College football's best teams can strive for an undefeated championship season, and the best candidates to play in the BCS title game every year certainly include those that have a great shot a running the table. But in the SEC's dominant seven-year championship run, only twice did the nation's best team finish the year undefeated. The margin for error is small in college football, but it is there.
For national title contenders to survive a loss, they'll need a few things to fall their way. Alabama made its way back into the championship game last year due to unexpected late-season losses by Oregon and Kansas State. The margin for error is determined in part by when each team loses and what opportunities it has after that loss to impress voters and computers with dominant victories.
The following five teams are strong contenders for the BCS National Championship as undefeated candidates, according to our latest drive efficiency-based FEI projections. In the list below, we re-rank them according to their margin for error and their potential to remain a contender if they suffer a loss.
Undefeated or one-loss likelihood: 75 percent
Games with win likelihood less than 70 percent: 1
The two-time defending national champs are clear favorites to find their way back to the BCS title game. As they proved in 2011 and 2012, a regular-season loss won't eliminate Alabama from contention. The key difference for the Crimson Tide between this year and other recent seasons is their relatively weak schedule. Alabama has been the No. 1 team in our projection model four straight seasons, and that was coupled with a top-10 schedule-strength rating in each of the last three campaigns. But Alabama projects to have only the 59th-toughest schedule this fall and will play 10 games with a win likelihood of higher than 90 percent.
If the Tide do stumble, the most likely candidate for a loss comes in Week 3 on the road against Texas A&M. That's early enough in the year to keep Alabama near the top of the BCS standings, and our model likes Alabama's chances of dominating down the stretch. The Tide have a 61 percent chance of running the table in October and November. Alabama will play only one top-40 defense in that span (LSU on Nov. 9), according to our FEI projections. Regardless of whether they claim the SEC West title, a one-loss Crimson Tide team will almost certainly be a top title candidate while other contenders drop off late in the year.