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ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC loses traction on BCS highway

October 27, 2008|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Dufresne is a Times staff writer

Nothing seemingly changed in the second Bowl Championship Series standings, released Sunday afternoon by Fox with the usual drum roll and kazoo toot.

Texas, Alabama, Penn State and Oklahoma remained 1-2-3-4 with USC rounding out the Fave Five.

Funny, though, it felt as if the whole game changed for USC.

The Trojans are now looking down a path to the national title game that may require the football equivalent of drawing an inside straight in poker.

USC needed Ohio State to beat No. 3 Penn State in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday night to clear the Nittany Lions out and make any one-loss BCS battle against the Big Ten Conference to be against the Buckeyes -- a team USC defeated by 32 points in September.

The road to South Florida just hit a few speed bumps.

Texas stayed on top in the BCS standings with an average of .9981, followed by Alabama (.9499), Penn State (.9257) and Oklahoma (.8270).

USC (.7822) is hanging in there, but the ground beneath the Trojans is moving.

USC's 17-10 desert defeat of Arizona in Tucson did not impress the pollsters as the Trojans lost ground in all three leading indexes -- Associated Press, USA Today coaches' and Harris.

USC fell one spot to No. 7 in the AP, two positions in the coaches' poll to No. 6, and two spots, to No. 7, in Harris.

USC countered by moving up four spots, to No. 6, in the BCS computers.

It seems almost a cinch, though, that the Florida-Georgia winner this week will jump USC next week.

Meanwhile, USC plays host to winless Washington, a sure-thing victory that will further drag the Trojans into Pacific 10 Conference purgatory. Two weeks ago, USC was projected to open at No. 4 in the first BCS standings but debuted at No. 5 after a 69-0 win at woeful Washington State.

What victory left on the schedule, assuming USC can win its remaining games, is going to give the Trojans traction?

Maybe California will be ranked when the Golden Bears visit the Coliseum on Nov. 8, and maybe Notre Dame will be top-25 caliber when the Irish arrive Nov. 29.

If Penn State finishes 12-0, though, that's one title-game spot USC can't grab.

USC also has no chance against an undefeated team from the Big 12 Conference or Southeastern Conference, and maybe no chance against a one-loss champion from those leagues.

The Trojans may be only three BCS spots from the No. 2 position required to earn a title-game trip to South Florida, but the gap feels larger than that.

USC can always hope history repeats itself. Penn State started 9-0 in 1999 and was ranked No. 2 in the BCS when it lost three consecutive Big Ten games, starting with a one-point crusher against Minnesota.

Penn State, which has an open date this week, plays at Iowa on Nov. 8 before home games against Indiana and Michigan State.

Iowa might cause Penn State some concern. The Hawkeyes are 5-3 and have won two straight behind the power of running back Shonn Greene, who ran for 217 yards and four touchdowns last week in a win over Wisconsin.

USC fans looking for the inside straight can be heartened by the fact BCS history is full of them.

Last year, Ohio State climbed from No. 7 to No. 1 after a mid-November loss to Illinois, and Louisiana State jumped from No. 7 to No. 2 on the final day of regular season.

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Weekend Wrap

* No. 3 Penn State picked up BCS ground on No. 2 Alabama, closing the gap to .0242. . . . In the race for one guaranteed major bowl berth among the non-BCS conference schools, Utah and Boise State held steady at No. 10 and No. 11. . . . Florida State used a win against Virginia Tech to jump 10 spots, to No. 15.

* Ground control: The three football-playing military academies -- Army, Navy, Air Force -- have all won games this year without completing a pass. Navy joined the cloud-of-dust club Saturday when it defeated Southern Methodist, 34-7, without even attempting a pass.

On Oct. 11, Army came up empty on three pass attempts in a 17-13 over Eastern Michigan, and on Sept. 23, Air Force was 0 for 7 in the air in a 31-28 win against Houston.

* Don't blame your cable company for not showing Oregon's 53-20 blowout win at Arizona State on Saturday night -- the game was not broadcast on live television.

No biggie, these schools were only picked to finish second (Arizona State) and third (Oregon) in the Pac-10. Last year, Arizona State was ranked No. 6 when it played at No. 4 Oregon on Nov. 3. That game was on television.

Despite Saturday's black out, which featured Oregon in white helmets, the Ducks moved from unranked to No. 23.

What's gone wrong at Arizona State, which opened the season ranked No. 15 but has lost five consecutive games after a 2-0 start?

"I'm embarrassed for our football team," Coach Dennis Erickson said after Saturday night's debacle. "I'm embarrassed for our fans and for our students. To be at home and play like that is inexcusable. . . . I really don't have an answer. It lies on my shoulders and that's the bottom line."

Arizona State is 4-8 since winning its first seven games in 2007.

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