Commentary

If not the Tigers or Cowboys, then who?

Originally Published: November 14, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Alabama lost to LSU by a field goal.

Oregon lost to LSU by 13 points.

The Crimson Tide lost on the game's final play in overtime.

The Ducks lost late in the third quarter, when their fumbles on consecutive touches led to two LSU touchdowns and a 30-13 deficit.

[+] EnlargeThomas
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOregon was done in by a pair of costly fumbles in its season-opening loss to LSU.

Alabama couldn't score a touchdown against the Tigers' menacing defense.

Oregon scored one touchdown until the game was well out of reach.

The Crimson Tide couldn't kick a field goal against LSU.

The Ducks couldn't field a kick against LSU.

Alabama lost to LSU two weeks ago.

Oregon lost to LSU more than two months ago.

With three weeks left in college football's regular season, No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Oklahoma State remain on a collision course to play in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship game in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

But if the Tigers or Pokes (or both) fall in one of their final three games, which team is next in line to play for a national championship? The BCS picture became even more muddled this past weekend, with two previously unbeaten teams falling. Oregon blasted then-No. 4 Stanford 53-30 in Palo Alto, Calif., and TCU upset No. 5 Boise State 36-35 in Boise, Idaho after the Broncos missed a 39-yard field goal as time expired.

If Oklahoma State loses one of its last two games -- and with the way the Pokes have been playing lately, the entire argument might be moot -- the chances of LSU playing No. 3 Alabama or No. 4 Oregon again increases dramatically. No. 5 Oklahoma, which started the season ranked No. 1, is back in the BCS title hunt, too, after falling three weeks ago.

Which one-loss team is most deserving? Here's a closer look at the one-loss contenders:

Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 9-1, 6-1 SEC
BCS ranking: 3
Combined record of defeated FBS opponents: 46-44
Wins over ranked teams (when Alabama played them): 3
Wins over FBS teams with current .500 or losing record: 7
Best victory: 38-14 over then-No. 14 Arkansas on Sept. 24
Only loss: 9-6 in overtime vs. No. 1 LSU on Nov. 5
Remaining games: vs. Georgia Southern on Saturday; at No. 24 Auburn on Nov. 26
Best argument for: The Crimson Tide went nose-to-nose with LSU for more than 60 minutes, losing on Tigers kicker Drew Alleman's 25-yard field goal in overtime. The Tide outgained the Tigers 295 to 239 yards in total offense, but missed four field goals.
Best argument against: Some voters might be reluctant to vote the Crimson Tide No. 2 in the final coaches' Top-25 poll or Harris Poll (which make up two-thirds of the BCS formula) because they wouldn't have won an SEC title. Unless LSU loses a game, Alabama won't be able to win the SEC West and play in the Dec. 3 SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. That argument was part of the reason LSU played for a BCS national championship in 2007, instead of Georgia, which didn't win the SEC East but finished No. 2 in the country.

Oregon Ducks

Record: 9-1, 7-0 Pac-12
BCS ranking: 4
Combined record of defeated FBS opponents: 41-39
Wins over ranked teams (when Oregon played them): 2
Wins over FBS teams with current .500 or losing record: 3
Best victory: 53-30 at then-No. 4 Stanford on Nov. 12
Only loss: 40-27 vs. LSU on Sept. 3
Remaining games: vs. USC on Saturday; vs. Oregon State on Nov. 26; and potentially in the Dec. 2 Pac-12 championship game
Best argument for: The Ducks have won nine games in a row since losing to LSU in their opener at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Ducks were missing star cornerback Cliff Harris in the opener (he's indefinitely suspended from the team now) and his absence on punt returns was a big factor. Each of the Ducks' eight victories over FBS opponents were decided by 14 points or more and they've scored 34 points or more in all nine wins.
Best argument against: Oregon's high-powered offense was held in check in its past two games against SEC teams. The Ducks lost to Auburn 22-19 in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, despite gaining 449 yards of offense. The Ducks had 335 yards of offense and four turnovers against LSU in this season's opener. In Oregon's games against nonconference top-25 opponents during the last three seasons (against Boise State, Ohio State, Auburn and LSU), it scored nearly four touchdowns and averaged 200 yards of offense fewer than in its other games.

