The postseason picture is clearing up by the week now as we get deeper into the year. The power schools are continuing to jockey for position atop the polls, but there's another extremely valuable spot up for grabs: this season's potential "BCS buster."
As we know, the current BCS system only has six automatic qualifiers (AAC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC), plus four at-large bids (limit: two total berths per conference). The other four at-large bids are filled out by the bowl committees, selecting from the top 14 teams in the season's final BCS standings. There are two caveats here that provide an entry point for a Mountain West team or any other non-AQ school: Finishing in the top 12 or finishing in the top 16 AND ahead of one of the AQ champs.
The total list of teams who can feasibly "bust" the BCS is minimal due to the amount of losses suffered among non-AQ ranks. But for the teams at the top of the list, they keep moving up as other teams near the middle of the polls continue to lose. In both the regular polls and the latest (first) BCS rankings, Fresno State has managed to sit atop the non-AQ pile, with Northern Illinois immediately behind. Fresno currently sits at 17th (just short of Texas A&M), while NIU is right after at 18th. Other non-AQ squads included this week are Ball State (No. 35), BYU (No. 36), Boise State (No. 37) and UL-Lafayette (No. 39).
Keep in mind that of the eight teams that have been selected for a BCS game since 2004, last year's Northern Illinois team is the only one to have a loss on their resume. So if you're nominating schools, being undefeated is likely to be the first criteria, along with noted past success. With those factors (and others) in mind, here are our BCS buster nominees, in order of likelihood:
1. Fresno St. Bulldogs, MWC (6-0) (3-0) (Last: 1): Even bigger than the win the Bulldogs grabbed on the field were the ones they grabbed off of it, in the polls. Top 25 carnage resulted in a nice bump in the human rankings, while Louisville's loss to UCF last Friday suddenly opened the BCS Buster window wide open. With the Cardinals knocked out of the top 10, it's now very likely that the AAC champ is ranked below both Fresno and NIU. They'll have to win out to stay in that position, but things are certainly looking good for the Bulldogs right now.
2. Northern Illinois Huskies, MAC (7-0) (3-0) (Last: 2): Just like Fresno State, NIU also gets a nice bump from the Louisville loss. Now they have to hope they can jump the Bulldogs, though. Their schedule won't help much there -- three of their final five opponents have one win or less -- but perhaps they can add on some style points in blowouts. They've also got a matchup with Ball State in there too, and what could also be a competitive game in the MAC Championship Game should they keep winning. At the moment though, it's unlikely they control their own destiny.
3. Ball St. Cardinals, MAC (7-1) (4-0) (Last: 3): Ball State continues to creep up the rankings, though they aren't getting any love from the BCS computers right now either. Like NIU, the rest of the schedule won't help matters, though a win against the 18th-ranked Huskies could certainly provide a big bump up late in the year. The Cards are an admitted long shot for a BCS bid, but if things fall correctly, perhaps there's an outside chance.
4. BYU Cougars, Independent (5-2) (Last: NR): BYU's here in large part due to their remaining schedule. Of all the teams on the list, they stand the most to gain from future opponents -- including Notre Dame, Boise State and Wisconsin teams that are all ranked in the BCS right now. Obviously this weekend's matchup vs. the Broncos gets a bid easier without Joe Southwick, but a win over BSU should still count for something. The keys will be the ND and Wisconsin games though. With several power conference victories already tacked on the board and two losses by just 10 total points, running through the rest of this slate could potentially vault the Cougars into prime position.