Inside the BCS

2002-03 Bowls
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Sunday, November 17
Updated: November 19, 3:00 PM ET
Plenty of potential upsets loom for contenders

By Brad Edwards
Special to

All is quiet on the BCS front.

Miami was idle on Saturday, and Ohio State passed another road test. A national-championship matchup of the nation's only two unbeaten teams is now just four games from becoming a reality.

But this is exactly when all the fun began last year.

On Nov. 23, 2001, Colorado blitzed No. 1 Nebraska, starting a chain of upsets over national-title contenders that college football historians consider to be unprecedented. During the final three weeks of the regular season, five teams lost a game while ranked in the Top 3 of the BCS Standings. That chaos culminated with the Cornhuskers being given a spot in the championship game -- fresh off a 26-point defeat.

There's no reasonable cause to believe such a thing will happen again, but it certainly is a source of optimism for a team like Iowa. The Hawkeyes have completed their final round and are in the clubhouse -- only a few shots back of the leaders. Now, they must hope for some unfriendly conditions to blow in and disturb their competitors.

Potential Title Contenders

Team W-L Remaining Games Miami 9-0 19 Pitt, at Syracuse, 12 Va. Tech Ohio State 12-0 9 Michigan Washington St. 9-1 Washington, at 24 UCLA Oklahoma 9-1 23 Tx. Tech, at OSU, Big 12 title game? Georgia 10-1 Ga. Tech, SEC championship Notre Dame 9-1 Rutgers, at 7 USC Iowa 11-1 -----

Turning Up Roses
Iowa would have enjoyed nothing more than a loss by Ohio State on Saturday, and it was only an overtime period away from happening. That would have given the Hawkeyes the outright Big Ten championship along with the conference's guaranteed spot in a BCS game.

But as it turned out, the next-best thing happened for the Hawks instead -- a loss by Texas. The Longhorns were an extremely attractive at-large option for BCS bowls and were just one spot in the BCS Standings away from automatically securing such a position. But their loss to Texas Tech eliminates any reasonable scenario that could keep Iowa out of a major bowl game.

If Ohio State beats Michigan, the Rose Bowl will have the opportunity to choose a replacement for the Big Ten champion Buckeyes, and all indications are that they will select the co-champion Hawkeyes.

If the favorites win out, here's how the BCS Bowls will likely shape up.

Tostitos Fiesta -- Ohio State vs. Miami
FedEx Orange -- Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma
Rose -- Iowa vs. Washington State
Nokia Sugar -- Florida State vs. Georgia

A Pivotal Matchup
Notre Dame plays at USC on Nov. 30, which could be a critical game for BCS at-large consideration. But there's a chance that a win by the Trojans would neither put them in a BCS game nor take the Irish out of one.

Two major factors are considered when non-championship BCS bowls are choosing their participants: attendance and ratings. Bowls and television are in this business to make money, and those are their primary means of doing so.

If Miami is ranked in the Top 2 of the final BCS Standings, then the FedEx Orange Bowl will get to select a replacement for the Hurricanes. And among the teams that will likely be eligible, Notre Dame seems to be the obvious choice.

The Irish would probably put more people in those seats than any team outside of Miami and Florida, and they would likely draw a bigger TV audience than any other team available. A lot of people would show up to watch USC in a bowl, but more would watch Notre Dame.

The Irish would just need to remain in the Top 12 of the BCS to keep alive their potential to be chosen. There is a very slight chance, however, that SC could knock ND out of its eligible status. If the Trojans had a huge win, the pollsters could conceivably drop Notre Dame far enough to remove the Irish from the BCS Top 12, which would keep them from being selected by a BCS game.

But if USC can't do that, its best BCS opportunity probably lies with Washington State reaching the Fiesta Bowl and thereby opening a spot in the Rose. And if Miami loses a game, it could create an Ohio State-Washington State championship tilt, which would give the Rose Bowl BOTH at-large selections. If this happens, it is probable that Iowa and USC would get those spots, leaving Notre Dame on the outside.

Not So Fast, My Friends
This is one of many columns around the country that will be making BCS projections predicated upon the favored teams winning out. But in college football, it is always wise to consider the possibility of upsets -- sometimes, many of them.

Even though each of the major conferences currently has an undisputed frontrunner for its BCS bid, none of the six spots has yet been locked up. And the possibilities for alternative representatives are quite intriguing.

