And Then There Were ... Four

Dan Shanoff writes a weekly college football column for Deadspin. Email him to let him know what you think.

For a season as clusterf—-ish as this one has been, the irony is that we seem to be heading for a blandly straightforward finish. Supporting my original theory that college football's regular season is a de facto playoff system held over 14 weeks, merely four realistic contenders remain with two weeks to go:

LSU: All they have to do is beat Arkansas at home, then beat the SEC East winner (Tennessee if they are lucky; Georgia if they aren't). Despite a few close calls for the Tigers this season, it isn't unreasonable to consider them as close to a lock for the national-title game as there can be this season.

Kansas-Missouri winner: Simple enough. Win next week, then beat the Big 12 South winner (Oklahoma if they are lucky; Texas if they aren't.) If the KU-MU winner wins the Big 12 title, no one will question their worthiness to play in the national championship.

Barring the unexpected, everyone can agree that LSU vs. "KU/MU-survivor" would be the most worthy title-game match-up. Of course, the unexpected is the norm this season...

What happens if the KU/MU winner loses in the Big 12 title game (possible, probable or inevitable — depending on your rooting interests) or LSU improbably loses in the SEC title game?

West Virginia will capitalize, jumping into the Top 2. All the 'Eers have to do is beat UConn in Morgantown next Saturday, then stay home to beat Pittsburgh the following week, while shipping a few couch-burners to San Antonio to root for the Big 12 South champ.

And though it may shock you to see me promote this, Ohio State holds the final claim, though the Buckeyes need help:

If West Virginia loses either of its final two games AND the KU/MU winner loses in the Big 12 title game a week later, Ohio State would deserve to play for the national title. (After last year's debacle, it would be refreshing to see the Big Ten's downtime before the end of everyone else's season actually work FOR the conference this time.)

Stranger shit has happened: Remember last season when USC was a mortal lock for the BCS title game against Ohio State ... right up until the Trojans choked to unranked UCLA. It shouldn't shock anyone to end up with West Virginia and Ohio State in the national title game.

There are only two weeks to go and everything seems so clear (for once)... if you consider everything we have seen this season, a predictable finish would be the wackiest result yet.

More notes from this weekend: Which previously hot team has tanked worse: Cal, which is a loss away from .500, or Alabama, which lost to Louisiana-Monroe en route to dropping three straight?... You can think Tim Tebow more "Hypeman" than "Heisman" and still appreciate his "20/20": Becoming the first player to run and throw for 20 TDs each in a single season ... You know it's the Worst. Season. Ever. at Notre Dame when "Well, at least we beat Duke" is the season highlight ... Here's to a healthy recovery for Dennis Dixon.

This Week's Bandwagon: Who's next at Michigan? The real intrigue in this story isn't who replaces Lloyd Carr, but when it happens.

Les Miles is in the awkward position of spending the next six weeks trying to win a national title at LSU, when his dream job is suddenly open and with him as the presumptive fan favorite for the job. Geaux... Big Blue?

This can't end well: Either (1) Miles is leaving and LSU fans, in blindly lustful pursuit of a national title, leave their self-respect at the door for the next six weeks, putting up with a lame-duck coach ready to abandon a perennial contender for a Northern has-been...

... Or (2) Miles stays at LSU, and Michigan painfully ends the self-delusion that it is one of the Top 5 coaching jobs in college football, the same delusion that seems to drive Maize & Blue Nation's necromantic fetish for hiring a "Michigan man" in the first place.

(From the scuttlebutt, it sounds like the timing of Carr's resignation is meant to pressure Michigan not to pursue Miles. Internal tension = more interest!)

Bowl Clusterf*** Series Update: With virtual clarity over the title game situation, the interesting scenarios become which teams will get picked up as "at-large" picks. Human voters might force a non-BCS team into the mix, artificially inflating the ranking of the Hawaii-Boise winner to ensure they make a BCS bowl (which would be a shame). The bigger question is whether a "name brand" team like USC, Texas or Florida vaults more qualified teams. Prediction: At least one will.

This Week's BlogPoll Ballot Top 10

1. LSU
Will Miles-to-Michigan distract?
2. Kansas
Miracle ending two long games away.
3. Missouri
Daniel/Maclin > Tebow/Harvin
4. West Virginia
Better not look past UConn.
5. Ohio State
Yes: Back in the BCS picture.
6. Georgia
Shut out of SEC East title?
7. Virginia Tech
Would love rematch vs. BC
8. Florida
Must settle for Tebow's Heisman.
9. Texas
UT fans rooting for Okie St.
10. Illinois
Dare to dream: BCS at-large bid?

Click here for my complete ballot.

Looking Ahead to Next Week:

The question is: Which of the handful of teams still alive for the BCS title game will be KO'ed? We know at least one will be ...

Missouri vs. Kansas (Saturday): I would say that a de facto national playoff quarterfinal qualifies as the latest incarnation of Game of the Year. If only the Kansas AD didn't pimp KU's "home" rights to this game to play it elsewhere.
Pick: Missouri

UConn at West Virginia (Saturday): It's a play-in game for the Big East's automatic BCS bid. Will WVU get caught scoreboard-watching?
Pick: WVU

Boise State at Hawaii (Friday): Hopefully, we can end this travesty that Hawaii is even remotely in the BCS conversation.
Pick: Boise State.

Virginia Tech at Virginia (Saturday): A rivalry game that doubles as a play-in for the ACC title game vs. B.C.
Pick: Virginia Tech

USC at Arizona State (Thursday): Who would have thought that USC could play the spoiler in the Pac-10?
Pick: USC

Arkansas at LSU (Friday): LSU is playing not to lose, literally, either this week or next in the SEC title game.
Pick: LSU

As usual, direct any comments, questions or criticism to danshanoff-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com.