Oklahoma Sooners

Record: 8-1, 5-1 Big 12
BCS ranking: 5
Combined record of defeated FBS opponents: 46-31
Wins over ranked teams (when OU played them): 3
Wins over FBS teams with current .500 or losing record: 3
Best victory: 58-17 at then-No. 8 Kansas State on Oct. 29
Only loss: 41-38 to Texas Tech on Oct. 22
Remaining games: at No. 22 Baylor on Saturday; vs. Iowa State on Nov. 26; at No. 2 Oklahoma State on Dec. 3
Best argument for: The Sooners have played arguably a more difficult schedule than the Crimson Tide and Ducks and have two impressive road victories: 23-13 at then-No. 5 Florida State on Sept. 17 and 58-17 at then-No. 8 Kansas State on Oct. 22. Since losing to Texas Tech, the Sooners defeated Kansas State and Texas A&M by a combined score of 99-42.
Best argument against: The Sooners have easily the worst loss among the one-loss contenders. Since ending OU's 39-game home winning streak, the Red Raiders have lost to Iowa State, Texas and Oklahoma State by a combined score of 159-33. The Sooners also lost leading rusher Dominique Whaley and star receiver Ryan Broyles to season-ending injuries.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Record: 9-1, 5-1 SEC
BCS ranking: 6
Combined record of defeated FBS opponents: 33-46
Wins over ranked teams (when Arkansas played them): 3
Wins over FBS teams with current. 500 or losing record: 6
Best victory: 44-28 over then-No. 9 South Carolina on Nov. 5
Only loss: 38-14 at Alabama on Sept. 24
Remaining games: vs. Mississippi State on Saturday; at LSU on Nov. 25
Best argument for: For Arkansas to reach the BCS National Championship Game, the Razorbacks would have to defeat No. 1 LSU on the road on Nov. 25. A victory over LSU would give the Hogs two victories over top-10 SEC foes, having already defeated South Carolina.
Best argument against: The Razorbacks are only the third-best team in the SEC West and beating LSU might not even be enough to win the SEC West. If LSU loses to Arkansas, and the Razorbacks and Crimson Tide both win out, there would be a three-way tie for the SEC West title. Since Arkansas and Alabama would probably be within five spots of each other in the BCS standings, the Tide would win a tiebreaker based on head-to-head results.

Clemson Tigers

Record: 9-1, 6-1 ACC
BCS ranking: 7
Combined record of defeated FBS opponents: 40-39
Wins over ranked teams (when Clemson played them): 3
Wins over FBS teams with current .500 or losing record: 4
Best victory: 23-3 at then-No. 11 Virginia Tech on Oct. 1
Only loss: 31-17 at Georgia Tech on Oct. 29
Remaining games: at NC State on Saturday; at South Carolina on Nov. 26; ACC championship game on Dec. 3
Best argument for: The Tigers have one of the country's most explosive offenses and beat ranked teams in three consecutive games over then-No. 21 Auburn, then-No. 11 Florida State and then-No. 11 Virginia Tech. Clemson also would have to defeat No. 12 South Carolina and possibly No. 8 Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game.
Best argument against: The Tigers' loss at Georgia Tech was ugly, as the Yellow Jackets piled up 383 rushing yards and forced four turnovers. The Tigers gave up 45 points to Maryland and 38 points to North Carolina, but won both games. Clemson needed a last-second field goal to defeat 5-5 Wake Forest 31-28 on Saturday.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Record: 9-1, 5-1 ACC
BCS ranking: 8
Combined record of defeated FBS opponents: 39-41
Wins over ranked teams (when Virginia Tech played them): 1
Wins over FBS teams with current .500 or losing record: 6
Best victory: 37-26 at then-No. 21 Georgia Tech on Nov. 10
Only loss: 23-3 vs. Clemson on Oct. 1
Remaining games: vs. North Carolina on Saturday; at Virginia on Nov. 26; potentially in Dec. 3 ACC championship game
Best argument for: If the Hokies play in the Dec. 3 ACC championship game, they'll have a chance to avenge their only loss of the season against Clemson.
Best argument against: The Hokies played a pretty soft nonconference schedule, defeating East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall. They've defeated only one ACC team with a winning record -- Georgia Tech -- and didn't play Florida State during the regular season.

Stanford Cardinal

Record: 9-1, 7-1 Pac-12
BCS ranking: 9
Combined record of defeated FBS opponents: 35-56
Wins over ranked teams (when Stanford played them): 2
Wins over FBS teams with current .500 or losing record: 7
Best victory: 56-48 in three overtimes over USC on Oct. 29
Only loss: 53-30 against Oregon on Nov. 12
Remaining games: vs. California on Saturday; vs. Notre Dame on Nov. 26
Best argument for: The Cardinal had walloped their opponents until needing three overtimes to defeat USC and then losing to Oregon at home on Saturday.
Best argument against: The Cardinal had played suspect competition until its last two games, defeating only two teams with winning records, and was exposed by the Ducks. Stanford can't win the Pac-12 North unless Oregon loses its last two games.

