We have a lot of season left to play, and I raise this topic too early to justify any serious concern. However, because we can have fun discussing it and it does exist as a possibility, I shall write about this topic anyways.
In current BCS week 9 standings, 7 teams have yet to lose a game. 6 of those teams have the possibility of finishing the season without a loss. If this happens, the college football landscape will call for the BCS heads to roll and roll hard because somebody who deserves it won't get an invitation to the BCS dance. In this post, I run down the list of teams without a loss describing what dangers they have ahead of them, my thoughts about whether they will actually finish the season without a loss, and the value of a zero loss season in a claim to play in the national title. Finally I'll speculate about how the bowl invitations may come down from the BCS should six of these teams actually finish their seasons without a loss.
Florida Gators (1)
Florida has a team worthy of their #1 ranking. They have maintained a perfect record in the mighty SEC. Their remaining regular season schedule includes Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida International, and Florida State. South Carolina has a team good enough to play the role of a spoiler for a major contender like Florida, but they have the definitive status of underdog in this game. Florida will without question make the SEC championship game, but that game presents them with a significant hurdle. They will face either Alabama (3) or LSU (9) in all likelihood, and this Saturday's contest between those two teams will also in all likelihood determine which reaches the title game as Florida's opponent. The winner of such a matchup makes for a tough prediction for even the most knowledgeable of college football pundits. For the sake of making some kind of prediction, because whomever they face will come to the game more battle hardened, I'll predict Florida drops the championship game in a narrow loss. I think the SEC West has stronger teams than the SEC East, Florida's division.
Texas Longhorns (2)
I think Texas really deserved the bid over Oklahoma to playing in the National Championship Game last year. This season, they have come out to play with a vengeance to put an exclamation point on that idea. They have suffered no losses playing out of the tougher of the Big12 divisions. Like Florida, their regular season schedule doesn't present any seriously formidable opponents. Their remaining schedule includes UCF, Baylor, Kansas, and Texas A&M. Texas A&M could create an upset as their arch rivals, and Kansas certainly has the ability to spoil a team's ride to a season without a loss. All unexpected events aside, Texas should cruise to the Big12 title and most likely win it against either Kansas State or Nebraska.
Alabama Rolling Tide (3)
You could argue that Alabama has the toughest schedule in totality for the regular season in all of Division I football. It includes 4 ranked teams and of course their regular opponents of the SEC West. Should they win all their games leading up to the SEC championship game, they will in my opinion have earned a #1 ranking. However, they have some higher hurdles to clear in comparison to their zero-loss cohorts of the BCS. Their regular season still has LSU (#9), Mississippi State, Chattanooga, and Auburn. LSU has a #9 ranking, and Auburn has the rivalry factor to motivate them to play like overachievers in the final regular season game. And of course they have to play Florida in the SEC championship to maintain an unbeaten record. I really would like to see Alabama run the table through the regular season and win the SEC championship game. I met a few of their fans at the Hokies' season opener, and despite the loss handed to Virginia Tech, I took a liking to them. However, I think they will probably drop a game prior to the bowl season.
Iowa Hawkeyes (4)
I can't remember the last time that Iowa had gotten nine games into their regular season without a loss. I do think that the Big10 lacks strength of schedule when you stack it up against the likes of the SEC and Big12, but a team who can manage not to stumble at all during the regular season deserves kudos. The Big 10 has no conference championship, so they only have their regular season games remaining. They play Northwestern, Ohio State, and Minnesota. A program like Iowa, who doesn't regularly handled the scrutiny of national championship chatter this late in the season, has some susceptibility to an upset to a team like Minnesota or Northwestern, but I don't suspect they will drop those games. Their major hurdle lies in Ohio State, who has had somewhat of a off season thus far. If I had to guess, I'd think Ohio State will plunder their plans for a no loss season, but I mainly base that on the reputation of the two programs.
