by Tom Lindley
CNHI News Service
— Take one giant step forward Florida State, move over to the sidelines Oregon. That’s how things stand following Thursday night’s shocking shakeup in the race for an invitation to the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 6.
Oregon stumbled once again in a big Pacific 12 game, leaving Stanford with a humbling 26-20 loss that has done near-fatal damage to its championship dreams.
Florida State, which was at home resting in anticipation of Saturday’s game against a mediocre Wake Forest team, unexpectedly moved into a strong position to play for it all in Pasadena. After Saturday’s game against the Demon Deacons, Florida State has scrimmages with Syracuse and Idaho before closing the regular season against Florida. The ACC championship game could produce a rematch with Miami.
There’s plenty of football yet to be played this season, during which things have had a way of going wrong for the front-runners. Nevertheless, more than one good team is going to be left home to soothe its hurt feelings and be relegated to a lesser bowl, where fun and good times will be served up but not an opportunity for a national championship.
This year marks the end of the BCS. No more of these silly somebody-gets-ripped-off predicaments. Thank goodness.
The notion of picking only two teams to play for a championship and declaring the winner the best in the land is absurd. It’s fraudulent at best, criminal at worst. Honestly, selecting four isn't much better.
About four weeks remain in the regular season. If it wins its remaining games – and there’s no guarantee that will happen, Alabama gets the first invitation. The top-ranked Crimson Tide is the defending national champion and until someone beats Alabama it stays atop the hill.
That could be easier said than done. Louisiana State travels to Tuscaloosa this weekend, and Coach Les Miles’ team has little to lose. A wounded Tiger is a dangerous beast. Trips to Mississippi State and revenge-seeking Auburn await Nick Saban and Co. Pass those tests and Alabama gets a trip to the SEC championship, which could be another risky assignment.
Alabama certainly has it better than the other participants in this year’s beauty pageant. Jumping into the serious discussions are Baylor, which improved its standing after Thursday night’s thumping of Oklahoma, and a “We- get-no-respect” Ohio State team.
Despite being unbeaten (8-0) and ranked fifth in the country, Baylor wasn’t being included in championship talk. That now changes – at least for a while. Coach Art Briles’ offensive juggernaut has scored 488 points in eight games, but the Bears do face a season-ending grind. Still on the schedule are Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas. The Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game.
Now don’t forget about Ohio State. The Big Ten isn’t shooting on all cylinders these days, but it’s hard to find much fault with how the Buckeyes have fared since Urban Meyer came to town. Arriving in 2012, Meyer and Ohio State have marched to 21 consecutive victories. The question from Columbus is clear: How do you leave a team out of the national championship that has gone undefeated over two seasons?
Ohio State has easily winnable games against Indiana, Illinois and Michigan on its schedule. The Big 10 championship, perhaps against Michigan State, could be interesting, though. At this point there’s no reason to bet against the Bucks. All of that said, Ohio State is going to need a couple of breaks if it hopes to be playing for the crystal ball.
Other top-notch teams remain on the outside just waiting for a late-season misstep by someone so they can make a last-minute claim.
Besides the four major unbeatens (sorry Northern Illinois and Fresno State), there are still a dozen one-loss teams waiting in the wings – Auburn, Clemson, Central Florida, Louisville, Houston, Ball State, Miami, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Stanford and, oh yes, Oregon.
Next season four teams will vie for the title in a slightly expanded playoff, which is an improvement. Yet that won’t eliminate all the fuss and frustration. It will still remain an exclusive event where one misstep brings an end to big dreams and plans.
Gaining a spot in the championship game is the ultimate test of survival.
Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.