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USC Is in BCS Sweet Spot

Trojans jump to No. 2 in the standings that will determine who plays for national title in Sugar Bowl, and enjoy a solid lead over Florida State.

November 04, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

Oklahoma and USC, two of the fastest teams in the nation, are on a fast track toward a national championship showdown in New Orleans -- there's no way to sugar-coat it.

The only surprise in Monday's third bowl championship series standings release was the margin by which USC vaulted from No. 4 into the critical No. 2 position.

It was expected the Trojans would jump No. 2 Miami, which lost, and probably would overtake No. 3 Florida State, which took a power-rating hit for beating up on leprechaun-low Notre Dame.

Yet, the Trojans' rise in the BCS was almost as impressive as their rout of Washington State.

USC is suddenly a solid second in the BCS, a football-fat 2.50 points ahead of Florida State.

Oklahoma, undefeated and largely untested, retained its stranglehold on No. 1 with a BCS total of 2.24, followed by USC at 7.02, Florida State at 9.52, Miami at 10.25 and Ohio State at 11.47.

Virginia Tech, Louisiana State, Michigan, Texas Christian and Georgia round out the BCS top 10.

The two highest-ranked teams in the final BCS standings on Dec. 7 will play for the national title Jan. 4 in the Sugar Bowl.

With more than a month to go in the regular season, there is strong analytical evidence to suggest that Oklahoma and USC will meet in that game, as long as both schools win their remaining games.

Oklahoma has three games left, against Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech, plus the Big 12 championship game Dec. 6. USC, which is off this week, closes against Arizona, UCLA and, after another week off, Oregon State.

Interestingly, the team with the best chance to catch USC for the No. 2 spot is not Florida State, currently No. 3, but probably No. 4 Miami, or perhaps No. 5 Ohio State.

Florida State is already ranked third in the writers' and coaches' polls and can't move higher as long as USC and Oklahoma keep winning.

Miami and Ohio State, however, can make up ground in the BCS by moving up in the polls. Those schools are tied this week with a poll average of 6.5.

Miami has Tennessee, Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh left to play. Ohio State might make BCS hay by beating Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan.

A jump to No. 3 in the polls by either Ohio State or Miami would mean a significant pickup in BCS point totals.

Miami trails USC this week by 3.23 points. Ohio State is 4.45 points behind.

As expected, predicted and anticipated since late Saturday night, USC made huge gains in the BCS computer and strength-of-schedule components.

In a game in which lowest scores win, the Trojans went from 5.67 to 3.50 in the computers, and their schedule strength moved from 25th to 13th. That alone was worth a BCS gain of .48 of a point.

The one-loss BCS schools on the outside appear to be Virginia Tech and Louisiana State.

Virginia Tech, despite a 31-7 upset of Miami, trails USC by 5.45 points. LSU is 7.9 points behind, despite a No. 4 ranking in both polls.

The Tigers are being penalized for their 63rd-ranked schedule, which translates to a whopping 2.52 points. The schedule drag also explains LSU's 7.50 computer average.

And although non-BCS upstart TCU has no shot at making a national-title run, thanks to its 98th-rated schedule, the Horned Frogs can be considered (but probably won't be) for one of two BCS at-large berths if they finish in the top 12.

It was not a good weekend for Washington State, which fell from No. 9 to No. 15 in the BCS, despite having lost to what is now the No. 2 team in the country.

If Washington State does not win the Pac-10's automatic bid into the BCS, the Cougars will have to finish in the BCS top 12 to be considered for an at-large berth.

The Rose Bowl will have a vacancy to fill, should USC be lost to the Sugar Bowl, and right now Washington State is the bowl's only other Pac-10 option.

Should the Cougars win out and not finish in the top 12, the Rose Bowl will look elsewhere for a replacement.

One-loss Florida State and Miami, or maybe two-loss Texas, would be possibilities to play the Big Ten champion in Pasadena on New Year's Day.

Should form hold and Oklahoma and USC end up No. 1 and No. 2, the Fiesta Bowl will get the first at-large pick, followed by the Rose.

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