NCAA Football Column: NCAAF with Michael Emmett
Oregon or Kansas State
In what would be a bizarre twist of fate, this season’s biggest decision might come down to a beauty pageant between the Kansas State Wildcats and the Oregon Ducks. Ironically, these teams were scheduled to meet in a highly anticipated non conference battle billed as the Big 12 vs. The PAC 12 in Manhattan, Kansas in September. However, the game was cancelled due to a 9-game conference schedule in the Big 12 (one more than in previous years.) And now, if the two teams remain undefeated at season's end, the complicated formula of the BCS will take center stage because there is no common opponent and no clear cut answer in determining who the better team is. And unfortunately, currently, this is the best we have available for resolving such a sticky situation.
Imagine for a second that we have 3 undefeated teams after the conference championships have taken place in the Pac 12 and the SEC. What will the outcome be if Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State do the impossible and win out in the remaining 6 weeks? Even though we know these teams are super at every position the likelihood of this happening is remote at best. But it is always fun to play the “what if” game. The only thing certain in this equation is Alabama. They will have punched their ticket to Miami with a perfect season. That is certainty – just like death and taxes.
If we ever needed a playoff system this is definitely the ideal scenario. Assuming these stellar teams remain unblemished, it is shameful that a decision of this magnitude will be decided by human voters and computers and not decided by the teams between the white lines. This race between these two traditional institutions might prove more interesting than the presidential election between Romney and Obama. There is so little to choose from between these very well coached programs. You can be sure the lobbying is about to begin as a vote here or there could make all the difference in the world.
So who has the edge if both teams are perfect in early December?
I believe America wants the Ducks in the game as the opponent for Alabama and with two thirds of the formula being human voters it is very likely the pollsters will play a bigger factor than the computers in this scenario. Down the stretch it is crystal clear the Ducks have a much tougher road to maintain their perfect record. Three games in the last 6 weeks vs. Top 10 BCS competition will do wonders for the strength of schedule component.
Despite KSU's narrow edge in this week's standings (by .015 over Oregon); it's Oregon that currently sits in the more favorable position. The Harris and coaches' polls account for two-thirds of the BCS equation, and the Ducks are getting almost all of the second-place votes behind Alabama in both polls, while Kansas State is ranked fourth in both. And I don’t believe this will change if both teams continue to dominate. In the other third of the equation, the computers currently consider K-State to be the second-best team in the nation, with Oregon being sixth-best.
K-State might continue to stay second all the way through the season (with the computers) because the Big 12 is regarded as the top conference but we know if Oregon beats USC twice and Oregon State their current rank of No. 6 will improve drastically over the course of the season. This jump in the computer rankings – significantly closing the gap on K-State- will be all the Ducks need to secure the second ranking when all is said and done. If Oregon is a solid No.2 in both polls (two-thirds of the equation) and move up to No.3 in the computers then it is a done deal. K-State will be out.
It will be far easier for Oregon to gain significant ground in the computers than it will be for Kansas State to do so in the polls. The Ducks' schedule is back-loaded with games against USC, Stanford, Oregon State (and possibly USC again in the Pac-12 title game), so their schedule strength will improve, and two teams currently ranked ahead of them in the computers are guaranteed to lose in the scenario we're discussing (Oregon State and either Florida or Alabama). There's also a chance that Notre Dame, a 10-point underdog at Oklahoma, could lose this week, which would further clear Oregon's path to rise in the computers.
But as much as Ducks fans might enjoy the instant computer payoff from a Notre Dame loss this Saturday, it would be far better for Oregon if the Irish beat Oklahoma and don't lose until meeting USC at the end of the schedule. Nothing would help Kansas State's profile more than the Sooners finishing 11-1, especially if OU is winning in dominant fashion. By the same logic, anything that makes USC look stronger is only going to give more value to the Ducks' win(s).
It all seems so complicated but in reality, I still like K-States chances because an undefeated K-State is better than a one-loss Oregon in the system we currently use. So in review, if Oregon wins their remaining games they are guaranteed a spot in Miami and K-State will be out. But if K-State remains flawless and all the big boys lose at least once (Oregon, Florida, and Notre Dame) the Wildcats will be going to South Beach on January 7th.
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