Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI
For weeks, Penn State fans have been sending worried e-mails about the possibility of their team going undefeated but finishing as the odd man out in the BCS. My response was, don't worry about it. At least one of the teams ahead of you will lose (and Texas did).
In the week since the Nittany Lions' uninspiring win over Ohio State, many have been asking -- some imploring -- whether a one-loss Big 12 or SEC champ could ultimately surpass an undefeated Big Ten team. My response: Don't count on it.
Sunday, however, for the first time, I'm starting to see the plausibility of one or both scenarios.
The first bad omen for the Nittany Lions came with Sunday's release of the latest AP poll, in which 8-0 Texas Tech, fresh off its win over No. 1 Texas, vaulted ahead of Penn State into the No. 2 spot. The AP isn't part of the BCS formula, but it gives you a glimpse into the minds of the voters who obviously feel strongly that an undefeated Big 12 team should be ahead of the undefeated Nittany Lions.
The real surprise, however, came with the release of the latest BCS standings, in which the Red Raiders -- despite sitting behind Penn State in both the coaches and Harris polls - edged out the Nittany Lions for No. 2. The computers have Tech tied for first with Alabama while 9-0 Penn State is fourth -- one spot behind 8-1 Texas and one spot ahead of 8-1 Florida.
Obviously, the computers don't think highly of Penn State's schedule, which thus far consists of I-AA (FCS) Coastal Carolina and seven FBS foes with a combined 27-35 record. It's surprising, however, that they would be so much higher on the Red Raiders, which played two FCS opponents and are only now reaching the heart of their conference schedule.
Note that Tech, Texas and Florida all figure to gain ground in the computers in the coming weeks if they keep winning -- especially if one of those wins comes in a conference championship game. Penn State's schedule gets slightly better as well, thanks primarily to 8-2 Michigan State, but not like Texas Tech, which plays 8-1 Oklahoma State and 8-1 Oklahoma.
I came away with the impression that it's not entirely implausible for the computers to lift a one-loss Big 12 or SEC team ahead of 12-0 Penn State. CollegeBCS.com publisher Jerry Palm, who studies this stuff for living, doesn't sound nearly as concerned.
"A one-loss Florida or Texas [12-1, not 11-1] might finish ahead of 12-0 Penn State in some [not likely all] computers," he told me. "But unless the voters get on board, it won't matter -- and I have no reason to expect that to happen."
My take: If Alabama and Texas Tech both lose and Penn State rises to No. 1, it has nothing to worry about. The voters aren't going to turn around and drop them two spots, and the computers won't make a difference in that scenario.
If, however, the Nittany Lions are sitting at No. 2 in the polls come December 6, and if Florida or a Big 12 team wins its conference title game convincingly enough to steal away some human votes (while also sitting above PSU in the computers), we could well be looking at Heartbreak Valley.