For the past few weeks in this column, we've turned Wednesday (and in one instance, Thursday) into Wins Day, looking at win probabilities to project a given division or title race.
This week, we're aiming high. At most, teams have just three games remaining (including conference championships), so let's look at every team that has a chance of making a BCS bowl. Who is most likely to be playing for the national title? Who is likely to snag an at-large bid?
1. Alabama (10-0)
Alabama controls its destiny in both the SEC and national title races. After a tune-up against Chattanooga this Saturday, the Crimson Tide will face Auburn in an SEC West elimination game. Winner gets either Missouri (if the Tigers win out) or South Carolina (if the Tigers don't) in Atlanta on December 7. Odds are pretty good that they'll finish 13-0.
- Remaining games: Chattanooga (100%), at Auburn (77%), SEC Championship vs. South Carolina or Missouri (about 87%, depending on which team)
Alabama finishes 13-0, wins SEC: 67%
Alabama finishes 11-1: 23%
Alabama finishes 12-1, loses SEC title game: 10%
There is no doubt that Auburn has closed the gap on Alabama overall. The Tigers have Tide fans shaken at least a hair, especially considering the team-of-destiny vibe that AU furthered with the miracle win over Georgia on Saturday. Still ... the Tigers needed a miracle to beat a Georgia team that's still relatively banged-up. Alabama is a lot better than Auburn and still has a better than three-in-four chance of winning at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a couple of Saturdays. And while the title game against South Carolina or Missouri won't be a slam dunk, Alabama still has fantastic odds overall.
2. Florida State (10-0)
What's better than fantastic? Because if Alabama's 67 percent odds are that, FSU's 88 percent odds of winning out are something else entirely. Florida has fallen apart to the extent that FSU's odds of winning at The Swamp are about 19-in-20, and while that may seem too high, it's hard to justify lowering the odds that much at this point, not with the way FSU has been playing and the way Florida's offense tried to avoid getting blown out last week at South Carolina.
- Remaining games: Idaho (100%), at Florida (95%), ACC Championship vs. Virginia Tech or Duke (about 93%)
FSU finishes 13-0, wins ACC: 88%
FSU finishes 12-1, loses ACC title game: 7%
FSU finishes 12-1, wins ACC: 4.7%
FSU finishes 11-2, loses ACC title game: 0.3%
There's still a chance that Virginia Tech or Duke could pull off a miracle in the ACC title game in Charlotte, but at this point FSU's odds of reaching the BCS title game are incredibly strong.
About a month ago, FSU had a 52 percent chance of winning out and Alabama had a 60 percent chance. With hurdles cleared (FSU vs. Miami, Alabama vs. LSU), those odds have increased to the point where there's about a 58 percent chance that both finish 13-0. And at this point, it's beyond safe to say that if both teams win out, both teams make the BCS title game.
3. Ohio State (10-0)
If nothing else, the 2013 season has opened us up to potential (and potentially fun) hostility between fans of Ohio State and Baylor. The Buckeyes remain ahead of the Bears in the BCS standings, if for no other reason than they started ahead when the season began (there's nothing like placing your national title race at least partially in the hands of polls that took place before the season even started). But Baylor's slightly more difficult (to the eye) end-of-season schedule could potentially allow the Bears to catch up.
- Remaining games: Indiana (97%), at Michigan (77%), Big Ten Championship vs. Michigan State (67%)
Ohio State finishes 13-0, wins Big Ten: 50%
Ohio State finishes 12-1, loses Big Ten title game: 25%
Ohio State finishes 12-1, wins Big Ten: 16%
Ohio State finishes 11-2, loses Big Ten title game: 8%
Ohio State finishes 10-2: 1%
Here's the thing about Ohio State's remaining schedule: Despite perceptions, it's quite a bit more difficult than Baylor's, simply because of the high likelihood of playing Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Baylor's trip to Oklahoma State is quite tricky, but games against TCU and a fading-once-more Texas squad are no more difficult than playing Indiana and at Michigan.
