The BCS race will come down to the last game of the regular season. And we don't mean the Big 12 championship game between Oklahoma and Missouri.
The last few digits on the BCS standings, the ones between a place in the BCS title game and a Fiesta or Sugar Bowl berth, will be decided on the field of Aloha Stadium. In a game between Cincinnati and Hawaii.
This is not an alarmist declaration. It's a fact.
Go to Wes Colley's computer, and play God - and see for yourself. A Hawaii win may be enough to provide safe passage for the Gators as long as they win the SEC championship game. A Cincinnati victory, then Texas just might get its coveted rematch with Oklahoma.
This isn't the first time that a BCS title race is settled in Honolulu, in the very last game of the season. In 2003, a Hawaii loss to Boise State cost USC just enough computer and (the now-defunct) strength-of-schedule points to keep the No. 1-ranked Trojans out of the BCS title game, setting the stage for the first split title in the BCS Era.
We may have an encore in 2008.
If Florida beats Alabama and somehow finishes No. 3 in the BCS standings, then the Gators may very well play for the AP title in the Sugar Bowl. Now ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, Florida is a lock for the top ranking should it topple the Tide in the SEC title game. And no top-ranked team in the AP has ever lost its position after winning its bowl game.
Who will Florida face, in that scenario? The best the Gators could hope for is undefeated Utah in the Urban Meyer Bowl. That matchup also gives the Utes an outside shot of stealing the AP title if they can upset the Gators. If the Fiesta Bowl decides to spoil the party by taking the Utes, then the Sugar would end up with Alabama (in a rematch), Boise State or Cincinnati.
(We have checked with BCS Administrator Bill Hancock and he has confirmed that in the event the BCS title game is an all-Big 12 affair, the Fiesta will have the first two picks.)
But let's deal with how and why Florida might not get to the BCS title game, even with a victory.
Here are the scenarios:
1. Alabama and Oklahoma win: Alabama vs. Oklahoma. There is zero chance for Texas to jump OU, even if the Sooners win a squeaker.
2. Alabama and Missouri win: Alabama vs. Texas. Also a no-doubter.
3. Florida and Missouri win: Florida vs. Texas. Take this to the bank as well.
4. Florida and Oklahoma win: Mathematically the most likely scenario and also the most uncertain. This is where the Cincinnati-Hawaii game comes in. If Hawaii wins, it's 95% Florida-Oklahoma, 5% Texas-Oklahoma. If Cincinnati wins, it's 60% Florida-Oklahoma, 40% Texas-Oklahoma.
Well, let's break down the standings. Florida is now a distant fourth, but should make up significant ground with a win over top-ranked and undefeated Alabama. Where Florida needs to catch up the most is in the computer rankings. This is where they stand now:
* Oklahoma .980
* Texas .940
* Florida . 820
Following scenario No. 4, AND a victory by underdog and host Hawaii, this is the projection:
* Oklahoma .990
* Texas .930
* Florida .930
If the Gators can achieve a dead-heat with Texas, or close to it, then their superior poll rankings will put them over the top.
Following scenario No. 4, AND a victory by favored Cincinnati, this is the projection:
* Oklahoma 1.000
* Texas .940
* Florida .910
That's where it gets complicated, and the voters will wield the hammer. The question is, do they know how to use it?
If the voters defect to Florida for the top-ranking, en masse in both polls, then the Gators will be in. But if they divide the votes three ways between Florida, Texas and Oklahoma, then the Gators would be in trouble. Furthermore, if some of the voters are trying to mete out their own justice in the Big 12 tiebreaker post ex facto, putting Texas ahead of Oklahoma on their ballots, then they'll only hurt ... Florida.
The Gators need the voters to put the Sooners in as a solid No. 2, creating some distance between themselves and Texas. They also want voters to put USC in the top 3 to further wedge down the Longhorns. So when it comes to the Big 12 title game, Florida wants an OU blowout so the Sooners can siphon off more votes from Texas.
Florida is already No. 2 in the Harris poll, so room for improvement there is less dramatic. The Gators need to - and should - finish No. 1 there with a victory over Alabama, and then they'd hope for a 70- to 100-point gap between themselves and Texas.
The coaches poll is where it gets tricky. The Gators are No. 4 there right now. They need to make a quantum leap there. If they finish behind Texas in that poll, they'd be in big trouble. A virtual three-way tie doesn't help, either. They need at least half of the 61 coaches put them No. 1 - and the rest to either split their votes between OU and UT, if not outright favor OU - to git 'er done.
All that illustrates just how important the Cincinnati-Hawaii game will be. Florida fans might want to stay up a little later to sleep a little easier. They can hope for the Bearcats, a freshly-minted BCS bowl team, to spend a little more time lost in the sights and sounds of Waikiki than worry about the resurgent Warriors. After starting the season 1-3, Hawaii has won six of eight - including the last three - to become bowl-eligible.
Longhorns fans, on the other hand, would want Hawaii to feel self-satisfied with the turnaround and be exposed once again by a BCS conference power, as it did in the disastrous Sugar Bowl last year. Otherwise, the AP title may be all Texas has to hope for.
With so much on the line, then, it's imperative for you to know whom to root for, and how much. So here's the breakdown:
Alabama - Roll Tide.
Oklahoma - Boomer Sooner.
Texas - If Alabama wins, root for Missouri. If Florida is winning, root for a close game. If Florida wins, root for Missouri, or at least a close game. And Cincinnati.
Florida - Go Gators, of course. In the Big 12 game, if Mizzou isn't going to pull it out, then you want OU to pour it on. And of course, Hawaii.
And be sure to say mahalo if the Warriors do pull it out.
Our projected BCS bowl games -
* BCS championship: Oklahoma vs. Florida
* Rose Bowl: USC vs. Penn State
* Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. Utah
* Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State
* Orange Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
P.S. And here's the Texas AP scenario: If OU wins a close one over Florida, the 'Horns may potentially claim the AP crown if they can stay ahead of the Sooners in the AP poll this week. They are only 8 points ahead in the latest poll. Of course, this gives Utah a chance as well.