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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

A day for slapping hands . . . and heads

October 20, 2008|Chris Dufresne

There are few times when a No. 5 ranking warrants a high five, but go ahead, USC fans, slap hands.

It could have been worse for the Trojans -- and maybe it should have been.

The first Bowl Championship Series standings released Sunday elicited cheers in Austin, elephant calls in Tuscaloosa, cautious optimism in Happy Valley, boos in Gainesville and relief at Heritage Hall.

The defeat at Oregon State that was supposed to cost USC a chance to win the national title . . . well, it still could cost the Trojans, but no one's asking for a payment yet.

Meanwhile, Florida has to be wondering how its one loss to Mississippi earned the Gators a No. 10 debut, and Louisiana State is probably swamp sick over losing to Florida and opening up at No. 13.

Now, now, college football folks: It's too early to gloat and way too early to panic.

Texas, Alabama and Penn State are 1-2-3 in the first BCS standings, but we've just started to peel back the onion. It's where you end up on Dec. 7 that matters, and it's not even November yet.

Oklahoma opened at No. 4, with USC at No. 5. Rounding out the BCS top 10 are Oklahoma State, Georgia, Texas Tech, Ohio State and Florida.

Congratulations, Texas, we think.

Being ranked No. 1 "shows respect for what we've accomplished through seven weeks of the season," Texas Coach Mack Brown said in a statement released Sunday. ". . . But we have a long way to go and a lot of room to improve. Watching film today on Oklahoma State will get your mind off of the ratings in a hurry. . . ."

Since the BCS was formed in 1998, only two teams that debuted at No. 1 went on to win the national title -- Florida State in 1999 and USC in 2004.

Starting out on top is not necessarily an amen or an omen.

By contrast, dig this: LSU, in BCS history, has won two national titles despite spending only two total weeks at No. 1.

Oklahoma, USC and Ohio State have spent 46 total weeks at No. 1 and combined to win three BCS crowns.

Nobody has BCS closing speed like LSU . . . and it will be seriously tested in 2008. Last year, LSU was No. 7 in the BCS on the final Saturday and No. 2 on the final Sunday.

In 2003, LSU opened at No. 12 in the first BCS standings and came all the way back -- ask Oklahoma and USC about it.

Nobody should get too low or too excited.

UCLA was the first No. 1 in BCS standings history, spent one week on top, and has never been back.

USC, though, is in decent BCS launch position. The schools ahead of the Trojans all have tougher schedules. Texas still has to play Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas and possibly the Big 12 title game.

Penn State is at BCS No. 9 Ohio State on Saturday, and Oklahoma still has Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State left on the regular-season ledger.

USC's future schedule does not include a currently ranked opponent.

This is possibly good news for Trojans fans because it means USC is more likely to win out. This might also be bad news because USC may be lacking any more marquee victories. The worrisome element in Sunday's BCS standings is USC's No. 10 ranking in the computers.

Beating Washington State 69-0, incredibly, did USC no favors.

How about No. 9 Ohio State, only two seasons removed from a crushing title-game loss to the Gators, bullying its way ahead of No. 10 Florida?

The nerve of these Buckeyes, but we told you so. Some pollsters tried to give Ohio State the heave-ho on Sept. 13 after a 35-3 loss to USC at the Coliseum.

A month and change later, the Buckeyes are No. 9, with a hilarious No. 5 computer ranking to throw in USC's No. 10 face.

Last year, Ohio State overcame a mid-November home loss to Illinois to climb from No. 7 all the way to No. 1, so getting back from No. 9 on Oct. 20 doesn't seem so farfetched -- especially with No. 3 Penn State visiting Columbus on Saturday.

You can pray Ohio State never gets back to the national-title game, but you can't guarantee it.

--

Weekend wrap

* This is shaping up as quite a year for the so-called have-nots. Four of the five conferences whose champions do not get automatic berths are represented in the BCS top 25. The Mountain West has three schools, No. 11 Utah, No. 14 Texas Christian and No. 21 Brigham Young. The Western Athletic is represented by No. 12 Boise State, Conference USA by No. 19 Tulsa and the Mid-American by No. 20 Ball State. The only non-BCS conference not in the mix is the Sun Belt.

* More on TCU. It has been assumed that a one-loss non-BCS school could never reach the top-12 threshold required for major bowl qualification, yet TCU is sitting at No. 14. It helps when your one loss is to Oklahoma.

* Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa are a combined 20-1. And Oklahoma has the "one." The state of Washington isn't faring as well. The two Pac-10 schools have yet to post a win over a major-college opponent this year. Washington and Washington State are a combined 1-13. Washington State's win came against lower-division Portland State.

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