Northern Illinois moved ahead of Fresno State in the BCS standings and up to No. 14 as the Huskies and Bulldogs jockey to be the last BCS buster.
NIU jumped two spots Sunday and Fresno State slipped one to 16th.
The top three teams in the BCS standings were unchanged: Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State – the remaining undefeated teams in BCS automatic qualifying conferences.
The other major college unbeatens, NIU and Fresno State, are fighting for one automatic bid. They have to finish in the top 12 of the last BCS standings, which come out Dec. 8, or finish in the top 16 while ranking ahead of an AQ-conference champion.
Central Florida is in position to win the American Athletic Conference auto-bid but is 19th in the latest standings.
NIU reached the BCS last season by being ranked ahead of the champion of the Big East. The Huskies then lost to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
Jordan Lynch and NIU overtook Derek Carr and Fresno State this week on the strength of better computer ratings. NIU is seventh in the computer ratings, while coming in 17th in the Harris poll and 20th in the USA Today coaches’ poll. Fresno State is 13th in each poll, but 17th in the computers.
Jerry Palm, who analyzes the BCS for CBS.com, said he was surprised NIU made such a big move after winning at Mid-American Conference rival Toledo last week. Fresno State stayed unbeaten with a win against Mountain West Conference foe New Mexico. Neither team has played a strong schedule, Palm said.
“What baffles me is we have such a disparity in the computers between two teams that we’re splitting hairs over,” he said. “That’s a head scratcher.”
Palm said NIU’s lead could be temporary as Fresno State plays tougher opponents the rest of the way.
NIU plays at home against Western Michigan (1-10) on Tuesday and then faces either Buffalo or Bowling Green in the MAC championship game. Fresno State plays at San Jose State (5-5) on Friday and then either Utah State or Boise State in the Mountain West championship.
The Bowl Championship Series is done after this season. The four-team College Football Playoff replaces it next year.
The Crimson Tide and Seminoles are still on course to meet in the final BCS championship game if they can stay unbeaten. Ohio State is on deck if either of the top two slip up.
The Buckeyes were in danger of being passed by Baylor, but Oklahoma State took care of that by blasting the Bears 49-17 on Saturday night.
Auburn (fourth) and Missouri (fifth) are behind the Buckeyes and could make an interesting case for being in title game if they can win out and become SEC champions with just one loss. But the Buckeyes (.9200 BCS average) have a good-sized lead on both the Auburn Tigers (.8326) and Missouri Tigers (.8077).
Ohio State is third in each poll, followed by Clemson. Auburn is fifth and Missouri is sixth. The Buckeyes are also third in the computer ratings.
“They’re not going to pass Ohio State,” Palm said of Auburn and Missouri. “The coaches in particular are not going to allow an undefeated to not play for the title. They understand how hard it is to finish unbeaten. It hasn’t happened yet in the BCS and there is no reason to think it would this year.”
Alabama (11-0) plays Auburn on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the Southeastern Conference championship game as the SEC West winner. Missouri or South Carolina will represent the East, depending on whether the Tigers beat Texas A&M at home.
Florida State (11-0) plays struggling rival Florida at home Saturday and then moves on to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, where Duke, Virginia Tech, Miami or Georgia Tech will be the opponent.
Ohio State (11-0) finishes its regular season against rival Michigan at the Big House on Saturday, and then plays Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes have won a school-record 23 straight games. If they remain unbeaten the worst they can do is a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season.