Of course, to reach the national title game, Ohio State needs both wins and luck. If there's a 50 percent chance of the Buckeyes winning out and a 42 percent chance of either Alabama or Florida State losing, then there's only about a 21 percent chance of Ohio State advancing to the national title game. And that's only if you believe the Buckeyes will hold off Baylor in the standings. If they need two of three teams (Alabama, FSU, Baylor) to lose while finishing undefeated, we're looking at only about a five percent chance.
4. Baylor (9-0)
Baylor has been spotting opponents some early points of late, and while it in no way backfired on the Bears against Oklahoma or Texas Tech, it would certainly behoove them not to try it again in Stillwater this weekend. That said, survive Stillwater and you're almost certainly looking at a 12-0 finish.
- Remaining games: at Oklahoma State (80%), at TCU (99%), Texas (99%)
Baylor finishes 12-0, wins Big 12: 78%
Baylor finishes 11-1: 15%
Baylor finishes 11-1, wins Big 12: 6%
Baylor finishes 10-2: 1%
Now, here's where the odds disclaimer above comes into play. Teams with Baylor's F/+ advantage over both TCU and Texas almost never lose; hence the 99 percent odds. But TCU is salty enough to win more than one percent of the time in Fort Worth, and Texas is too athletic to only win once per hundred trips to Waco. Obviously. Still, even if you lower these odds to the 93-to-95 percent range (lowering them any more than that would penalize Baylor a bit too much for how strong the Bears have been this season), Baylor's chances of finishing undefeated are quite strong.
Using the odds above, Baylor has about a three-in-four chance of finishing 12-0. Their odds of finishing 12-0 and getting a loss from either Alabama or FSU? About 33 percent. Odds of Ohio State losing as well? About 16 percent.
And while these four undefeated teams will all be solid favorites in every game the rest of the way, there's still only about a 23 percent chance, about one-in-four, of all four finishing without a blemish. Most likely losses the rest of the way: Ohio State to Michigan State (33 percent), Ohio State to Michigan (23 percent), Alabama to Auburn (23 percent), Baylor to Oklahoma State (20 percent), and Alabama to either Missouri (14 percent) or South Carolina (12 percent). Of those games, only Baylor-OSU is on the docket this coming Saturday.
It is becoming increasingly unlikely that a one-loss team will reach the BCS title game this year. But plenty of teams still have high stakes for which they will be playing in the coming weeks. Let's now take a look at teams with decent chances of reaching a BCS at-large bid. What will they have to do to land a spot in the Rose, Sugar, Orange, or Fiesta Bowl?
Scott Olmos, USA Today
5. Oregon (9-1)
- Remaining games: at Arizona (90%), Oregon State (99%), Pac-12 Championship at home vs. Arizona State, UCLA, or (probably not) USC: (about 76%)
Oregon finishes 12-1, wins Pac-12: 68%
Oregon finishes 11-2, loses Pac-12 title game: 21%
Oregon finishes 10-2: 11%
Fortunes turn quickly. Two weeks ago, Oregon was positioned to both win the Pac-12 and reach the BCS title game. A loss to Stanford severely damaged both causes, but Stanford's loss to USC at least put Oregon back in the Pac-12 driver's seat.
Oregon-Oregon State is another "probably not really 99 percent" game, but regardless, Oregon's chances of surviving both Arizona and the Beavers are high. (Of course, telling Oregon fans not to worry about a high-stakes, mid-November trip to Arizona will forever be wasted breath after 2007.) And since the Ducks would almost certainly host the Pac-12 South champion in the conference title game, they would probably survive that too, even if Arizona State in particular is quite good.
At 12-1, Oregon would obviously get a Rose Bowl bid, but an 11-2 Oregon squad, with losses to only Stanford and an ASU team that would be quickly approaching top-10 status with a win over the Ducks? That could be attractive for an at-large bid if one remains.
