- Brad Edwards, ESPN Insider
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In just a little over 50 hours after the initial release of the BCS Standings, the face of the national championship race changed.
Virginia Tech's loss to West Virginia on Wednesday provided some unexpected drama in what was supposed to be a fairly uneventful week in college football. That upset altered the face of the BCS in two major ways.
First of all, the Hokies' title hopes are now hanging by a thread. While it's impossible to say Tech has been eliminated from the hunt, it is safe to say it essentially has stepped to the back of the line of once-beaten teams. The combination of a weak schedule and a loss to a sub-.500 opponent cannot be totally overcome by possible wins over Miami, Pittsburgh and Virginia. After Purdue's loss Saturday, VT still needs at least five -- and maybe as many as 10 -- more teams to fall so it can come through the back door to a top-two BCS finish.
The other major impact of Virginia Tech's defeat is that it instantly brightened the hopes of several teams with their own smudge in the loss column. Instead of having to await the result of the upcoming Miami-VT game and then root against the winner throughout the rest of the season, the group of once-beaten contenders can now simply root for the Hokies on Saturday.
Because Miami and Oklahoma are the only remaining major unbeaten teams, any stumble by the Hurricanes or Sooners will set off celebrations across the country and allow someone with a loss to step into the BCS promised land. For this reason, the Miami-Virginia Tech game now carries even more significance toward the national title chase than it would have if both teams had been undefeated.
Although the Hokies' loss takes some of the glamour off their Big East showdown with Miami, this will still be the biggest November day college football has seen since 1997. Nov. 8 of that year -- billed as Judgment Day -- gave us two matchups of top-5 teams in the polls and two other surprises, as No. 6 fell to an unranked opponent and No. 1 almost did the same.
This Saturday should be just as exciting, and hopefully, the marquee games will be more competitive than they were six years ago. Ten of the top 16 teams in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll play each other, which means plenty of opportunities for contenders to make or break their seasons.
No. 15 Oklahoma State at No. 1 Oklahoma
OSU's Les Miles is the only coach to have beaten Bob Stoops twice, and he's the only one to have beaten Stoops' troops in Norman. But to improve his record to 3-0 in this series, Miles will have to add a victory over the nation's No. 1 team to that already impressive resume. The Cowboys pulled their past upsets over OU as unranked teams, but there will be no sneaking up on the Sooners this time.
No. 2 Miami at No. 11 Virginia Tech
Tech has won three of its last four home games in this series, and the loss came against Miami's 2001 national championship team in a game that nearly went to overtime. Each team has looked both very impressive and very average at times this season, but it would be surprising if either doesn't bring its "A" game Saturday. The Hokies must win to keep any championship goals in reach.
No. 6 Washington State at No. 3 USC
The Trojans can't undo it, but they can try to do it right this time. Last year, USC missed a crucial PAT and lost in overtime at Washington State -- a game that ultimately sent the Cougars to the Rose Bowl instead of the Trojans. Southern California has BCS hopes again this season, but taking a second conference loss on Saturday would leave them more likely to go bowling in San Diego than in Pasadena or New Orleans.
No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 21 Florida
For UGA, a chance at a dream season usually hinges upon beating Florida. And 12 of the last 13 years, the Gators have managed to crush Bulldog dreams. UF dashed Georgia's national championship hopes last season even though the Dawgs still won the SEC. This weekend, Ron Zook's resurgent Gators can play spoiler again and, in the process, throw themselves into a three-way tie for the SEC East lead.
No. 9 Nebraska at No. 16 Texas
Not many people are thinking about the Cornhuskers as a national title contender, but a win in Austin on Saturday would open a lot of minds to that possibility. And as long as Nebraska has just one loss and an opportunity to play an unbeaten Oklahoma for the Big 12 title, it's not out of the question. The Huskers, however, have lost five of their last six conference road games and need this for confidence as much as a championship springboard.
No. 12 Michigan at No. 10 Michigan State
Like Nebraska, the Spartans are still lurking in the shadows of the national championship picture. And also like the Huskers, it's amazing that they are even ranked in the Top 10 after the disastrous season they had in 2002. MSU enters November with a perfect conference record for the first time since 1966, but the Wolverines can take over the driver's seat for the Big Ten's automatic BCS bid if they win this one.
Not So Fast. . .
This Saturday's schedule of games certainly should separate the pretenders from the contenders, but if it also happens to separate either Oklahoma or Miami from its perfect record, don't assume that team's national title hopes would be lost, as well.
The Sooners have a strong schedule and the benefit of a conference championship game to make a final statement to poll voters. The 'Canes have a remaining schedule that includes Tennessee and Pittsburgh and would help them rise back up in the computers.
It's always better to lose early in the season than late, but OU and UM are far enough ahead of everyone else in the BCS right now that neither should fall too far with a competitive loss. The once-beaten teams would love to see them go down, but there's no guarantee that it would give someone else a spot in the Nokia Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4.
It used to be that Florida was contending for national titles, but now the Gators are just ruining everyone else's hopes. After almost tripping Miami at the Orange Bowl in September, UF has since given LSU its first loss and now prepares to take its best shot at spoiling Georgia's season. And regardless of the result this weekend, Florida will have one more chance to upset the order of the BCS on Nov. 29 if Florida State doesn't lose again before visiting The Swamp.
If you're a contender from the Pac-10 or Big Ten, the Gators should now become your second-favorite team.
Playing Leap Frog
The good news for TCU is that it is still undefeated. The bad news is that even with a ranking of No. 14 in the initial BCS Standings, the Horned Frogs are facing an uphill battle just to finish in the top 12, which would make them eligible to be selected for a BCS at-large spot. A top-6 finish (automatic qualification) is totally out of the question.
TCU's schedule is currently among the weaker in the nation, and even though the Frogs have games coming up against Louisville (7-1), Cincinnati (4-3) and Southern Miss (4-3), they will take a big step backward after playing winless SMU in the season finale.
This means that TCU might be able to hold its ground in the computers for a few more weeks but likely will get jumped by a few teams near the end of the year. This is nothing new for the Horned Frogs. In the past three weeks alone, they have been jumped by five teams in the coaches poll, two of which already had a pair of losses.
As was the case last week, there is very little difference between FSU, USC, Georgia and Ohio State in the BCS Standings. The point totals of these teams are close enough that the order in which they fall is irrelevant. What is most significant this week is that USC has captured the No. 3 spot in both polls, which could be important down the line if the Trojans keep winning impressively.
1. Oklahoma: Sooners hope Saturday is "Bedlam" in name only.
2. Miami: Can Payton and Co. run like West Virginia did?
3. Florida State: All remaining opponents have at least 3 losses.
4. USC: First step is control of the Pac-10.
5. Georgia: Schedule is an asset ... only if they can win out.
6. Ohio State: Win and pull for Florida to do some damage.
7. LSU: Needs rematch with a one-loss Georgia for SEC title.
8. Washington State: Win Saturday and Rose Bowl should be worst case.
9. Nebraska: Survive Austin before having visions of Sugar.
10. Michigan State: Michigan, unfortunately, is only Step 1.
Brad Edwards is a researcher for ESPN. His Road to the BCS column appears every Sunday.
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