The smog is still there, but things are a lot clearer in Southern California today -- and across the rest of the college football world, too, for that matter.
Ohio State's loss mostly eliminated any cause for concern about USC being jumped in the final BCS Standings by a lesser team in the polls. Mostly is the key word there. It might still be too early to say SC is in full control of its destiny.
All the Men of Troy can really control, of course, is beating Oregon State on Dec. 6. All LSU can do for itself is to win the SEC title. If both contenders take care of their remaining business, we'll have to see how the cards fall. At least for now, USC is holding a much stronger hand.
It might have been as simple as "win and you're in" for the Trojans if they hadn't been let down by their Pac-10 brethren on Saturday. Washington State's fourth-quarter collapse in the Apple Cup cost USC potentially important quality-win points in the BCS, and Oregon State's loss in the Civil War means a season-ending win over the Beavers will now be worth less.
Assuming USC finishes the regular season ranked one spot ahead of LSU in the polls, the Tigers' best chance of catching the Trojans in the BCS Standings is to make up a significant amount of that deficit in the quality-win component. At 10-2, Washington State would have essentially eliminated that possibility, but the Cougars' third loss leaves the door slightly open for LSU.
Florida must beat Florida State and move ahead of Tennessee in next week's BCS Standings to prevent Georgia from reaching the SEC title game. A Vols' loss at Kentucky would be ideal for LSU. If they don't lose, LSU must hope the Kentucky game weakens Tennessee enough in the BCS for the Gators to make the leap.
This may not be possible, but if it happens, LSU's four-tenths of a point bonus for beating Georgia would be secure. That would leave six-tenths of a point the Tigers would still need to make up on the Trojans through schedule strength and the computers.
Because schedule strength is a factor in the calculations of the BCS computers, this decimal-point battle could be decided by the results of remaining games involving USC's and LSU's opponents. The biggest of those games will be Alabama at Hawaii because it is a head-to-head matchup between an opponent of LSU and an opponent of USC. Here's a list of games that could make a difference in this race for No. 2.
USC's final opponent, Oregon State, has a 7-4 record that includes a win over I-AA Sacramento State. LSU must still play 8-3 Arkansas and then either a 9-3 or 10-2 team in the SEC championship game. The Tigers are currently 22 spots behind the Trojans in the schedule strength column, but these remaining opponents along with the games listed above could help LSU finish with a stronger schedule.
Currently, LSU is ahead of USC in only the BCS version of Kenneth Massey's rankings, but the Tigers appear to be within range of jumping the Trojans in a few other computers, too. If LSU can get on top of USC in five of the seven ratings systems, that would translate to an advantage of half a point in average computer ranking, assuming the teams were within one spot of each other in every computer.
If USC stays one spot ahead in both polls, and LSU is able to keep its advantage of .4 in the quality-win component while chipping away another .5 in the computer element, then the Tigers would only need to finish three spots ahead of USC in schedule strength to make up the difference and finish No. 2 in the BCS.
It looks simple on paper, but we don't know whether it's even possible for Florida to jump Tennessee in next week's BCS Standings, or whether it's possible for LSU to finish ahead of USC in five computers on Dec. 7. There are too many games that must still be played. A week from now, though, we will certainly have a better indication of the likelihood for this scenario.
Projected BCS Standings
Check back throughout the evening for possible updates.
2. Southern California
5. Ohio State
9. Florida State
10. Miami (Fla.)
Normally, I only project the top 10 spots, but there is some significance to the proximity Florida holds to Tennessee in the standings. The gap between them should be a little more than six points, which means it could be close between those two next week if they both win. LSU fans should be rooting for Kentucky to upset Tennessee, which would greatly simplify the process. As mentioned above, LSU needs the Gators to leap over the Vols to maintain its best-case scenario for finishing ahead of USC.
Crimson Or White?
Many people are asking the question, "What happens if Oklahoma loses the Big 12 Championship game to Kansas State?"
My opinion is that Ohio State's loss on Saturday combined with OU's win over Texas Tech was enough to lock up a spot for the Sooners in New Orleans. A loss to K-State would drop Oklahoma no further than No. 3 in the polls, and I believe OU is so much stronger than either USC or LSU in the computer and schedule strength elements that the Sooners would easily make up that gap in poll average and still finish No. 2 overall in the final BCS Standings.
The No. 1 team gets to wear its home uniform in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, so the only affect a Big 12 loss might have on the Sooners would be a switch from crimson to white jerseys.
A Rosey Outlook
The University of Southern California wasn't the only local entity affected by Washington State's loss on Saturday. With the Cougars now out of the top 12 of the BCS Standings and unlikely to return to that magic spot, there is a strong chance the Rose Bowl will have a third straight year without its traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-10 matchup.
It looks like Big Ten champion Michigan will be there, but if USC finishes No. 2 in the BCS, the Trojans will instead play in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. The Rose would have at least liked the option of replacing SC with an at-large team from the Pac-10, but a top-12 BCS finish is a requirement for at-large qualification, and WSU was the only other team from the conference with a chance to be that high.
Tournament of Roses representatives likely won't admit it, but this turn of events should actually give them a game with more national interest and a greater boost to the local economy. Right now, the top possibilities for Michigan's opponent are Texas, LSU and Tennessee. These schools all have more tradition, a higher ranking and a larger fan base than Washington State.
At-Large And In Charge
Assuming Oklahoma and USC finish 1-2 in the final BCS Standings, here's a new look at the way things could shake out for the four major bowls.
Obviously, the Nokia Sugar Bowl would have the Sooners and Trojans to battle for the BCS championship, and the Rose Bowl would automatically get Big Ten champ Michigan. Then, the FedEx Orange Bowl would have to choose a host team -- either the ACC champion (Florida State) or the Big East champion (most likely the Miami-Pittsburgh winner). If Miami wins, the Orange will almost certainly take the hometown Hurricanes. If Pittsburgh wins, the choice would likely be the in-state Seminoles.
Then, by virtue of losing its host team to the championship game, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl would make the next move to replace the Big 12 champion Sooners. If LSU is 12-1, expect the Tigers to be the choice, although the Fiesta is also interested in Texas as an at-large possibility.
Whichever team the Fiesta doesn't take would likely become the Rose Bowl's replacement for USC with the following pick. If LSU doesn't win the SEC, Tennessee or Georgia could be bound for Pasadena.
The final spots to fill will be in the Orange and Fiesta bowls. If the Orange already has Miami locked down, the potential for a rematch of last year's national title game is very attractive and would likely take place, meaning Ohio State would get the final at-large spot. And if this matchup happens, Florida State would make the trip to Tempe.
There are still numerous other possibilities, though, and most of them hinge upon the outcomes of Miami-Pittsburgh and the SEC Championship Game. Stay tuned.
Projected BCS Matchups
If Favorites Win Out:
Nokia Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma (Big 12 champ) vs. USC (Pac-10 champ)
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: LSU (SEC champ) vs. Florida State (ACC champ)
Rose Bowl: Michigan (Big Ten champ) vs. Texas (at-large)
FedEx Orange Bowl: Miami (Big East champ) vs. Ohio State (at-large)