6. Auburn (10-1)
- Remaining games: Alabama (23%), SEC Championship vs. South Carolina or Missouri (58%)
Auburn finishes 10-2: 77%
Auburn finishes 12-1, wins SEC: 13%
Auburn finishes 11-2, loses SEC title game: 10%
Enjoy the Sugar Bowl, Auburn. Either Gus Malzahn's Tigers upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl, clinching at worst an 11-2 record (and at best a conference title at 12-1), or they fall to Alabama and sit pretty for an at-large bid at 10-2. At this point, the only way they don't end up in New Orleans is perhaps if Texas A&M wins out (odds: not great) or the East champion wins the SEC title (also not great, even if they play Auburn instead of Alabama).
7. Clemson (9-1)
- Remaining games: The Citadel (100%), at South Carolina (39%)
Clemson finishes 10-2: 61%
Clemson finishes 11-1: 39%
Florida State has clinched the ACC Atlantic title, meaning Clemson has little role to play in even a completely chaotic national title race, even if favorites begin to drop left and right. But would an 11-1 Clemson squad be likely to snag a BCS at-large bid? One would have to think so, right? Unfortunately, the trip to South Carolina is going to be quite a difficult one.
8. Missouri (9-1)
- Remaining games: at Ole Miss (59%), Texas A&M (64%), SEC Championship vs. Alabama or Auburn (21%)
Missouri finishes 10-2: 47%
Missouri finishes 11-2, loses SEC title game: 30%
Missouri finishes 9-3: 15%
Missouri finishes 12-1, wins SEC: 8%
Missouri had just about the worst bye week imaginable last Saturday. If Georgia beat Auburn, then the Tigers would have likely needed only a split of their final two games to win the SEC East; Ricardo Louis' miracle touchdown knocked that off of the possibilities list. But with Auburn winning, a Florida upset of South Carolina would have clinched Missouri's East title altogether. Didn't happen.
So now, instead of an 80 to 100 percent chance of winning the division, Missouri needs to win out, and there's only about a 38 percent chance of that happening. And thanks to Auburn's likely attractiveness to the Sugar Bowl, even an 11-2 East champion Missouri team would likely slip to the Cotton or Capital One Bowl. So yeah, win out if you want to see New Orleans, Mizzou.
9. Stanford (8-2)
- Remaining games: California (99%), Notre Dame (93%), Pac-12 Championship at home vs. Arizona State, UCLA, or (probably not) USC (about 79%)
Stanford finishes 10-2: 82%
Stanford finishes 9-3: 8%
Stanford finishes 11-2, wins Pac-12: 7%
Stanford finishes 10-3, loses Pac-12 title game: 2%
Stanford finishes 10-3, wins Pac-12: 1%
Stanford finishes 9-4, loses Pac-12 title game: 0.2%
Stanford still has myriad possibilities on the table. If Oregon loses in the next two weeks, Stanford would win the Pac-12 North (barring the unlikeliest of upset losses to California). But that's not likely. Still eighth, a 10-2 Cardinal team would probably end up sixth or seventh and reasonably well-positioned to snag a fourth-straight BCS bowl bid.
10. Oklahoma State (9-1)
- Remaining games: Baylor (20%), Oklahoma (74%)
OSU finishes 10-2: 64%
OSU finishes 9-3: 21%
OSU finishes 11-1, wins Big 12: 15%
Mike Gundy's Cowboys likely face a conference-title-or-nothing situation when it comes to the BCS. A mid-major is still well-positioned to steal an at-large bid, and constants like Stanford, a Big Ten team, and perhaps Clemson still stand above them. With the win over Texas last Saturday, OSU's looking pretty likely to land at the Cotton Bowl, at least as long as it finishes 1-1.
11. South Carolina (8-2)
- Remaining games: Coastal Carolina (100%), Clemson (61%), SEC Championship vs. Alabama or Auburn: 19%
South Carolina finishes 10-3, loses SEC title game: 30%
South Carolina finishes 10-2: 23%
South Carolina finishes 9-4, loses SEC title game: 20%
South Carolina finishes 9-3: 15%
South Carolina finishes 11-2, wins SEC: 7%
South Carolina finishes 9-4, wins SEC: 4%
Thanks to its reliance on a Missouri loss, South Carolina is Stanford-esque in its laundry list of possibilities. But the Gamecocks almost definitely have to win out to reach the BCS; there's still a possibility, however, of Carolina smoking Clemson, Alabama smoking Auburn, and Missouri winning the East so the 'Cocks don't have to risk a loss to Alabama. A hot, 10-2 Spurrier squad could look pretty attractive in that instance. The only unattractive part would be a potential rematch with UCF (which has an 86 percent chance of winning out, by the way).
