Originally Published: October 8, 2012

Assessing BCS title contenders

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

There's one more week for teams to jockey for position ahead of the initial release of the BCS standings next Sunday, as we continue to evaluate this season's field of national championship contenders.

Until college football's four-team playoff begins in 2014, we'll continue to rely exclusively on human polls and computer rankings to measure the value of teams. There's very little margin for error using these methods and fortunes can change very quickly from week to week.

Those swings were in full force after a weekend that featured several games between ranked opponents and a spectacular fall by the No. 3-ranked team. A different kind of evaluative tool, more modern and hysterical, can be used to measure these swings. Take the pulse of a team's fortune on Twitter on a Saturday night during college football season and you'll see the sky falling faster than South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney rushing the edge, or hopes soaring higher than West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's air-raid attack.

Florida State, Georgia and LSU experienced the former on Saturday night -- the Dawgs quite literally.

The No. 3 Seminoles once again faltered while trying to return to the sport's upper echelon, blowing a 16-0 lead in the second half of a 17-16 loss at NC State. The Seminoles' first loss of the season came after Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Underwood on fourth down with 16 seconds to play.

The No. 4 Tigers celebrated the death of quarterback Zach Mettenberger's moustache before Saturday's game at No. 10 Florida, but then mourned the vanishing act of their offense in a 14-6 loss to the red-hot Gators. LSU managed only two first-half field goals and 200 yards of offense, including 42 rushing.

Meanwhile, Georgia's SEC championship hopes might have been dashed in the first 10 minutes of its 35-7 loss at South Carolina on Saturday night. The Bulldogs gave up a 20-yard touchdown pass on the Gamecocks' opening drive, threw an interception that led to another touchdown on their first offensive possession, and then allowed a 70-yard punt return for another score. By the time Uga caught his breath, the Gamecocks had a 21-0 lead with 5:18 to go in the first quarter.

The Bulldog Nation went into full meltdown. Former UGA and NFL running back Terrell Davis Tweeted: "I don't care what anybody says, when you're the #5 team in the nation , you DON't give a performance like this, period!!"

Added former Bulldogs and NFL offensive tackle George Foster on Twitter: "I've never been this ticked about a game I didn't play in. I never thought I'd see a UGA team not show up for 4 whole quarters."

Welcome to college football, where championship hopes can be dashed in four hours and fans (and former lettermen) can express their opinions in 140 characters or less.

It's time to reshuffle the deck on this season's national championship contenders. Here's a closer look at the remaining teams with a shot at playing in the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game in Miami:

Alabama

Record: 5-0, 2-0 SEC
AP Rank: 1
Most impressive win: 41-14 over then-No. 8 Michigan in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 1
Least impressive win: 33-14 over Ole Miss on Sept. 29
Biggest remaining obstacle: at No. 9 LSU on Nov. 3
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: The Crimson Tide, the defending BCS national champions, really haven't been tested this season. Alabama looks like the best team in the country, but we really don't know if it's as good as last season's team that finished 12-1 and defeated LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship Game. The Tide play three consecutive ranked teams -- No. 19 Mississippi State (home on Oct. 27), LSU (road on Nov. 3) and No. 22 Texas A&M (home on Nov. 10) -- during the regular season and would play the SEC East champion (top-five opponents South Carolina or Florida?) in the SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on Dec. 1.

Oregon

Record: 6-0, 3-0 Pac-12
AP Rank: 2
Most impressive win: 49-0 over then-No. 22 Arizona on Sept. 22
Least impressive win: 57-34 over Arkansas State on Sept. 1
Biggest remaining obstacle: at No. 11 USC on Nov. 3
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: The Ducks have once again been dominant on the West Coast, scoring 40 points or more in each of their six games this season, including a 52-21 rout of then-No. 23 Washington on Saturday night. Oregon looks as explosive as ever on offense, ranking fourth nationally with 302.3 rushing yards per game, but it also might have its best defense of the Chip Kelly era. In the Ducks' shutout of Arizona on Sept. 22, they held Rich Rodriguez's spread offense to over 200 yards below its season average. The Ducks play three more games against ranked opponents -- at No. 11 USC, home against No. 17 Stanford and at No. 10 Oregon State in the Civil War on Nov. 24. If they win the Pac-12 North, the Ducks might have to beat the Trojans a second time in the Pac-12 championship game to get to the BCS title game.

