RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
They’re a bit like circling buzzards. The one-loss teams are hanging around the fringe of the national championship race, waiting and hoping for something bad to happen to the four undefeated teams at the front of the BCS line.
With four weeks left before the big games are set, nine teams have one loss and varying degrees of hope for sneaking into the BCS title game.
Here are the top six, from best to worst, and their chances of playing in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10, if they win out:
1) STANFORD (8-1), sixth in BCS standings. The best combination of coach (Jim Harbaugh) and quarterback (Andrew Luck) on any team, period.
Chance to play for national title: Poor, especially considering the Cardinal might be the second-best team in the country. Just to win the Pac-10 the Cardinal need Oregon to lose twice, and even if that happens a weak nonconference schedule (Sacramento State, Wake Forest and Notre Dame) could keep Stanford from passing any undefeated team. Here’s even worse news Cardinal fans: Stanford is the front-runner for best team left out of the BCS altogether. Hello Holiday Bowl.
2) LSU (8-1), fifth in BCS standings. Call coach Les Miles whatever you want — crazy, lucky — but he’s got himself a talented team, especially on defense where tackle Drake Nevis and cornerback Patrick Peterson rank among the best players in the country. The offense is finding ways to overcome shortcomings at quarterback.
Chance to play for national title: More than a pipedream, but it’s almost totally contingent on Auburn losing twice. If Auburn drops its final regular-season games to Georgia and Alabama, that puts LSU in the SEC title game. Win it and the Tigers could nudge past even undefeated TCU and Boise State. If Auburn were to lose twice, including the SEC title game, it also opens the door for LSU. Though in that case, not owning a conference title might make it tough for Tigers.
3) NEBRASKA (8-1), eighth in BCS standings. The Cornhuskers’ loss to Texas will go down as one of the most baffling and frustrating in Nebraska history, especially if it prevents them from having an unbeaten season. As long as quarterback Taylor Martinez is healthy, the Huskers have enough offense to go with a solid defense and kicking game.
Chance to play for national title: A bit better than Stanford’s. If TCU and Boise State are the only unbeaten teams, the Huskers might be able to muscle past one of them. Getting to play in the Big 12 title game helps, but if it’s a rematch against Oklahoma State it doesn’t help as much.
4) WISCONSIN (8-1), seventh in BCS standings. A pretty typical Badgers team: very good on both lines, and quarterback Scott Tolzien provides a balanced offense when needed.
Chance to play for national title: Long shot. Those victories against Iowa and Ohio State are nice, but finishing the season with Indiana, at Michigan and Northwestern and not playing on championship Saturday (Dec. 4) could make voters forget about the Badgers if there is a rash of losses among the top teams.
5) OHIO STATE (8-1), ninth in BCS standings. Terrelle Pryor is becoming a force with his combination of deep passing and running, but the Buckeyes are still a bit of a mystery because their schedule has been weak.
Chance to play for the national title: Even longer shot than Wisconsin. The Buckeyes need the same kind of sweeping mayhem to befall the contenders that the Badgers do, plus they need Wisconsin to lose again.
6-tie) OKLAHOMA STATE (8-1), 10th in BCS standings. Sensational receiver Justin Blackmon leads one of the best offenses in the country. The Cowboys’ defense, however, is not good.
Chance to play for the national title: Better than you might think. Beating Oklahoma to end the regular season and Nebraska in the Big 12 title game could lift the Cowboys out of the rubble if there is a massive pileup of fallen teams in front of them.
6-tie) MICHIGAN STATE (9-1), 11th in BCS standings. Balanced offensively with a stable of versatile running backs and strong-armed quarterback Kirk Cousins, but beyond All-American linebacker Greg Jones, the Spartans’ defense is nothing special.
Chance to play for the national title: Very close to zero. That Wisconsin victory seems like a long time ago, especially after the thumping Iowa laid on the Spartans.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.