Florida State wraps up the title with a win at NC State on Saturday, but Maryland is not out of it quite yet. Even though FSU beat the Terps earlier this year, they would not necessarily get the BCS berth over them in the event of a tie. The ACC rules state that if two teams tie for the title, the winner of the game between them must be ranked within five spots of the loser in the final BCS Standings to earn the bid. So, if Maryland wins out and Florida State loses to both NC State and Florida, there is a chance the Terrapins could make a return trip to the BCS. If that happens, and Maryland is not more than five places ahead of FSU, then the Seminoles would be BCS bound with five losses.

Big 12
Colorado has already earned a spot in the championship game, which most people assume will be a rematch with Oklahoma. But if Texas Tech wins in Norman on Saturday, the Red Raiders would capture the Big 12 South and have their own rematch with the Buffs for the conference title. Two weeks ago, few people had given any thought to the possibility of Texas Tech playing in a major bowl game.

Big East
The battle for first place is Thursday night on ESPN, when Pittsburgh goes into Miami to challenge the defending champs. Everyone is talking about the 'Canes position in the national title hunt, but a win by the Panthers this week -- followed by a win over West Virginia next week -- would give Pittsburgh its first Big East title and likely leave Miami out of the BCS picture.

Big Ten
This one is fairly simple. It's Fiesta or bust for Ohio State. A win over Michigan puts the Buckeyes in the national title game, while a loss probably drops them to the Capital One Bowl (formerly Citrus). Iowa might be in the Rose Bowl either way, but the Hawkeyes would love to have the outright conference title along with it.

Washington State needs one more win to ensure itself the conference's BCS bid and a worst-case scenario of playing in the Rose Bowl. But if the Cougars stumble at home against Washington this weekend, there is still a chance the title could go to the USC-UCLA winner. The Bruins host WSU on Dec. 7 in the final Pac-10 game of the season.

Georgia has secured its place on one sideline of the Georgia Dome on Dec. 7, but the West division is still up for grabs. Auburn has not yet been mathematically eliminated, but the crown will likely go to the winner of the LSU-Arkansas game (in Fayetteville). After starting 1-3 in SEC play, the Razorbacks now control their own destiny to reach the Sugar Bowl.

BCS Bids by Conference

Expected Possible ACC Florida State Maryland Big 12 Oklahoma Texas Tech Big East Miami Pittsburgh Big Ten Ohio State Iowa Pac-10 Washington State UCLA SEC Georgia Arkansas

BCS Standings
For whatever it might be worth, Miami jumped Ohio State this week in the battle for No. 1 in the BCS. The bigger story, however, is at No. 3, where Washington State has gained a significant advantage over Oklahoma. The Sooners lost strength in the BCS formula because of Texas' defeat, which diminished the quality win bonus for OU.
1. Miami
2. Ohio State
3. Washington State
4. Oklahoma
5. Georgia
6. Notre Dame
7. Iowa
8. Southern California
9. Michigan
10. Texas

If one of the top-two teams stumbles, Washington State is sitting pretty for a shot at the national title as long as it can maintain its slim lead over Oklahoma in the AP poll. The margin is only six points, which could disappear if the Cougars don't look good in either of their last two games. But if they play well and maintain their poll position, it will be extremely difficult for Oklahoma to make up the ground elsewhere.

The Invisible Points
If you look closely at the BCS standings this week, you might see a slight quality win bonus for Georgia that, at first glance, seems to be an error. It would actually be a credit for the Bulldogs' win over Alabama, which does not appear on the official standings because the Tide is ineligible for postseason play.

Before this season began, the BCS commissioners recognized the possibility of an ineligible team being highly ranked and devised a plan to uphold the penalty for that team without punishing its opponents. Teams on probation (Alabama, Cal and Kentucky for this season) are not eligible to be voted for in the coaches poll but do have a ranking in every other element of the BCS formula. The decision was to use each team's AP ranking as its poll average and see where its overall score falls within the BCS number structure.

Alabama's theoretical score this week would fall into 9th place, so Georgia and Oklahoma both deduct two-tenths of a point for having beaten Alabama. This bonus is far from trivial, as it could ultimately be crucial to the Sooners' chances of reaching the national championship game if Miami or Ohio State loses.

But here's where the rule gets a little bit confusing. Since the Tide is not really in the standings, Notre Dame and Iowa will get the same bonus for having defeated Michigan, which shows up on paper as the No. 9 team.

Therefore, the No. 10 team this week (Texas) is actually the No. 11 team, but having beaten them would still account for a quality win. It may be hard to figure, but the BCS is trying to do the right thing by rewarding teams that have beaten Alabama.

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher for ESPN. Inside the BCS appears weekly.

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