So the NCAA season doesn't exactly round out into four equal parts, much like the NFL season with 17 weeks. Regardless, after 9 weeks of games (roughly) we are at the end of the third quarter and entering the championship stretch for a lot more teams still in grasp than most would think.
I've normally broken down a couple upcoming week's games to look out for, but since we are in the "make or break" point in the season, I found it necessary to point out 5 games in the last month of the season we should keep our eyes on, because it will affect the BCS one way or another.
5) TCU at Utah - November 6
With the loser of this game absolutely out of the national championship picture and the winner is all but guaranteed a spot, I would say this week's game against Mountain West powers will be an intriguing matchup, regardless of the lack of TV coverage. Utah is currently ranked 5th, above one-loss Alabama, and TCU is at number 3. TCU is also 3rd in the computer rankings, while Utah is at 8th. Based on the history of two top-ten teams playing, the computers heavily weigh the winner (see Missouri over Oklahoma, who went from 6th to 2nd, and now at 4th after loss to Nebraska). Utah's win will be weighed much more heavily because TCU is not only more revered in the computers, but TCU is ranked 4th (or higher) in every human poll, including the two that count for the BCS - the Harris and USA Today polls. The winner is sure to be a lock in the top 3 of the BCS polls next week. TCU will win, and they will be very close to a 2nd rank overall in the BCS, since both Auburn and Oregon are playing very weak opponents this week. TCU 30 Utah 13
4) Oregon vs. Arizona - November 26
Arizona very well could make the trip to Eugene, OR with a 8-1 record (although they play at Stanford and host USC the next two weeks), but regardless of the record, Arizona could make for an interesting game against Oregon. If the Wildcats do come in with one loss, they will be playing for the Pac-10 championship, with Stanford losing to Oregon (and theoretically Arizona as well). The Wildcats have won over a very good Iowa team, and although the rest of their schedule is not as impressive, the next three weeks could help Arizona's chances in the BCS polls (currently 15th) or propel them to a Rose Bowl at the very least. Oregon's quest for a BCS title game berth will be propelled even further, likely ensuring their computer ranking doesn't fall back down to where it debuted at 8. The rest of their season should keep their ranking idle, as long as they keep winning. Arizona isn't a proven team in the Pac10 at this point, but coming in ranked in the BCS top 15 will keep Oregon's foundation solid. Oregon 44 Arizona 35
3) Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State - November 27
If Oklahoma and Oklahoma State enter their annual rivalry with equal records, like they do now, they will be playing for a Big 12 South title and a trip to the Big 12 Championship. That matchup in the Big 12 championship will likely be against a tough Nebraska team, ranked in the top 10 of the BCS at 7th currently. Oklahoma is ranked 8th with Oklahoma State 17th. If the Cowboys were able to out-dual the Sooners, a rematch with their only loss so far would bolster their standings in the BCS dramatically (see again Missouri over Oklahoma). If they win out, the could be sitting pretty at the end of the season, although there is likely no way for them to get in the BCS title game. Oklahoma, however, still has an outside chance, likely matching up against a highly ranked Nebraska team in December for the Big 12 title will surely put them in the top 5 as it stands today. Nebraska would benefit more from Oklahoma, who were beat my Mizzou and whom Nebraska handily beat. Their BCS title hunt seems more achievable than Oklahoma's.
Oklahoma 34 Oklahoma State 31
2) Oregon at Oregon State - December 4
Granted Oregon comes in still unbeaten (see number 4 above) and top-ranked, their Civil War game against the Beavers will be monumental in Corvalis, OR. Although Oregon State, granted they come in with just their one Pac10 loss (who also have USC and Stanford before Oregon) could be playing for a Rose Bowl berth. Regardless of their standings, Oregon State always plays a tough game against Oregon and the Ducks will have this one last hurdle before a BCS appearance. Oregon's improving computer standings will not likely dip anytime, although they may end the season ranked 2nd in the BCS, it is the closest thing to a stone-cold lock for a title game appearance for winning out as there is. Oregon 49 Oregon State 27
1) Auburn at Alabama - November 26
No game ranks any higher that this one. Just like 2006's Michigan-Ohio State game, who were ranked 2nd and 1st respectively, the winner is in the BCS title game, save for winning the SEC Championship game (and who knows who will play in that game from the East). Alabama, although has no love from the computers, should get plenty of it winning against the currently computer-top-ranked Tigers, plus the voters' love affair with the Tide would no doubt put them in the title game. If Auburn wins, and wins the SEC Championship game undefeated, there is little to no chance of keeping Auburn out of the title game twice in 6 years after an undefeated season (Auburn was also the only team in 2004 to finish the regular season undefeated and win the SEC title). Despite the lashing by the likes of Jesse Palmer and Will Ferrell, Auburn is just as capable of winning out as Alabama, if not more. Alabama has to travel to LSU, host an improving Mississippi State team, as well as Auburn. Auburn's only road game remaining is against Alabama.
As an Auburn fan, I don't have any doubt in my mind the Tigers are not capable of beating Alabama - I'm not expecting Alabama to win, like every TV, radio, and newspaper personality is. Alabama won on a last minute drive last year, and won the national championship. Alabama, and everyone in their right mind would agree, is not as good as they were last year. Auburn, and everyone in their right mind would agree even more, is better than they were last year. They may be more even now than they were at the middle of the season, but Auburn is improving every game. My prediction? Not so fast. I will have an Iron Bowl post when the time is right.