Friday, October 22, 2010

Undefeated ... but for how long? -- Part II

Two weeks ago we looked in on the 18 teams that had remained undefeated through the first five weeks of play. Two weeks later we're down to 10 teams with a perfect record. Along the way both of the teams conventional wisdom picked to end up in the title game fell on the road. In each case they were heavy favorites, but that's why we play the games. Assuming that the teams in the national title game will be from the ranks of the undefeated, here are the 10 teams that have a shot of pulling off a perfect record.

Note that these odds only take into account scheduled games against known opponents as of today (October 22nd). Conference title games do not factor in here, but we will revisit these odds a few weeks down the road when the picture has cleared up some.

Legitimate Title Contenders

TCU Horned Frogs
Record: 7-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 1.40
Toughest remaining game: November 6, at (13) Utah.
Appropriately enough, the top team in the TFG rankings has the easiest path to the title game. Taking into account game from the last two weeks, the (1) Horned Frogs are now the favorite to end up 12-0 by November 27th. Their last difficult game of the year will be in two weeks, but that's saying much; TFG says the Horned Frogs are still 4-to-1 favorites when they visit (13) Utah. Outside of the game in Salt Lake, TCU is 94.7-99.5% likely to win each of their remaining games. Hint: their game at (117) New Mexico on November 27th won't be too exciting.

Boise State Broncos
Record: 6-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 1.45
Toughest remaining game: November 26, at (43) Nevada.
Even more appropriately, the second-most likely team to finish the season undefeated is the second-ranked team. Boise State is actually starting to get respect from the national sports media, but will it be enough to get them into the title game? They have an even easier road to the end of the year with only (43) Nevada standing in their way. Virginia Tech is starting to recover from their inexcusable faceplant against JMU, but (29) Oregon State didn't do the Broncos any favors by blowing a 2-point conversion in double-overtime. Outside of these two teams, the Broncos don't play anyone in the top half of the I-A ranks.

Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 6-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 3.39
Tougest remaining game: October 23, at (20) Missouri.
The (4) Sooners are a big step down from TCU and Boise, in the eyes of TFG. In fact, the gap between (2) Boise State and the Sooners is as large as the gap between Oklahoma and the (10) Nebraska Cornhuskers. This weekend represents their biggest challenge, a road game against a Missouri team that keeps climbing in our rankings. After this, though, it gets slightly easier; (33) Oklahoma State, and (52) Texas A&M have each faltered in the last two weeks, greatly improving Oklahoma's odds of reaching the end of the regular season undefeated. These odds, however, don't take into account the Big XII title game, a likely showdown between the Sooners and (10) Nebraska. The current conventional wisdom has an Oklahoma/Oregon national title game, but don't book your tickets just yet, Sooner and Duck fans. TFG says the odds of that are about 1 in 44, because ....

Second-Tier Hopefuls

Oregon Ducks
Record: 7-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 7.58
Toughest remaining game: October 30, vs (17) Southern California.
The (11) Ducks have slid in the eyes of TFG, even as they've demolished their opponents by 20+ points and climbed to the top of the BCS rankings. Once again, it's their speed that is somewhat deceptive; at over 180 plays per game (PPG), the Ducks run through a game about 15% more quickly than your standard 160 PPG contest. Oregon's defensive stats took a hit since they entered Pac-10 play, but their 1.3 PPH drop-off is in line with other top teams who have gone from playing cupcakes to playing more equal competition. Oregon has the misfortune to face most of their best competition --  (17) USC, (29) Oregon State, and (35) California -- on the road. They get (15) Arizona at home, but none of these games are what TFG considers a lock; in fact, they're not even 70% certain to win any of them. On the flip side, the Ducks have the added bonus of not playing in a conference with a title game, meaning if they can win out the rest of their regular season games, they'll be set come December 5th.

LSU Tigers
Record: 7-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 8.95
Toughest remaining game: November 6, vs (3) Alabama.
The (8) Tigers Exhibit 'A' in how quickly the press can change its tune about a team. Two weeks ago LSU was getting no respect, but after Alabama loses and the Tigers beat Florida -- a game in which LSU had a 30% chance of winning, and needed some iffy calls to help them -- now all of a sudden LSU is seen as a juggernaut. TFG sees the Tigers as a team that have improved about 1.4 PPH on offense and remained about the same on defense over that span, but still clearly a second-tier team. TFG says they get either 3 or 4 of their final games to finish 10-2 (more likely) or 11-1 (less likely).

Long Shots

Now we've come to the section where these teams could theoretically go undefeated, but in order for them to actually get into the National Championship game (or even one of the BCS bowls) it will take a bit of luck.

Utah Utes
Record: 6-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 18.6
Toughest remaining game: November 6, vs (1) TCU.
The (13) Utes are the second-best team in the Mountain West, but will have to face (1) TCU, (40) Air Force, and (36) Notre Dame all on the road over a three-weekend span. Their odds of getting two out of those three have shrunk considerably, and TFG says this solid top-15 team finishes the season 10-2.

Auburn Tigers
Record: 7-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 26.8
Toughest remaining game: November 26, at (3) Alabama.
The (17) Tigers rose in everyone's polls when they beat (31) Arkansas, but everyone seems to be forgetting that the Tigers gave up 40-some points to a Razorback squad lead mainly by their freshman backup quarterback. Their next three games are going to be real nailbiters, with neither side favored by more than 60%. That's even before we get to their season finale against (3) Alabama, where the Tigers are 3-to-1 underdogs. TFG says the Tigers finish 8-3 (more likely) or 9-2 (less likely) and the press is left scratching their heads as to what went wrong. The real answer will be that nothing went wrong, they just came back to earth.

Michigan State Spartans
Record: 7-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 31.6
Toughest remaining game: October 30, at (4) Iowa.
The (28) Spartans have been one of the primary beneficiaries of (30) Penn State's demise, as their shot of going undefeated is primarily in the hands of (4) Iowa. I say "primarily", because the Penn State game is still slated to be a coin toss, and even their road game against (63) Northwestern could be a close one. This is not a top-10 team, but because they've got the 0 in the 'L' column they get favorable coverage from the press.

Missouri Tigers
Record: 6-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 37.1
Toughest remaining game: October 30, at (10) Nebraska.
The (29) Tigers go on the road against (10) Nebraska and (41) Texas Tech, while hosting (4) Oklahoma. Throw in some other close games, and with a lucky bounce this Missouri squad will finish at either 9-3 (more likely) or 10-2 (less likely).

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Record: 6-0
Odds of going undefeated: 1 in 141
Toughest remaining game: November 27, vs (4) Oklahoma.
Another Big XII team, another team to run the (10) Nebraska and (4) Oklahoma gauntlet, another team to finish 9-3. The (26) Cowboys are good, but they've got a rough road ahead of them.