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Longhorns hold down top spot in first BCS standings

NEW YORK -- The grid is set for the race to the BCS National Championship Game.

Texas holds the pole position and Alabama is second. Penn State joins the Longhorns and Crimson Tide in the front row, but the Nittany Lions already might have too much ground to gain.

The Longhorns were way ahead of the field when the season's first Bowl Championship Series standings were released Sunday -- as expected. Texas appears to be in position to play for the national title on Jan. 8 in Miami if it can stay unbeaten. The top two teams in the final BCS standings play for the championship.

Texas is an overwhelming No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll and the Harris Poll, and rated first in each of the six computer rankings, giving the Longhorns a BCS grade of .998 out of 1.000.

Alabama is second across the board, behind Texas in the polls and the computers. The Crimson Tide have a BCS average of .949, which bodes well for Alabama. The Tide will be tough to catch from behind if they can stay unbeaten.

That's bad news for third-place Penn State. With an .867 average, the unbeaten Nittany Lions will have to keep winning and hope Texas or Alabama slips.

In fact, fourth-place Oklahoma (.832) might be able to catch Penn State, even if coach Joe Paterno's team wins out.

Southern California (.775) is fifth, Oklahoma State (.773) sixth and Georgia (.720) is seventh.

Texas Tech (.713), Ohio State (.703) and Florida (.699) round out the top 10.

Texas, coming off a 56-31 victory against Missouri, plays Oklahoma State and Texas Tech the next two weeks, Kansas down the road, and a Big 12 championship game if it can get there. Against that schedule, even a loss would not eliminate the Longhorns from championship contention.

"I'm really proud of how they handled any distractions the No. 1 ranking and all of the added attention could have presented last week," Texas coach Mack Brown said Sunday. "But, we have a long way to go and a lot of room to improve.

"Watching film today on Oklahoma State will get your mind off of the ratings in a hurry and definitely will grab our players' attention as we start to prepare for another great challenge in Big 12 play."

Similarly, the strength of the Southeastern Conference should benefit Alabama -- as long as the Tide can survive. It was a struggle for Alabama on Saturday, as the Tide held on for a 24-20 victory against Mississippi.

Penn State plays Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday in a game that could decide the Big Ten. But after that none of the Nittany Lions' remaining opponents are ranked.

As for the potential BCS busters, unbeaten Utah (.634) from the Mountain West Conference is 11th and unbeaten Boise State (.587) from the Western Athletic Conference is 12th.

Either would need to finish in the top 12 to earn an automatic BCS bid, but only one team from the five leagues (MWC, WAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC) without automatic qualification can get in that way. So Utah and Boise State have to keep an eye on each other, too.

Of particular note with the release of the initial BCS standings:

• Only twice in 10 years of the BCS has the initial No. 1 team gone on to win the national championship -- Florida State in 1999 and USC in 2004.

• The past five initial No. 1 teams, however, all reached the BCS National Championship Game, with only USC winning the title (2004). The runners-up: Ohio State, last season and in 2006; USC in 2005; and Oklahoma in '03.

• In each of the past nine seasons, at least one of the top two teams in the initial BCS standings has gone on to play in the championship game.

• Nineteen of the 20 teams to reach the BCS National Championship Game were ranked in the top six of the initial BCS standings. LSU won the 2003 title after being 12th in the first standings.

• In the first 10 years of the BCS, at least one of the top three teams in the initial standings had also been ranked in the top three of The Associated Press preseason poll. But none of this year's initial top three teams was even ranked in the top 10 of that poll -- Texas was 11th, Alabama was 24th and Penn State was 22nd.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN college football researcher Brad Edwards was used in this report.