What question do you ask yourself when trying to decide whether one team is better than another?
Here's what I fall back on: if the two played each other 10 times, either on a neutral field or as a home-and-home, which one wins more games? It's a helpful exercise because it forces you to overlook some ifs -- if the ball bounces a certain way, if this team gets an early lead, if that quarterback gets rattled, and so on. The fewer ifs, the better, when we're taking the long view.
At the moment, I think Alabama beats Florida State six times out of 10 and Florida State does the same to Oregon (and numbers suggest it could be more like seven). It's so close, though, that Alabama-Oregon also feels like a six-out-of-10 for the Tide. The Noles are simply more complete than the Ducks, with a better defense and better lines. As far as I can figure, FSU is the country's second-best team and boasts the best résumé, which are two different things.
The problem for the Seminoles is that Oregon's résumé has a chance to get even better. Whether you go by records, rankings, stats, or what have you, Oregon's schedule the rest of the way is tougher than FSU's. If both stay perfect and Oregon doesn't struggle more than once, that's likely that.
As always, bowl trips aren't entirely about which team has a better conference record or which team beat which team. Every bowl exists to make money, so attendance and television draws are at least as important as team quality.
Also, teams don't always move up or down based strictly on how they played last week. For instance, South Carolina didn't do anything wrong in beating Mississippi State by two scores -- Ole Miss simply looks like a more exciting draw right now if both finish with eight or nine wins, plus we've got a Clemson-South Carolina rematch to avoid. Let's hit the comments to discuss!
(Also, in Conference USA, I had East Carolina taking a top bowl, which I've changed. The Pirates, along with Tulane, are leaving for the American next year, and conferences don't tend to give great bowls to teams on the way out. See the Big East sticking Pitt in Birmingham yet again last year, instead of giving us one last Backyard Brawl with West Virginia in the Pinstripe.)
|Bowl||Matchup (not necessarily tied to conference standings)||Team||Team|
|1/6/2014||BCS National Championship (Pasadena)||BCS 1 vs. BCS 2||Alabama||Oregon|
|1/3/2014||Orange (Miami)||ACC 1 vs. At-large 1||Florida State||Michigan State**|
|1/2/2014||Sugar (New Orleans)||SEC 1 vs. At-large 2||Texas A&M||UCF|
|1/1/2014||Rose (Pasadena)||Pac-12 1 vs. Big Ten 1 (At-large 3)||Ohio State||Stanford|
|1/1/2014||Fiesta (Glendale, AZ)||Big 12 1 vs. At-large 4||Baylor||Fresno State|
|1/5/2014||GoDaddy (Mobile, AL)||MAC 2 vs. Sun Belt 2||Ball State||Western Kentucky|
|1/4/2014||BBVA Compass (B'ham)||SEC 9 vs. AAC 5||Florida||Rutgers|
|1/3/2014||Cotton (Arlington)||Big 12 2 vs. SEC 3||Oklahoma||Missouri|
|1/1/2014||Capital One (Orlando)||Big Ten 2 vs. SEC 2||Wisconsin**||Auburn|
|1/1/2014||Gator (Jacksonville)||Big Ten 4 vs. SEC 6||Minnesota||South Carolina|
|1/1/2014||Heart of Dallas||Big Ten 7 vs. Big 12 8||West Virginia||Utah*|
|1/1/2014||Outback (Tampa)||Big Ten 3 vs. SEC 4||Michigan||LSU|
|12/31/2013||Chick-fil-A (Atlanta)||ACC 2 vs. SEC 5||Clemson||Ole Miss|
|12/31/2013||Independence (Shreveport)||SEC 10 vs. ACC 7||Vanderbilt||Boston College|
|12/31/2013||Liberty (Memphis)||C-USA 1 vs. SEC 8||North Texas||Tennessee|
|12/31/2013||Sun (El Paso)||ACC 4 vs. Pac-12 4||Georgia Tech||UCLA|
|12/30/2013||Alamo (San Antonio)||Big 12 3 vs. Pac-12 2||Oklahoma State||Arizona State|
|12/30/2013||Armed Forces (Ft. Worth)||MWC 3 vs. C-USA 3/Navy||San Diego State||Navy|
|12/30/2013||Holiday (San Diego)||Pac-12 3 vs. Big 12 5||USC||Texas|
|12/30/2013||Music City (Nashville)||ACC 6 vs. SEC 7||Virginia Tech||Georgia|
|12/28/2013||Belk (Charlotte)||AAC 3 vs. ACC 5||Houston||Duke|
|12/28/2013||Buffalo Wild Wings (PHX)||Big 12 4 vs. Big Ten 5||Texas Tech||Iowa|
|12/28/2013||Pinstripe (New York)||Big 12 7 vs. AAC 4||Notre Dame*||Cincinnati|
