Here’s my theory on the annual national championship race. You’re never out of it until you have two losses. Which, of course, is not good news for the Sooners or the Cowboys. But the theory has been solid except for 2007, when a wacky season ended with LSU as the national champ. Those Bayou Bengals had two overtime defeats but won the Big Bowl.
So how many teams remain in the hunt for the national title? Twelve. I’m counting any major-conference team with one or two losses, except 7-1 Rutgers. I don’t give the Big East any slack with a one-loss team.
Here are the no-loss or one-loss teams, with their remaining games:
Alabama 8-0: at LSU, Texas A&M, Western Carolina, Auburn, likely SEC title game.
Kansas State 8-0: Oklahoma State, at TCU, at Baylor, Texas.
Notre Dame 8-0: Pittsburgh, at Boston College, Wake Forest, at Southern Cal.
Oregon 8-0: at Southern Cal, at California, Stanford, at Oregon State, likely Pac-12 title game at home.
Louisville 8-0: Temple, at Syracuse, Connecticut, at Rutgers.
Florida State 8-1: at Virginia Tech, at Maryland, Florida, likely ACC title game.
LSU 7-1: Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, at Arkansas, possible SEC title game.
Florida 7-1: Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jacksonville State, at Florida State, possible SEC title game.
Georgia 7-1: Ole Miss, at Auburn, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, likely SEC title game.
Clemson 7-1: at Duke, Maryland, North Carolina State, South Carolina, possible ACC title game.
Mississippi State 7-1: Texas A&M, at LSU, Arkansas, at Ole Miss, improbable SEC title game.
Oregon State 6-1: Arizona State, at Stanford, California, Oregon, Nicholls State, possible Pac-12 title game.
So, let’s answer a few questions.
1. Which undefeated teams are most likely to stay that way? In order, Louisville, Alabama, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Oregon. The Ducks have a very difficult finishing schedule, which will help their computer rating should Oregon successfully navigate. I don’t see any way Louisville gets to the Big Bowl. If nothing else, a one-loss Notre Dame and a one-loss SEC champ would trump the unbeaten Cardinals.
2. Which undefeated teams are most likely to lose twice? In order, Oregon, Kansas State, Alabama, Louisville, Notre Dame. I know, sounds goofy to put Bama so high, but the Tide could have two gut-punchers — Saturday night in Baton Rouge, then an SEC title game, probably against Georgia in Atlanta. For the Tide to reach the SEC title game with a loss, LSU would have to lose again, but the Tigers are capable.
3. Which one-loss team is most likely to stay that way? In order, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Oregon State. Clemson likely will make a BCS bowl game. Might do it even with a loss to South Carolina. The BCS will be scrounging for bowl teams. The Florida-Florida State winner has an excellent shot to finish 11-1, particularly the Gators, who likely won’t play an SEC title game.
4. Which current one-loss team is most likely to play in the Big Bowl? In order, Georgia, LSU, Florida State, Florida, Oregon State, Mississippi State, Clemson. It’s a tough order for any of these, with the exception of Georgia, because two things have to happen. At least three of the current unbeatens (not counting Louisville) must lose, and at least three of the current unbeatens must fall below whoever emerges as the best of the current one-loss teams. Double-pronged prayer.