Perhaps for the first time all season, the national championship race can be explained very simply.
If No. 1 Missouri (vs. Oklahoma) and No. 2 West Virginia (vs. Pittsburgh) both win on Saturday, they will play each other for the BCS title. If one of them loses, No. 3 Ohio State will slide into the national championship game. If Missouri and West Virginia both lose, a two-loss team will probably meet the Buckeyes in New Orleans for all the marbles.
It seems unlikely that West Virginia will lose at home against Pitt, but if it happens, choosing which two-loss team belongs in the national title game will be a difficult assignment for the voters.
No. 4 Georgia is the highest-ranked twice-beaten team in the standings this week, but that might change next week if it matters who's atop the two-loss heap. Because the Bulldogs didn't win their division of the SEC, it's doubtful voters would put them into a BCS championship slot, especially if another two-loss team (LSU) emerges as the conference champion.
Even though LSU is currently ranked behind Virginia Tech, the Tigers would likely move ahead of the Hokies (only if the No. 2 BCS spot is open) because of their 41-point win against them in September. If Tennessee wins the SEC, Tech might be able to sneak into the picture, assuming it wins the ACC title.
Oklahoma could also make a case after knocking off top-ranked Missouri. USC, however, seems to have way too far to climb with only a game against unranked UCLA left on the schedule.
Obviously, there's a one-loss team that hasn't yet been mentioned. Kansas sits at No. 5 in this week's BCS standings, but the Jayhawks are also a long shot, since they have neither a division title nor a win over any team currently ranked in the top 25.
My best guess: If Missouri and West Virginia both lose on Saturday, LSU backs into the title game with a win in the SEC championship.
The At-Large Spots In the clubhouse at 10-2 without a conference title, Georgia seems to be a lock to finish either third or fourth in the BCS standings, which would assure the Bulldogs of receiving one of the four at-large bids to the BCS.
If Ohio State moves into the national title game, that will vacate the Big Ten champion's spot in the Rose Bowl, and with Illinois likely to become eligible (if either Tennessee or Boston College loses on Saturday) for an at-large spot, the Big Ten could unexpectedly get a second team into the BCS.
If Arizona State can beat Arizona this week and finish 10-2, the Sun Devils will certainly be an attractive option for the hometown Fiesta Bowl. Kansas should also receive strong consideration from the Fiesta.
And then there's Hawaii. The big win over Boise State vaulted the Warriors three spots into the coveted No. 12 position, which means they should earn an automatic bid to the BCS by closing the season with a win over Washington. The only scenario that could potentially push Hawaii back out of the top 12 would be for BC, Tennessee and Arizona State all to win this weekend.
Now let's explore the possibilities for the BCS matchups. For the sake of simplifying this process, we'll assume there are no upsets on Saturday. The only variable is the Big 12 championship game.
Projected BCS Matchups (If Missouri beats Oklahoma) Allstate BCS National Championship Game Missouri (Big 12 champ) vs. West Virginia (Big East champ) The Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi Ohio State (Big Ten champ) vs. USC (Pac-10 champ) FedEx Orange Bowl Virginia Tech (ACC champ) vs. Georgia (at-large) Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Kansas (at-large) vs. Arizona State (at-large) Allstate Sugar Bowl LSU (SEC champ) vs. Hawaii (at-large)
Projected BCS Matchups (If Oklahoma beats Missouri) Allstate BCS National Championship Game West Virginia (Big East champ) vs. Ohio State (Big Ten champ) The Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi USC (Pac-10 champ) vs. Illinois (at-large) FedEx Orange Bowl Virginia Tech (ACC champ) vs. Georgia (at-large) Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Oklahoma (Big 12 champ) vs. Arizona State (at-large) Allstate Sugar Bowl LSU (SEC champ) vs. Hawaii (at-large)
It seemed for the past four weeks that the Big 12 was certain to get a second team into the BCS, but the loss by Texas presents a scenario in which an Oklahoma victory in the conference title game could cost the Big 12 a BCS at-large spot. If the Rose Bowl has to replace Ohio State and chooses Illinois to do so, the lone Big 12 hope might be for the Fiesta to set up a "conference game" between Oklahoma and Kansas, which isn't as ridiculous as it sounds since the two didn't meet in the regular season.
After all, ridiculous seems to be all the rage in college football this year.
Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His "Road to the BCS" appears weekly during the season.