Cal, Texas fighting for final BCS spot

The two men charged with making the case for their teams -- Bob Rose at California and John Bianco at Texas -- agree on one thing: An argument to decide which team deserves a BCS bid shouldn't come down to their teams.

But it does, thanks to the surprising success of Utah, and regardless of the merits of the Big East champion. The BCS formula considers the teams virtually indistinguishable from one another. Cal leads Texas by .0013, which makes hairsplitting look like a landslide.

The Golden Bears have one game remaining, at Southern Mississippi on Saturday, and that game is fraught with much more meaning than it would have had on Sept. 16, the date on which it was supposed to be played before the threat of Hurricane Ivan postponed it.

Because of the BCS Standings, the game is more meaningful than it would have been a week ago, or two weeks ago. Texas has made a late charge on Cal, narrowing the margin it trails the Bears in the polls and lengthening the advantage it enjoys in the computer rankings.

How far is it from Berkeley to Hattiesburg? A couple of thousand miles, a couple of decades, a trip across the border from blue state to red, and all with more than $10 million on the line.

"The bottom line," says Rose, the executive associate athletic director at Cal, "is that they lost to the No. 2 team (Oklahoma) in the nation, 12-0, on a neutral field (the Cotton Bowl in Dallas) and we lost by six to the No. 1 team (USC) on their turf, and anybody who saw the game knows we outplayed them until the final minutes."

"We have played better competition," says Bianco, assistant athletics director/media relations at Texas. "We are 4-1 against Top-25 teams at the time we played them. They are 1-1. We have more wins against the Top 25 than anybody in the top six. We have more opponents with winning records than they do, six to four."

"Close wins," Rose continues. "They had two against losing teams, Arkansas (22-20) and Kansas (27-23). We had one, against Oregon (28-27). I really thought that win was going to help us. They were 5-3, 4-1 in the conference (after the loss, the Ducks lost their last two games, to UCLA and Oregon State)."

"The Big 12 doesn't get the respect it deserves because of the North," says Bianco, referring to the division with co-champions who finished 4-4 in conference play. "We played in the toughest conference in the nation, the Big 12 South."

The average rankings of the six computers has Texas fourth and Cal sixth. One ranking places Cal 10th, but the BCS tosses the high and low ranking out before it ranks teams.
On my ballot, which applies to the ESPN.com Power 16 and no farther, I have Cal fourth and Texas sixth. The late-season near-miss at Kansas affected my opinion of the Horns, and I put a lot of truck in their respective performances against the teams that beat them.

Each team has one play it would like to take back. At Cal, it would be the Aaron Rodgers pass that wideout Geoff McArthur couldn't handle in the end zone on the final possession against USC. At Texas, it may turn out to be Vince Young's ill-advised attempt to reach the ball across the goal line on Friday against Texas A&M.

If the Longhorns score, you can make the case that they would have beaten the Aggies 33-6. Instead, Texas A&M got a 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown, and the final score was 26-13. That argument is too simplistic, and no matter who ultimately gets a BCS bid and who doesn't, dozens of reasons will be cited in the coming days.

In the meantime, there isn't a Texas fan alive who won't raise his index finger and his pinky, and with all possible seriousness say, "Hook 'em, Golden Eagles."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.