Baylor will host Texas Tech on Nov. 16. Oregon and Stanford will meet on Nov. 7. Miami (Fla.) will trip to Florida State on Nov. 2. As much as any games throughout the remainder of the regular season, these three matchups will dictate the makeup of the final Bowl Championship Series pairings.
But this threesome are the only games during the year's second half to feature two teams ranked among the top 10 of the initial BCS standings — meaning that changes, when they come, will come more as a result of games against teams currently outside the top 10.
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This much we know: What the BCS looks like today is unlike what the BCS will look in early December, after the end of the regular season and the conclusion of championship weekend. Just last season, for example, five teams ranked among the top 15 in the first BCS standings ended the year outside the top 25 of the BCS altogether – Oregon State, USC, Mississippi State, West Virginia and Rutgers.
Expect changes, in short. Here are 10 second-half games, not including potential conference championships, that will decide the final BCS standings:
1. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 7: Stanford comes in at No. 6 in the BCS despite this month's loss to Utah. Oregon, meanwhile, slots in at No. 3 – but will easily move to No. 2 by running the table until the postseason. The story for Stanford is simple: Beat Oregon, watch other undefeated teams fall aside and end the year No. 2. Since the loser could still earn an at-large bid, no other second-half game should have as big an impact on the BCS bowls.
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2. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 30: It's safe to assume Alabama will remain in the championship picture until the Iron Bowl. Auburn's surprising start under new coach Gus Malzahn – the Tigers are now 6-1 after winning at Texas A&M – could get better; Auburn's next three opponents are Florida Atlantic, Arkansas and Tennessee. While the program has had recent struggles against Georgia, if the Tigers can top the Bulldogs at home on Nov. 16 they'll have two weeks to prepare for Alabama in the finale. What would be on the line? Let's see: the SEC West Division, the SEC championship and a spot in the national title game, perhaps.
3. Miami (Fla.) at Florida State, Nov. 2: The game itself is vital, of course, since the winner either solidifies its place among the nation's best or, for Miami, leaps into the top five. What might loom larger is the idea that it's all downhill for both teams from that point forward: FSU's biggest test down the stretch is Florida, while Miami's stiffest challenge comes a week later against Virginia Tech. In short, the winner – whether FSU or Miami – could cruise to an undefeated regular season. (And then meet again in the ACC title game.)
4. Oregon State at Oregon, Nov. 29: This year's Civil War might be one of the games of the year, should Oregon top Stanford and OSU run the table to enter the finale at 10-1. While a season-opening loss to Eastern Washington will prevent the Beavers from playing for the national championship, beating the Ducks could move OSU into the Pac-12 title game. At worst, OSU will be playing for a spot in the Rose Bowl.
5. Oklahoma at Baylor, Nov. 7: Every game is big for Baylor – and the same can be said for Oklahoma. The Sooners' one loss, to Texas, can be offset should the Longhorns lose twice down the stretch, which is a strong possibility. Baylor, on the other hand, can't afford to lose any Big 12 games at home in October or November. (Baylor can't really afford to lose any games and play for the national title, of course.) For the Bears, this game is huge for the team's overall résumé: Baylor needs to impresses the masses to move ahead of undefeated teams like Florida State, Oregon, Ohio State and Missouri.
6. Texas Tech vs. Baylor, Nov. 16: Baylor's considered the de facto home team, but this game will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Will the Red Raiders still be undefeated by Nov. 16? That's hard to peg, since Tech has yet to take on any team considered among the top three or four in the Big 12. But the game will have an impact on the final BCS pairings even if Tech splits against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State; a win would give the Red Raiders the tiebreaker against the Bears, which could decide the Big 12's spot in the Fiesta Bowl, and could even earn an at-large bid with an 11-1 record.
7. Texas A&M at Missouri, Nov. 30: The Tigers can essentially seal up the SEC East Division by beating South Carolina on Saturday. Could Missouri be 11-0 heading into the regular-season finale? It's a possibility, given how the team has looked so far, which means this date with the Aggies could create an undefeated-on-undefeated matchup with Alabama in the SEC title game. The winner would play for the national championship.
8. Ball State at Northern Illinois, Nov. 13: Northern Illinois' quest for another at-large BCS bid demands a perfect regular season; remember that last fall, NIU reached the Orange Bowl despite a September loss to Iowa. While Toledo has been the Huskies' greatest MAC threat during the last two or three years, the second-best team in this year's league is clearly Ball State. The Cardinals have come close to knocking off NIU in the past – so this could be their year.
9. Fresno State at San Jose State, Nov. 29: Fresno State would have one more game to go – probably against Boise State for the Mountain West Conference championship – but this stands as the Bulldogs' stiffest test during the second half. What does that say about Fresno's remaining schedule? That it's not that strong, to be honest. Consider this: While not extremely noteworthy at the time, the weather-postponed game at Colorado in September could end up costing Fresno a spot in the BCS. But the Bulldogs will focus on what's ahead, which includes matchups with San Diego State, Nevada and the Spartans. All Fresno can do is run the table, root against NIU and hope for the best.
10. Texas at Baylor, Dec. 7: A funny thing has happened to this once-lopsided series: Baylor doesn't merely beat Texas – the Bears believe they should beat Texas. Why does this game matter? For one, these two teams could be separated by one game in the Big 12 standings, meaning the winner could take home the conference crown. The game could also be Baylor's final test in the run for an undefeated season, so there very well could be championship implications.
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