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Yes, still alive: USF's slim Big East title hopes



It seems impossible that USF, with its 1-3 record in Big East play, would still be mathematically alive for a share of the conference title and the league's automatic BCS berth. Strange as it seems, the Bulls are still technically in contention, though detailing the scenarios for a USF title right now is something like offering up a combination of numbers that could win next week's lottery. Sure, I can do that ...

All USF has to do is beat Rutgers on Saturday and the Bulls will still be alive next week, regardless of other conference games. The first rule in any Bulls championship scenario is a big hurdle in itself: USF must finish its season with wins against Rutgers, Connecticut and West Virginia -- again, possible but not altogether likely. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia all have to lose two of their remaining three games, which is tricky, because Pittsburgh plays both Cincinnati and West Virginia.

And to be clear, USF wouldn't have the title to themselves. Any scenario that puts the Bulls in the BCS wouldn't be pretty for the Big East -- a huge logjam of at least four teams with 4-3 conference records stuck at the "top" of the league standings. The tiebreaker (and BCS berth) goes to the team with the best record within the schools tied for first place -- or in some cases, the team with the highest BCS ranking within a smaller subgroup of teams tied for the best record within that group. If it seems dizzying, well, it is.

Let's say Cincinnati beats Louisville on Friday night, improving to 4-1 in league play. They would have as many conference wins as USF could finish with and the head-to-head tiebreaker of beating the Bulls. So USF needs to bring other teams it has beaten into a super-tie with the Bearcats.

There are 11 conference games left, leaving 2,048 different outcomes. Three games must be USF wins, which leaves 256 different scenarios. If Cincinnati beats Louisville, there are exactly two scenarios where the Bulls can win. In short: USF wins out, Cincy loses to Pitt and Syracuse, Pittsburgh loses to West Virginia and Connecticut, West Virginia loses to Louisville, Connecticut beats Syracuse. It doesn't matter who wins Louisville-Rutgers the last week -- it's either a five- or six-way tie for first place.

If Louisville wins that game, it leaves USF, Cincy, Pitt, West Virginia and UConn all at 4-3 and all 2-2 within the subgroup, so the team ranked highest in the BCS standings -- likely USF -- gets the BCS berth. If Rutgers wins, they get a share of the league title split six ways, and USF would likely have the highest BCS ranking among the three teams with a 3-2 record against other teams in the six-way tie.

One more super-chaotic very narrow path to a Big East title for the Bulls: USF wins out, Cincinnati loses out, Pitt loses to West Virginia and UConn, West Virginia loses to Louisville, Rutgers beats Louisville, Connecticut beats Syracuse. Again, it's a five-way tie for first, with USF and West Virginia both 3-1 within the subgroup and USF having the higher BCS ranking.

Just trying to be thorough.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 1:14pm]


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