Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer before the NCAA college football game against Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
The field of national championship contenders is narrowing, but remains in flux with bowl season barely a month away. The path to Pasadena appears clear for two teams, but there's a reason they play the games.
Here are four downs for your Wednesday morning, highlighting the biggest midweek stories in college football:
1st Down: A fighting chance
There are several ways the rest of the regular season could play out, each yielding its own pairing set to meet in the national championship game January 6. The simplest and most drama-free scenario would be for No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC) and No. 2 Florida State (10-0, 8-0 ACC) to win out.
With substantial separation between the those two teams and No. 3 Ohio State(10-0, 6-0 Big Ten), it's a virtual certainty that undefeated Crimson Tide and Seminoles squads would meet in the national championship game.
In this Nov. 7, 2013 file photo, Baylor 's Clay Fuller, left, celebrates with quarterback Bryce Petty, pointing to the sky after Petty kept the ball on a running play for a score against Oklahoma in the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Waco, Texas. Before you pencil in Alabama and Florida State, know that only six times since the BCS was implemented in 1998 have the top two teams in the BCS standings with three weeks to go in the regular season played in the championship game. So there's hope Ohio State and Baylor. And Auburn and Oregon and Missouri. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)So all Ohio State needs is one of the top two to lose a game and they're in, right? Not so fast. No. 4 Baylor(9-0, 6-0 Big 12) has the potential to jump the Buckeyes if it finishes undefeated. A decisive victory at No. 10 Oklahoma State(9-1, 6-1 Big 12) on Saturday would improve the Bears' odds.
If Alabama and Florida State win out it will be a moot point, but the potential for a dramatic conclusion to regular season play is there. Might the SEC play its way out of a shot at defending its national championship reign? It could happen, explains :
Alabama beats Auburn, and then loses the Southeastern Conference title game to two-loss South Carolina. Florida State, Baylor and Ohio State win out. The Tide has won the last two national championships despite losing games after Nov. 1. Not happening in this scenario. The SEC effectively breaks its own seven-year hold on the national championship. Florida State gets the winner of the Baylor/Ohio State debate.
The way things are shaping up, as long as Ohio State stays undefeated and wins the Big Ten championship game, the Buckeyes are right in the mix. Even still, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer isn't satisfied with how the BCS is playing out this season and has reservations about the playoff system set to roll out next season: ()
"Without spending much time on it, because it's not fair to our team for me to spend much time on it, I will say this -- I think it's a flawed system," Meyer said Monday. "But when you logically think about what the BCS people have done, and which obviously we're all part of, I think it was great for a while. I think you take an imperfect system and you do the best you can without hosting a playoff.
"I imagine there's going to be controversy with the playoffs too, now. It's not a 64-team playoff; you can only have four guys. What's that fifth team going to feel like?"
2nd Down: Big Ten battling down the stretch
No. 13 Michigan State(9-1, 6-0 Big Ten) and the undefeated Buckeyes simply need to finished their conference slate by winning one of two games to clinch division titles, but there are still plenty of storylines around the Big Ten.
Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson throws a pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Penn State in Minneapolis Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 25 Minnesota, both sitting at 8-2 on the season, meet to see who's the best of the rest Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn. The Golden Gophers will be playing for an outside chance at a division title. Indiana (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) andNorthwestern (4-6, 0-6 Big Ten)need two wins apiece to reach bowl eligibility. The bad news for Northwesternis that it needs to beat Michigan State to do that. The outlook is even worse for the Hoosiers, who need to topple the Buckeyes.
Due to sanctions, Penn State(6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) will be forced to watch bowl season from Happy Valley, but coach Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions still have pride to play for, writes:
The Nittany Lions can put a tidy bow on an up-and-down season by beating Nebraska on Saturday to clinch a winning record in the final appearances at Beaver Stadium for standout seniors like linebacker Glenn Carson and guard John Urschel.
"It would mean a whole lot to everyone here to send them out on a winning note," O'Brien said. "This senior class stuck with this program and this university through a tough time."
3rd Down: SEC offense of the future?
The spread offense continues to gain popularity, and some of the best reside in the SEC. Will the nation's best conference, and perhaps college football at large, be dominated by the spread in the near future? Or will more traditional schemes reassert their dominance? Advance Digital's Gary Laney, NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter and Alabama Media Group's Brandon Marcello discuss:
4th Down: Dan Mullen prefers hot wings to the hot seat
There's no doubting it has been a disappointing 2013 campaign for Mississippi State(4-6, 1-5 SEC), but does that place coach Dan Mullen squarely in the proverbial hot seat? Mullen isn't worried about it and neither is the man who writes his checks: ()
"Dan has had as good a first five years at Mississippi State as any coach since World War II," Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin told ESPN. "He's done a really good job, and I think he's got us set up to have even more success the next few years."
Instead of fretting over the heat of his seat in Starkville, Mullen took a seat to this week. Mullen showcased textbook wing-eating technique, downing 15 hot wings in three minutes. Not bad, coach!
• Alabama is 10-0 and on the path to a third-consecutive national championship, but there's room for improvement and. (via AL.com)
• Ohio State has a shot at going 14-0. Whether that includes a national championship is yet to be seen. Either way, Buckeyes fans will have a . (via Cleveland.com)
• Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Tuesday for No. 11 South Carolina(8-2, 6-2 SEC) ahead of the Gamecocks' contest against Coastal Carolina(10-1, 4-1 Big South) on Saturday. (via ESPN.com)
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