Nov. 6 will not be the only election day in America this fall. The night of Dec. 1 will be the other one, with millions on pins and needles, checking BCS projections on which two teams will emerge to play in the national championship game. Only on this occasion, most everyone will be helpless other than the 174 voters in the Coaches and Harris polls.
But the spinning will come fast and furious over the next five weeks, perhaps rivaling our heated presidential and congressional elections. Media relations and PR types from various schools will try to make a case as to why their program truly deserves a coveted spot in the BCS title game. They'll tell you why some scores are deceiving, some stats are meaningless and that you should never, ever believe your own lyin' eyes.
Make no mistake, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame - and to a lesser degree Alabama - will all try to spin things their ways. And now believe this - all the appeals and posturing will have an impact.
This week's complete BCS rankings:
Lobbying for votes has a time-honored place in college football history. Michigan in 1973 was denied an appearance in the Rose Bowl because it fell one ballot short in a Big Ten athletic directors vote. The Wolverines also lost one half of a national championship in 1997 when Nebraska successfully made a case for its retiring coach, Tom Osborne, and pried away the No. 1 ranking in the final coaches poll.
In the BCS era, the SEC has been spectacularly successful in getting its talking points across to benefit its members. In 2006, the conference persuaded enough voters to make a switch to deny Michigan (I'm sensing a trend) a rematch with Ohio State in favor of Florida in the BCS title game. But last year, when the tables were turned, the SEC once again was able to repudiate everything it said five years prior so LSU and Alabama could get a rematch for the BCS title.
The SEC PR machine likely will be on cruise control this year as Alabama has an unassailable position in the BCS standings. But rest assured, should the Tide somehow stumble, meaning a one-loss SEC team needs to be talked into the BCS title game, Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson will be ready to get right to work.
For now, though, it's the teams ranked Nos. 2 to 4 in the latest BCS standings that need to do all the talking, on and off the field. While I provided a forecast on these teams' chances of going undefeated in my projections Sunday morning, it's time to assess the likelihood of each landing in the BCS title game should each go undefeated:
Alabama: For the Tide, it's simple - win and in. They do not require any type of scoreboard-watching or sweating of their poll or computer rankings. Alabama is the unanimous choice for No. 1 in the Coaches poll and nearly so in the Harris poll. On that basis alone the Tide will comfortably slide back into their second consecutive BCS title game, as long as they win. Probability of reaching title game by going undefeated: 100 percent.
Kansas State: The Wildcats are tied with Notre Dame atop the computer rankings and have made up considerable ground on Oregon in both polls. K-State will benefit from playing potentially two more ranked teams this season (Oklahoma State and Texas) and the absence of a Big 12 title game probably won't hurt too much. Ideally, the Wildcats will want the Irish to also finish undefeated, thus providing a buffer in the computer ratings to hold off Oregon. 75 percent.
Oregon: While the Ducks are still No. 2 in both polls, they have lost vote shares every week since the Harris poll first came out on Oct. 7. They can maybe recover some vote hemorrhaging in the coming weeks as they get into the meat of their schedule, but the problem is the games that once looked daunting are much less so now, after USC's latest implosion and Oregon State's first loss of the season on Saturday. The Ducks' games against USC, Stanford and Oregon State will not be showdowns against top-10 teams anymore and the Pac-12 title game now may very well feature an unranked Arizona, Arizona State or UCLA team. While there's little doubt that Oregon's computer rankings will improve, it's no sure thing that they'll crack the top two if all the other teams remain unbeaten. 50 percent.
Notre Dame: As much brand power as the Irish wield, the simple math right now stands in the way of their first national championship in nearly a quarter century. While Notre Dame gained some support in the polls after an emphatic win at Oklahoma, its computer rankings are now topped out. The Irish are unlikely to impress the voters no matter how much they win their next three games by, and their season finale against USC now has lost much of its allure, as the Trojans may have four or five losses by that point. 25 percent.
As we're five weeks out from an unreal ending of the 2012 regular season, it's increasingly likely that we'll have an Alabama-Kansas State BCS championship game. Because of their strength in the computers and an imposing resume, the Wildcats just might become the first team to make to the BCS title game without finishing first or second in the polls since the formula was revised in 2004.
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