Computer system puts squeeze on USC

It might be the toughest ticket in the history of college football, and the party scene might be second only to Mardi Gras.

Oklahoma (12-1) and LSU (12-1) will be No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, when the final BCS Standings are released today (5:30 ET, ABC). This means the Sooners and Tigers will square off for the national title in the Nokia Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4 in New Orleans.

USC (11-1), which entered the final week of the season as the BCS' No. 2 team and enjoyed a 24-point win over Oregon State on Saturday, will finish third and meet No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. The Trojans are the top-ranked team in both the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and The Associated Press' media poll and could still win AP's national title with a Rose Bowl victory. The coaches' poll is obligated to crown the BCS championship game winner as its national champion.

In the end, USC's schedule strength and computer rankings were not strong enough to hold off the Sooners and Tigers within the BCS formula. USC non-conference opponents Auburn, BYU, Hawaii and Notre Dame, along with conference foes Arizona State and Washington, all failed to live up to preseason expectations, which weakened the Trojans in every element except the minds of the human voters.

Despite its 28-point loss in the Big 12 championship game, Oklahoma held onto the No. 1 spot in most of the BCS computers, mainly because those ratings are no longer allowed to factor margins of victory or defeat. Those rankings, along with a very strong schedule, allowed the Sooners to hold their spot as the BCS' No. 1 team.

College football's last split national title came in 1997, when Michigan and Nebraska both went undefeated. The BCS was created after that season, presumably to assure that the top two teams in the nation would always meet on the field in a bowl game. Twice previously -- 2000 (Miami) and 2001 (Oregon) -- the No. 2 team in both of the voter polls did not reach the BCS championship game.

This is the first time in the system's six-year history that the No. 1 team in either poll has not finished in the top two of the BCS Standings.

Kansas State's win over Oklahoma for the Big 12 title gave the Wildcats an automatic BCS berth, likely in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. More than likely, they will take on Florida State, while Miami and Ohio State play a rematch of last year's national title game, this time in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

In the coaches' poll, the Trojans had 37 first-place votes and 1,542 points to the Tigers' 18 first-place nods and 1,516 points. Oklahoma still received eight first-place
votes and 1,449 points.

Michigan (10-2) remained fourth in the poll, followed by Texas (10-2), Ohio State (10-2), Tennessee (10-2), Florida State (10-2), Miami (10-2) and Kansas State (11-3). Georgia (10-3) fell from fifth to 11th after its loss to LSU.

In the media poll, the Sooners fell to third after holding the top spot since the preseason. USC is No. 1 for the first time in 22 years, garnering 42 first-place votes (1,595 points). LSU (1,580) got 21, and Oklahoma (1,491) received the final two.

The Sooners had hoped to join Florida State in 1999 as the only teams to go wire-to-wire since the advent of the preseason poll in 1950.

Brad Edwards is a researcher for ESPN.