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One week away from the release of 2012's first BCS standings, the top 10 gets a major shakeup as the Harris Poll makes its debut.
After all the complaining about a September schedule that made the NFL preseason seem more meaningful, it took but one blood-letting judgment day to separate college football's wheat from the chaff.
Into the unquenchable fire went LSU, Georgia and Florida State, teams ranked 3-5 in last week's simulated BCS standings. But their losses are the gains of others, as we now have a clear pecking order of teams poised to contend for this year's BCS championship. And not surprisingly, they're all clustered at the top of the final simulated BCS standings.
This week's standings feature all but one element of the official standings. We have both polls, with the Harris poll being released for the first time this season. We have five of the six computer rankings, with only Peter Wolfe absent, and his ratings are replaced by the median rankings of 56 computers.
Week 7's simulated BCS standings:
Keys: Pvs = Previous Week; Coach = USA Today Coaches Poll; Harris = Harris Interactive Poll; Md = Median ranking of 56 computer ratings; AH = Anderson & Hester; CM = Colley Matrix; JS = Jeff Sagarin; KM = Kenneth Massey; RB = Richard Billingsley; Cp Avg = Computer Average; Yellow indicates top team in BCS conference; Orange indicates top team in non-BCS conference.
Explanation: This rankings method is a simulation of the actual BCS standings with Peter Wolfe's computer rankings, which will not be available until next week, replaced by the median ranking of 56 computer ratings.
The seven top teams are all undefeated, with a significant gap separating No. 7 Kansas State and one-loss LSU at No. 8. But the paths to the championship game for these seven teams - and a few others - are paved with significantly different obstacles:
WIN AND IN
1. Alabama - The Tide are the near-unanimous No. 1 in the polls, on that alone their position is unassailable. This also makes Alabama well-positioned to rebound in the rankings should it lose a game.
3. South Carolina - The Gamecocks will have to run through a gauntlet that began with Georgia and continues with back-to-back road trips to Death Valley and the Swamp. But if they can get by all that unscathed and beat Alabama in the SEC title game, they're a stone-cold lock.
5. Florida - The Ol' Ball Coach's new team stands in the Gators' way of their return to glory. By the way, Florida's last four coaches are a combined 16-0 this season, if Ron Zook hasn't found a way to lose in the CBS Sports studio.
16. Mississippi State - Strange, but not entirely far-fetched. See Auburn, 2010.
WIN AND ALMOST IN
2. Oregon - Though the Ducks are the consensus No. 2 in the polls, they're on slightly shakier ground than an unbeaten SEC champion because of the common-opponent factor with the next team in line. Style points will matter for the most stylishly appareled team in college football.
WIN AND USE THE BRAND
6. Notre Dame - The Irish have a chance to sneak past Oregon, and this is how they can get it done: Go undefeated and beat Stanford and USC more impressively than Oregon does. Both Notre Dame and Oregon host the Cardinal and visit L.A. to take on the Trojans. How they stack up in those games will influence the voters a great deal.
WIN AND NEED HELP
4. West Virginia - Having the Heisman frontrunner will help the Mountaineers' cause, but they're not yet in position to control their own destiny. That the fact the Big 12 does not have a conference title game will hurt WVU or whoever emerges as the champion. And one loss will be fatal as it was for Oklahoma State last year.
8. Kansas State - K-State and Notre Dame both beat the living crap out of Miami, so call that a draw. The Wildcats squeaked by OU in Norman and the Irish will have a chance to do the same later this month. But all things being equal, they're not equal at all. K-State might be the most underrated and under-appreciated program in BCS history, and Notre Dame is just the opposite.
WIN AND NEED EVEN MORE HELP
9. Oregon State - Would an unbeaten Pac-12 champ be kept out of the BCS title game? It could happen if it's Oregon State. The Beavers, who started the season out of the Top 25, have made up a lot of ground. But they have neither the sizzle of West Virginia nor the mass appeal of Notre Dame. Even wins over Oregon and in the Pac-12 title game might not overcome those deficiencies.
NEXT IN LINE
8. LSU - All is not lost for the Tigers after the debacle at the Swamp on Saturday (that is, if they actually can find the end zone again soon). If they run the table the rest of the way, there will be a compelling case made for a one-loss SEC champion to be in the BCS title game as it was in '03, '06, '07 (two losses but "undefeated in regulation"), '08 and '11.
NOT DEAD YET
11. USC - The Trojans still have a pulse, thanks to their remaining schedule that features just enough high-profile games (Oregon, Notre Dame, Pac-12 championship) mixed in with benign winnable affairs that shouldn't pose too much trouble for a team that still has a Heisman Trophy contender in Matt Barkley. In fact, if there are no undefeated teams from the Big 12, USC will regain control of its own destiny for a shot to play in Miami.
12. Stanford - The Cardinal are essentially in the same boat as USC, whom they likely must defeat again to win the Pac-12 if they can navigate a minefield that still includes Notre Dame, Oregon and Oregon State.
10. Georgia - The Bulldogs face a much tougher trek to the BCS title game as a one-loss SEC champ. Because its one loss was a huge blowout, Georgia needs a lot of help just to get into the SEC title game, as it's unlikely to win a three-way tiebreaker for the East title against Florida and South Carolina.
The Big Ten - Your eyes aren't deceiving you, there are no B1G teams ranked in the Top 25 currently, and next week it might become official for the first time in the history of the BCS, going back to 1998. With undefeated Ohio State on postseason ban and ineligible to be included in the BCS, the highest ranked Big Ten team is Michigan State at No. 27, followed by a bunch of teams clustered at Nos. 32 to 35. But one of those outfits will still get to play in Pasadena.
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