In the final year of the BCS as the determining factor of the national-title combatants, it seems appropriate that top-five upsets are becoming a common occurrence late in the season. The shakeup continued Saturday, when No. 4 Baylor and No. 5 Oregon went down to No. 10 Oklahoma State and unranked Arizona, respectively.
The Cowboys' and Wildcats' victories likely will be major factors in how the BCS-bowl dust settles once the conference championship games are all said and done. With Oklahoma State's win, its in the Big 12 driver's seat, and barring an upset loss to rival Oklahoma, will make a Fiesta Bowl appearance as the conference's champ. And while it would take a fair amount of chaos down the stretch, the Cowboys have given themselves an outside shot at a national championship. They should shoot up the rankings after the win over previous unbeaten Baylor, and if the BCS title game comes down to one-loss contenders, they'll have a pretty good argument. It's a long shot, it's a shot nonetheless.
Of the two big losers, Baylor is probably the less-affected by Saturday. The Bears were in line to take the Big 12's automatic BCS spot, and while that appears to be up in smoke, they still have an excellent chance to receive an at-large berth. If they pick up wins in their final two games against TCU and Texas, they'll finish the year 11-1 with an incredibly dynamic offense. That could be enough to get Baylor into a big-time bowl.
Oregon, on the other hand, has taken a golden opportunity that fell in its lap and thrown said opportunity out the window. After the loss to Stanford a couple of weeks ago, their Pac-12 hopes looked all but lost. And then the Cardinal lost to USC, giving Oregon new life as the North Division leader. Now, Mark Helfrich's team has once again squandered that lead, and it may be on the outside of the BCS altogether. The Ducks didn't want to play in the Rose Bowl, and now they won't have to.
Where do Baylor, Oregon and Oklahoma State wind up?
Both teams will fall, and based on recent history, the Bears' drop shouldn't be as steep. Even though both lost in lopsided fashion, Baylor's defeat was its first of the season. This is the second loss for the Ducks, and it came at the hands of an unranked, four-loss team. If one is going to receive more punishment from voters, it's Oregon.
It's understandable to think the Bears will tumble because of their 32-point loss, but recent history has shown that elite teams don't take too big of a hit for losing to other elite teams, no matter the margin. Take a look at Oregon earlier this year: when the No. 3 Ducks lost to No. 5 Stanford, they fell to No. 6 in the BCS standings. Last year, Florida dropped from No. 2 to No. 7 after a loss to No. 11 Georgia, Oregon fell from No. 2 to No. 5 following a loss to No. 13 Stanford, LSU fell from fifth to seventh after a loss to No. 1 Alabama, and the Tide fell from the top spot to No. 4 after a defeat at the hands of No. 15 Texas A&M.
Those games were all much closer than Baylor's loss to Oklahoma State, but the BCS computers don't consider margin of victory in their rankings. And because of the Bears' offensive (fist nationally in scoring) and defensive (seventh nationally in scoring D) numbers entering the game, voters should still consider them to be one of the best one-loss teams. That should leave Baylor around No. 7 or 8.
Look for Oregon to move down near non-AQ teams Fresno State and Northern Illinois. Stanford didn't fall as far -- fourth to 11th -- last week when it lost to unranked USC, but the computers liked the Trojans much better then than they do Arizona now. The computers are fans of both the Bulldogs and Huskies, and Oregon's average rating, which was No. 6, will take a decent dent. That, combined with descent in the human polls, will land the Ducks in the mid-teens.
As for Oklahoma State, the Cowboys are the big winners this week. The BCS formula comes up with some head-scratching standings at times, but since OK State and Baylor have the same record, the Pokes should move ahead thanks to their head-to-head win. The Cowboys could conceivably jump as high as No. 6 (since Clemson's loss to Florida State is at least better than OSU's loss to West Virginia), and at worst they'll climb a couple spots. The computers weren't wild about them last week, but since Baylor averaged out at No. 3, this win should really improve OSU's average. And the humans, who most certainly do take margin of victory into consideration, will probably give Mike Gundy's team a huge bump.
Next week's BCS impact games
Alabama at Auburn
Oh, just a little bit on the line here. The winner advances to Atlanta for a shot at an SEC title, and both teams are likely to play in BCS bowls. Also: It's the fiercest blood feud in the sport, and the result will dominate conversation in the state of Alabama for the next 365 days.
Texas A&M at Missouri
Mizzou is one win away from completing its improbable run to the SEC Championship Game, and Texas A&M is one loss away from an incredibly disappointing 8-4 season. The Tigers have proven they're good enough to beat any team on their schedule, and if they win out, there's a real chance they will play for the national title.
Clemson at South Carolina
South Carolina probably isn't going to a BCS bowl, but Clemson looks set to get an at-large bid with a win. However, if the Tigers drop the regular-season finale to their in-state rivals, they'll risk heading to a second-tier New Year's Day game.
Florida State at Florida, Ohio State at Michigan
No, neither of these games should be close. Florida State and Ohio State are miles ahead of their chief rivals this season, and both are in the hunt for an appearance in the BCS Championship Game. But, this is rivalry week, and strange things do happen from time to time. Could the Gators or Wolverines shock the world and throw a major wrench into the BCS standings?