Boise State Broncos

Record: 8-1, 3-1 Mountain West
BCS ranking: 10
Combined record of defeated FBS opponents: 40-37
Wins over ranked teams (when Boise State played them): 1
Wins over FBS teams with current .500 or losing record: 4
Best victory: 35-21 over then-No. 19 Georgia on Sept. 3
Only loss: 36-35 vs. TCU on Nov. 12
Remaining games: at San Diego State on Saturday; vs. Wyoming on Nov. 26; vs. New Mexico on Dec. 3
Best argument for: The Broncos' surprising loss to TCU was only its third defeat in its last 49 games.
Best argument against: The Broncos have defeated only one ranked team all season, beating Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Boise State had absolutely no room for error because of its schedule and lost a game on a missed field goal for the second season in a row.

On the Mark

• Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is a big reason for the Dawgs' late-season resurgence, throwing nine touchdowns in the past two games. Murray completed 14 of 18 passes for 224 yards with four touchdowns in Georgia's 45-7 rout of Auburn at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. With 27 touchdown passes, Murray, a sophomore from Tampa, Fla., broke UGA's single-season record for touchdowns in a season.

[+] EnlargeMurray
Dale Zanine/US PresswireGeorgia's Aaron Murray should get a stiff test from Michigan State's defense in the Outback Bowl.

• Boise State's loss might have ended Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore's Heisman Trophy hopes, and Stanford's loss put a serious dent in quarterback Andrew Luck's chances of winning the hardware. It's hard to ignore Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden any longer. Weeden completed 31 of 37 passes for 423 yards with five touchdowns in less than three quarters of the Pokes' 66-6 victory at Texas Tech. In leading OSU to a 10-0 record, Weeden has completed 73.1 percent of his passes for 3,635 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

• Vanderbilt is 5-5 and one victory away from becoming bowl eligible after blasting Kentucky 38-8 on Saturday. The Commodores play at Tennessee on Saturday and at Wake Forest on Nov. 26. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers, completed 12 of 22 passes for 207 yards with two touchdowns, and tailback Zac Stacy ran for 135 yards with three touchdowns against the Wildcats.

• Faulkner University defeated Union (Ky.) College 95-89 in triple overtime in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday, breaking an NAIA record with 184 points in the game. The total surpassed the previous mark of 141 set in 1994 and was the second-highest scoring game in college football history, only outdone by Georgia Tech's famous 222-0 victory over Cumberland in 1916. Faulker set an NAIA record with 14 touchdowns and quarterback Josh Hollingsworth threw for an NAIA-record 637 yards with seven touchdown passes and one scoring reception.

• Navy didn't complete a single pass in its 24-17 victory over SMU on Saturday. The Midshipmen, who ran for 335 yards in the game, improved to 4-6 and will play in the Military Bowl if they defeat San Jose State and Army in their last two games. Navy has completed only 55 passes all season and completed more than seven passes in a game only once this season.

Off the Mark

• How costly was Boise State's loss to TCU? It could cost the Mountain West Conference around $8 million or more if none of its teams are selected for a BCS bowl game. Since MWC member TCU played in the Rose Bowl last season, the MWC received $12.75 million from the five non-AQ league's BCS share of $24.7 million. The five other non-AQ leagues (Conference USA, Mid-American, Sun Belt and WAC) each received around $4 million or less. If TCU wins the MWC, the Horned Frogs will play in the Las Vegas Bowl and the Broncos will play in the Poinsettia Bowl, which has a payout of $500,000.

• You can't blame Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu for the Yellow Jackets' loss to Virginia Tech on Thursday night. But Attachou's inexplicable decision to throw a punch after sacking quarterback Logan Thomas definitely changed momentum. After sacking Thomas for a two-yard loss on third-and-19 from the Hokies' 17, the Yellow Jackets were penalized 15 yards. The Hokies scored a touchdown five plays later and outgained the Yellow Jackets 151 yards to one yard in total offense the rest of the way.

• It's hard to believe Texas A&M did it again. The Aggies blew a 31-21 lead in the fourth quarter and lost 53-50 in four overtimes at Kansas State on Saturday. If games ended at halftime, the Aggies would be 8-1-1 this season. Intead, they've blown second-half leads in four of their five losses.

• NC State held Boston College to minus-2 yards of offense in the second half, but somehow lost to the Eagles, 14-10. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon threw an interception in BC's end zone and then threw incomplete on fourth-and-5 at the BC 27 with 1:10 to go.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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