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Sugar Bowl bid is USC's to lose

It didn't happen until the end of the day, but Survival Saturday finally provided the shakeup that seemed so possible from all its hype.

The loss to Virginia Tech left Miami just one victory shy of becoming only the second team in major-college history to win 40 straight regular-season games. But more important to the present, it bumped the Hurricanes from the driver's seat to the back seat of the national title drive.

Oklahoma, following its dominance of intrastate rival Oklahoma State, is now the only major unbeaten team in college football. Miami becomes one of six squads from BCS conferences with just a single loss.

But after all the excitement we've had in the first two months of the season, the potential exists for an anticlimactic final stretch. No games remain between the seven major teams with one or fewer losses, which means it's possible there could be no movement at the top of the polls between now and the final BCS Standings on Dec. 7.

Schedule strength and computer rankings will continue to fluctuate slightly, but without a change in poll position, it is doubtful there will be any significant alteration to the pecking order for the Nokia Sugar Bowl.

USC Trojans (8-1)
For Southern California, which has taken over the No. 2 spot in the polls and the BCS Standings, the new directive is both simple and regionally appropriate: Style matters. Because there are no more showdown games among contenders, the Trojans would have to play sloppily against one of their final three opponents to fumble away their all-important poll advantage. Three impressive wins would almost guarantee USC a trip to New Orleans (and cause even more heartache for the Rose Bowl).

As long as the Trojans maintain their No. 2 poll ranking, the only team with a really good chance to leap them in the BCS Standings is Miami (because of its quality-win bonus for beating Florida State). But for the Hurricanes to do that, they would need to reach No. 3 in the polls, and that probably won't happen without losses by Virginia Tech, LSU and Ohio State. If all of those teams lose, Miami would then have to jump over FSU to No. 3 in the polls because of its head-to-head win over the Seminoles.

It's all possible, but Southern Cal's position is still quite comfortable for now.

Average Poll Rank: 2
Average Computer Rank: 3.5
Current Schedule Strength Rank: 13

Remaining Opponents
Nov. 15 at Arizona (1-8)
Nov. 22 vs. UCLA (6-3)
Dec. 6 vs. Oregon State (6-3)

FSU Seminoles (8-1)
Florida State still has a challenging remaining schedule, and that should bump its schedule strength into the top 20 by season's end. But without any real chance for quality-win points, FSU's only shot to jump over USC is to have an average computer ranking that is almost a point better than what the Trojans end up with. This could possibly happen if SC's nonconference opponents struggle down the stretch, while Florida State's are highly successful. But that is less likely since the teams share a nonconference foe in Notre Dame.

The Seminoles are in a tough spot because they need Miami to win out, but they also need Virginia to beat Virginia Tech, and the Hokies are the best buffer between FSU and Miami in the polls. With that in mind, the best-case scenario for Florida State (outside of USC losing) is probably to have both Miami and LSU win out. Even that, however, wouldn't guarantee FSU a spot in New Orleans.

Average Poll Rank: 3
Average Computer Rank: 4.0
Current Schedule Strength Rank: 38

Remaining Opponents
Nov. 8 at Clemson (5-4)
Nov. 15 vs. NC State (7-3)
Nov. 29 at Florida (6-3)

Miami Hurricanes (7-1)
As mentioned above, Miami isn't out of the race if it can get back to No. 3 in the polls, but it also needs Florida State to win out. If the Seminoles lose, the quality-win bonus for beating FSU would significantly decrease, and that would definitely hurt Miami's chances of making a BCS leap over the No. 2 team in the polls.

Average Poll Rank: 6.5
Average Computer Rank: 2.83
Current Schedule Strength Rank: 18

Remaining Opponents
Nov. 8 vs. Tennessee (6-2)
Nov. 15 vs. Syracuse (4-3)
Nov. 22 vs. Rutgers (4-4)
Nov. 29 at Pittsburgh (6-2)

Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1)
The defending champs are the most overlooked team in this entire setup, probably because very few people really believe they can finish with just one loss. But if the Buckeyes squeak out three more wins over strong opponents, would it give them a realistic chance to defend their crown? Probably not. OSU could finish 11-1 against one of the more difficult schedules in the country, but they won't have a win over a team ranked in the final BCS top 10. That means no quality-win bonus, which means little possibility of jumping a team ranked higher in the polls. Plain and simple, Ohio State needs a few more teams to lose.

Average Poll Rank: 6.5
Average Computer Rank: 3.17
Current Schedule Strength Rank: 20

Remaining Opponents
Nov. 8 vs. Michigan State (7-2)
Nov. 15 vs. Purdue (7-2)
Nov. 22 at Michigan (8-2)

Virginia Tech Hokies (7-1)
Several once-beaten teams have already fallen since Virginia Tech took its first loss, but the Hokies need a few more to bite the dust. USC, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State and, yes, maybe even Miami, are still standing in Tech's path. A weak nonconference schedule is really hurting the Hokies in the computers, and there's not much hope to change that. Virginia Tech can reach the Bowl Championship Series as the Big East champ by simply winning out, which is more than Miami has going for it at the moment. But if Miami somehow gets the overall No. 2 spot ahead of the Hokies, more controversy awaits the BCS.

Average Poll Rank: 5
Average Computer Rank: 6.17
Current Schedule Strength Rank: 25

Remaining Opponents
Nov. 8 at Pittsburgh (6-2)
Nov. 15 at Temple (1-7)
Nov. 22 vs. Boston College (5-4)
Nov. 29 at Virginia (5-4)

LSU Tigers (8-1)
Except for a hiccup against Florida, the LSU Tigers have looked as strong as any team in the country outside of Oklahoma this season. But even though LSU has been as impressive as USC on the scoreboard, the Tigers have done it against a much weaker schedule than the Trojans. That's why LSU has almost no chance of getting past USC or Florida State in the BCS if those teams don't lose.

Even a victory in the SEC title game wouldn't give the Tigers enough of a schedule boost to help them overcome that poll deficit. And if USC and FSU both lose, it's still conceivable that the BCS computers could vault Miami or Ohio State ahead of LSU in the Standings. Suffice to say, the Tigers need a lot of help to get that short bowl trip to New Orleans. Their position would be considerably better, however, if the BCS had not eliminated margin of victory from the computers a couple of years ago.

Average Poll Rank: 4
Average Computer Rank: 7.5
Current Schedule Strength Rank: 63

Remaining Opponents
Nov. 15 at Alabama (3-6)
Nov. 22 at Ole Miss (7-2)
Nov. 29 vs. Arkansas (5-3)
Dec. 6 possible SEC Championship

There are so many possible combinations of results among the current top seven teams that it's difficult to say much definitively about what happens if someone loses. We'll just have to wait and see if anyone else does. For now, we know that Oklahoma just needs to keep winning, and USC will likely play the Sooners for all the marbles if the Trojans can keep winning with style.

BCS Standings

1. Oklahoma
2. Southern California
3. Florida State
4. Miami (FL)
5. Ohio State
6. Virginia Tech
7. LSU
8. Michigan
9. TCU
10. Georgia

Brad Edwards is a researcher for ESPN. His Road to the BCS column appears every Sunday.