Scott Halleran, Getty
12. Texas A&M (8-2)
- Remaining games: at LSU (43%), at Missouri (37%)
Texas A&M finishes 9-3: 48%
Texas A&M finishes 8-4: 36%
Texas A&M finishes 10-2: 16%
Let's put it this way: If A&M wins out, the Aggies deserve a Sugar Bowl bid. After playing an obnoxious eight of 10 games at home to start the season, they now finish up with two road games ... and LSU is perhaps the easier of the two. A 10-2 finish is conceivable, but a loss or two and a trip to Dallas or Jacksonville seem more likely at this point.
13. Michigan State (9-1)
- Remaining games: at Northwestern (77%), Minnesota (89%), Big Ten Championship vs. Ohio State (33%)
State finishes 11-2, loses Big Ten title game: 46%
State finishes 12-1, wins Big Ten: 23%
State finishes 10-3, loses Big Ten title game: 19%
State finishes 11-2, wins Big Ten: 10%
State finishes 10-3, wins Big Ten: 1%
State finishes 9-4, loses Big Ten title game: 1%
State finishes 9-3: 0.3%
With one or two fewer pass interference penalties, Michigan State could be undefeated and ranked around sixth or so in the BCS standings. As it stands, however, the Spartans need to win out. A tight loss to Ohio State could keep their poll standing high enough to finish in the BCS top 16 (a requirement for an at-large bid), but between Auburn, undefeated mid-majors, and other teams above them, they probably won't get selected. Rose Bowl or bust.
(And yes, there's still a 0.3 percent chance that Michigan State loses to Northwestern, Minnesota beats Wisconsin, and Minnesota beats Michigan State, which would give the Gophers the division crown. But unfortunately for Gopher fans and general lovers of absurdity, it's only a 0.3 percent chance.)
14. UCLA (8-2)
- Remaining games: Arizona State (33%), at USC (25%), Pac-12 Championship at Oregon or Stanford (about 12%)
UCLA finishes 8-4: 50%
UCLA finishes 9-3: 42%
UCLA finishes 10-3, loses Pac-12 title game: 7%
UCLA finishes 11-2, wins Pac-12: 1%
If UCLA wins out, then like A&M, the Bruins' stretch run will have proven their bona fides. It will take wins over both Arizona State and USC, plus a win at either Stanford or (more likely) Oregon to get them there. Good luck with that.
ASU, by the way, is a significant favorite in the South race right now thanks to the combination of the win over USC
, the fact that the Sun Devils get UCLA at home, and the raging crush the F/+ rankings have had on ASU all season. Right now, the South odds are ASU 91 percent, UCLA eight percent, and USC one percent.
15. Fresno State (9-0)
- Remaining games: New Mexico (97%), at San Jose State (77%), MWC Championship at home vs. Boise State or Utah State (about 56%)
Fresno State doesn't finish 12-0: 58%
Fresno State finishes 12-0: 42%
There are still two mid-majors threatening to nab an at-large bid. If either Fresno State or Northern Illinois finishes in the BCS top 12, or if they finish in the top 16 and ahead of likely AAC champion UCF, the higher-ranked of the two will end up in the promised land, so to speak. Fresno State is currently ranked higher, and there's no reason to think that will change if the Bulldogs keep winning, so Tim DeRuyter's squad gets first dibs.
I've already spoken about how Fresno State and NIU fail to match up to previous BCS-caliber mid-majors, but while my opinions don't matter, that is still reflected in win probabilities. FS is likely to finish the regular season unbeaten, but at 45th in the F/+ rankings, the Bulldogs are given only a slightly better than average chance of taking down either Boise State (36th) or Utah State (38th) in the MWC title game. This might seem odd, but remember that Fresno State beat Boise State by only a single point in Fresno back in late-September. Granted, the Bulldogs have improved a bit since then, and Boise State has suffered some injuries, but the matchup is still reasonably close to even.
