October has swept aside dead leaves and pretenders to conference titles and the BCS national championship. The following breaks down the remaining unbeaten teams and what they need to do and to occur for each one to play in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
Louisiana State: Survive on top in the "Game of the Millennium" on Saturday, sweep through the remaining scheduled games versus inferior opponents then win the Southeastern Conference championship game in December.
Alabama: Same as LSU's recipe.
Oklahoma State: An undefeated finish should vault the Cowboys into the BCS title game. Two of their four remaining scheduled opponents sport a one loss record and a top twenty-five rating. Twelve victories should offset the lack of a conference championship game and the reputation of a "Johnny come lately".
Stanford: A weak non-conference schedule plus a dearth of ranked Pacific Twelve teams has hurt Stanford's reputation. The Cardinal must defeat Oregon by double digits to impress voters. Also, Stanford would receive a boost if Notre Dame would enter the regular season finale with only three losses.
Boise State: The Broncos stand tantalizingly close to crashing the BCS title game. The realistic possibility of Oklahoma ruining their in-state rival's perfect season as well as of Oregon handing Stanford's its first loss gives Boise State hope of finishing second in the BCS standings after the first weekend if December. Boise State desperately needs Georgia to continue its winning streak and secure the SEC Eastern Divisional title for a boost in the computer polls. A miraculous upset by Georgia of either LSU or Alabama in the SEC championship game would give Boise State even more evidence for its case for inclusion in the mythical national title game.
Houston: This team has zero chance of advancing to the BCS title game. Houston started too far from the top two spots in the polls to make up enough ground. The Cougars have very dim prospects of even playing in any BCS bowl. The only winner in this scenario is located in Memphis. The Liberty Bowl may host an undefeated team and draw more than meager interest which it usually does.
The conference races seem clear-cut in most cases. One or two teams controls their own destiny to win the division or conference championships. However, second and third place teams trailing by only a game or two can still wreak havoc on the perceived final standings.
Despite Clemson's first loss of the season on Saturday, the Tigers still control their own destiny to grab the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. A triumph at home versus second place Wake Forest will almost completely secure the Atlantic Division for Clemson. The winner of Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech will most likely face Clemson for the conference title.
The Big Twelve has turned into a three race with only Oklahoma State controlling its own destiny. If the Cowboys defeat Kansas State on Saturday and Oklahoma on the first Saturday of December, the outright conference title will belong to them. If OSU loses to one or both, then a split crown seems unavoidable.
In the Big East, the standings are as muddled as the future of the conference. Cincinnati remains the only member without a loss in conference but also has played the fewest conference games so far. The next two games, versus Pittsburgh and West Virginia, will determine if the Bearcats can coast to a championship. A loss to either will probably stretch the race into the final week of the season like last year.
A huge contrast exists between divisions in the Big Ten. In the Legends Division, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska are tied with 3-1 records. However, Nebraska has a slight edge with a win versus Michigan State and its loss outside of the division. The Nebraska's game at Ann Arbor on the nineteenth of November will either put the Cornhuskers in the driver's seat to wrap up the division or completely muddle the standings.
In contrast, the Big Ten's Leaders Division appears as a foregone conclusion due to Penn State's two game lead. However, the Nittany Lions final two scheduled games are against Ohio State and Wisconsin, the two teams within range of passing or tying the Lions in the standings. Penn State only needs to win two of its three remaining Big Ten matches for a berth in the inaugural conference championship game.
In Conference USA, Houston's visit to Tulsa on Black Friday will decide the Western Division. The winner of Southern Mississippi at East Carolina will control its own destiny to wrap up the Eastern Division. However, Marshall could force a tie for first place with a win against East Carolina due to its victory over Southern Mississippi.
In the Mid-American Conference's Eastern Division, Temple leads by a half of a game. The Owls' next two games versus the two teams on its heels, Ohio and Miami (Ohio), will settle the divisional championship provided that Temple wins both. A victory by the Bobcats or the Red Hawks will give either a shot at the title plus allow Bowling Green a chance at creating a tie for first place on the last weekend of November.
As for the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division, Northern Illinois holds the superior position so far over Eastern Michigan and Toledo. The Huskies defeated the Rockets this week and will host the Eagles on the day after Thanksgiving Day.
In the Mountain West Conference, a clear-cut champion might be determined in the next two weeks. Texas Christian will visit the other two undefeated members in MWC play, Wyoming and Boise State. If the Horned Frogs lose one or both of those, then the champion will emerge from the Cowboys' trip to Boise on Thanksgiving weekend.
On the surface, it appears that the Pacific Twelve championship game will feature the winner of Oregon at Stanford versus Arizona State. However, Northern Division would be thrown into chaos if Oregon loses at Washington on Saturday then wins at Stanford on the twelfth. Those results could force a three way tie for first place with two weeks left to play. If UCLA can rally around its endangered head coach and stun Arizona State this weekend, the Bruins will grab the lead position in the division from the Sun Devils.
Despite the hoopla surrounding LSU's trip to Alabama this weekend, the winner of the Southeastern Conference will not be crowned on Saturday. If LSU would win at Tuscaloosa then lose at home to Arkansas, the prospects of a three-way tie are highly likely. In the East, South Carolina holds a precarious lead thanks to its tie-breaking head-to-head result over Georgia.
The Sun Belt championship will hang in the balance when Arkansas State, undefeated in Sun Belt matches, hosts Louisiana-Lafayette. If the Red Wolves win, they can cruise to the conference title since they have already defeated the other one-loss member, Western Kentucky. If the Ragin' Cajuns win in Jonesboro, much scoreboard watching and multiple tie-breaking procedures will occur in the final three weeks of the regular season.
After this week off, Nevada can wrap up the Western Athletic Conference championship with wins at home versus Hawaii and Louisiana Tech. If the Wolf Pack drops one or both of those, then either of those opponents plus one-loss Fresno State can jump into contention for the crown.
COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT NOVEMBER 2011