Seven weeks into the 2008 season, there were 13 undefeated FBS teams. Seven weeks into 2010: ten. 2009: nine. Hell, even in 2007, the oddest, craziest season in recent memory, there were 10 undefeated teams, just like there were this season.
We learn the same lesson every year, then we forget it 12 months later: getting excited about BCS Armageddon scenarios in mid-October simply because there are a lot of undefeated teams left is a complete waste of time. And yet, we cannot help ourselves. Last week, we were envisioning a scenario in which LSU/Alabama, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State/Kansas State, Wisconsin, Clemson, Stanford, Boise State and Houston all finished the season undefeated. At least three BCS conference teams will be screwed out of a chance at the national title! Protesters will take to the streets (#OccupyBCS)! Chaos will reign! Yadda, yadda, yadda ... we get our playoff!
By Saturday night, Wisconsin had lost via Hail Mary and Oklahoma had seen their decade-long conference home win streak snapped via storms, drops and Seth Doege. College football just doesn't work like we think it will. It is what we love about the sport, but in this case, it typically prevents Scenarios Of Mass Outrage. Now, we are down to eight undefeated teams, and we are guaranteed to be, at best, at six come the evening of November 5, after Alabama and LSU have met in Tuscaloosa and Kansas State and Oklahoma State have faced off in Stillwater.
(And let's be honest: it's really four at that point, as clearly nobody cares about Boise State or, especially, Houston. I have made my Boise case, and I will continue to think they could win the title in a given season if given the opportunity, but they simply are not going to be given that opportunity. Maybe if Alabama beats LSU by 60, everybody else loses a game by 70 and Boise State beats TCU by 80. Otherwise, we will find an excuse to keep the Broncos out.)
By now, we should all be well-aware of one simple concept: odds. There are certainly still some Armageddon scenarios on the table, but really, the odds do not favor it. Let's take a look at each undefeated team and their approximate odds of running the table through the rest of the regular season (and, when applicable, conference title game).
(Odds for this feature were calculated using the Adj. Score concept as a jumping-off point.)
The Winner Of Alabama-LSU (84%)
Most Likely Trap Game For Either Team: Dec. 3 SEC Title Game (Alabama: 95 percent chance of winning; LSU: 83 percent chance)
With Oklahoma's loss, it seems to be a general consensus that Alabama and LSU are the two best remaining undefeated teams in the country. And whoever wins next Saturday night will have a mostly unimpeded path to the national title game. If Alabama wins, they have about a 90-percent chance of running the table; if LSU wins, they have about a 78-percent chance. Alabama does still have to win two road games versus opponents who have at least occasionally been salty this year (Mississippi State, Auburn), and an Auburn team not much worse than this one almost took out 'Bama's national title winner in 2009. Still, even factoring in an SEC title game battle versus either Georgia or South Carolina, it appears 'Bama's chances of winning each game following LSU are at least 90 percent.
LSU, meanwhile, has a slightly tougher road, but that is primarily because the numbers see Alabama as the better team. If the Tigers win in Tuscaloosa, then they should skate through Western Kentucky and Ole Miss (in Oxford) with no trouble. They host Arkansas, then they are given about an 83 percent chance of beating either Georgia or South Carolina in the title game.
Boise State (77%)
Most Likely Trap Game: Nov. 12 vs TCU (88 percent) or Nov. 19 at San Diego State (88 percent)
For the first time in what seemed like ages, Boise State got challenged at home by a conference opponent this past weekend, escaping with 'just' an 11-point win over Air Force. But they did survive, and now they face a schedule with, basically, three slam-dunk wins (at UNLV, Wyoming, New Mexico) and two games that are at least semi-interesting. Their worst odds in a given game are 88 percent, as you see above, but that does suggest at least a sliver of hope for Aztecs or Horned Frogs fans. (TCU, by the way, has looked exactly like the TCU we expect to see over the past few games.)
Most Likely Trap Game: Nov. 26 at Tulsa (61 percent)
The forgotten undefeated team has made things interesting, escaping UCLA, Louisiana Tech and UTEP with one-possession wins. Their schedule is so cakey, however, that they are still going to be favored in every game despite only being a decent team. They should skate through Rice, UAB and Tulane in the coming weeks before things get at least a bit more difficult. They host SMU on November 19 (68 percent), then visit Tulsa (61 percent) and head off to the Conference USA title game against (probably) Southern Miss (68 percent). Their odds of winning each individual game are strong, but the odds of winning all of them are not.
Most Likely Trap Game: Saturday at USC (61 percent)
Plenty of landmines remain for a Stanford team that has simply looked incredible in recent weeks. They face two near-tossup games versus USC (61 percent) and Oregon (65 percent), but games versus an improving Oregon State team in Corvallis (85 percent) and a confusing Notre Dame squad in Palo Alto (85 percent) are not complete slam dunks, nor is a Pac-12 title game versus Arizona State (83 percent). Add it all up, and Stanford is relatively likely to lose somewhere in there.
Oklahoma State (20%)
Most Likely Trap Game: Dec. 3 vs Oklahoma (56 percent)
Does That Even Count as a "Trap Game"? If Not, Then Nov. 12 at Texas Tech (61 percent)
Oklahoma State has proven to be sound, experienced, deep and deserving of the No. 3 spot in the BCS standings. But in a knockout Big 12 conference, they still have quite a few tough tests, even if there is no conference title game at play. They host Baylor this weekend (73 percent), host numbers haters Kansas State the next (93 percent), then head to Lubbock on November 12 (61 percent) and Ames on November 19 (85 percent), all before hosting what is still an excellent Oklahoma squad. If they make the national title game, they'll have more than earned it.
Most Likely Trap Game: Every Game But Nov. 12 vs Wake Forest (83 percent)
The numbers don't like Clemson a lot -- like Oregon last year, they take their time before getting dialed in on offense, and the more times you dilly-dally, the more likely you are to get tripped up at some point. The defense has been opportunistic but inconsistent, and while they are a great story, they could also still lose multiple games down the stretch. (And if they do so, it won't be because "they're Clemson," but because they're only good, not great, and face a lot of tough tests.) They should be able to handle Wake Forest at home and a slightly improving N.C. State squad on the road, and lord knows they are playing fading Georgia Tech at the right time (this weekend), but even if they continue their coast-then-surge balancing act through those games, they still have to get by South Carolina in Columbia (seven percent) and potentially Virginia Tech again (32 percent) in the conference title game. They have exceeded what the numbers thought they could do so far, and they may continue to do so, but the odds are against them.
Kansas State (0.1%)
Most Likely Trap Game: All Of Them
Of course, Clemson has nothing on Kansas State. The Wildcats are given a 17-percent chance of beating Oklahoma in Manhattan this weekend and a seven-percent chance of winning in Stillwater the next. If they survive those, then they are given only a nine-percent chance of beating both Texas A&M (in Manhattan) and Texas (in Austin). They have no margin for error whatsoever, but ... guess what: they have had no margin for error so far, too, and are 7-0. The same numbers would have given them a 0.4-percent chance of going undefeated through seven games, yet here they are. They are probably just as likely to finish 8-4 as 12-0, but are you going to doubt them? Because I am scared to at this point.