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A Final Four would be appropriate this year

10:19 AM, Nov 6, 2012   |    comments
Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide fans celebrate following a win over the LSU Tigers in a game at Tiger Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 21-17. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As the college football regular season winds down, the number of undefeated major programs remains rather high.

Six teams still boast perfect records (although 10-0 Ohio State is not bowl eligible), so plenty of things still need to be sorted out during the next month.

Let's take a crack at answering some key FBS football questions.

HOW DISAPPOINTING IS IT THAT THE FOUR-TEAM PLAYOFF DOESN'T BEGIN UNTIL 2014?

Very much so. If there were ever a year when having a four-team playoff in place would be perfect, this is probably it. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait a little longer to see the new format take effect.

The top four teams in the BCS rankings (Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame) are all unbeaten. Should they remain that way heading into the bowls, at least two teams are going to have a legitimate gripe when bids are announced.

All four of those teams play legitimate schedules, so any of them who stay unbeaten and don't get a chance to compete for a championship will have the right to say they've been robbed.

Each of those teams, however, has at least three games left on the schedule. Crazy things can happen. Maybe everything will get sorted out by the time the conference championship games are over. Then again, it probably won't. Oh well, what would college football be without bowl controversy?

WHICH OF THE TOP FOUR IS MOST LIKELY TO BE BEATEN?

Let's look at the remaining schedules. Alabama has home games against Texas A&M, Western Carolina and archrival Auburn, prior to the likely SEC Championship Game.

Oregon will visit California, host Stanford and visit Oregon State, prior to the likely Pac 12 Championship Game.

Kansas State will visit TCU and Baylor, before hosting Texas.

Notre Dame will visit Boston College, host Wake Forest, then close the season with the traditional rivalry game at USC.

The Fighting Irish will probably be an underdog at USC, which makes them the most likely to head into the bowls with a blemish.

Is the pressure of being unbeaten affecting the Irish a bit already? Had Pittsburgh not missed a makeable field goal in the second overtime period Saturday, Notre Dame's perfect season would have already been spoiled.

It won't be particularly easy for Kansas State or Oregon to finish unbeaten, either. Both teams are a bit susceptible to giving up points, and there are no particularly easy wins left on their schedules.

In ranked order, the most likely of the top four to lose a game are: Notre Dame, Kansas State, Oregon and Alabama.

DOES UNBEATEN LOUISVILLE HAVE A LEGITIMATE SHOT AT A TITLE?

It doesn't appear so. The Cardinals' strength of schedule just isn't there. They're currently just ninth in the BCS standings, despite a perfect 9-0 record. Louisville closes with Syracuse, Connecticut and Rutgers. Only Rutgers should provide a challenge, so a 12-0 record is likely.

The problem is that the Cardinals' strength of schedule points won't improve by beating two sub-.500 teams in Syracuse and UConn. That means the only chance Louisville will have is if all the other unbeaten teams lose games. Even then, Louisville would also have to pass one-loss Southeastern Conference teams Georgia and Florida, as well as two-loss SEC teams LSU and South Carolina.

If it goes unbeaten, Louisville would provide the prime example of why college football would need a playoff system to be fair to everyone. While a majority of fans would probably agree that Louisville is not as impressive a team as the top four squads, it isn't right that the Cardinals will have no chance to prove otherwise on the field.

WHO WILL WIN THE WIDE-OPEN BIG TEN CONFERENCE?

With 10-0 Ohio State (as well as 6-3 Penn State, for that matter) ineligible to play in the Big Ten championship game, it's possible - perhaps even likely -- that the third-place team from the Leaders Division will play in the conference title game.

The Leaders Division winner will likely be Wisconsin, which is 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten, if it can win Saturday at Indiana. All three of the Badgers' losses have been by only three points (10-7 vs. Oregon State, 30-27 vs. Nebraska and 16-13 in overtime vs. Michigan State).

If Indiana beats Wisconsin, it would leave both teams 3-3 in the conference, but the Hoosiers would have the easier road the rest of the way. Wisconsin closes with Ohio State and Penn State, while Indiana's final two games are at Penn State and Purdue.

In the Legends Division, Nebraska has established itself as the favorite, thanks to back-to-back wins over Michigan and Michigan State during the past two weekends. The Cornhuskers should be able to win out in their final three regular-season games, with this Saturday's home date against Penn State being the toughest challenge.

Expect a Nebraska vs. Wisconsin Big Ten championship game. Since it's been such a wacky year in the conference with no one looking truly elite, would it really be a stunner if Wisconsin emerged as the champion? Remember, the Badgers led the Cornhuskers by 17 points in the second half before Nebraska scored the game's last 20 points to win, 30-27.

WHO WILL WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP?

Explosive offense gets most of the attention in college football these days, with shootouts in the Big 12 and Pac-12 always grabbing the headlines.

Despite appearances, defense still wins championships. That's why Alabama is going to repeat as national champion.

Oregon and Kansas State frequently look unstoppable on offense. Mostly, that's because neither has to go up against a defense as staunch as Alabama's. Oregon and Kansas State would have their moments on offense, but they would not be able to put up 40 or more points against the Crimson Tide, and Alabama's offense would be able to move the ball fairly easily against those teams.

Notre Dame plays excellent defense, too, but its offense is less consistent than Alabama's. If the Fighting Irish would play against Alabama, they would be hard pressed to score in double digits.

WHO WILL WIN THE HEISMAN TROPHY?

A month ago, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith looked like the overwhelming favorite. Since then, the Mountaineers suffered three consecutive losses - one-sided decisions against Texas Tech and Kansas State, followed by an overtime setback this past weekend to TCU.

Now, Smith probably has almost no chance to win the award, even though he's thrown for 2,677 yards and 29 touchdowns against just three interceptions through eight games.

It looks like the award is Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein's to lose. Somewhat reminiscent of former Heisman winner Tim Tebow, Klein is a two-way threat who has thrown for 1,875 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 698 and 17 touchdowns.

However, Klein left Saturday's win over Oklahoma State with an undisclosed injury. Early word is that he's expected to be OK.

Should he miss time because of the injury, though, it would make the Heisman race almost impossible to call. The supposed No. 2 candidate is Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. When push comes to shove, though, it seems unlikely that an inside linebacker would get enough national support to win the award.

The other possibilities are Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, who has rushed for 1,295 yards and 19 touchdowns on the country's most explosive offensive team, or Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who could get some Gino Torretta- like Heisman support as the field leader of the nation's best team.

Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sports writer since 1985.

 

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