Cincinnati Bearcats (5)
Since coming the Big East, this program has steadily built their prestige amongst the BCS contenders. If you can think back to when the Tampa Bay Lightning made their march to the Stanley Cup in 2004, hockey fans scratched their heads and repeated, "Really? Really? Tamba Bay!?" Cincinati has quickly begun to rise in the college football world in much the same fashion. They have had a tough schedule thus far, probably underrated due to playing out of the Big East, and they have a tough last three games ahead of them. They have yet to play Connecticut, West Virginia, Illinois, and Pittsburgh. West Virginia and Pittsburgh should give them tough games. They should route Illinois. To state which school's have better teams, I'd give that to Cincinnati over all their remaining opponents; however, like Iowa they arrive in the national title hunt as a program without experience in that atmosphere. I think they'll stumble and lose one game before the bowl season.
TCU Horned Frogs (6)
TCU plays out of the Mountain Western Conference, one that does not have an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. They can only win an at-large bid to a BCS bowl, and they only have a hope for that if they can win every regular season game, especially with the BCS standings as tight as they are this late in the season. Out of fairness, I think you really have to give a hard look at any team who doesn't lose all season, regardless of from which conference they come. Without doing so you don't have a way for those teams of conferences without an automatic BCS bid to work their way into a BCS bowl. TCU's remaining schedule includes San Diego State, Utah, Wyomic, and New Mexico. I don't know much about any of these teams except for Utah, but I'll just say that TCU will easily handle all of those except for Utah. This game really presents their only obstacle to a season without a loss. Utah, themselves, have only played one loss shy of a perfect season thus far as well. TCU has better numbers than Utah in total offense and total defense. By the stats, they have the upper hand. Also, Utah has a high number of players on injured reserve listed as questionable. Given all this, I think TCU will run the table.
Boise State Broncos (7)
Finally, we come to Boise State, also from a non-automatic bid conference. We remember from several seasons ago in what happened as one of the most exciting bowl games in the history of college football: Boise State vs. Oklahoma. The Broncos won that game with an exciting finish. Pundits consistently entertain their program as a potential BCS buster, and rightfully so as they frequently command their conference and earn big non-conference wins. This season, their strength of schedule only has one major opponent: Oregon. But that single opponent has had a marvelous season since that opening loss, and that helps Boise State in the polls. The Broncos have Louisiana Tech, Idaho, Utah State, Nevada, and New Mexico state on their remaining regular season schedule. None of those should give them any major problems. So long as they keep their composure, they'll finish the regular season without a loss.
Now, just for the sake of carrying speculation further, how would things likely shake down if 6 of these 7 teams, the most possible, finished without losing? Should Florida or Alabama claim the SEC title, they will have an uncontestible claim to play in the National Championship Game. Given the strength of the SEC, the BCS committee would probably even go so far as to pick a one-loss SEC team over other zero-loss teams should they win the conference, but I digress. Texas, coming from the formidable Big12 would likely get the invite to play the SEC champion in the National Championship Bowl. Because of the Rose Bowl's old, and quite frankly antiquated, tradition, they would invite Iowa to play Oregon, who will likely win the Pac10. This leaves the Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Orange Bowl, in that order for selection of the 2009 season, across which to spread the rest of the no-loss teams. The Fiesta bowl losing their Big12 champion to the National Championship Bowl would likely pick Cincinnati to play against the one loss team probably from the Big12 they think would bring the most fans or maybe even Notre Dame, even if they finish 6-4...well, because they're Notre Dame. The Sugar Bowl will want the team with the second best record in the SEC: Florida, Alabama, or LSU depending on how things shake down in the SEC. Against that team, they'd probably choose Boise State because of their reputation for traveling decently to bowls. The Orange Bowl will keep with its tradition of inviting the ACC champion to play against TCU, the last remaining team solidifying an at large bid to some BCS bowl. Alternatively, the BCS bowls may only live up to the bare minimum of their rule obligations and only invite one of Boise State and TCU. The rules only obligate the BCS to invite one non-automatic bid conference team. That means the Sugar Bowl would invite some one loss team they deem to bring an attractive number of fans. It also means that only one of Boise State and TCU would get an invite to the Orange Bowl. That's where the fan outrage will come into the picture. A Penn State or one loss LSU would make a much more attract option from a revenue standpoint than a Boise State or TCU, and that means one of those two teams without a single loss get omitted from the BCS.