Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sensational Six: Mid-Majors Hoping to Break on Through

No Best/Worst Week Ever this week. Instead, I want to take a look at the 6 remaining unbeaten teams who ply their trade outside the BCS conferences. We'll examine several stats to see if we can derive which team is most likely to land a spot in one of the coveted BCS bowl games.

Ball State
Record: 4-0
AP Rank: 38
Coaches Rank: 34
Yards per Game Differential: +89.8
Points per Game Differential: +21.3
Best Win: either @Indiana (2-1) or Navy (2-2)
2nd Order IA Wins: Rutgers (0-3), Syracuse (1-3), Army (0-3), Western Kentucky (2-2)
Possible Stumbling Blocks: @Toledo 10/04/08, @Central Michigan 11/19/08

For the uninitiated, 2nd order wins are teams that were beaten by teams beaten by Ball State. Ball State has a 2nd order win over Rutgers because they beat Navy, who then beat Rutgers. You dig? Ball State's appearance on this list is likely merely a formality. They seem destined to lose either to Toledo or Central Michigan if not both. The Rockets are notoriously tough at home and the Chippewas are the 2-time defending MAC champions. Even if Ball State does manage to get through their schedule unscathed, will the win over Indiana hold much weight at season's end? I doubt it. The Hoosiers could well be headed for a last place finish in the Big 10. Plus the Cardinals, despite their hot start, are in the nether regions of the 'also receiving votes' portion of the polls.

Record: 3-0
AP Rank: 32
Coaches Rank: 33
Yards per Game Differential: +194
Points per Game Differential: +31.7
Best Win: New Mexico (1-3)
2nd Order IA Wins: Arizona (3-1)
Possible Stumbling Blocks: @Arkansas 11/01/08, @Houston 11/15/08, Conference USA Championship Game 12/06/08 (East Carolina?)

Tulsa has had a pretty easy schedule thus far, as evidenced by their lone 2nd order win, but to be fair, they have lambasted each team they've faced. Senior quarterback David Johnson, in his first season as a starter, leads the nation in pass efficiency with a rating of 225.93. Unfortunately for Tulsa, the one marquee name on their schedule is Arkansas, a team that will be lucky to qualify for a bowl game. Arkansas has already scraped by Western Illinois (IAA) and Lousiana-Monroe by a combined 5 points. If Tulsa beats them, have they really proven anything? Tulsa's best bet is to not only win out, but dominate each team they face. East Carolina could do them some favors by winning their division andfinishing with a final record of 10-2 or 9-3. That could set up a potential top-25 battle in the Conference USA Championship Game. Otherwise, an undefeated season likely means a Liberty Bowl trip and a shot at taking down an SEC school.

Boise State
Record: 3-0
AP Rank: 19
Coaches Rank: 20
Yards per Game Differential: +122.7
Points per Game Differential: +20
Best Win: @Oregon (3-1)
2nd Order IA Wins: Pittsburgh (2-1), Washington (0-3), Utah State (1-3), Purdue (2-1)
Possible Stumbling Blocks: @Southern Miss 10/11/08, @Nevada 11/22/08

For some unknown reason, Fresno State was getting all the preseason love to break into the BCS. I have no problem with Fresno State, but really, their rep as giant killers is based off something that happened 7 years ago. Sure they gave the Trojans a good game in 2005, but what BCS teams have they beaten recently? Since you asked. Georgia Tech (7-6) in 2002. Oregon State (8-5) and UCLA (6-7) in 2003. Washington (1-10), Kansas State (4-7), and Virginia (8-4) in 2004. Kansas State (5-7) and Georgia Tech (7-6) in 2007. The best of the lot is the 2004 victory in the MPC Computers Bowl over Virginia. Where's the beef? If you'll notice, I didn't even list Fresno as one of the possible stumbling blocks as Boise has yet to lose to a WAC foe at home since joining the league in 2001. In fact, their average margin of victory over Fresno in Boise has been 29 points. If the Broncos stumble, it won't be at home. The game in Hattiesburg will be a big one for the Golden Eagles and the game in Reno may well decide the WAC title.

Record: 4-0
AP Rank: 24
Coaches Rank: 23
Yards per Game Differential: +240
Points per Game Differential: +35.3
Best Win: either @New Mexico (1-3) or Stanford (2-2)
2nd Order IA Wins: Arizona (3-1), Oregon State (1-2), San Jose State (2-2)
Possible Stumbling Blocks: @Oklahoma 9/27/08, BYU 10/16/08, @Utah 11/06/08

For all the love their Mountain West brethren Utah and BYU are getting, TCU may well be the best team in the league. But alas, the Horned Frogs run at perfection is likely to end on Saturday as they must travel to Norman to take on the #2 Oklahoma Sooners. This game will present an interesting quandry if the Horned Frogs are competitive (10-14 points) in defeat. If they win out afterward, and own wins over Utah and BYU, who for the sake of argument finish 10-2 and 11-1 with 2 of their 3 combined losses coming to TCU and the other amongst themselves, would TCU be deserving of a BCS bid over an undefeated Boise State squad? Food for thought.

Record: 4-0
AP Rank: 17
Coaches Rank: 17
Yards per Game Differential: +217.3
Points per Game Differential: +19.5
Best Win: either @Michigan (1-2) or UNLV (3-1) or Air Force (3-1)
2nd Order IA Wins: Miami (Ohio) (1-3), Utah State (1-3), Arizona State (2-2), Iowa State (2-2), Idaho (1-3), Wyoming (2-2), Houston (1-3)
Possible Stumbling Blocks: @New Mexico 11/01/08, TCU 11/06/08, BYU 11/22/08

Utah has by far the most 2nd order wins of any undefeated mid-major. That is thanks mostly to UNLV and Air Force performing well outside the league. The Rebels upset Arizona State in OT on the road and followed that up with a home OT win over Iowa State. The Utes are fortunate in that they get their 2 biggest conference contenders at home. If Utah wins out, they will be BCS bound without question. Look out for the Michigan win, as it may look much better at the end of the year.

Record: 4-0
AP Rank: 11
Coaches Rank: 11
Yards per Game Differential: +178
Points per Game Differential: +32
Best Win: either @Washington (0-3) or UCLA (1-2)
2nd Order IA Wins: Tennessee (1-2), Ohio (0-4)
Possible Stumbling Blocks: @TCU 10/16/08, @Air Force 11/15/08, @Utah 11/22/08

BYU is the highest ranked mid-major team and with a bye and Utah State on tap, should be in the top-10 when they host New Mexico on October 11th. If the Cougars win out, they should be golden as their high ranking this early (its not even October yet) should get them in even if their computer numbers are pulled down by Washington and UCLA.

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