South Carolina

Record: 6-0, 4-0 SEC
AP Rank: 3
Most impressive win: 35-7 over then-No. 5 Georgia on Saturday
Least impressive win: 17-13 at Vanderbilt on Aug. 30
Biggest remaining obstacle: at No. 4 Florida on Oct. 20
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: South Carolina jumped into the national championship race with a dominating rout of Georgia on Saturday night. The Gamecocks will have to survive the next two weeks to remain in the BCS title hunt. They play at No. 9 LSU on Saturday night and then play at No. 4 Florida the next week. The schedule softens after those contests, although home games against Tennessee on Oct. 27 and Arkansas on Nov. 10 might be tricky. South Carolina also closes the regular season at No. 16 Clemson on Nov. 24; the Gamecocks have won the past three meetings against their in-state rivals. If South Carolina wins the SEC East, it probably would meet Alabama or LSU in the SEC championship game. The Gamecocks are good enough on defense to compete with either potential opponent.

Florida

Record: 5-0, 4-0 SEC
AP Rank: 4
Most impressive win: 14-6 over then-No. 4 LSU on Saturday
Least impressive win: 27-14 over Bowling Green on Sept. 1
Biggest remaining obstacle: vs. No. 3 South Carolina on Oct. 20
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: The Gators have taken on the personality of their coach Will Muschamp, who has transformed them into a physical, black-and-blue, bruising team. Florida's defense shut down LSU in Saturday's signature victory, and its offense seems to be getting better every week. Quarterback Jeff Driskel has to keep improving if the Gators are going to win the SEC East. Florida still plays three ranked teams -- home against the Gamecocks, against No. 14 Georgia in in Jacksonville, Fla., on Oct. 27 and at No. 12 Florida State on Nov. 24. After Saturday's road game at Vanderbilt, the Gators play their last six games in the state of Florida.

West Virginia

Record: 5-0, 2-0 Big 12
AP Rank: 5
Most impressive win: 48-45 at then-No. 11 Texas on Saturday
Least impressive win: 31-21 over Maryland on Sept. 22
Biggest remaining obstacle: vs. No. 6 Kansas State on Oct. 20
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: The Mountaineers are going to have to keep scoring a ton of points because their defense is going to have problems slowing down anyone. West Virginia is fifth nationally in scoring with 52 points per game and second with 406.8 passing yards per game. Quarterback Geno Smith has thrown 24 touchdowns without an interception in 204 pass attempts. At Texas on Saturday night, the Mountaineers proved they're a physical offense, too, running for 192 yards. West Virginia might have the easiest path to the BCS title game. Each of its remaining games against ranked foes will be played at home: against No. 6 Kansas State on Oct. 20 and No. 13 Oklahoma on Nov. 17. Road games at Texas Tech on Saturday, at Oklahoma State on Nov. 10 and at Iowa State on Nov. 23 are potential roadblocks.

Kansas State

Record: 5-0, 2-0 Big 12
AP Rank: 6
Most impressive win: 24-19 at then-No. 6 Oklahoma on Sept. 22
Least impressive win: 35-21 over North Texas on Sept. 15
Biggest remaining obstacle: at West Virginia on Oct. 20
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: It might finally be time to consider the Wildcats a serious BCS championship contender. Wildcats coach Bill Snyder, who turned 73 on Sunday, continues to orchestrate one of the most remarkable performances in college football history, leading the Wildcats to a 5-0 start. Kansas State runs the ball very well, averaging 262.8 yards per game, and is 16th nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 15.6 points per game. The Wildcats are less dependent on quarterback Collin Klein than last season; he has attempted 94 passes and run the ball 73 times. The Wildcats play four of their last seven games on the road, including the trip to Morgantown, W. Va., and at TCU on Nov. 10. Kansas State closes the regular season against Texas at home on Dec. 1.

