Um, about USC being a sure thing ...

Originally Published: November 16, 2003
By Brad Edwards | Special to ESPN.com

As if we needed any more evidence.

The bizarre nature of the BCS Standings was further exposed on Monday, when Ohio State took over the No. 2 overall spot despite being ranked No. 4 in both polls of human voters.

Vast Conspiracy
Ivan Maisel
You thought the BCS treated the Pac-10 poorly two years ago when No. 2 Oregon got aced out of the Rose Bowl by No. 3 Nebraska? Listen to this scenario, which isn't that far-fetched.

Ohio State beats Michigan.

LSU loses to Ole Miss or Arkansas or the SEC East champion.

Oklahoma loses to Texas Tech or at the Big 12 Championship Game.

USC beats UCLA and Oregon State.

Ohio State rises to No. 2 in the polls and No. 1 in the BCS ranking.

Oklahoma drops no farther than No. 2 in the BCS.

And USC, No. 1 in both polls, is No. 3 in the BCS ranking and doesn't play in the Sugar Bowl.

Implausible? Sure. But the math works. If that happened, the national championship spotlight would shift to the Rose Bowl, three days before Ohio State and Oklahoma play. The Rose Bowl would not get to host an Ohio State-USC game for the title. But given that the nearby Trojans would benefit, the Tournament of Roses would probably get over it.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Every team ranked in the BCS top 10 was victorious Saturday, so there wasn't expected to be much shakeup in this week's standings. But as we've observed time and time again, these rankings don't operate like the traditional polls. Teams can (and often do) fall after a win. This week, it was USC and TCU who fell.

Southern California's lead on Ohio State was almost a point and a half last week, but that evaporated because of the strength of OSU's weekend opponent (Purdue) compared with the weakness of USC's opponent (Arizona). The Buckeyes gained enough ground in the computer and schedule-strength elements of the BCS formula to more than offset the two-point advantage USC holds over them in average poll ranking.

The biggest surprise came from The New York Times' computer, which unexpectedly dropped the once-beaten Trojans from third to fifth. Texas (9-2) is No. 3 in those ratings, and Florida (8-3) is No. 4.

Fortunately for USC, it doesn't have any more games against teams as bad as Arizona. Unfortunately for the Trojans, Ohio State's final opponent (Michigan) is even stronger than Purdue. If the Buckeyes win that game, they will likely remain at No. 2 in the following week's BCS Standings.

The Battle For No. 2
For several weeks now, I've been saying that USC is vulnerable to getting jumped by a team ranked third in both polls. But now it's possible they will be overtaken by Ohio State even if the Buckeyes stay fourth in both polls.

OSU currently has an advantage of 0.96 on USC in schedule-strength points, which might not be too far from what the margin will be at the end of the season. I expect it would be about 0.6 at the very least.

Many factors still need to sort themselves out, but this much is certain: A Michigan win on Saturday will greatly reduce the stress levels of fans in Southern California.

The Buckeyes also have a lead of 1.33 over the Trojans in computer average this week, which combined with schedule-strength numbers, enables them to offset the two-point deficit to USC in the polls.

But if the poll deficit stays at two spots, Ohio State might need to increase its advantage in the computers to hold off USC at the end of the season. The Trojans' quality-win bonus for beating Washington State could improve from one-tenth to as much as four-tenths of a point if the Cougars finish 10-2, and right now, that would be enough to push USC back to No. 2 in the BCS.

That, however, might be the best-case scenario for the Trojans. What if Washington beats WSU and leaves USC with no bonus points? And perhaps an even more frightening question for Southern California: What if Ohio State gains an even greater edge in the computers?

That was a possibility I hadn't given much thought until seeing LSU move ahead of USC into third place in this week's BCS version of Kenneth Massey's ratings. (In fairness to Massey, it should be pointed out that his original version, which uses margin of victory, has USC at No. 2 in the nation.) If teams with two and three losses can jump USC in The New York Times, why couldn't LSU do it in a few computers?

Looking at the remaining opponents, it might not be so unlikely. USC plays UCLA and Oregon State, which have a combined record of 13-8 (.619 win pct.). LSU has games against 8-2 Ole Miss and 7-3 Arkansas, and winning those would give them an SEC Championship Game appearance, likely versus a 10-2 opponent from the East division. That adds up to a record of 25-7 for remaining opposition, which is a .781 winning percentage.

LSU will definitely gain ground on USC in the computers if both teams win out, and if the Tigers leap the Trojans in a few more ratings systems, it could spell doom for USC. Many factors still need to sort themselves out, but this much is certain: A Michigan win on Saturday will greatly reduce the stress levels of fans in Southern California.

Frog Watching
TCU also might have received a bad omen from computer movement Sunday. After beating 5-4 Cincinnati, the Horned Frogs fell five spots (from 3 to 8) in the BCS version of Jeff Sagarin's ratings and also dropped two spots (from 6 to 8) in Massey's ratings. Don't expect those to be the only systems to drop TCU this week, which means it's not likely the team will stay in the BCS top six.

