April 24, 2014

Kent State’s MAC Championship Game could have BCS implications

Oddly enough, although perfect 12-0 Ohio State is done and ineligible for postseason play, the Bowl Championship Series still could possibly have an Ohio flair in January 2013.

The Kent State Golden Flashes, who are 11-1 and MAC East Division Champions for the first time in school history, ranked No. 23 in last week’s latest BCS standings. The Flashes finished their regular season on a 10-game winning streak with their big victory over rival Ohio on Friday morning, but received even better news on Saturday as the college football landscape again underwent chaos.

Since the chaos was more BCS bottom-heavy than top-heavy like last week, it should provide a nice boost to the Flashes in Sunday night’s BCS update. I’d expect them to jump at least two and possibly as many as six spots. And, with one more win and a bit more luck, it’s possible then not only will Kent State play in its first-ever MAC Championship, but it also could be playing for an Orange Bowl crown.

First, let’s get to the obvious: KSU has a huge, huge game against 11-1 Northern Illinois at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday in that Mid-American Conference title game. The Huskies were not ranked in the latest BCS standings, but placed No. 23 and No. 24 in last week’s Coaches and Harris polls, respectively. They likely were the No. 26 team in the BCS and will certainly be in the update this week. They’re a very explosive team, much like Kent State, and similarly finished with an 8-0 record in regular season conference play.

Of all of the mid-majors out there, only No. 22 Boise State and the winner of the MAC Championship will be angling for possible BCS inclusion. And, since Kent State currently is ranked higher than NIU, they have the higher chance should they prove victorious in the MAC title game next week. It’s also possible — although not necessarily a guarantee — that the MAC title would propel KSU over the Broncos and as the lead mid-major contender.

So here’s why this is all possible: A single mid-major conference champion is automatically guaranteed of a BCS bowl game when it finishes in the top 12 in the nation OR in the top 16 while also ahead of a BCS conference champion. This is only true for one mid-major team. So the first condition isn’t at all likely, and hasn’t been all season, but the likelihood of the second condition at least doubled on Saturday because of several notable college football upsets.

Let’s go to the BCS rankings for more:

Rk Team Week 14 Week 15 BCS Avg
1 Notre Dame W 22-13 @ Southern Cal BYE .9973
2 Alabama W 49-0 vs. Auburn Vs. #3 Georgia .9333
3 Georgia W 42-10 vs. Georgia Tech Vs. #2 Alabama .8763
4 Florida W 37-26 @ #10 Fla. St. BYE .8434
5 Oregon W 48-24 @ #15 Ore. St. BYE .8318
6 Kansas State BYE Vs. #16 Texas .7692
7 LSU W 20-13 @ Arkansas BYE .7308
8 Stanford W 35-17 @ #17 UCLA Vs. #17 UCLA .7077
9 Texas A&M W 59-29 vs. Missouri BYE .6526
10 Florida State L 26-37 vs. #4 Florida Vs. Georgia Tech .6363
11 Clemson L 17-27 vs. #12 S. Car. BYE .6056
12 South Carolina W 27-17 @ #11 Clemson BYE .5871
13 Oklahoma W 51-48 vs. #21 OK State @ TCU .5677
14 Nebraska W 13-7 @ Iowa Vs. Wisconsin .4790
15 Oregon State L 24-48 vs. #5 Oregon Vs. Nicholls St. .4499
16 Texas L 13-20 vs. TCU @ #6 Kansas St. .4235
17 UCLA L 17-35 vs. #8 Stanford @ #8 Stanford .3826
18 Rutgers L 6-27 @ Pittsburgh Vs. #20 Louisville .2432
19 Michigan L 16-21 @ Ohio State BYE .2253
20 Louisville L 20-23 vs. Connecticut @ #18 Rutgers .2165
21 Oklahoma St L 48-51 @ #13 Oklahoma @ Baylor .2042
22 Boise State BYE @ Nevada .1043
23 Kent State W 28-6 vs. Ohio Vs. No. Illinois .0955
24 Arizona L 34-41 vs. Arizona State BYE .0836
25 Washington L 28-31 @ Washington St. BYE .0643

Here’s the damage: 10-11, 15-21 and 24-25 all lost. So of the teams ranked No. 15-25, they went 1-9 with only Kent State winning and Boise State on a bye. How about that for mid-major chaos? Yes, some of those major-conference opponents were more difficult than others and some may not drop much at all, but you can’t say it doesn’t help the cause of the mid-majors.

Before I go into too much more, I also wanted to share a quick look at my top five teams right on the cusp of the BCS rankings, just so you know who might be entering at the bottom.

Team Week 14 Week 15
No. Illinois W 49-7 @ E. Michigan Vs. #23 Kent St
TCU W 20-13 @ #16 Texas Vs. #13 Okla.
Northwestern W 50-14 vs. Illinois BYE
San Jose St. W 52-42 vs. La. Tech BYE
Utah State W 45-9 vs. Idaho BYE

Now let’s look at the BCS conferences championships that impact the likelihood of a possible mid-major in a BCS game:

ACC Championship: #10 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in Charlotte on Saturday, Dec. 1 — Winner receives conference tie-in for Orange Bowl. If Yellow Jackets pull off the upset, a top-16 mid-major conference champion would receive an automatic BCS berth.

