BCS Buster Power Rankings: 2012 Week 7 Rankings

Life interfered with my ability to get out the BCS Buster Power Rankings last week, so we’ll have to go into some extra depth. As the first compilation of BCS standings is officially released this Sunday, it seems a proper time to assess just where the teams in the hunt might legitimately lie.

We saw defeat dwindle our pool of undefeated teams to just one — the Ohio Bobcats, who keep skating on thin ice as they earn narrow victory after narrow victory in MAC play. We’ll likely see one team reach the top 25 of the BCS standings, and it’s a standard brand of BCS Buster at this point.

The problem in the case of Boise State (and indeed Louisiana Tech, who could earn some consideration from pollsters and computers if they go 11-1 and Texas A&M continues to win) is not that they’ll get votes; it is more that they could finish in the top 16 but miss out.

Why? Well… quite simply, the Big East hasn’t been abysmal enough to offer that loophole of hope for prospective Busters. As the BCS selection procedures stipulate in section 3:

3.The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or, B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

In each of the past two years, 16th would have been enough to kick automatic qualifying procedure 3(b) into play given the Big East’s recent ineptitude. West Virginia, now in the Big XII, was the top-ranked team from the Big East in both 2010 (22nd) and 2011 (23rd). The problem for one-loss BCS Buster hopefuls this year, though, is that three teams from the Big East remain undefeated and are creating a situation like 2006.

That season three Big East teams entered November in the top ten of the BCS standings. As late as November 12, before the head-to-head matchups caused natural drift in the Big East and BCS standings, the Mountaineers were joined by Louisville and Rutgers among the nation’s elite. At the time it was being hailed as a resurgence of the league which had lost cornerstones Miami and Virginia Tech two years prior.

Perception, not reality, has tempered our expectations of the Big East’s competitiveness. It is largely a byproduct of continual realignment repeatedly leaving that league a loser after each shakeup settles. With Rutgers, Cincinnati and Louisville all undefeated at this point, we’re all being forced once again to reassess that position. Just as they weren’t dead in 2006, so the Big East remains viable in 2012…

… or at least viable enough to make it tougher this year to break the BCS as a one-loss non-AQ than it might have been in the previous few. (Of course, there were one-loss non-AQ teams that had the chance the past few years yet failed to do so… so perhaps this too is a spurious hypothesis.)

At the least, we now know who will be number one in the rankings as the weeks continue. (And no… Notre Dame still doesn’t count, as they qualify via selection procedure #4 rather than under the auspices of section #3.) It’s the jumble below them that will be our academic exercise from here on out as we proceed with the weekly BCS Buster Power Rankings.

1. OHIO BOBCATS (MAC/7-0)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST GAME: W 34-28 v. Akron
  • NEXT GAME: @ Miami (Ohio)

The Bobcats have been living on a prayer the entire season. While they rank decently in most offensive and defensive categories, and while they are the sole remaining undefeated team, the manner in which Ohio has actually reached 6-0 has been increasingly nerve-wracking as the season as progressed. After back-to-back double-digit wins against Penn State and New Mexico State, it appeared the Bobcats were going to trounce their way to 13-0. A three-point win at Marshall was seen as the anomaly, a game expected to be tough for Frank Solich’s crew. They rebounded against FCS Norfolk State, but since entering the MAC schedule Ohio has been unable to win a game by more than a touchdown. That, more than anything else, has been the biggest factor in keeping the Bobcats down in the human polls. Because their strength of schedule is so weak, the computers haven’t been prone to boost Ohio’s ranking. Thus they must depend on impressing the eyeballs of the pollsters; so far their performance has failed to yield a boost in any of the numbers that matter. They’ve also got to fight past two teams that have losses but might remain ahead of them in those minds. The Sisyphean battle remains as tough as ever for the Bobcats…

 

2. LOUISIANA TECH BULLDOGS (WAC/5-1)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST WEEK: L 59-57 v. Texas A&M (in Shreveport)
  • NEXT WEEK: v. Idaho

The WAC’s best hope for a BCS Buster in its final season of existence is now left to hold out hope for an unprecedented collapse among college football’s bluebloods. The only hope left for the Bulldogs, after losing a thriller in Shreveport to Texas A&M on a missed two-point conversion in the final minute, is to find their way up the BCS standings into the top 16 and hope that one of either the Big Ten, Big East or ACC pounds itself into obsolescence this season enough. Right now the Big Ten is actually the best hope for Louisiana Tech and the teams below them; as mentioned already, the Big East has three undefeated teams and the ACC still has Florida State and Clemson in the rankings. With Ohio State ineligible, neither Wisconsin nor Northwestern nor Michigan nor Iowa has acquitted themselves enough to move beyond the 21-25 range. For a team that scores more points than any other in the nation (but also gives up a ton), that clause coupled with a more impressive resume than any other potential BCS Buster could be the salvation that keeps the WAC’s Cinderella story in play as it breathes its final deathbed wheezes…

 

3. BOISE STATE BRONCOS (MWC/5-1)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST WEEK: W 20-10 v. Fresno State
  • NEXT WEEK: v. UNLV