A win over 7-3 Southern Miss (Thursday on ESPN) would improve the Frogs' standing, but this recent fallout from a win over a 5-4 opponent can't help but make you wonder what will happen when Texas Christian plays 0-11 SMU in its season finale. The teams are bitter rivals, and the Mustangs would love nothing more than to ruin what could be the most exciting moment in the history of TCU athletics (a BCS berth). The ironic part is that they wouldn't do this by beating the Frogs on the field; SMU would instead defeat TCU in the computers by being such a weak opponent.

Unless several more top teams lose a game by Dec. 6, the chances of a top-six BCS finish by TCU aren't looking good.

BCS Standings Projections
1. Oklahoma
2. Ohio State
3. Southern California
4. LSU
5. Texas
6. Georgia
7. Tennessee
8. TCU
9. Michigan
10. Washington State

Hail To The Victors
Take heart, USC fans. Michigan isn't merely playing the role of BCS spoiler against your nemesis Buckeyes this Saturday.

The Wolverines can clinch an outright Big Ten championship with a win and also keep alive their own slim hopes of playing for the national title. That's a lot to play for.

A win over Ohio State should ultimately make Michigan the highest ranked of teams with two losses, meaning it would be able to reach No. 2 in the BCS if USC and LSU both were toppled in the final few weeks. And because the Trojans and Tigers will not play their final games until Dec. 6, the Wolverines would have a little longer to dream if they can knock off OSU.

The only twice-beaten teams that appear to have a chance at edging out Michigan for the No. 2 spot are Georgia and Tennessee. In order for that to happen, one of these teams would need to reach the SEC title game and beat an 11-1 LSU.

The difficult part for Tennessee will be winning the SEC East tiebreaker. More than likely, Georgia will have to lose to either Kentucky or Georgia Tech for the Volunteers to come out on top.

Projecting The BCS Bowls
Even though Oklahoma looks like a lock, the only team that is officially in the BCS mix right now is Florida State. The Seminoles captured the ACC crown Saturday by beating NC State and will play in one of the major bowls.

This will be the fifth BCS appearance for the 'Noles in six opportunities -- the most of any team in the nation. But who and where will they play?

Let's start at the top. This season's BCS championship game is the Nokia Sugar Bowl, which will match the teams that finish No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS Standings. For the sake of this projection, let's make the bold assumption that favored teams will win out, leaving Oklahoma and USC to square off for the national title.

Michigan would be the Big Ten champion and head to the Rose Bowl. The FedEx Orange Bowl would then take its preference between the ACC and Big East champions. If Miami wins the Big East, it's almost a lock that the 'Canes would be the Orange's choice. If they don't, the decision is tough to predict.

If the No. 1 team in the BCS is Oklahoma, then the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl would get the next choice. That game usually hosts the Big 12 champion, so it would have to replace Oklahoma. A once-beaten LSU would be the most logical option there, but Texas would also be considered for that spot as an at-large pick. The Longhorns would become even more likely if someone other than LSU wins the SEC.

Because the Rose Bowl would have lost the No. 2 team in the BCS (Pac-10 champion USC), that game would get the next selection. There are a few possibilities here, and the choice will have a great impact on how the other bowls fill out.

Tradition suggests that the Rose would like a Big Ten vs. Pac-10 matchup, which would make Washington State a candidate for an at-large spot if the Cougars are ranked in the BCS top 12. The Rose Bowl is also interested, however, in selling out its stadium and maximizing the national prestige of the game. These factors would indicate that Texas or the SEC champion would also be a viable option.

If the Rose is comfortable that the Big Ten champ will bring enough fans and Washington State is 10-2, then the Cougars seem to be the most likely pick. Just don't write it in stone yet.

After this stage, there will be one spot open in both the Fiesta and Orange. Those bowls, along with BCS representatives, would negotiate the final selections based on what would offer the greatest possible good to each game.

For the sake of this projection once again, let's assume the Orange gets Miami, the Fiesta takes LSU, and the Rose chooses Washington State. In this scenario, Florida State would still be on the table along with the remaining at-large pick. If the Orange Bowl has no interest in an FSU-Miami rematch, then the Seminoles would likely be shipped to Tempe, and the Orange would use the at-large to take either Texas or Ohio State. If the Orange would welcome the Miami-FSU rematch as a game of both local and national interest, then Texas would likely be LSU's opponent in the Fiesta, and Ohio State would be left out of the BCS.

As you can see, there are many factors at work -- some political, and some that are strictly contingent upon the results of the next few weekends. More answers will come Saturday, so check back here next week for another look at how things are falling into place.

Brad Edwards is a researcher for ESPN. His Road to the BCS column appears every Sunday. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

• Analyzes college football and the CFB Playoff as part of ESPN's Stats & Information Group
• Analyst for both College GameDay on ESPN Radio and the ESPN College Football app

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