|12/28/2013||Russell Athletic (Orlando)||AAC 2 vs. ACC 3||Louisville||Miami|
|12/27/2013||Kraft (San Francisco)||Pac-12 6 vs. BYU/ACC 9||Washington||BYU|
|12/27/2013||Military (Annapolis)||ACC 8 vs. C-USA 5||Maryland||East Carolina|
|12/27/2013||Texas (Houston)||Big 12 6 vs. Big Ten 6||Kansas State||Nebraska|
|12/26/2013||Little Caesars (Detroit)||MAC 1 vs. Big Ten 8||Northern Illinois||ULM*|
|12/26/2013||Poinsettia (San Diego)||MWC 2 vs. Army||Utah State||Ohio*|
|12/24/2013||Hawaii||MWC 5 vs. C-USA 2||Bowling Green*||Rice|
|12/23/2013||Beef O'Brady's (St. Pete.)||AAC 6 vs. C-USA 4||Toledo*||Marshall|
|12/21/2013||Idaho Potato (Boise)||MAC 3 vs. MWC 6||Buffalo||Texas State*|
|12/21/2013||Las Vegas||MWC 1 vs. Pac-12 5||Boise State||Oregon State|
|12/21/2013||New Mexico (Albuquerque)||MWC 4 vs. Pac-12 7||San Jose State||Arizona|
|12/21/2013||New Orleans||Sun Belt 1 vs. C-USA 6||UL Lafayette||Tulane|
Bold: Team moved up since last week.
Italics: Team moved down since last week.
*: Filling in for another conference.
**: Update: Michigan State and Wisconsin switch after the release of the BCS standings. Wisconsin's still No. 24, with a long way to go to the top 14, while the Spartans have jumped to No. 17 and have the computer numbers to make a top-10 push.
More or less the same story as the last two weeks. If Alabama and Oregon win out, they'll very likely play for the national championship, and I think they'll both win out. Florida State is as good as either of them and deserves a chance if it stays perfect, but that's not the system.
Texas A&M remains the Sugar's replacement for Alabama, since if it can finish in the top 14, nobody's passing on Johnny Manziel's last game, whether LSU beats A&M or South Carolina beats Clemson or whatever else. The Rose still takes a potentially top-five Stanford, for now.
The Orange could be the only bowl left with an actual choice, and though Michigan State is my personal favorite team this year (and a huge challenge for Ohio State in the likely Big Ten Championship), a 10-2 Wisconsin promises too many points. Bowls love points. Other potential picks include Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State (and even Louisville), but I see those teams dropping games along the way.
After that, if Fresno State finishes ranked in the top 16 and ahead of the lowest AQ-conference champion or in the top 12, UCF (or Louisville or Houston) and the Bulldogs are your last two BCS bowl at-large picks, period. If they don't go, Clemson and Miami are on the table (since the Orange won't pair two ACC teams), in addition to the others above.
What can change next week?
With only a handful of games actually impacting the top of the standings in Week 10, let's look ahead. This weekend was a nice break, but things get real now.
Stanford can make Florida State a rock-solid No. 2 by beating Oregon on Thursday night. The Cardinal would also become both the Rose Bowl favorite and a couple losses away from a national title trip of their own. That same night, Oklahoma can all but steal Baylor's Fiesta Bowl trip and knock the Bears out of the championship hunt for good.
Saturday, LSU might have the best chance of anybody left on Alabama's schedule of preventing another Tide title shot. I don't know how far Bama would fall with a loss, but a trip to the SEC Championship would still likely be in the cards, and a one-loss SEC champ can never be ruled out.
Elsewhere at the top, Florida State travels to Wake Forest (needing another blowout win if Oregon beats Stanford), Ohio State is off, Miami battles Virginia Tech and tries to earn a FSU rematch, and Missouri and Auburn hit the road to play Kentucky and Tennessee.
Both potential BCS-busters Fresno State and Northern Illinois have very tough games coming up. The Bulldogs travel to a Wyoming team that scores a lot of points, but just fired its defensive coordinator. NIU is off, but gets Ball State, likely the MAC's second-best team, the following Wednesday.
How would you line 'em up right now, and what could be changing for you in the next few weeks?
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