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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Setting Early Non-B.C.S. Conference Odds

Technically, there are seven non-B.C.S. conference teams still in the B.C.S. mix: Boise State, B.Y.U., Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Ohio and Utah State. The number would be eight if Texas-San Antonio was eligible for postseason play, but alas – the Roadrunners, still undefeated after walloping Texas A&M-Commerce, must resign themselves to playing out the string. Unless you’re Boise State, a one-loss non-automatic qualifier is not reaching a B.C.S. bowl without some degree of divine intervention, or the sort of N.C.A.A. intervention that would leave 75 teams ineligible for the postseason.

What each team on this list must do is simple: win out. Anything less would mean the difference between a B.C.S. bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl, as Boise State discovered a year ago. So what are the odds? Let’s look from the greatest chance to the smallest, beginning with the Broncos.

Boise State – 25 percent chance

Only two opponents have a shot: B.Y.U. on Sept. 20 and Nevada on Dec. 1. As in 2010, Nevada gets the Broncos in Reno – and as in 2010, Boise has yet to find an answer at kicker. Is anyone else going to sniff the Broncos? Maybe Southern Mississippi. Maybe Fresno State. Maybe San Diego State. Maybe. Not likely.

For Boise, it’ll just be a waiting game for the next two months. Will enough teams take a slide for an 11-win Boise team to finish in the top 12 of the final B.C.S. poll? Will a conference champion – looking at you, Big East – finish below a Boise team that still finishes among the top 16 in the B.C.S. rankings?

Will Michigan State make a run, legitimizing the one loss on Boise’s schedule? The odds are far greater for Boise than any other non-B.C.S. conference team; as has been the case for years, so will be the case for one more year.

Ohio – 20 percent

The Bobcats can only handle what’s on their plate: winning 12 games, followed by a win over the MAC West champion in the conference title game. Then we’re looking at 13-0, the finest season in program history and, believe it or not, the most successful season by a MAC program in league history.

But would it be enough? Would voters – and computers – think enough of Ohio’s undefeated season to put it high enough in the polls and the B.C.S. rankings? That’s Ohio’s greatest fear: that 13 wins isn’t good enough.

There’s no team left that should beat the Bobcats, though there’s reason to think, based on the fact that this is not a perfect team, that an underdog could pop up and score an upset win. Remember: Ohio must finish in the top 16 to be in the B.C.S. mix. It’s going to be close – because come November, everyone and their mother is going to be ragging on the Bobcats’ schedule.

Louisiana Tech – 15 percent

The Bulldogs have one advantage over Ohio: their schedule. At the same time, this schedule, loaded with prime-time opportunities, is a great disadvantage. But you can’t have one without the other; Louisiana Tech is a B.C.S. contender because of the chances it will have during non-conference play.

Houston’s taken care of, though that win won’t do the Bulldogs any good in the polls. Texas A&M will, however, barring a miserable first season for Kevin Sumlin. So will Illinois and Virginia, especially if the Cavaliers win the A.C.C. Coastal division. All the Bulldogs need to do is sweep the lot of ‘em.

The odds – the odds I just invented – say that the Bulldogs lose once, if not twice. One loss is a crippler. But what if Tech runs the table? Then this team moves ahead of Boise as the top-ranked non-B.C.S. conference team in the country. Part of me thinks that if the Broncos run the table the rest of the way, not even an undefeated Ohio team moves ahead in the final rankings.

B.Y.U. – 10 percent

What’s the Cougars’ biggest problem? Not just a tough schedule, but a tough schedule that includes a road date against the Broncos – something’s going to give. And even if B.Y.U. gets past Boise, it would still need to survive games against Utah, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, among others.

There’s Utah State to worry about. Oregon State. Even San Jose State, which will have six wins before meeting the Cougars on Nov. 17. It’s just a deadly schedule – and B.Y.U. isn’t the only team that would lose a game or more playing this sort of slate.

The good news? Because of this schedule, B.Y.U. could conceivably get an at-large B.C.S. look with one loss. Not two losses, mind you, but a single loss might not prevent the Cougars from stealing Notre Dame’s thunder as an Independent program making a B.C.S. run. First things first: Can B.Y.U. go 11-1?

Utah State – 2 percent

Well, the odds aren’t great. Of course, few thought that the Aggies would beat Utah, so there you go. What lies ahead for Utah State? A hungry Wisconsin team on Saturday, for starters. It’s probably safer to wait until the Aggies get past another B.C.S. conference opponent before dreaming about a B.C.S. bowl. But what if?

Any team that can beat Utah one week and top the Badgers in Madison a week later needs to be taken seriously as a B.C.S. contender. But before taking that step, the Aggies would need to beat B.Y.U., San Jose State and Louisiana Tech – on the road. Easy? Nope. Possible? Not really. This is a very good team, likely the program’s best in decades, but the odds of a B.C.S. run are very slim.

Louisiana-Lafayette – 1 percent
Louisiana-Monroe – 0.1 percent

At least the Ragin’ Cajuns can take solace in one fact: they have a better chance of an undefeated season than their counterparts in Monroe. Little victories mean the world when it comes to this rivalry. But how cool would it be to see two Louisiana schools in the B.C.S. – with one of the above joining L.S.U.? Laissez les… nah, forget it.

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  1. Misthaufen says:

    BYU has the extra burden of needing a pure at large bid, given that it cannot qualify.for the non-AQ conference champ spot.

    Of course, a 12-0 BYU would actually be challenging for the top spot given its schedule…

  2. Adam says:

    I can’t see USU knocking off UW and BYU in back to back games. Andersen is a great coach and the defense really has me impressed, but those will be two emotion filled and physical games for a team which has still yet to provide the final word at being over the “mental” hump.

    Always a pleasure to see the Aggies get a shout-out though

  3. SixWinSeason says:

    Paul, I’d like to know your reasoning why this year’s Ohio team going undefeated would top the 1999 Marshall Thundering Herd.

  4. Dr. Nick says:

    It will be very interesting to see if BYU or Boise can make it to 11-1 and still get a BCS berth. Boise has the name brand while BYU has the schedule, but it either case it would take some serious re-calibration of voter thinking.

    It will be particularly interesting to see what happens if we end the year with an 11-1 BYU or Boise and a 9-3 Notre Dame – particularly if 11-1 BYU ends up with a win over 9-3 Notre Dame in South Bend. Is it wrong that I love dreaming up nightmare BCS scenarios?

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