Big East: #20 Louisville @ #18 Rutgers on Thursday, Nov. 29 — Winner receives conference automatic berth, no specific tie-in. This isn’t the the actual championship, but turns out to be the de facto one. Both teams lost bad games yesterday, so even a winner wouldn’t rank in the top 16. Thus, regardless of the outcome, as long as a mid-major conference champion ranks in the top 16, it’s nearly a sure thing that that team would be ahead and receive the automatic BCS berth.

Big Ten Championship: #14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 1 — Winner receives conference tie-in for Rose Bowl. If Badgers pull off the upset, a top 16 mid-major conference champion would receive an automatic BCS berth.

Pac-12 Championship: #17 UCLA @ #8 Stanford on Friday, Nov. 30 — Winner receives conference tie-in for Rose Bowl. Oddly enough, yes this is a back-to-back week rematch. Because of UCLA’s loss already, the Bruins likely wouldn’t rank in the top 16. So if UCLA pulls off the upset, a top 16 mid-major conference champion would receive an automatic berth.

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Now, to make the rest of my explanations a bit clearer, here are my current BCS projections:

National Championship: #1 Notre Dame vs. SEC Champion (#2 Alabama or #3 Georgia)

Rose Bowl: Pac-12 Champion (#8 Stanford or #17 UCLA) vs. Big Ten Champion (#14 Nebraska or Wisconsin)

Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 Champion (#6 Kansas State or #13 Oklahoma) vs. #5 Oregon (at-large)

**Sugar Bowl: SEC at-large (#2 Alabama, #3 Georgia or #4 Florida, most likely) vs. Big 12 at-large (#6 Kansas State or #13 Oklahoma) or Big East Champion (#18 Rutgers or #20 Louisville)

**Orange Bowl: ACC Champion (#10 Florida State or Georgia Tech) vs. Big East Champion (#18 Rutgers or #20 Louisville) or Mid-Major Automatic Bid (#22 Boise State or #23 Kent State, most likely)

**So if the mid-major receives the automatic bid, the Big 12 would likely lose a BCS bowl for its runner-up at-large team. More on this follows.

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I’d estimate that there’s a 95% likelihood that one of these BCS conferences will have a champion below No. 16 in the polls. There’s three possible upsets AND the abysmal Big East champion, who likely regardless will not jump back that high. So, as long as Boise State or the MAC Champion can keep climbing up higher, they’ll be in the game. But that’s the big catch: How likely is it that Boise State or that MAC team will actually finish in top 16 after next week?

For now, I’d put those odds between 25-30%. It all depends upon how harshly the voters/computers criticize all of those losing teams this week. There’s way too much variation to easily project until all the numbers are released, and I don’t have a great feeling about it.

My BCS instinct would lean toward Boise and Kent jumping about four spots each, to No. 18 and No. 19, respectively Sunday night, while Northern Illinois enters the BCS standings at No. 23. Thus, more help would still be needed to reach the magical spot of No. 16, but I could stillpossibly see this happening.

The three additional key games to watch next week then are #13 Oklahoma @ TCU; #16 Texas @ #6 Kansas State; and, of course, #22 Boise State @ Nevada.

Oklahoma had a big overtime win over Oklahoma State and should be in line to jump up to No. 11. Thus, the Sooners are the at-large BCS team that benefitted the most from the chaos as they currently seem destined for a BCS game. But, a TCU upset would potentially open the door. Texas already just lost to TCU, but might still be higher than the mid-majors, so a Kansas State home win would again be beneficial. Then, it all comes down to whether the Broncos also will be in the running for this BCS berth as well, as their loss to Nevada would again help the Flashes emerge as the best mid-major.

Then, the reason why I said Orange Bowl above is that that game has the last pick in the selection process. Already, the Rose Bowl will have its guaranteed matchup and you can clearly see the Big 12 champion playing at-large Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. Next, the Sugar Bowl will pick an SEC at-large replacement team to face the best possible pick, either the Big 12 at-large or the Big East champion. Then, since Miami gets to host the National Championship, they get the last lot and would have the ACC champ facing off against either the Big East champ or the mid-major team.

It would be a whole heck of a lot of fun if the Golden Flashes could somehow miraculously vault into the Orange Bowl in Darrell Hazell’s second season. No one ever viewed Kent State as a legitimate MAC contender in 2012, let alone a possible national contender, as everyone seemed to be fixated on Ohio instead. But led by running back Dri Archer, who entered that game fourth in the nation with 2,240 all-purpose yards, and an opportunistic defense that has the team first in FBS with an unreal +23 turnover margin, the Flashes are knocking on the national radar.

Going back to Hazell, the long-time Ohio State assistant was viewed as a great future coach, but no one saw this happening so soon. Over the past few weeks as KSU’s winning streak continued, his name has been all over coaching rumors — Kentucky, the Flashes’ lone loss, has seemed like a decent fit — but a BCS berth would all but assure his departure. This would be just like a Final Four appearance for a mid-major in March Madness.