16. Northern Illinois (10-0)
- Remaining games: at Toledo (34%), Western Michigan (99%), MAC Championship vs. Buffalo or Bowling Green (53%)
NIU doesn't finish 13-0: 82%
NIU finishes 13-0 and Fresno State loses: 10%
NIU finishes 13-0 but Fresno State wins out: 8%
F/+ is quite bearish on NIU overall, ranking the Huskies at just 60th, behind Wednesday night opponent Toledo (56th) and between either of two likely MAC title game combatants, BGSU (59th) and Buffalo (63rd). Then again, F/+ liked Ball State quite a bit against NIU last week, too, and the Huskies pulled away in the fourth quarter to win by three touchdowns. NIU cares not for numbers, apparently; the Huskies also care not about ever losing a MAC game again. They've won 23 straight. Odds, schmodds, I guess.
17. Arizona State (8-2)
- Remaining games: at UCLA (67%), Arizona (96%), Pac-12 Championship at either Oregon or Stanford (about 29%)
ASU finishes 10-3, loses Pac-12 title game: 46%
ASU finishes 11-2, wins Pac-12: 19%
ASU finishes 9-4, loses Pac-12 title game: 19%
ASU finishes 10-3, wins Pac-12: 8%
ASU finishes 9-3: 8%
ASU finishes 8-4: 1%
If ASU wins at UCLA on Saturday, that's that. The Sun Devils are Pac-12 South champions no matter what. Dominant performances over both UCLA and Arizona, however, combined with some losses -- say, NIU to Toledo, maybe A&M to LSU and Missouri, Oklahoma State to Baylor -- could bump the Sun Devils high enough in the BCS standings that they wouldn't fall past 16th with a Pac-12 title game loss. So they could be an at-large candidate without a conference title. It's unlikely they would actually get selected, but it's not impossible.
19. Wisconsin (8-2)
- Remaining games: at Minnesota (87%), Penn State (99%)
Wisconsin finishes 10-2: 86%
Wisconsin finishes 9-3: 14%
Wisconsin finishes 8-4: 0.1%
Yes, there's a tiny chance that Ohio State could lose twice and therefore send a 10-2 Wisconsin team to the B1G title game, but we won't worry about that here. Wisconsin's best chances of reaching a BCS bowl will be to dominate Minnesota and Penn State, cruise up the standings with the same results that could help ASU above, then pass ASU if the Sun Devils lose in the Pac-12 title game. (That assistance would be the least ASU could do to repay the good fortune the Sun Devils benefited from when these two teams faced off in September. And yes, ASU fans, we might eventually forget this happened and stop constantly bringing it up. Might.)
That Wisconsin is 19th is cruel for any number of reasons. For one thing, despite all the cries of injustice, Wisconsin was still punished for "losing" to Arizona State. For another, Wisconsin currently ranks seventh in F/+ (one spot behind ASU, actually). This is a tremendous football team that has suffered only a confusing, last-second loss to Arizona State and a seven-point defeat at Ohio State (yes, Buckeye fans, Ohio State was up big earlier in the contest; you don't have to tell me that again). At the very least, it deserves to be ranked higher than UCF and the undefeated mid-majors. Alas, the Badgers will likely be sent off to the Capital One Bowl (or something very similar).
So what have we learned here?
- There's about a three-in-five chance that we're going to end up with a Florida State-Alabama title game.
- Baylor has a better chance of finishing next in line than Ohio State.
- Auburn fans should feel pretty safe about making New Orleans reservations.
- This isn't the year to be a one-loss title contender.
- This isn't a good year to snag a BCS at-large bid if you rank below about eighth.
- If Texas A&M or UCLA make it to a BCS bowl, they earned it.
- Ricardo Louis screwed Missouri.
- NIU and Fresno State have better odds of losing than you might think.