With three weeks remaining in the regular season, races are narrowing and gaining clarity.
Here’s a closer look at the AQ conference and divisional races across the country:
American Athletic Conference
UCF (5-0, 8-1): After surviving against Temple, the Golden Knights remain in position to win the conference by running the table. Winnable home games against Rutgers and South Florida remain before UCF plays at SMU to wrap the season. UCF should be heavy favorites in its last three contests. Even if it loses a game, UCF would have the head-to-head tie-breaker over Louisville. The Golden Knights would need to be ahead of Cincinnati in the BCS standings to win the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Bearcats.
Louisville (5-1, 9-1): Even if the Cardinals win out, they need UCF to lose twice because the Golden Knights own the head-to-head tie-breaker. There can’t be a three-way tie between Cincinnati, Louisville and UCF because the Bearcats and Cardinals play in the final week of the season.
Cincinnati (5-1, 8-2): Of the AAC teams with championship hopes, the Bearcats have the toughest road. A road test at Houston and a home contest against Louisville remain. If UCF loses once and Cincinnati wins its last two games, it can win the conference if it has a better BCS ranking.
Houston (4-2, 7-3): Consecutive losses against the top two teams in the league make it virtually impossible for Houston to win the American. The Cougars need a lot of help, including two losses from UCF and probably two from Louisville as well.
SMU (3-2, 4-5): Amazingly, the Mustangs are (somewhat) alive in the American race. One more loss, though, and their title hopes disappear. SMU closes with tough games against Houston and UCF.
Florida State (8-0, 10-0): The Seminoles clinched the division title by completing a perfect conference season.
Duke (4-2, 8-2): The Blue Devils’ win over Miami means they control the path to the ACC Championship Game. Winning out – with games remaining at Wake Forest and at North Carolina – is the easiest path to Charlotte. Duke could also win in tie-breaker situations.
Georgia Tech (5-3, 6-4): If Duke loses, Georgia Tech will certainly be a part of the tiebreaker. The Yellow Jackets are in the clubhouse with three conference losses, but will need help, starting with the Blue Devils losing to Wake Forest or North Carolina.
Virginia Tech (4-3, 7-4): The Hokies blew a great opportunity to win the division when they dropped a home game to massively injured Maryland. Only a road game against an even worse Virginia team remains. Assuming Virginia Tech can be bothered to win that game, it will join Georgia Tech at 5-3. Of course, that means VT’s hopes rely on Duke losing again.
North Carolina (4-3, 5-5): Closing against Duke means North Carolina controls whether it will be part of the divisional title tiebreaker.
Miami (3-3, 7-3): Even with horrendous play over the last three weeks, the Hurricanes can beat Virginia and Pittsburgh to join a potential three-loss tie at the top of the division.
Because there are so many teams as a part of this, let’s break it out in a more simple way.
Duke wins the division by winning its last two games.
Any tiebreaker would include Georgia Tech.
Divisional play tiebreaker will make it close to impossible for North Carolina to win the bid to the ACC Championship Game. Virginia Tech would be in the best position to win the divisional title. If the Hokies lose to Virginia, though, the scenarios become far more complex.
Bottom line: There is still plenty to be determined here.
Baylor (6-0, 9-0): Though many assume Baylor will finish running the table, a tough road test at Oklahoma State looms with games at TCU and home against Texas afterward. Baylor winning out is hands-down the simplest way the conference could be won.
Oklahoma State (6-1, 9-1): Oklahoma State’s convincing win at Texas allows it to control the path to the league title. If the Cowboys beat Baylor in Stillwater next week, they will be tied for the conference lead with tiebreakers against the two teams with whom it would be tied – Texas and Baylor. However, Oklahoma State is yet to face the Bears and Oklahoma.
Texas (6-1, 7-3): Believe it or not, Texas will actually root for Baylor to beat Oklahoma State this week. If the Bears win their next two games, the Longhorns can win the Big 12 by defeating Texas Tech and Baylor. Texas needs Oklahoma State to lose at least one more to have a chance at winning a tiebreaker.
Oklahoma (5-2, 8-2): Losses to Texas and Baylor make it impossible for the Sooners to win the conference tiebreaker, but Oklahoma could still split the league title. The best-case scenario for Oklahoma would be for Baylor to lose to Oklahoma State and TCU and beat Texas and for the Longhorns to lose to Texas Tech. Even that would result in the Sooner getting eliminated in the second tiebreaker.
Kansas State (4-3, 6-4): Losses to the top three teams in the league completely eliminate the Wildcats from conference championship contention.
Big Ten Legends
Michigan State (6-0, 9-1): The only way Michigan State wouldn’t win the division is if it loses its final two games – at Northwestern and home against Minnesota. In that scenario, the Gophers would win the Legends.
Minnesota (4-2, 8-2): Nobody said it would be easy for the Gophers to claim the divisional title. They have to beat Wisconsin and win at Michigan State to do so, but at least they have a shot.
Nebraska (4-2, 7-3): This week’s loss to Michigan State eliminated Nebraska in the divisional race. Even if the Spartans lose out, the Cornhuskers would be the first team out in a tiebreaker with Minnesota and Michigan State. Nebraska would lose a two-way tie with Michigan State because of head-to-head results.
Big Ten Leaders
Ohio State (6-0, 10-0): Because the Buckeyes beat second-place Wisconsin earlier this season, a win over either Indiana or Michigan clinches the divisional title. In other words, the division is essentially wrapped up.
Wisconsin (5-1, 8-2): The Badgers must win the last two games and then pray Ohio State completely self-destructs to lose its final two contests.
Oregon (6-1, 9-1): With Stanford’s loss at USC, the Ducks now are back in the driver’s seat in the division. Beat Arizona and Oregon State, and Oregon will host the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Stanford (6-2, 8-2): Losing at USC means Stanford needs help to win the North. If Oregon loses one more, the Cardinal would win the tiebreaker.
Oregon State (4-3, 6-4): The Beavers have been eliminated from the divisional race. Even if Oregon loses its last two games, including to Oregon State, and Stanford loses to Cal, the Cardinal would win the three-way tiebreaker.
Arizona State (6-1, 8-2): A win this week at UCLA would clinch the division for the Sun Devils. If they lose, however, it would create a mess. Arizona State would have to beat rival Arizona and would need USC to beat the Bruins. If the Sun Devils beat UCLA and then lost to Arizona, they would still win the division by virtue of having beaten both UCLA and USC head-to-head.
UCLA (5-2, 8-2): For UCLA to repeat as Pac-12 South champ, it must win its final two games – against Arizona State and at USC. Any other result ends with the Bruins failing to win the division.
USC (5-2, 8-3): Ironically, the Trojans will be in a position to cheer on UCLA this week. USC needs Arizona State to lose its final two games and the Trojans have to beat the Bruins to win the Pac-12 South.
Missouri (5-1, 9-1 overall): The Tigers now know they must beat both Ole Miss and Texas A&M in order to win the SEC East. If Missouri loses one it would be tied with South Carolina, which owns the tiebreaker.
South Carolina (6-2, 8-2 overall): South Carolina put the pressure on Missouri by beating Florida – even if the Gamecocks had to squeak out an unimpressive win. Since South Carolina beat Missouri earlier this year, it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Tigers still have games at Ole Miss and against Texas A&M. If either team tames the Tigers, South Carolina goes to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Alabama (7-0, 10-0 overall): The winner of the Iron Bowl wins the West. It’s that simple.
Auburn (6-1, 10-1 overall): If Auburn can beat No. 1 Alabama in the regular-season finale, the Tigers would win the West.
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