Yes, this is going to be a post about the Penn State Nittany Lions, comparing their schedule with those of the other six undefeated teams: Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Tulsa, and Utah, and trying to determine which team(s) are most likely to stay undefeated (and thus, remain eligible for the BCS title game).
First, Penn State. They're ranked third in most polls, behind Texas and Alabama, and that's a fair spot for them. They haven't played any powerhouses yet; Michigan was supposed to be one, but they look like a shell of their former glory. Penn State has beaten everyone they've played by at least two touchdowns, so they're at least roughing up the teams they're supposed to rough up.
This weekend's matchup against Ohio State is obviously the biggest game of the year for the Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes are actually ranked ahead of Penn State in some of the computer polls, and a victory in Columbus would likely earn Penn State some first place votes (or in the case of the USA Today poll, some more first place votes). I'd be surprised if they beat Ohio State and didn't pass Alabama in the BCS rankings.
Unfortunately, I'd also be surprised if they just beat Ohio State. Penn State hasn't beaten Ohio State on the road since joining the Big Ten conference. Ohio State is still supremely talented, and their only loss came against a prolific USC team. I'm hopeful that the Lions can pull it off, but this will be an extremely tough game.
Alabama is the #2 team in the nation, and deservedly so, with two impressive road wins at Clemson and at Georgia. They still have to go to Baton Rouge to play LSU, and assuming they win that game, they'll be playing in the SEC conference championship game against another powerhouse team (probably Florida or a rematch against Georgia). I could see a 1-loss SEC team playing in the national championship game, but not if both Texas and Penn State go undefeated. There's too much power (both on and off the football field) in the Big 12 and Big Ten for an undefeated team from either conference to be excluded from the championship game for a 1-loss team from any other conference, even the powerhouse SEC. Alabama will have to keep winning.
Texas, meanwhile, has back-to-back big victories that helped vault them to the #1 spot. They visited then-#1 Oklahoma and won, then beat Missouri in Texas. This week they continue a brutal stretch of their schedule when they welcome undefeated Oklahoma State. They then go to Texas Tech the following week to face the currently-undefeated Red Raiders. If they manage to go undefeated throughout their regular season schedule and lose their championship game, I still see them holding onto the BCS bid against any 1-loss team, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10, anybody.
Texas Tech and Oklahoma State both still have yet to play Texas, Oklahoma, and each other on their regular season schedules. It's highly unlikely that either heads into bowl season without at least one loss on the books. I will say this, though. Oklahoma State has got a rushing attack stronger than I've seen in a long time. They play hard and tough, and they could surprise us all. Texas Tech, not so much. They rely too heavily on their receiving corps to not have a let-down at some point.
Which brings us to the lowly Tulsa Golden Hurricane and Utah Utes. Tulsa will finish their regular season schedule without having played a ranked team, and with their strongest opponent being Arkansas, the doormat of the SEC. They could win the rest of their games by 50 points apiece and not sniff the BCS game.
Utah isn't quite so easy to dismiss. They had an early win against Michigan which, while it doesn't look as good now as it did, served its purpose by getting Utah up in the rankings early. They beat Oregon State (something USC can't say), and have two more legitimate in-conference games against currently-ranked opponents: TCU and Brigham Young. I don't think they'd get in over any BCS conference undefeated team, and probably wouldn't leapfrog a 1-loss Texas, Penn State, Oklahoma, USC, or top-tier SEC team like LSU, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. But assuming the Big 12 and SEC beat each other up (a fairly safe assumption), Utah may have a case for playing in the title game. They'll be ignored, of course, but unlike Tulsa, it'll feel bad.
So who's most likely to come out of this season undefeated?
Teams most likely to go undefeated:
- Penn State
- Oklahoma State
- Texas Tech
Which brings us back to Penn State. This weekend's game is huge. Penn State will have to tackle better than they did early in the Michigan game, because it'll be a lot tougher to storm back against the Buckeyes. But if they can pull off the win, they have their only remaining ranked opponent (#20 Michigan State) at home, and they might just be able to pull it off.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Ohio State 19