Notre Dame

Record: 5-0
AP Rank: 7
Most impressive win: 20-3 at Michigan State on Sept. 15
Least impressive win: 20-17 over Purdue on Sept. 8
Biggest remaining obstacle: at No. 11 USC on Nov. 24
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: We keeping waiting for the Fighting Irish to slip, but they just keep winning. They're coming off one of their most impressive victories of the season, a 41-3 rout of Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday night. The Irish piled up 587 yards of offense, including 376 rushing, and held the Hurricanes to only 84 rushing yards. Coach Brian Kelly has built his team around defense; the Irish held Michigan State and Michigan without a touchdown in victories earlier this season. Notre Dame ranks No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 7.8 points per game, and it's seventh in turnover margin. Notre Dame still faces a difficult road, including Saturday's home contest against No. 17 Stanford and road games at No. 13 Oklahoma on Oct. 27 and at USC in the regular-season finale.

LSU

Record: 5-1, 1-1 SEC
AP Rank: 9
Most impressive win: 41-3 over Washington on Sept. 8
Least impressive win: 12-10 at Auburn on Sept. 22
Biggest remaining obstacle: vs. No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 3
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: The Tigers are going to need a lot of Les Miles magic if they're going to climb back into the BCS title hunt. Their 14-6 loss at Florida put a serious dent in their chances of repeating as SEC champions. LSU's offense has looked awful the past three games, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger has struggled in his first season as a starter, completing 61.8 percent of his passes with three interceptions and 15 sacks. LSU's problems aren't entirely his fault, however, as it had 27 penalties and eight turnovers in the past three games. The Tigers' remaining schedule suddenly looks pretty daunting, starting with Saturday night's home game against No. 3 South Carolina. The Tigers then play a road game at No. 22 Texas A&M on Oct. 20, followed by home games against Alabama on Nov. 3 and No. 19 Mississippi State on Nov. 10. LSU will probably have to win its remaining six regular-season games and win the SEC championship game (and have other undefeated teams lose) to have a chance to return to the BCS national championship game.

Oregon State

Record: 4-0, 3-0 Pac-12
AP Rank: 10
Most impressive win: 27-20 at then-No. 19 UCLA on Sept. 22
Least impressive win: 19-6 over Washington State on Saturday
Biggest remaining obstacle: vs. No. 2 Oregon on Nov. 24
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: It's difficult to consider the Beavers a BCS championship contender when you look at some of their statistics. They rank 93rd nationally in scoring (23.5 points), 106th in rushing (120 yards) and 106th in pass defense (286 yards). But Oregon State keeps opponents out of the end zone (17 points), stops the run (67.2 yards allowed) and throws the football surprisingly well (339.5 yards). Most important, coach Mike Riley keeps finding ways to win games. Quarterback Sean Mannion has been one of the country's biggest surprises; he threw for 379 yards with two touchdowns in an upset at UCLA and 433 yards with three touchdowns in a 38-35 victory at Arizona on Sept. 29. The Beavers play a few difficult road games, at BYU on Saturday, at Washington on Oct. 27 and at No. 17 Stanford on Nov. 10, before playing No. 2 Oregon at home.

USC

Record: 4-1, 2-1 Pac-12
AP Rank: 11
Most impressive win: 27-9 over California on Sept. 22
Least impressive win: 38-28 at Utah on Friday
Biggest remaining obstacle: vs. No. 2 Oregon on Nov. 3
What it will take the hoist the BCS crystal: The Trojans became a BCS championship afterthought after they lost at then-No. 21 Stanford 21-14 on Sept. 15, their fourth consecutive loss to the Cardinal. USC has won two games since the defeat (over Cal and Utah), but will have to do a lot more to climb back into the BCS championship discussion. USC might have a chance to play for a national title if it defeats Oregon twice (at home on Nov. 3 and in the Pac-12 championship game) and beats No. 7 Notre Dame at home on Nov. 24. With quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, the Trojans are equipped to win the rest of their games. Anything short of that means they'll be playing in the Rose Bowl at best.

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