By RALPH D. RUSSO
This is a big week for Oregon’s BCS title hopes.
No, not because the second-ranked Ducks play hapless Colorado. That’ll be a breeze.
The teams directly ahead of Oregon in the BCS standings (Alabama, Florida and Kansas State), and the one right behind (Notre Dame), are all playing ranked foes Saturday.
So the Ducks, fourth in the BCS standings, could get some of the help they need to move up — or they could slip further back in the race to the national championship game.
It’s a bit early to get overly worked up about the BCS pecking order. There are 11 undefeated teams in major college football, and the most there could be at the end of the season is seven. But you can whittle that down to four serious contenders for a spot in the BCS title game in Miami.
Ohio State is ineligible. Ohio University doesn’t play a tough enough schedule. The Big East champion probably won’t be able to climb over the top teams from the Southeastern Conference, Pac-12 and Big 12, and Notre Dame.
Out of the top five teams, Oregon seems to be the most likely to get left out of the national title game if more than two teams finish unbeaten. Excuse Ducks fans if they are a bit skittish. The BCS hasn’t always worked out in their team’s favor (see 2001 and ‘05).
Here’s an example of the Ducks’ problems: Notre Dame is at Oklahoma. If the Fighting Irish win, there’s a chance they could jump the Ducks in the BCS standings the way Kansas State did last week. If Oklahoma wins, it makes Kansas State’s victory at Oklahoma look even better and could push the Wildcats further ahead of the Ducks.
The Ducks’ problems come down to schedule. Oregon’s opponents so far just haven’t been particularly good, and it’s especially weighing the Ducks down in the computer ratings.
Oregon is second in both polls that are used in the BCS standings, but sixth in the computer rankings.
And part of Oregon’s strength of schedule problem stems from a game it was supposed to play against Kansas State.
The Wildcats and Ducks had agreed to play a home-and-home series in 2011 and ‘12. Oregon asked to reschedule when it got a shot to play LSU in Texas last year.
With the Big 12 headed toward playing nine conferences games, Kansas State suggested to cancel the whole thing. The Ducks agreed.
That left the Ducks with Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech to tuneup with this season. Oregon easily dispatched all three, but two months into the season the Ducks still don’t have a marquee victory.
Obviously, Kansas State couldn’t have known how this would play out, but it’s looking like one of the best decisions coach Bill Snyder has made since returning to the sidelines.
After Colorado, the Ducks get into the teeth of their conference schedule with Southern California, Stanford and Oregon State all coming up, plus a possible Pac-12 title game (and maybe a rematch against USC). Win all those and the computers will spit out some different numbers on the Ducks.
Will it be enough to catch Kansas State if the Wildcats keep winning? Or fend off Notre Dame? Stay tuned.
No. 14 Clemson (minus 12) at Wake Forest
Tigers can’t afford another ACC slip … Clemson 31-17.
Cincinnati (plus 3½) at No. 16 Louisville
Battle for the Keg of Nails will have Big East title implications … Louisville 28-24.
No. 13 Mississippi State (plus 24) at No. 1 Alabama
As line shows, Bulldogs have plenty of doubters … Alabama 38-17.
Colorado (plus 45½) at No. 2 Oregon
Ducks have outscored opponents 199-49 in first half … Oregon 50-14.
No. 3 Florida (plus 6½) vs. No. 12 Georgia at Jacksonville, Fla.
What happened to Bulldogs’ defense? Last three opponents have averaged 211 per game on ground … Florida 31-23.
No. 15 Texas Tech (plus 7) at No. 4 Kansas State
Seth Doege for Heisman? If Red Raiders beat Wildcats, their QB could be a contender … Kansas State 41-31.
No. 5 Notre Dame (plus 10) at No. 8 Oklahoma
Best offense Fighting Irish have faced, but also best defense Sooners have faced … Oklahoma 28-17.
No. 7 Oregon State (minus 4½) at Washington
QB Sean Mannion (knee) returns for Beavers … Washington 31-28.
No. 9 Ohio State (pick’em) at Penn State
Most interesting game in the Big Ten so far has no championship implications … Penn State 35-31.
No. 10 Southern California (minus 6½) at Arizona
Matt Barkley’s Heisman campaign resets … USC 42-28.
Duke (plus 27½) at No. 11 Florida State
ACC title game preview? Hard to say it with a straight face … Florida State 45-14.
Tennessee (plus 14) at No. 17 South Carolina
Two straight losses have derailed Gamecocks’ championship hopes … South Carolina 35-24.
Kent State (plus 13½) at No. 18 Rutgers
Beware the MAC … Rutgers 31-14.
Washington State (plus 24½) at No. 19 Stanford
First season at Wazzu has been forgettable for Mike Leach … Stanford 43-14.
No. 20 Michigan (plus 2½) at Nebraska
Denard Robinson tends not to play well against good defenses. Not a problem this week … Michigan 33-27.
No. 21 Boise State (minus 16½) at Wyoming
Defense carrying the Broncos … Boise State 28-14.
No. 22 Texas A&M (minus 15) at Auburn
Coach Gene Chizik and Tigers desperately need a victory … Texas A&M 35-24.
No. 23 Ohio (minus 7) at Miami, Ohio
Bobcats are unbeaten, but have been living dangerously … Ohio 37-33.
No. 24 Louisiana Tech (minus 30½) at New Mexico State
Bulldogs hit 70 last week. Two straight? … Louisiana Tech 66-24.
Record: Last week’s: 18-3 (straight); 8-13 (vs. points); season record: 134-26 (straight); 77-65 (vs. points); best bets: 2-6; upset specials: 4-4.