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A few contenders for second slot

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / October 28, 2011

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They are the “shadow’’ teams right now, which is probably an unfair description. But in the world of college football, power rules, and for the past five seasons, the power base has been the Southeastern Conference, which has produced the last five national champions.

That is why the feeding frenzy that will come next week as No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama prepare to face each other is somewhat justified. Ask about potential BCS championship game participants, and 99.9 percent of the responses will include the Tigers or the Crimson Tide.

The key question is who will be on the other side of the field.

Nothing is clear. Thus, the teams remain in the shadows, while we wait for someone to emerge. In the next 2-3 weeks, someone will do just that.

The candidates:

■Oklahoma State. Of the eight unbeaten teams remaining, four should control their own destiny: LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma State, and probably Kansas State.

Oklahoma State is No. 3 in the BCS rankings but No. 1 in five of the six computer rankings.

They can take care of business on the field, starting with tomorrow’s game against Baylor. Also ahead are home games against Kansas State and once-beaten Oklahoma.

Run the table, and the Cowboys are a lock for the BCS title game

Boise State. The Broncos have moved to No. 4 in the BCS standings, but the problem is that no computer-friendly opponents remain on their schedule.

Oklahoma State is already ahead of them and will stay that way if it stays unbeaten. Lurking just behind are unbeaten Clemson and unbeaten Stanford. Other than a possible rematch with Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, Clemson won’t get much help in the computer rankings from its remaining opponents.

Stanford. The Cardinal could leapfrog the Broncos, since USC, Oregon, and Notre Dame remain on the schedule. But whether an unbeaten Stanford team could leapfrog an unbeaten Boise team is a close call.

Clemson. This may be the best Clemson team since the 1981 national champions. The Tigers beat defending national champion Auburn, preseason ACC championship pick Florida State, and defending ACC champion Virginia Tech in successive games. The problem is, the computers will penalize Clemson for the remainder of its schedule - Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina State - before its regular-season finale against South Carolina.

At 13-0, Clemson could climb to No. 3 in the BCS rankings, but getting into one of the top two slots will require some help (upsets) along the way.

Kansas State. The Wildcats are well back in the pack right now. But look what lies ahead: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Texas. Win all of those, then close out with a win over Iowa State at home, and coach Bill Snyder’s team will climb quickly. Wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State should trump anything that Clemson, Stanford, or Boise State do. Beat Texas A&M and Texas (on the road), and Kansas State should be in New Orleans Jan. 9.

Houston. The Cougars could and probably should end the season unbeaten. But even a BCS berth is no lock (unless Boise State loses and relinquishes the spot guaranteed to a non-automatic qualifier with a ranking of 12 or higher; Houston is No. 17 right now). The odds of Boise State losing are still enormous - although the Broncos weren’t expected to lose to Nevada last season.

The odds favor no more than three or four unbeaten teams by Selection Sunday, which is the first Saturday in December.

There is even a possibility - although remote - that the BCS title game will be an Alabama-LSU rematch.

In a season in which the games sometimes have played a supporting role to the madness of conference reconfiguration, and in a season in which the SEC again looks like a power, perhaps the most intriguing question is who will be the SEC champion’s date to the prom.

If we had to guess right now, we would say that Stanford, with the probable Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Andrew Luck, will be the choice against Alabama.

But that is very much just a guess.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. Clemson

6. Boise State

7. Oregon

8. Kansas State

9. Oklahoma

10. Michigan State