this year, unbeaten pretty much guarantees a spot in the big game.
#4 Oregon (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12)
Ranked Wins: 2 (Arizona, Washington)
Oct 27: Vs. Colorado (1-6, 1-3 Pac-12)
Nov 3: @ #9 USC (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12)
Nov 10: @ California (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12)
Nov 17: Vs. #17 Stanford (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12)
Nov 24: @ #7 Oregon State (6-0, 4-0 Pac-12)
Strength of Opposition: 21-14 (.600)
Ranked Opponents: 3
Toughest Game: @ USC – This one’s been earmarked as a potential Pac-12 Championship Game preview since the preseason.
Potential Slip Up: @ Oregon State – The Beavers have surprised all this season and come the last day of the season, an upset win over the Ducks could be on the agenda.
Verdict: The two biggest knocks against Oregon this season have been its defense and its schedule. Up to this point it’s been plain sailing for the Ducks but with USC, Stanford and Oregon State still on the schedule, it’s going to be tough for Chip Kelly’s side to navigate the Pac-12 waters. That triumvirate of encounters makes this the toughest schedule of the five.
Whilst we can find enjoyment in looking ahead, the teams themselves cannot. Each has to remain clearly focused on the job at hand, and that’s winning this week. A loss at any point in the next five weeks could seriously affect the National Championship landscape, and that is exactly why we’ll be watching with baited breath.