Two weeks away from the first official BCS standings of the 2011 season, let's take a look at who's best put themselves in line for a chance at a national title.
Alabama and Wisconsin both made powerful statements to add to their resumes for the 2011 season, with overwhelming victories over solid competition. LSU, Stanford, and Oklahoma held serve by taking care of business, although all three notched wins over weaker teams that really didn't do any favors to their computer scores, both now and in the future. While Boise State got sweet revenge over Nevada in convincing fashion, the Broncos' national title hopes suffered a crucial setback many miles away in Fort Worth. Clemson, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Michigan are coalescing as the "second tier" of undefeated contenders, although all four still have huge match ups ahead.
As we dust off our BCS analytics, we don't want to get too granular yet, thinking about Harris poll votes and Colley Matrix. We will have plenty of time for that when the first of many BCS weekly standings are released on October 16. However, what may be useful is to look at trends that are emerging after five weeks of football has been played, and in my opinion, the most important tea leaves to read right now come from conference strength (good news for the Big XII and SEC, very bad news for the Pac 12) and schedule strength.
First, however, we begin by taking a very quick inventory of the nation's remaining unbeaten teams, as clearly those without a loss with impressive resumes will always be in excellent position for a national championship bid.
Fifteen teams remain undefeated through five weeks of action (a drop from 22 undefeated teams a week ago), with the conference breakdown as follows:
Big XII (5): Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Texas, Texas Tech
Big 10 (3): Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
ACC (2): Clemson, Georgia Tech
SEC (2): Alabama, LSU
Conf USA (1): Houston
MWC (1): Boise St
Pac 12 (1): Stanford
The Best Positioned
Not to be a broken record (as this has basically been true for several years running), but I believe the SEC and Big XII are firmly entrenched as the leading candidates for the national title game, assuming both leagues send undefeated teams to the post season. The Big XII continues to hold a narrow lead as best conference in the nation (based on out-of-conference record) over the SEC, but the SEC tightened that gap given Arkansas' huge comeback win over Texas A&M.
By virtue of these exceptional out of conference performances by the Big XII and SEC, both of these conferences will provide huge tailwinds to contenders in the computers (incredibly strong strength of schedule) and the human polls (by having a high number of ranked teams on contenders' resume).
Stanford and Wisconsin have been absolutely dominant on the field, but they are vulnerable off the field due to problematic computer prospects. With projected schedules in the 60s (out of about 120 teams), Wisconsin is being hurt by a very poor out-of-conference schedule (UNLV, Oregon St, Northern Illinois, and South Dakota), while Stanford is being held back by the terrible performance of the Pac 10 (12-11 versus other leagues overall). Not only would OU/LSU/Alabama consistently trump Stanford and Wisconsin in the BCS standings, but should Oklahoma State or Texas make an undefeated run (which does not seem likely but you never know), these two teams would probably propel ahead of the Badgers and Cardinal as well.
Boise State will be greatly held back by its schedule, now projected to rank 84th in the nation. Worse yet, with TCU being upset at home by SMU, Boise State now has no ranked foes on its schedule. While an at-large bid to a non-national championship BCS game seems likely should Boise win out, there is no real viable way the Broncos will go to the national championship unless the teams from the "power conferences" begin piling up one or two losses.
Tune in to SB Nation's college football news hub for more as we ready for BCS madness.