Red Raiders just one upset away from BCS title contention

Just as everything starts falling into place, a new BCS controversy is lurking right around the corner.

Oklahoma's win over Texas Tech has created a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South that could ultimately be settled by the BCS standings on Nov. 30. This tiebreaker would knock a pair of highly ranked 11-1 teams out of the Big 12 championship game, and one of them would be left out of a BCS game entirely, thanks to the rule that prevents a conference from having more than two teams in the big five bowls.

While that might sound like a mess, it's really more of an unfortunate situation. One deserving team (either Oklahoma or Texas) must be chosen as the division winner, and the other two must be left out. That would be the case whether the BCS standings were used as the tiebreaker or not, so it shouldn't be considered controversial.

What would likely be much more disturbing to college football fans is the possibility that Texas Tech, fresh off a 65-21 loss to Oklahoma, could still play for the national championship. It's not as unlikely as you might think.

On Saturday evening, Oklahoma will play at Oklahoma State in this season's sixth meeting among the Big 12 South's powerful quartet. One of the previous five games, Oklahoma vs. Texas, was on a neutral field. The other four were all won by the home team.

If the Sooners can't break that trend, and lose to the Cowboys, the aforementioned three-way tie will be history (assuming Texas beats Texas A&M, and Texas Tech beats Baylor), and the Red Raiders will win a two-way tie for the division lead because of their head-to-head victory over the Longhorns. And if Tech goes on to beat Missouri in the Big 12 championship game ... then what?

As bad as that one loss may have been, the Red Raiders would still be 12-1 and champions of the conference that has been the dominant story of this college football season. And Tech would hold the double trump card on Texas -- a head-to-head win to go along with the conference title -- which would make it very difficult for voters to keep the Longhorns above the Raiders on their ballots.

And who else other than the SEC champion could justifiably be ranked ahead of Texas, assuming the Horns don't struggle with Texas A&M on Thursday?

USC is significantly behind Mack Brown's bunch right now, and with nothing more than a couple of games against mediocre opponents (Notre Dame and UCLA) left on the schedule, there would be no justification for elevating the Trojans, unless it was purely an attempt by voters to manipulate the system and keep Texas Tech out of the BCS Championship Game.

Plus, if Oregon State wins a home game against Oregon on Saturday, the Trojans won't even be champions of their own conference.

It's hard to imagine a team being named a BCS title game participant just 15 days removed from a 44-point loss, but we might be a single upset away from that becoming a reality.

If the three-way tie comes to fruition late Saturday night, you have to like Oklahoma's chances of coming out on top. The Sooners passed Texas in both polls this week, and that advantage isn't likely to disappear. OU still trails the Longhorns in the overall BCS standings because of a decent-sized deficit in the computers, but that will be reduced significantly with a win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

It seems that the only chance Texas has of holding off this charge by the Sooners, other than an Oklahoma loss, is for several voters who may have spontaneously reacted to OU's impressive victory over Texas Tech to decide this week that head-to-head should be a deciding factor between the teams. Of course, there's also the position that head-to-head is irrelevant within the three-way tie, and it's possible that many of the voters have already considered this.

Advantage: Oklahoma.

• For all practical purposes, Utah (12-0) has clinched the automatic at-large bid for the non-BCS conferences, although that won't be official until Dec. 7. With wins this week, Boise State and Ball State can also finish the regular season 12-0, but they are unlikely to be selected to the BCS as at-large teams.

The Broncos will certainly have their share of sympathizers. If Oregon State beats Oregon on Saturday, Boise State will finish several spots ahead of half of the major-conference champions (Pac-10, Big East and ACC) but will not be able to join them in the Bowl Championship Series.

While that might be just the way it goes with the BCS, you can be sure it will be added to the list of complaints about this system's treatment of teams from smaller conferences.

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.