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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC and other traditional powers poised to play BCS spoiler role

Trojans, on probation and ineligible for bowls, have a chance this week to derail No. 1 Oregon's BCS title bid. Nebraska could do the same to Missouri. And Penn State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Alabama and LSU could be in position down the road to knock off national title contenders.

October 24, 2010|Chris Dufresne

USC, Nebraska, Penn State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Alabama and Louisiana State have combined for 34 Associated Press national titles since 1936, but this year their only role may be stopping someone else from winning a championship.

Meet the 24-karat . . . spoilers?

USC crept back to No. 24 in this week's AP poll and is two last-second snaps from being undefeated in a season in which the Trojans are prohibited by NCAA sanctions from competing for the Bowl Championship Series title.

USC will play football at the Coliseum on Saturday but also wants to play wrecking ball — which is funny when you think about it.

Oregon hasn't had an undefeated season since 1916, but the Ducks are No. 1 in the polls and on a fast track (really fast) toward the Jan. 10 title game in Glendale, Ariz.

USC went undefeated way back in 2004, has five AP titles in the trophy case, and is one Halloween removed from that 47-20 beat down in Eugene. The defeat foretold the end of the Trojans' dominance under coach Pete Carroll.

What joy it would bring USC to skeet-shoot the Ducks back to the green, green grass of home.

Nebraska's realistic hopes of winning the national title this season effectively died with an Oct. 16 home loss to Texas. That hiccup might have been forgiven had Texas been the Texas of old, but these Longhorns have dropped out of the rankings after home defeats by lowly UCLA and even lowlier Iowa State.

Nebraska now has this weekend in Lincoln to knock the stripes off Missouri's Tigers, who have poll-vaulted into national title contention after Saturday night's home win against BCS No. 1 Oklahoma.

Nebraska leads the all-time series against Missouri, 64-35-3. And who can forget 1997, when the Cornhuskers launched a drive to a half-share of the national title with a fluke touchdown at Missouri that ricocheted off a receiver's foot.

It's sort of fun seeing these traditional powerhouses with the slingshot in their hands.

Penn State has been one of the nation's preeminent programs since Joe Paterno took over in 1966. That was the year Michigan State finished No. 2 in the AP and United Press International polls behind Notre Dame, which infamously "settled" for a 10-10 tie against the Spartans to preserve its ranking.

Forty-four years later, Paterno is still at Penn State and Michigan State is off to its best start since . . . 1966.

Penn State is only 4-3 this year, but Michigan State could be 11-0 when it closes the Big Ten season on Nov. 27 in Happy Valley.

And here's one for you: the thought of Notre Dame, winner of a record eight AP national titles, standing in the way of Utah's golden chance.

Utah could be undefeated, sky high and in the thick of the title race if it beats Texas Christian on Nov. 6 in Salt Lake City.

The Utes play the next week at Notre Dame, which fell to 4-4 on Saturday with another humbling loss to Navy.

There's probably a law in South Bend against storming the field after victories over Mountain West Conference schools, but Fighting Irish fans could be tempted if Notre Dame pulled off the upset.

Oklahoma, Alabama and LSU still aspire to get back in the national title race — Alabama remains a serious contender — but these kingpins also could play key spoiler roles.

Oklahoma is itching to avenge Saturday's loss to Missouri with a rematch victory in the Big 12 championship game.

LSU could knock Alabama out of title contention when the Crimson Tide visits Baton Rouge on Nov. 6, and then Alabama could turn around and knock Auburn out in Tuscaloosa when the rivals meet in the annual Iron Bowl game on Nov. 26.

Weekend wrap

—Say what? Three-loss Texas is still receiving votes in the USA Today and Harris polls. The Longhorns have suffered two home losses this year for the first time since 1997. The defeats were to UCLA, which just lost 60-13 to Oregon on Thursday, and Iowa State, which had been outscored 120-27 by Utah and Oklahoma before winning in Austin.

Texas, thankfully, is no longer receiving votes in the AP poll

—There's no business like poll business: Why did Auburn jump Texas Christian into the No. 3 position in all three major polls? Blame it on Tennessee for having 13 men on the field, which cost the Volunteers a win at LSU on Oct. 2. That allowed Auburn to beat an LSU team ranked No. 6 on Saturday instead of a team with a bad home loss to a bad Tennessee team.

TCU ended up dropping a poll spot despite beating Air Force, 38-7.

—Don't look now, but . . .: It's fashionable to bash Boise State for playing in the weak Western Athletic Conference, but upcoming opponents Nevada and Hawaii could both be ranked when they meet the Broncos. Nevada and Hawaii are Nos. 26 and 27 in the AP and USA Today coaches' poll. Nevada is No. 24 in Harris and Hawaii is No. 29. Four of Boise State's remaining six WAC opponents have winning records.

—The only major-college teams without a victory are Akron (0-8) and New Mexico (0-7).

—Nice to see Arizona has finally jumped ahead of Iowa in the polls given that Arizona defeated Iowa this year. Then again, it took Iowa's losing a second game Saturday to get pollsters to make the correction. Arizona improved to 6-1 with a 44-14 win over Washington in Tucson and visits UCLA on Saturday.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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