Unbeaten Florida State and Ohio State are on course to play in the BCS national championship game, but there is some intrigue: Could a once-beaten Auburn team pass Ohio State in next week's final BCS standings?
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With top-ranked Alabama falling to Auburn on Saturday, FSU, Ohio State and Auburn each moved up one spot in this week's BCS standings, into first, second and third, respectively. But Auburn narrowed the margin on Ohio State. The Tigers, whose loss came by 14 points at three-loss LSU, trailed the Buckeyes by .0964 points last week; the margin is just .0270 points this week.
Each of the top three teams plays in a league championship game this weekend: FSU plays No. 20 Duke in the ACC title game, Ohio State meets No. 10 Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and Auburn faces No. 5 Missouri in the SEC title game.
Could Auburn pass Ohio State if both win their title matchups? The Buckeyes are second in both human polls used by the BCS, with Auburn third in both. Ohio State's average ranking is No. 2 in the six computers used by the BCS; Auburn's average ranking is No. 3. But Ohio State is actually closer to top-ranked FSU in the computers (.0300 behind) than it is to Auburn (the Tigers are .0400 behind the Buckeyes). Auburn's win over Missouri would give it a bigger computer bump than Ohio State would get by beating Michigan State, but would it be enough to pass the Buckeyes in the computers? That seems unlikely.
What might be more likely is that the human pollsters change their votes. As it is this week, Ohio State is 66 points ahead of Auburn in the Harris Poll but just 25 points ahead in the coaches' poll.
Here is the seventh BCS top 14 of the season, with the school, its spot in the Harris poll, its spot in the coaches' poll and its BCS computer average. We've also included the NCAA's schedule strength, which is not part of the BCS formula.
In the 15-season history of the BCS, no one-loss team from an automatic-qualifying conference has finished ahead of an unbeaten AQ team.
Alabama, which has won the past two BCS national titles, dropped to fourth this week. But if Missouri beats Auburn, expect Mizzou to jump past Alabama next week.
One off-field issue remains for Florida State: the sexual-assault investigation that involves star quarterback Jameis Winston. Prosecutors have said it is doubtful that any decision on whether to charge Winston will come this week. Should FSU have to play the ACC title game without its star, it still would be favored. But if -- and that's obviously a big "if" -- Winston is unable to play in the national title game, it potentially could set up an interesting decision for the pollsters. Would pollsters downgrade an FSU team without Winston in order to produce what likely would be a more competitive national championship game?
Three times in the 15-season history of the BCS has the No. 1 team in the seventh set of standings not played for the national title -- Missouri in 2007, Alabama in 2008 and Florida in 2009. Four times the No. 2 has not advanced: Tennessee in 2001, USC in 2003, USC in 2006 and West Virginia in 2007. The 2003 USC team won its game that week, yet still dropped in the BCS standings.
The lowest-ranked team in the seventh set of BCS standings to play for the title was No. 7 LSU in 2007. Remember, though, that there were no unbeaten teams that season, and the Tigers had two losses and still won it all.
No. 14 Northern Illinois, which is unbeaten, is the highest-ranked non-"Big Six" (or non-automatic qualifying, if you prefer) conference team this week. A non-Big Six team is guaranteed a BCS spot in two ways. One is if it finishes in the top 12; the other is if it is ranked in the top 16 and its ranking is higher than that of a conference champion with an automatic berth. This week, the Huskies -- who play Bowling Green in the MAC championship game -- are higher than any team from the AAC (UCF is 16th and Louisville 19th). NIU was in the BCS last season, losing to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
BCS at-large candidates must have at least nine victories and finish in the top 14 in the final BCS standings.
Since the BCS expanded to five games in the 2006 season, seven non-Big Six teams have earned berths (we're not including Notre Dame in that category). There has been at least one non-Big Six school in every one of those seasons except 2011; there were two in 2010.
The final BCS standings will be released Dec. 8. Teams first and second in the final standings meet in the final BCS national championship game Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
The three components of the BCS standings are the coaches' poll; the Harris poll, voted on by media members and by former players, coaches and administrators; and six computers. Each of the components counts one-third. The best and worst computer rankings are thrown out, and the sum total of the remaining four is divided by 100 (the maximum possible points) to come up with the BCS' computer rankings percentage.
While strength of schedule isn't a separate BCS standings component, as it was from 1998-2003, all six computers have a strength-of-schedule factor in their rankings.
Some other items of interest from the seventh set of standings:
While FSU's average computer ranking is first, the Seminoles are not a unanimous No. 1 by the computers. They are second in one and fourth in another. Auburn and Ohio State each are ranked first by one computer.
Northern Illinois' average computer ranking is 10th. But the Huskies' rankings vary wildly. They are second in one computer, fifth in another and 18th in another.
No. 11 Arizona State, which plays host to No. 7 Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, is 13th in both polls, but the Sun Devils' average computer ranking is sixth.
The SEC leads the way with seven teams in the top 25, including four in the top eight. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have four each, the ACC and Big Ten three each, the AAC two and the Mid-American and Mountain West one each.
New to the standings this week are No. 22 Georgia and No. 25 Texas. Dropping out were No. 23 USC and No. 25 Notre Dame.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.