Oklahoma is in a familiar place -- first in the initial Bowl Championship Series standings. The Sooners' task this year is to stay there.
Oklahoma was No. 1 in the first BCS standings for the third straight year, matching the spot it has held in the two major polls all season.
"It's a positive indicator that we've played awfully well for seven games," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Monday. "We've earned that position and have played well through this part of the season. Now, it's our job to continue it, finish it and keep it."
At least they got the basics right There's no reason to denigrate the Bowl Championship Series standings. They do such a good job of undermining their own credibility.
Take a look at the range of results among the computer rankings. No. 10 Northern Illinois, the nouveau riche, is ranked sixth by two computers and 27th by another. No. 11 Nebraska, the old guard, is ranked 10th by three computers and 33rd by another. In other words, your team can be misjudged whether you wear the colors of an established BCS power or a non-BCS member trying to crash the party.
Cynicism aside, the BCS has gotten the basics right, which, given its history, is cause for celebration. Oklahoma, Miami and Virginia Tech, the three unbeatens from the top conferences, rank 1-2-3. Florida State and Ohio State ranking fifth and sixth, respectively, ahead of USC, indicates the power of losing to a better team (Florida State) or the power of beginning the season highly ranked (Ohio State).
Georgia's lead over Florida State for fourth is narrow, but the Bulldogs have two ranked opponents remaining (Florida and Auburn), while the Seminoles have only one (Florida).
Northern Illinois, already 10th, could make it uncomfortable for the BCS. However, the Huskies' schedule ranking will take a hit when they play Buffalo (0-8) and Eastern Michigan (1-7). NIU will have to continue to climb in the polls to compensate.
-- Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com
The BCS standings are used to determine which teams play in a national title game. The teams that finish 1-2 in the final BCS standings on Dec. 7 will play for the title at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 4.
The formula uses the AP media and coaches' polls, seven computer rankings, strength of schedule, losses and a bonus-point system for quality wins.
The Sooners (7-0) have a 1.0 for poll average, 1.33 for computer-rank average, 0.44 for strength of schedule and zero for losses for a 2.77 total. Oklahoma is ranked first in four of computers with Miami the top team in the other three.
The Hurricanes (7-0) have 4.10 points and Virginia Tech (6-0) has 10.23.
"We can't get caught up in anything other than winning our games," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "If we do that, everything will work out as it should."
The two other undefeated teams in Division I-A are not at the top of the standings. Northern Illinois (7-0) of the Mid-American conference is 10th, while TCU (7-0) of Conference USA is 14th. Both teams have poor strength of schedule rankings, with the Huskies 100th and the Horned Frogs 96th out of 117 Division I-A teams.
In the first five years of the BCS, the teams that were in the top two spots in the first standings never stayed there for the final standings. However, the 10 teams that have played in the championship game were all in the top 6 in the first BCS standings.
After fast starts the past two seasons, Oklahoma lost twice in the second half to fall short of the national title game. Three years ago, Oklahoma was second in the first standings and went on to win the national championship in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.
"There seems to be a special quality about these guys, a genuine humility to them and a hunger to them in wanting to play well," Stoops said. "I just felt in the last few years we were a little bit short in some areas."
The BCS was started five years ago to create a national title game without playoffs. Champions of six conferences -- the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC -- qualify for a BCS game, and two at-large teams are selected to fill out the field. Teams outside those conferences automatically qualify for a BCS game with nine wins and a top six finish in the final standings.
Northern Illinois and TCU will need to be in the top 12 to be eligible for one of the lucrative bowl games. There has been pressure from schools outside the big six conferences to improve access to the BCS bowls -- Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Rose.
"We've got so much football to play that we don't even really waste time thinking of that right now," Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said.
Tulane president Scott Cowen, whose school was left out in 1998 despite going undefeated, has started a coalition to lobby the major conferences and has even threatened an antitrust suit.
"The BCS system is a restrictive and exclusive system," Cowen said. "The combination of automatic qualifiers and the ranking system make it virtually impossible for non-BCS schools to get ranked.
"Northern Illinois is a living example right in front of us. It's a vivid reminder for us -- there's a real school here disadvantaged because of the system."
The BCS standings will be released each week for the remainder of the season.
The seven computer rankings are operated by Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey, The New York Times, Jeff Sagarin's USA Today, and Peter Wolfe.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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