So now you know the approximate odds of the Cinderella slipper fitting just right on the Kent State Golden Flashes in just a few weeks. A win over Northern Illinois is necessary, but this could be a historic bowl season not just for KSU, but also for the conference. No MAC team has ever participated in a BCS game since the new system began in 1998. The playoff system beginning in 2014 will likely limit this from ever happening again — yeah right will a MAC team ever climb up to the top 4 — so this would be a tremendous achievement all around.

(Photo: J.D. Pooley, AP)

  • norm

    I get the feeling that either three of these schools are somehow going to top out at 17 regardless of what happens around them. I just don’t see the committee letting a non-aq school in.

  • 5KMD

    Glad to see KSU having a great year.

    As an OHIO alum, this is exactly what I thought the bobcats were going to do this year.

    Good for the MAC

  • Kent Parker, MD

    If this were to actually happen it would be the most amazing story ever in modern college football. And who knows? Kent could play a disinterested ACC foe and actually win. Anything is possible at this point. UNREAL!

  • mike

    There is no “committee” in college football — at least not until playoffs begin in 2014.

  • Brandon

    First of all, I have a feeling Northern Illinois will win. Their nonconference loss is much better than KSU’s. Secondly, I fear that voters will not vote the KSU/NIU high enough next week in the final human poll–they won’t “push up” the winner a few spots–even if the teams above them lose. They apparently did this last year to TCU the last week of the season–purposely–thus guaranteeing what they saw an inferior team not getting in when they new how close it was going to be. (TCU narrowly missed out). Since the pollsters will know KSU/NIU need to move up, they may keep them where they are…

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.byron.754 Mark Byron

    With KSU at 17 in the new BCS and no Big East team in the top 25, all KSU has to do is beat NIU and hope Stanford beats #16 UCLA in the Big 12 title game, or see someone further ahead fall. The Orange seems the most likely for Kent State, but I’d love to see them go to the Fiesta where KSU would be sure to win.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure it’s that simple. Just last year, TCU was ranked #18, ahead of the Big East champ West Virginia. All they needed was #16 Georgia and #17 Michigan St to lose in their championship games, and they would get that coveted #16, right? Well those teams did lose, and neither dropped a spot, leaving TCU for the Poinsetta Bowl. The pollsters may have some funny ideas on how to rank teams, but they seem to be aware of the importance of putting a mid-major at #16, and avoid doing so unless it’s a certainty that said mid-major is deserving of a BCS appearance.

  • Steve

    Wish I had seen this before I posted. Exactly right. I think the pollsters feel that the eventual MAC champion will not be deserving to be on the field with even a bad ACC champion.

  • mgbode

    and UCLA is much further ahead in the actual BCS points. the reason for hope is that Kent State has room to climb in the actual human polls and could very well do so.

    anyone cheering for Kent State is a Stanford, Wisconsin, GaTech, and Nevada fan this weekend. Oh, and Kansas State (Texas is the only team that really could leap-frog them this weekend).

    if someone could please explain how Boise is ahead of Kent State in the Harris poll despite playing a weaker schedule and having 2 losses, then please reply here.

  • mgbode

    it would be fun to try to see ESPN market a potential GaTech v. Kent State matchup though (FSU will likely destroy GaTech, but it’s still a possibility they win — and, as deserving as many non-BCS teams have been through the years, they do not draw good ratings).

    I am cheering for that matchup :)

  • Steve

    I’m not sure Boise’s schedule is weaker. Rutgers looks pretty with 9 wins, but I think I would take BYU over the Knights. After that Mich St is clearly better than Kentucky, and I’ll take the MWC over the MAC (even this year).

    Sagarin’s predictor ranking has Boise at 32 and Kent at 65 for a reason.

  • mgbode

    I disagree that the MWC > MAC this season.

    And I’ll see your 1 computer-based ranking system and give you the conglomerate ranking:

    Kent State #18 in BCS computer rankings
    Boise State #30 in BCS computer rankings

    The only reason 2loss Boise is ahead of 1loss Kent State (and NoIll) is because of past success.

  • Steve

    Both Sagarin and Massey have the MWC over the MAC (a large part of that is that the East, ahem Kent, has such god awful teams). And those BCS computer rankings don’t include margin of victory (almost a necessity).

    A conglomerate I prefer: http://masseyratings.com/cf/compare.htm

    has Boise a couple spots ahead of Kent.

  • mgbode

    those are not the congomerate rankings that count though :)

    In addition, we are assuming here that Kent beats NoIll (else this conversation doesn’t matter – they may lose, but that’s not fun to consider). If they do, then they will very likely jump Boise in those rankings as well.

  • Steve

    Just because the BCS chose a certain group of computer rankings does not make that the best of the computers, as I’m certain you understand.

    And it will depend on the score. Those that include margin of victory will obviously need to see the scores of the two games, and those that don’t will almost certainly have Kent St ahead already.