The fairest way to determine a champion may cost the Pacific 10 Conference a chance of earning an additional $4.5 million by getting a second team into a Bowl Championship Series game.
When the NCAA approved a 12th game for college teams a few years ago, Pac-10 athletic directors used the opportunity, in 2006, to go to a nine-game format in which all schools play one another every season.
An option would have been to use the extra game to schedule a weaker nonconference opponent.
In a year when the conference has been brutally competitive, the extra league losses could have postseason consequences.
"When you're playing an extra conference game, just do the math -- half the teams are going to have another loss," Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said during Tuesday's Pac-10 coaches' conference call.
Last weekend, the Southeastern Conference used the "extra" game to schedule a slate of easy November victories against the likes of Northern Arizona, Tennessee Tech, Memphis and Eastern Kentucky.
Meanwhile, back in the meat grinder, USC Coach Pete Carroll said this is the toughest he has seen the Pac-10 since he joined the conference in 2001.
"There's no room for error," Carroll said. "The margins have really narrowed."
It is a rite of fall for coaches to talk up their conferences, but this year the Pac-10 has numbers to back it up.
The league is ranked No. 1 in four of the six BCS computer indexes and third, behind the SEC and Big East, in the other two.
Six Pac-10 schools rank in the top 33 of this week's Harris poll, yet no conference school has fewer than two losses, while USC, at No. 11, is the highest-ranked team in the Associated Press media poll.
When you add that to the league's ambitious nonconference philosophy, it makes stockpiling victories difficult.
Consider: The Pac-10 is 20-9 in nonconference games this year, scoring key wins against Ohio State, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Kansas State and Minnesota. Four of the Pac-10's nine losses came against schools -- Cincinnati, Boise State, Iowa, Louisiana State -- currently ranked in the BCS top 10, with a combined record of 34-3.
Being good, and fair, could be costly if Oregon won the Rose Bowl berth and USC finished second at 10-2.
The Trojans' losses were both in conference, and they have league games remaining against Stanford, UCLA and Arizona. One more Pac-10 loss and the Trojans are probably out of the BCS mix.
Oregon State Coach Mike Riley, calling himself a Pac-10 "gym rat" since his days growing up in Corvallis, Ore., sees both sides of the play-everyone argument.
"I think it's a fair way to do it," Riley said. "I do have the realization that it hurts us nationally."
California Coach Jeff Tedford expects the issue will be a hot topic at next spring's annual conference meetings.
"The Pac-10 is as strong as I've seen it ever," Tedford said. "Someone's got to win, someone's got to lose. It's bound to hurt you in the polls."
It would be up to the conference's athletic directors to abandon the current format. But even if they voted to do so, it might take a few years to implement because Pac-10 schools would have to find schools with openings on their schedules.
* Tedford said no determination had been made as to whether Cal tailback Jahvid Best would play again this year. "That's totally the last thing on our minds," Tedford said. "That's so secondary." Best suffered a concussion Saturday during a spectacularly scary end-zone tumble after scoring a touchdown against Oregon State. Tedford said Best was recovering at home, adding: "We all count our blessings it wasn't more serious than it was."
* Don't expect Oregon's offense, averaging a conference-leading 36.3 points a game, to change much with the reinstatement of tailback LeGarrette Blount for Saturday's game against Arizona State. "LeGarrette Blount is coming back in a backup role," Coach Chip Kelly said. "I'm not even sure how we'll deploy him." Only Toby Gerhart of Stanford has gained more yards than Blount's replacement, freshman LaMichael James, who is averaging 115 yards a game and has rushed for 1,043 yards this season.
* Carroll said this about . . . Stanford? "We'll just do the best we can, struggle our way through it and hope to slow them down some."
* Hard to believe, but Oregon State has a five-game winning streak against Washington, which visits Corvallis on Saturday. Washington won 23 out of 25 games in a span from 1974 to 2003.
"It's amazing, the cycle of life in football," Riley, the Beavers' coach, said.