NEW YORK -- Southern California is a win away from returning
to the national title game.
The Trojans moved into second place in the Bowl Championship
Series standings Sunday, passing idle Michigan on the strength of a
44-24 victory over Notre Dame and closing in on a matchup with
undefeated Ohio State in the title game.
USC plays crosstown-rival UCLA on Saturday and a victory would
likely lock up the Trojans' third consecutive appearance in the BCS
title game. The Trojans have already locked up the Pac-10's
automatic BCS bid, but playing in the Rose Bowl would be a letdown
for USC this season.
"I think we're a pretty good team right now," USC coach Pete
Carroll said after beating Notre Dame. "We'll play anybody,
First-place Ohio State has already sealed up its trip to
Glendale, Ariz., for the Jan. 8 championship game. The final BCS
standings and bowl pairings will be announced next Sunday.
Michigan had managed to hold onto second place after losing 42-39 at
Ohio State two weeks ago, but the Wolverines' lead over USC was razor thin.
USC's convincing victory over the Fighting Irish helped the
Trojans increase their cushion over Michigan in the coaches' poll
and Harris poll, and boosted USC's computer rating ahead of the
USC's BCS average was .946. Michigan's was .922.
The polls make up two-thirds of a BCS average and the computer
ratings account for the other third.
Florida, which plays in the Southeastern Conference title game
against Arkansas on Saturday, is in fourth place with an average of
.890. The Gators need a win and USC to stumble against UCLA, but
even then it will be a close call between them and Michigan for the
second spot in the title game.
LSU is fifth, followed by Louisville and Wisconsin.
Unbeaten Boise State moved up to eighth place and will become
the second team from outside the original BCS conferences to play
in one of the four big-dollar bowl games. The Broncos will likely
receive a bid to the Fiesta Bowl.
Arkansas is ninth and can earn the SEC's automatic bid by
Notre Dame dropped five spots to 10th place, which means the
Fighting Irish are no longer in position to earn an automatic BCS
bid. They needed to be in the top eight for that to happen.
However, Notre Dame remains eligible to receive an at-large bid by
finishing in the top 12. And if the Irish are eligible, they're a
great bet to get picked by either the Rose, Sugar or Orange.
USC lost last year's championship game 41-38 to Texas at the
Rose Bowl and won the 2004 national championship with a 55-19
victory over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Three years ago, the Trojans missed out on the BCS championship
game, but won the AP's part of the national title by beating
Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl.
That three-year run, during which the Trojans lost only two
games, was powered by quarterback Matt Leinart and tailbacks Reggie
Bush and LenDale White. Those guys, and a host of other Trojans
from last season's team, are in the NFL now.
And if the Trojans can make it eight consecutive wins against
UCLA, it's USC vs. Ohio State for the national title.