The BCS title-game picture now is missing only a few pixels.
Barring an upset loss in the Big 12 championship game, Texas will meet the Florida-Alabama winner in Pasadena, Calif., for the national title Jan. 7.
Saturday’s upsets of Iowa and Oregon dismissed the Hawkeyes (9-1) and Ducks (7-2) from the title-game conversation, providing stretch-run stumble insurance for college football’s top three teams. The Gators (9-0), Longhorns (9-0) and Crimson Tide (9-0) now own such a cushion in the BCS standings that any of the three can absorb an upset over the next three weeks and still reach the title game with a victory in their league championship games.
There are just three remaining scenarios to consider:
First and most likely, Texas wins the Big 12 championship and meets the SEC champion.
Second, Texas loses in the Big 12 championship game, and the SEC champion faces a one-loss SEC team in a rematch of that league’s title game.
Least likely, Texas loses the Big 12 championship game, the SEC title-game loser has two losses and the SEC champion faces a surprise undefeated team (Cincinnati, TCU or Boise State).
The lurker that could make one of the final two scenarios possible: Nebraska (6-3). The Cornhuskers upset Oklahoma 10-3 in Lincoln on Saturday and would win the Big 12 North with a home victory over Kansas State on Nov. 21, plus a win over Kansas or Colorado.
All-American defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and the Cornhuskers have a defense capable of slowing pass-happy Texas. The Cornhuskers rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense and stand as the lone remaining roadblock between the Longhorns and Pasadena.
BCS-busters TCU (9-0) and Boise State (9-0) need the Cornhuskers to oust Texas to get a title shot. But a Texas loss in the Big 12 title game also would leave them battling the Longhorns and the SEC runner-up for one of the two BCS at-large berths. A Texas loss in the Big 12 championship game probably means title game or bust for TCU and Boise State.
The good news for the Horned Frogs and Broncos, however, is the BCS at-large pool shrank considerably thanks to unexpected stumbles from Iowa, Oregon and Notre Dame on Saturday. The Big Ten and Pac-10 are now definite one-team BCS leagues, with Rose Bowl bids going to this week’s Iowa/Ohio State winner and the Nov. 21 Oregon-Arizona winner. Meanwhile, Navy’s 23-21 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., dismissed the Irish from BCS consideration.
Game balls and gassers
Congratulations to the Midshipmen and second-year coach Ken Niumatalolo. After dropping 43 straight games to the Irish, Navy has triumphed over Notre Dame in two of the past three seasons. Saturday’s conquest was an efficiency clinic; the Mids rolled up 348 rushing yards while quarterback Ricky Dobbs attempted just three passes, one of which was a 52-yard scoring strike to Greg Jones.
The first individual game ball goes to Texas receiver Jordan Shipley, who notched 11 catches for 273 yards and a touchdown in the Longhorns’ 35-3 victory over Central Florida. The speedy senior has 75 receptions for 1,050 yards on the season and must be considered the favorite for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top receiver in the nation.
In Tuscaloosa, Alabama sophomore tailback Mark Ingram increased his lead in the Heisman Trophy race by rushing for 144 yards on 22 carries in the Crimson Tide’s 24-15 victory over LSU.
Team sprints go to Iowa and Oregon, who staggered against decidedly weaker league opponents Northwestern and Stanford. Adding injury to insult, the Hawkeyes lost quarterback Ricky Stanzi (ankle) in the second quarter of their disappointing showing in Iowa City and likely won’t have him for Saturday’s showdown against host Ohio State.
“Right now we just have to take the approach that he won’t go, and if he does that’s a bonus,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
This week’s individual gasser goes to Florida coach Urban Meyer, who suspended Brandon Spikes for just a half after the All-American linebacker’s eye-gouging antics against Georgia. The lenient penalty caused such a furor among the national media that Spikes added a second half to that suspension himself, sitting out the entirety of Saturday’s lackluster 27-3 victory over Vanderbilt.