The ins and outs of the top contenders
BCS proponents say the key to making the system work is to allow it to work, to let the entire regular season play out. That doesn't do much to explain last year, mind you, and with three Saturdays before bids are handed out, there remain three viable national championship contenders for two berths. The latest polls are so close for the No. 2 position that the vote counters are checking for hanging chads.
If one coach had flip-flopped Auburn and Oklahoma, the teams would be tied in both polls. As it is, the Sooners lead the Tigers by two points in the coaches' poll and are tied in the media poll. Auburn is reaping the benefit of dominating Georgia 24-6.
All of which begs the questions: How does USC remain above this fray? Will the weakness of Baylor and the Big 12 North champion cost Oklahoma an Orange Bowl bid?
If Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is this effective as a lobbyist, why isn't he working in Washington?
The Trojans, Sooners and Tigers can each make a good case to play in the national championship game. Their fans can make a good case as to why one of the others should be the team left out. Here are the ins and outs concerning who should be in or out of Miami on Jan. 4.
The following can be used in any barroom/chatroom discussion. There's something here for everyone.
USC Trojans (10-0)
Out: When three teams are undefeated, you have to look at how they have gone about winning. Three second-half comebacks, including nailbiters at Stanford (4-6) and at Oregon State (5-5), mean the Trojans aren't as dominant as a No. 1 should be. Conference power may be cyclical in nature, but the Pac-10 is taking its time returning from the bottom to the top of Division I-A. The only reason that the Trojans are No. 1 is that they started there.
Oklahoma Sooners (10-0)
Out: Just like last year, the Sooners were the best team in the nation in mid-October. Too bad the season didn't end then. The defensive struggles have been easily explained -- the absence of corner Antonio Perkins -- but the explanation doesn't really matter. The bottom line is that the Sooners gave up 35 points on consecutive weeks. Yes, the games were on the road, and against ranked teams. But USC and Auburn didn't give up five touchdowns to the ranked teams they played. That strength of schedule is going to look a lot less foreboding once you add in Baylor (3-7) and whatever mighty champion the Big 12 North produces.
Auburn Tigers (10-0)
Out: Lack of schedule strength is stuck to the back of the Tigers like a "Kick Me" sign. Closing with Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee will help cure that, but the conscious decision to get the USCs and Georgia Techs off the schedule and Louisiana-Monroe and The Citadel on will be the reason that the Tigers may end up in the Sugar Bowl. And call me a heretic for saying it, but the fact is the SEC is not as strong as it is supposed to be. Auburn has been dominant, yes, but the SEC has only four ranked teams, only seven bowl teams (and Alabama, while improved, is a bowl team only in the most technical sense of being 6-4).
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.
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