An Oklahoma State loss is far from the only thing 'Bama needs to earn a rematch with LSU in the BCS national championship game, even if that seems to be the case according to the latest standings. Stanford is at No. 4 and poised to make a move, if it can get by No. 7 Oregon next week in a huge Pac-12 showdown on the Farm.
It's possible that Stanford, with a win, may get past Alabama next week. But even if the Cardinal don't, they eventually will if they can also take care of business against Cal and Notre Dame to finish 12-0. They're already ahead of Alabama in both polls, and their computer ratings will gradually strengthen and close up the gap. Stanford's problem isn't Alabama, but Oklahoma State. The Cardinal won't get to No. 2 if the Cowboys don't lose.
The only two teams that control their own destiny for a spot in the BCS title game are our current top two: LSU and Oklahoma State. Both teams will make it to New Orleans if they can maintain their unblemished records.
The Tigers have two potentially challenging games left - the Golden Boot rivalry game against Arkansas and the SEC championship game against, most likely, Georgia. The Cowboys need to get by archrival Oklahoma in the Bedlam, though next week's game at Texas Tech might not be a cakewalk despite the Red Raiders' recent struggles.
Beyond this tandem - and Stanford, the next in line - everybody else has issues, and lots of them. Alabama's best shot is to have Arkansas defeat LSU and use the SEC's BCS-based tiebreaker to take the West Division's spot in the conference title game. Boise State, still at No. 5 and now behind one-loss Alabama, may need divine intervention. The rest, a few one-loss teams plus undefeated Houston, will need even more of a prayer than that.
But while the BCS title game isn't for everyone, more than a dozen teams still have a shot at winning their respective conferences and thus a healthy payday at a BCS bowl game. Here we break things down, conference-by-conference:
ACC: Clemson can clinch the Atlantic with a win over Wake Forest. If the Deacons beat Clemson and Maryland, they'll take the division. In the Coastal, Thursday's winner between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech will have the inside track, though Virginia is still lurking.
Big East: Cincinnati can afford to lose one of its four remaining games and still take the conference title. But with most teams having barely played half of their conference schedule, it's still a wide-open race. It's a travesty that this conference should still have AQ-status (and for two more years!), but that's a topic for another day.
Big Ten: This weekend's winner between Iowa and Michigan State will control its own destiny in the Legends Division (word has it that the Hawkeyes want the same officiating crew that helped them beat Michigan back). In the Leaders Division, Penn State has a two-game lead, but with games against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin left - the latter two on the road - it's far from assured of anything.
Big 12: It will be decided at the Bedlam in Stillwater. There's no conference championship game.
Pac-12: Saturday's Stanford-Oregon winner will take the North Division. In the South, amazingly only UCLA controls its own destiny. The Bruins have Utah, Colorado and USC left on the schedule, and no margin for error. A UCLA loss will put Arizona State back in the driver's seat. But no matter what, the inaugural Pac-12 championship game will be played on the field of the North winner.
SEC: If Georgia can beat Auburn and Kentucky at home, the Dawgs will take the East Division. Otherwise, it reverts to South Carolina. In the West, LSU can clinch by beating Arkansas, otherwise, the BCS Standings might have to be applied to pick a winner out of three 11-1 teams in LSU, Alabama and Arkansas.
Non-AQ: Boise State's biggest remaining obstacle to another unbeaten season is this Saturday's game against TCU. A victory here and a 12-0 record will earn the Broncos no worse than their third BCS bowl in six years. If Boise State should stumble along the way, Houston would qualify for a BCS bowl berth if it can win its three remaining games plus the Conference USA title game, most likely against Southern Miss.
Now, take a deep breath, we're jumping right into our BCS Bowl Projections:
BCS Championship Game: LSU vs. Stanford. Now, this would be a heck of a matchup. A lights-out defense against an NFL-quality quarterback and a stout running game. We're not sold on Oklahoma State running the table, and Stanford is just one big win away from doing so.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon. The Pac-12's second-best team will be picked here, naturally, to replace Stanford. And despite trailing Penn State by two games with three games to play, the Badgers will find a way to win the Leaders Division and take the inaugural Big Ten title game.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma State. This would be a great New Orleans undercard featuring the irresistible Cowboys offense and the immovable Crimson Tide defense.
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Boise State. It was great the first time (unless you're a Sooners fan), and a rematch really isn't necessary. But given the choice of the Big East champ and the undefeated Broncos, that's still an easy pick.
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Cincinnati. Another ACC-Big East stinker. Is it 2014 yet?
And finally, our BCS Impact Game of the Week:
Oregon at Stanford (8 p.m. ET, ABC): Last year, the Cardinal took a 21-3 early lead, only to be buried by an avalanche of Oregon touchdowns, including a 28-0 whitewash in the second half of a 52-31 beatdown. It was Stanford's only loss of the season while Oregon went on to the BCS title game. This time, the game will be a lot closer. The Ducks offense is still potent, but not as dynamic as last year's. And Andrew Luck is even more poised, with a better running game at his disposal. The final score won't be 9-6, guaranteed.
Other games with BCS ramifications:
- Oklahoma State at Texas Tech (Noon ET, ABC)
- TCU at Boise State (3:30 p.m. ET, Versus)
- Auburn at Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Samuel Chi is the proprietor of BCSGuru.com and managing editor of RealClearSports. Sam's college football and BCS analysis, exclusively for SB Nation, will appear on Sundays and Mondays throughout the season. Follow him on Twitter at BCSGuru.