Can Virginia Tech make the 2011 National Championship Game? Most of you might be shocked to know that the answer is simply "yes". Yes, they can.
Sitting in 8th place in the latest BCS standings with, essentially, three more weeks of college football, the Hokies need to climb six spots to play for the title. How can they possibly accomplish this? It’s going to take some luck, more upsets, and most importantly a strong finish to the 2011 season. More after the jump.
The BCS standings are comprised of three separate parts: the Harris Poll, the Coach’s Poll, and the composite average of six computer polls, each representing one third of the BCS puzzle. However, it’s not necessarily where you place in the poll, but rather how many votes you accumulate. For instance, the Hokies are actually in 7th place in the Coach’s poll, but are only ahead of 8th place Clemson 1045 votes to 1042. So both teams basically have the same rating in the Coach’s Poll (0.7085 to 0.7064). Same situation applies to the Harris Poll. This factor alone could make a huge difference under one specific scenario: either LSU or Oklahoma St. loses in the next three weeks, opening the door for a one loss team to claim a stake at the National Title. If this happens, we could be in for an extremely close and exciting finish to the BCS standings. Here’s what needs to happen:
1. Virginia Tech needs to win out. They need to win their home finale against North Carolina Thursday night, at rival Virginia in the regular season finale, and against Atlantic Division Champion Clemson in the ACC Championship in Charlotte to end the season. If they lose at any point, the rest of this conversation becomes meaningless.
2. Clemson needs to win their last two regular season games. If the ACC Championship game pits 11-1 Clemson vs. 11-1 Virginia Tech, we are likely to have two top-6 BCS teams playing each other, something the ACC has never witnessed in the last week of the regular season. Clemson will have to beat state rival South Carolina on the road, no easy challenge. A win versus Clemson for Virginia Tech would be even greater considering they lost to them early in the season 23-3. A revenge victory would help them in the polls too because, after all, the team’s only loss will be to a team it also beat. Let that sink in for a second.
3. The ACC may need to go 4-0 against the SEC in rivalry games during the last week to boost conference ranking. This is more possible than it may appear. Only Georgia Tech vs. Georgia looks daunting. The other games: Wake Forest at Vanderbilt, Florida State at Florida, and the aforementioned Clemson at South Carolina. Even a 3-1 record would be acceptable to put the ACC at 4-1 against the SEC on the season (Clemson beat Auburn back in Week 3). Two more non-conference games left for the ACC are Miami at South Florida and Boston College at Notre Dame. Going 1-1 in these two games won’t hurt, but 0-2 might.
4. The Hokies are only ranked 10th in the computer polls, so this is the portion that needs to be addressed the most. Since the computers are mostly based on a team’s record and their strength of schedule, the non-conference foes that Virginia Tech struggled so much to beat early in the season need to win down the stretch. These teams are mainly Arkansas State, East Carolina, and Marshall (Appalachian State is in the FCS). Arkansas State has fortunately been the top team in the Sun Belt Conference this year, and likely will win its final two games against Middle Tennessee and Troy, pushing its record to 10-2. East Carolina (4-6) finishes up at home against UCF and on the road at Marshall. Marshall (4-6) finishes up at Memphis and at home against East Carolina. While unlikely, both East Carolina and Marshall can still win the Conference USA Championship.
5. Last, but not least, teams ahead in the BCS need to lose. This past weekend #5 Boise State lost to unranked TCU while #4 and undefeated Stanford lost to now #4 Oregon, and there are plenty of more similar opportunities. #1 LSU still has to play #6 Arkansas and #2 Oklahoma State still has to play #5 Oklahoma. If Virginia Tech beats #7 Clemson in ACC Championship, that will put the Hokies at least at #5. However it will probably take another three upsets to give the Hokies a chance. The most likely pitfalls:
- LSU/Alabama/Arkansas vs. Georgia or South Carolina in the SEC Championship. Georgia will most likely be playing in this game unless they fall apart at home against Kentucky. Georgia has also been on a roll as of late, and at a neutral site, do not discount an upset just yet. This game will potentially have the greatest impact on the final BCS picture.
- Oregon vs. Southern Cal and the Pac-12 Championship Game. Here Oregon has a chance to lose twice to two quality programs. Southern Cal has proven they can play with any team in the country, while likely Championship Game opponent Arizona State has major upset potential.
- Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State. If LSU runs the table, Oklahoma State needs to lose to spark the "which 1 loss team is most deserving?" debate. This is when the human polls could become even and the computer polls could be the deciding factor. Oklahoma may be the lucky benefactor under this scenario, but their loss against a terrible Texas Tech team might hurt them too much in the human polls.
- LSU vs. Arkansas. If neither LSU nor Oklahoma State runs the table, this season will make the 2007 season, where LSU squeaks into the Championship game with two losses, look normal.
If these scenarios play out, I can conceivably see Virginia Tech in the Championship game for one main big reason. It has the "best" loss, if there is ever such a thing. They will have lost to Clemson and also beaten Clemson. The loss was not only redeemed, but suffered in the early part of the season. If LSU remains undefeated, Oregon and Alabama already had their chance, and they lost. Oklahoma embarrassingly lost to Texas Tech at home. And Oklahoma State might just be unlucky for losing so late in the season.
I am saying it is unlikely, and I am admitting that I do not see it happening, but what I do want you to know is this: Do not be surprised to see Virginia Tech sitting in 2nd place when the final BCS standings are unveiled on December 4th. And it all starts against North Carolina Thursday night.
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