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Hartnett: Breaking down the unbeatens (Oct. 31)

Brian Hartnett | Wednesday, October 30, 2013


For most college football teams, the turning of the calendar to November means the cupcake portion of the season is over, the contenders and pretenders have been separated and the important race to the top of the BCS standings has begun.

The second BCS poll of the season came out Sunday, and it looks like fans will be in for a wild ride these last few weeks. Eight teams, representing seven of the 10 FBS conferences, remain undefeated and naturally there is much angst over which lossless squad may be left out of the national title game.

Some of those fears are unfounded. After all, weren’t we having the same discussion at this time last season? And look how that turned out.

Still, it’s interesting to project which teams will be infected with the upset bug and which will pass their remaining tests with flying colors. Without further ado, here’s the remaining unbeaten teams with their BCS rankings and a short analysis of their prospects for the rest of the season.

No. 1 Alabama

The two-time defending national champions have a tough test against No. 13 LSU on Nov. 9, but unlike last year, the Tide don’t have to travel to Death Valley at night. Alabama finishes the regular season with an Iron Bowl matchup against surprising No. 11 Auburn, but it’s tough to imagine that the Tigers, just 3-9 last season, have improved enough to topple their in-state rivals. That just leaves the SEC title game, where Nick Saban shouldn’t have to worry too much about a Missouri squad with a backup quarterback or an underwhelming South Carolina team

No. 2 Oregon

For America’s most stylish team, the season all comes down to a matchup next Thursday with Stanford, the team that crashed its party last season. The Cardinal are capable of pulling off the victory again, but their offense has struggled at times and the loss of defensive end Ben Gardner will hurt their efforts to stop star Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota.

No. 3 Florida State

The Seminoles have rolled through competition thus far, and it’s tough to see Miami shutting down Famous Jameis and the Seminoles offense when the two teams meet this weekend. The Seminoles incredible balance – they have the third-ranked offense and fourth-ranked defense nationally – gives me enough confidence to believe that Jimbo Fisher’s squad will have a legitimate claim for the national championship.

No. 4 Ohio State

While it’s benefitted from a weaker Big 10, Urban Meyer’s squad has managed to just keep winning. The Buckeyes’ toughest challenge remaining is a trip to Ann Arbor, where it will face a Michigan squad that lost to the same Penn State team Braxton Miller & company just beat by seven touchdowns.

No. 6 Baylor

Baylor has put on the “fastest show on turf” this season, but it’s come against an array of lackluster opponents. Points will be harder to come by against a daunting late season slate of No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 15 Texas Tech and No. 18 Oklahoma State, among others, plus Baylor’s suspect defense will be tested by some of the top offenses in the nation.

No. 7 Miami

The resurgent Hurricanes have been an interesting story, but struggles the last two weeks against pedestrian North Carolina and Wake Forest squads don’t exactly inspire confidence heading into Saturday’s showdown against Florida State. Even if Miami wins this weekend, it would likely get the Seminoles again in the ACC Championship game.

No. 16 Fresno State

While the Bulldogs’ defense has given up nearly 30 points per game, its offense has scored nearly 45 points per game, a smart strategy in the pass-happy Mountain West. Those stats, plus the fact that its remaining four opponents are a combined 13-17, make Fresno State a likely candidate for a BCS spot.

No. 17 Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois fans have probably been waiting with breathless anticipation to see the next comment on their team in Sports Authority, and here it is – the Huskies could probably compete at the top of the Big 10. To get back to a BCS game, however, Jordan Lynch’s team will have to survive a tough matchup with Ball State and a trap game at Toledo.

At the moment, though, it looks like there could be several unbeaten teams with claims to a berth in the BCS title game.

And I guess it would only be fitting that a flawed system that rarely pits the top teams together could end its existence by leaving a few undefeated teams on the outside looking in.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.