Boise State doesn’t have quite the statement win this year that they enjoyed in seasons past; and their loss to Michigan State looks worse by the weekend, as the Spartans have played .500 ball since their season-opening victory over the Broncos. They won ugly at home over BYU; they traveled to beat a Southern Miss team that is 0-6 after winning C-USA last year. So why has Boise ranked above the Bulldogs and Bobcats in the human polls despite both being undefeated? The biggest thing in their favor is simply the name recognition that has come from busting the BCS twice before and coming oh-so-close at multiple other times during the past seven seasons. They don’t have the resume of Louisiana Tech, which is why — despite ranking above them in the BCS rankings — Boise State slots in third. What they do have, though, is the Boise State brand… one that evokes both the Cinderella images of the past and powerhouse visions of the present and future for pollsters. That could very well prove the difference in the battle to make a new sort of Buster history, especially if Ohio stumbles in one of these close MAC contests they keep playing…

 

4. TULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE (C-USA/6-1)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST GAME: W 33-11 v. UTEP
  • NEXT GAME: v. Rice

Could the Golden Hurricane also insert themselves into the discussion of one-loss BCS Buster hopefuls? Their only defeat came on the road against Iowa State… one might argue that losing by 15 to the 4-2 Cyclones should be held against a team less than losing to 4-3 Michigan State by 4. Like Boise State, Tulsa has had to break in a new quarterback after losing a longtime starter to graduation. The difference for the C-USA leader is that they have a two-pronged backfield on which they can rely; RBs Ja’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts average more than 70 yards a game apiece, providing the fuel for the nation’s 10th-ranked rushing offense (250.7 yards/game). They also have the nation’s top front seven on defense, generating 4.7 sacks a game and nearly 10 tackles for loss. Working against the Golden Hurricane, though, is the fact that they have a common opponent on which we can compare them with the Broncos. Tulsa beat Fresno State 27-26 at home on September 22; Boise State beat the Bulldogs 20-10 this weekend, also in a home game. With a more comfortable margin of victory, Boise earns the benefit of the doubt — even before the respective names are taken into account…

 

5. WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS (SUN BELT/5-1)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST GAME: W 31-26 @ Troy
  • NEXT GAME: v. Louisiana-Monroe

The Hilltoppers get the benefit of the doubt among teams with a loss… none of the other BCS hopefuls can say that their loss came on the road to the defending national champion and current top-ranked team in the country. Western Kentucky does have the benefit of beating their in-state SEC big brother in overtime, and they have the inside track on what has shaped up to be the toughest Sun Belt Conference race ever. Making it through this minefield 11-1 would certainly raise a few eyebrows. Whether it would be enough to get into the top 16 is another matter. The Hilltoppers would likely need assistance in the form of losses by teams ahead of them in the rankings, and they — like every other one-loss hopeful — would need one of the BCS conferences to remain less impressive by comparison…

 

6. NEVADA WOLF PACK (MWC/6-1)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST GAME: W 42-37 @ UNLV
  • NEXT GAME: v. San Diego State

Nevada has the benefit of a road win over Cal. They also have the specter of having the wrong Big East team beat them at home. That 32-31 loss to South Florida — a game where the Wolf Pack led for all but the final 38 seconds — has been their only loss, but the Bulls have lost four straight since winning in Reno. While that one-point defeat could come back to haunt Chris Ault’s crew, they also control their own destiny in the Mountain West race. Three straight nationally-televised games (the first two on CBS Sports Network, the last on NBC Sports Network) will give them the opportunity to open voters’ eyes; a season finale at home against Boise State could be the de facto conference championship game on Championship Saturday. The Wolf Pack could certainly use a USF upset of Louisville, Cincinnati and/or Miami, but Nevada can continue to rise in the national esteem if they keep winning…

 

7(t). TOLEDO ROCKETS (MAC/6-1)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST GAME: W 52-47 @ Eastern Michigan
  • NEXT GAME: v. Cincinnati

7(t). NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES (MAC/6-1)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST GAME: W 45-3 v. Buffalo
  • NEXT GAME: @ Akron

These two MAC teams are damn near inseparable. They both suffered narrow defeats in their respective season openers on the road to respectable BCS-conference opponents — Toledo to Arizona 24-17 in overtime, Northern Illinois against Iowa 18-17 in a game played at Soldier Field in Chicago. NIU has a BCS win at home over Kansas this year, a 30-23 win on September 22. Toledo has the opportunity for a more impressive win next weekend, as they head to Nippert Stadium to take on undefeated Cincinnati. Right now they’re close enough in terms of overall performance that the West Division could come down to a de facto conference semifinal when they square off in DeKalb on November 14 for a prime-time Wednesday showdown . One of these two teams will almost certainly be playing the Bobcats in the MAC Championship; it is only a matter of which one earns the honor.

 

9. LOUISIANA-MONROE WARHAWKS (SUN BELT/4-2)

  • CURRENT BCS POSITION: TBD
  • LAST GAME: W 35-14 v. Florida Atlantic
  • NEXT GAME: @ Western Kentucky

Why Louisiana-Monroe as the final team we’ll write about this week and not in-state Sun Belt rival Louisiana-Lafayette? Well, simply, the WarHawks have the better back story this season. They kick-started Arkansas’ skid with an upset overtime win in Fayetteville. They took Auburn to overtime on the road the next weekend. And then they played a close Friday-night thriller against Baylor. This weekend’s game on the road against Western Kentucky will go a long way toward settling the Sun Belt race this year, and they’ll take on the Ragin’ Cajuns on the first Saturday in November in what could end up a title match. If any two-loss team were to capitalize on a full-scale FBS Armageddon this year were it to materialize, it would be ULM.

 

NEXT IN LINE: Louisana-Lafayette (Sun Belt/4-1), Kent State (MAC/5-1), Utah State (WAC/5-2)

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