Jerry Palm’s latest bowl projections caused quite a stir last weekend. On the same day Kansas State moved up to No. 2 in the BCS standings, seemingly putting the Wildcats in position to reach their first BCS championship game, Palm predicted they would land in the Fiesta Bowl.
Even though he predicts K-State will finish the regular season undefeated, he thinks Oregon, ranked fourth in the BCS standings, is a better bet. He likes the Ducks to jump both K-State and Notre Dame and meet top-ranked Alabama in the national title game, leaving the Wildcats and Fighting Irish to face off in Arizona.
Since his projections went online Sunday, they have been shared almost 3,000 times on Twitter and been commented on nearly 3,500 times. Alabama and Oregon fans have praised him. K-State and Notre Dame fans have cursed him.
The top four teams in college football are all undefeated, and there is no simple way to rank them. All four can make a compelling case to play for a title, but only two will. The Crimson Tide seem like a lock to stay No. 1 until they lose, but no one is sure where the other three teams will land. The BCS standings have been out for three weeks, and already K-State and Notre Dame have moved up two spots, while Oregon has dropped from third to fourth.
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Palm, a numbers expert who meticulously studies the BCS standings and projects bowl games for CBS Sports, thinks the shuffling is just beginning. Last week, he projected K-State to meet Alabama in the BCS championship game and left Oregon out of the BCS entirely. Seven days later, he changed his mind.
“It wasn’t based on anything Kansas State did and it wasn’t based on anything Oregon did,” Palm said. “It was based on what USC did.”
Ah yes, the formerly No. 1 Trojans. They could cause more shuffling than anyone with games remaining against Oregon and Notre Dame. Palm used to think they would beat Oregon when they meet on Saturday in Los Angeles. But after watching USC lose to Arizona, Palm no longer sees that happening.
“Now I have Oregon winning out and taking No. 2,” Palm said.
With games remaining against ranked teams USC, Stanford and Oregon State and a potential appearance in the Pac-12 championship game, Oregon’s strength of schedule will improve drastically in the coming weeks. That will close the gap in the computer polls, which make up a third of the BCS formula and currently favor K-State, and allow the Ducks’ advantage in the two human polls, which each make up a third of the BCS formula, to boost them up the standings.
Since the BCS started using its current rankings system in 2004, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the human polls have always met in the BCS championship game. That’s good news for Oregon, which is ranked second in both the USA Today and Harris polls.
“This is a poll-driven system,” Palm said. “I don’t really care where they are in the BCS right now. The computers go all over the place. You’ve got five undefeated teams and all these one-loss teams that are still pretty strong. They haven’t weaved everything out yet. Oregon is not going to finish sixth in the computers at the end of the year if they’re still undefeated. They are going to move up and their poll position is going to take over.”
K-State is ranked third in both human polls and first in three of the six computer polls used by the BCS, thanks in large part to impressive victories over Oklahoma, West Virginia, Miami and Texas Tech. But none of its remaining four opponents — Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas — is ranked in the AP Top 25.
Notre Dame, ranked fourth in both human polls, has only one difficult game remaining against USC.
“They need the most help of all,” Palm said.
Still, fans of both programs worry they will become the first major-conference teams since Auburn in 2004 to be left out of the national title picture despite an undefeated record.
“They really need to change voters’ minds,” Palm said. “Either they do it or Oregon does it. As long as Oregon is No. 2 in the polls, you have to consider them the favorite. Kansas State is close enough now that if they were a spot ahead in the computers they would still be ahead overall, but they can’t count on that, because Oregon’s schedule is back-loaded. Kansas State is done playing the best teams on its schedule.”
Some also fear Alabama could suffer a loss and land a spot in the top two over an undefeated team if it wins the SEC championship. But Palm said that is highly unlikely.
K-State coach Bill Snyder is trying to prevent his team from getting caught up in the national title debate. He says he doesn’t watch the BCS standings as they are announced, and doesn’t know what style points are. His focus remains solely on the next game.
“That is all you have control over anyway,” Snyder said. “We do not have control over any of that other stuff. We are wasting our time, effort and thoughts getting involved in it.”
So far, the Wildcats seem to agree.
“We realize that we have a long way to go,” receiver Curry Sexton said. “We have four tough games left, starting with Oklahoma State this week. We cannot overlook anyone or else we will slip up and lose a game.”
If Palm was a football coach, he would want his players acting the same way. No matter how jumbled the BCS standings look now, they always tend to sort themselves out by December.
“This is typical for October,” Palm said. “You’ve still got a handful of undefeated teams and everyone is talking about what will happen if they all win out. History tells you that by the time we get to the end we are much, much, much more likely to have just one undefeated major conference team than we are more than two.”