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Syracuse-ND may be the biggest game

Will it be USC or LSU?

Well, that might depend upon what else happens around the nation on Saturday.

With only six games remaining in college football's regular season, it's fairly simple to identify which ones have impact on the race for No. 2 in the BCS. Obviously, USC's and LSU's games are most important. A loss by one (but not both) of those teams makes everything pretty simple. If both lose, either Michigan or Georgia will be bound for New Orleans.

But assuming the Trojans and Tigers both win, their fates will be determined by seemingly meaningless games in remote areas of the country.

The day starts when Notre Dame plays at Syracuse (ABC, 1 p.m. ET). Both teams have a 5-6 record, and neither is going to a bowl game, but the result of this contest will more than likely determine whether USC or LSU plays Oklahoma in the Nokia Sugar Bowl.

The Trojans' advantage over the Tigers in the BCS is formidable, although not quite insurmountable. But one more win by Notre Dame, a USC opponent, would strengthen the Trojans just enough that it would be almost mathematically impossible for LSU to catch them without a change in the polls. Simply put, if Notre Dame and USC both win, there's about a 95 percent probability that the Trojans will finish as the No. 2 team in the BCS.

But if Syracuse beats Notre Dame, then USC becomes vulnerable to LSU and would finish a few schedule strength spots behind the Tigers. And if Syracuse and LSU both win, the Tigers should also finish ahead of the Trojans in at least six of the BCS computers, making it probable that LSU would be Oklahoma's opponent in the national championship game.

If either of the combinations described above plays out, whatever remote chance the other team might have of surviving it probably rests on the result of the day's final game: Boise State at Hawaii (11:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2). The Broncos have clinched the WAC title, and both teams have already accepted a bowl bid.

But Hawaii is another opponent of USC, and even though this game doesn't have as much impact as the Notre Dame game (for reasons involving opponents' opponents that I won't delve into), it could account for enough of a change in schedule strength to make a difference.

If Syracuse and LSU both win, and the Tigers finish ahead of USC in six computers, a victory by Hawaii would be enough to make LSU still need a minimal quality-win bonus to get over the top. In other words, LSU would come up just short in this scenario if Georgia falls completely out of the BCS top 10.

And thanks to this portentous spotlight cast by the BCS, the most overlooked game on Saturday might be the battle for the Big 12 Championship. Just think about this -- the No. 1 team in the nation is playing on the final day of the regular season, and relatively few people seem to care.

This anomaly is, of course, a product of Oklahoma's dominance this season. The Sooners are so far in front of everyone else in the BCS Standings that a loss might not even drop them from the No. 1 position. The absolute worst case is that they would fall to No. 2 and still play for the national title in the Nokia Sugar Bowl.

Because of this, most viewers will be tuning in to watch Heisman front-runner Jason White or just to take another look at what could be one of the greatest college football teams of all time. Few people outside the Sunflower State are giving Kansas State a chance to win this game.

But what if the Wildcats do pull the upset?

For starters, a K-State win would bump Texas from BCS at-large contention. As the Big 12 champion, the 'Cats would land in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and Oklahoma would instead take an at-large ticket to New Orleans. A BCS rule prohibits any conference from placing more than two teams in the four biggest bowls, so the Longhorns would need to find another vacation spot -- maybe even as close to home as the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

But the ripple effect from a Kansas State win could extend far beyond Texas and the Big 12. If everything else falls right on Saturday, it could trigger one of the biggest stories in college football history.

There is little question that the most disastrous scenario that could ever befall the BCS would be for a team ranked No. 1 in both human polls not to be ranked in the top two of the final BCS Standings and, therefore, be left out of the championship game. So, try this on for size: USC and LSU win on Saturday, and Oklahoma loses, dropping the Sooners to third in the polls behind the No. 1 Trojans and No. 2 Tigers. It's not a certainty that OU would fall to the back of the once-beaten line, but it's a possibility, and that's enough for us to continue with this scenario.

A Syracuse win over Notre Dame should be enough to help LSU overcome its one-point poll deficit to USC and finish ahead of the Trojans in the BCS, regardless of where Oklahoma might fall in the computers after a loss. And the Sooners, even from No. 3 in the polls, would have enough of an advantage in the other elements of the formula to also move past USC in the final BCS Standings.

The end result: Polls have 1. USC, 2. LSU, 3. Oklahoma. BCS has 1. Oklahoma, 2. LSU, 3. USC. All it might require are wins by Syracuse, USC, LSU and Kansas State on Saturday.

And this scenario could even transpire without a Notre Dame loss. USC would be strengthened by an Irish victory (as mentioned above), but LSU could still conceivably jump over the Trojans if KSU beats OU, Boise State beats Hawaii and Georgia remains in the BCS top 10. If Oklahoma drops between LSU and USC in a computer or two, that would also be a huge boost for the Tigers.

What it all comes down to is this. If the sun sets on Saturday after wins by Notre Dame and USC, then LSU fans should be rooting for Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game. Meanwhile, the BCS folks will be hoping the Sooners keep Pandora's Box closed.

Brad Edwards is a researcher for ESPN. His Road to the BCS column appears every Sunday. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.