By Kevin McGuire
This is the week college football fans have had circled on the calendar for quite some time. This is the week that will begin to truly shape the BCS Championship picture. This is the week we have been waiting for.
Two of the biggest games of the college football season will take place this week, beginning with Thursday night’s battle in the Pac 12 between Stanford and Oregon and the Big 12 contest between Baylor and Oklahoma. It then continues Saturday with Alabama hosting LSU. With Alabama, Oregon and Baylor all undefeated and Stanford and Oklahoma with just one blemish on their respective seasons, there will be plenty at stake this week.
Let’s start out west…
This is the game of the year in the Pac 12. The Cardinal and Ducks have been ranked highly from the start of the season and have been the favorites in the Pac 12 each of the last few years. No game on the Pac 12 schedule carries this much hype, not even the Pac 12 championship game. In fact, this may be the true Pac 12 championship game. The top teams in the Pac 12 South, UCLA and Arizona State, are 0-3 against Stanford and Oregon this season and the winner of Oregon-Stanford each of the last three seasons has gone on to win the Pac 10 or Pac 12 championship. Fortune has shined on the road team as well, with the road team winning each of the past two years, with Stanford upsetting the Ducks 17-14 in overtime last season in Eugene, Oregon.
If Oregon can leave Palo Alto with a victory Thursday night, the Ducks will likely nudge past Florida State in the BCS standings. Given the remaining schedules of each, it is probable that Oregon would stay in front of the Seminoles the rest of the way to face Alabama if all three happened to win-out. But there is no reason to think about that scenario just yet, because Stanford has the make-up to slow down Oregon the way few teams can. Take last year’s game for example.
Stanford has plenty riding on this outcome as well. If Stanford can beat Oregon in Palo Alto for just the second time since 1998, the team will pad its profile as the country’s top one-loss team. Currently fifth in the BCS standing, a win over Oregon could strengthen any arguments for placing the Cardinal in front of No. 6 Baylor and perhaps help the cause to pass undefeated No. 4 Ohio State.
Baylor is the team nobody seems to consider a player in the BCS championship hunt. The Bears get even less respect than Ohio State but that could begin to change starting this week. Baylor’s back-end of its schedule is loaded with its toughest competition of the season. Baylor will host No. 10 Oklahoma on Thursday night and the team still has games against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, TCU and Texas. Including Oklahoma, Baylor’s opponents the rest of the year have a combined record of 30-12. This is no easy path for Baylor to capture its first conference championship since winning a share of the Southwest Conference championship in 1994.
Whether or not Baylor’s schedule will be enough to impress the human polls and sway the computer rankings remains to be seen, but it is fairly clear that the Bears will have to run the table. That is no easy task given what lies ahead. Baylor cannot afford a loss to chase a national championship dream. The same may not hold true for top-ranked Alabama, although the timing could start to come into question.
Until proven otherwise, it appears Alabama will remain on top of the polls heading to the bowl season. Alabama must get by LSU this weekend. Unfortunately, LSU has taken a couple of lumps already so this year’s SEC West division game does not carry quite the same profile past meetings over recent years have. Still, if there is one team equipped enough to take down Alabama before Oregon or Florida State get a crack, it just might be LSU.
The Tigers have lost two games in SEC play this season by a combined six points on the road. When the team plays at its best, LSU has the defense to keep things tight (See: Florida) and it has shown it has the offense that can put up points (See: Georgia, Auburn). With a strong running game led by Jeremy Hill and one of the top quarterbacks in the conference in Zach Mettenberger, LSU has the players it needs to get the job done against Alabama, something the team nearly pulled off last season before AJ McCarron led the Crimson Tide on a BCS-saving drive at the end of the game.
An LSU victory could be the biggest threat to the SEC’s BCS Championship streak as well, although a one-loss Alabama team with an SEC championship would have a very strong argument to get into the BCS Championship Game anyway. Hey, it has happened before.
Let’s get this week started already, can we?
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