Notre Dame-Syracuse winner could determine who plays for national title
Posted: Sunday November 30, 2003 10:12PM; Updated: Sunday November 30, 2003 10:49PM
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
After nearly an entire season of buildup, the national championship matchup could be decided by Saturday's game between ... Notre Dame and Syracuse?
Believe it or not, it could happen.
Following a 55-24 rout of 8-4 Arkansas this weekend, LSU remains about a point-and-a-half behind No. 2 USC in this week's projected BCS standings. Things are expected to get much closer, though, if the Tigers beat 10-2 Georgia in Saturday's SEC championship game.
Even if the Trojans handle 7-4 Oregon State, LSU would trim most or all of its deficit in the BCS' strength-of-schedule component and possibly pass USC in several of the computer ratings.
According to CollegeBCS.com's Jerry Palm, the Tigers, who trail the Trojans by 17 spots in strength of schedule, will finish no worse than two spots behind and could in fact lead by as many as 10 depending on the results of several games next weekend, most notably USC opponent Notre Dame's game against Syracuse. Both teams are 5-6, but the Irish have won three straight, including a 57-7 thrashing of Stanford over the weekend, while the Orangemen have lost three straight, most recently 24-7 to Rutgers.
If Notre Dame wins, Palm said, USC will finish no worse than three spots behind LSU in strength of schedule, a .12 margin. If Syracuse wins, however, that margin becomes the Trojans' best-case scenario.
The result of that game will also determine which team winds up ahead in the Colley Rankings, one of seven computer ratings used in the BCS formula and one of four in which the Tigers currently trail. Depending on the final strength of schedule deficit, LSU will need to lead in at least five of the computers, and potentially all seven, if it hopes to catch the Trojans.
The other important factor involved in the BCS standings is the quality-win component. The Tigers are currently receiving a 0.4-point bonus for beating sixth-ranked Georgia, but the Dawgs could fall out of the top 10 if LSU beats them again, depending on how far the pollsters drop them.
Strange as it sounds, though, it might not matter if the Orangemen come through for the Tigers.
"Right now, I'd say it's 50-50," Palm said. "You really like [USC's] chances if Notre Dame wins. But I really think if Syracuse wins, then LSU has the edge. If they lead in enough computers, they won't need the quality-win bonus. There isn't one scenario where Syracuse wins that LSU has to have the quality win bonus. They might need all seven computers in those scenarios, but that's a possibility."
Contrary to popular belief, LSU would not have benefited from playing Florida instead of Georgia in the SEC title game. The schedule boost provided by playing the 10-2 Dawgs compensates for possibly losing the quality-win points, said Palm. But not much else went right for the Tigers over the weekend, most notably USC opponent Hawaii beating LSU opponent Alabama.
"Had things gone really well [for LSU] we might not even be talking about this," said Palm. "They might have been in control."
The Trojans and Tigers are battling for the right to face No. 1 Oklahoma in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl. The Sooners currently hold a commanding lead over both teams and might not even be affected if by chance they were to lose to 10-3 Kansas State in Saturday's Big 12 championship game.
"They're still in New Orleans, unless voters really punish them," said Palm. "As long as they're still in the top three in the polls, they'd still be No. 1 in the computers, they'd still have the strongest schedule of any one-loss team. They might still be No. 1 in the BCS, and they're certainly going to be at least second."