BCS winners and losers
On Saturday, for the first time in several weeks, a few teams that were heavily involved in the Bowl Championship Series conversation were on the losing end of their games.
And for every loser, there is a winner.
So here's a look at the BCS winners and losers from last week's action, including one team that was on both sides.
The Horned Frogs' impressive 55-12 win over San Diego State, combined with Boise State's less-than-dominating performance at Louisiana Tech, allowed them to move past the Broncos in this week's Harris poll. That puts TCU ahead of Boise in every element of the BCS formula, and a win over No. 16 Utah this Saturday would only strengthen that position. With four weeks left to play, and Boise State lacking anything close to a Top 25 team on its remaining schedule, the automatic BCS bid for the non-AQ conferences seems to be TCU's to lose.
Loser: Boise State
Not only did the Broncos hurt themselves in the polls by not handling Louisiana Tech with ease, but they also took a hit in the computers from Oregon's loss to Stanford. That result diminished the quality of Boise State's best win (19-8 over Oregon on Sept. 3) and probably ended any hope that it could finish ahead of TCU in the computer element of the BCS formula. Unless the Horned Frogs lose a game, Boise will likely finish in the same position it did a year ago: undefeated and hoping for an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl.
Winner: Boise State
Can a team be a loser and a winner on the same day? You'd be amazed what's possible in the world of the BCS.
Thanks to losses by Iowa, Penn State and Notre Dame, the odds of the Broncos' receiving an at-large invitation to the BCS are looking better than ever. Even if TCU gets the automatic non-AQ bid by finishing ahead of BSU in the final standings, Boise could still be an undefeated, top-5 team contending for an at-large spot with a bunch of teams that have either two losses, a late-season loss or both. That's no guarantee for the Broncos, but it's a much better position than they were in last season, when they finished unbeaten and a very respectable ninth in the BCS but ended up in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
Loser: Big Ten Conference
Until Saturday, the Big Ten seemed like a good bet to get its usual two teams into the BCS. But Ohio State and Northwestern may have combined to cost the league about $4.5 million (the payout for a conference getting a second BCS team).
Thanks to the Buckeyes, Penn State's best-case scenario is now to finish 10-2 with a disappointing late-season home loss, which generally doesn't inspire a fan base to spend lots of money on airfare, hotels and bowl tickets over the holidays. Meanwhile, Iowa's loss to Northwestern and pending meeting with Ohio State this Saturday give the Buckeyes a chance to take the air out of another group of fans who were riding high just a few days ago.
BCS bowls love to extend at-large invitations to programs like Penn State and Iowa when they close the season with momentum, but late-season losses have a way of making major bowls look elsewhere.
Winner: Southeastern Conference
For several weeks, there has been speculation about whether a one-loss SEC champion could still finish in the top 2 of the BCS standings, and the biggest obstacle to that seemed to be the possibility of undefeated champs from both the Big 12 and Big Ten. Iowa's loss Saturday removed the Big Ten from that equation. Also, Oregon's loss eliminated the potential for competition from a major-conference, once-beaten team on an 11-game winning streak.
Now, if Florida or Alabama drops a game in the next three weeks before winning the SEC title, it's only a matter of whether that team would come out ahead of an unbeaten Cincinnati, TCU or Boise State. The boost from the SEC championship game victory would likely be enough to close any gap in the computers between the Gators or Tide and the undefeated pack. That would leave the polls as the deciding factor. Nothing is certain, but when it comes down to SEC versus Big East, Mountain West or WAC, we all know which way the voters are likely to lean.
The Hurricanes didn't take a hit in the polls or computers from anything that happened Saturday, but they did miss out on a golden opportunity to gain control of a chance to win the ACC's automatic BCS bid. To capture the Coastal Division, the Canes need to win out and have Georgia Tech lose a conference game, which was close to happening before the Jackets sacked Wake Forest out of field goal range in the final minute of regulation, then won the game in overtime.
The Orange Bowl has always been the BCS game most likely to extend Miami an at-large invitation because of its local fan base, but because the ACC champion is sent there, it would take a special set of circumstances for the bowl to invite the Hurricanes and set up what amounts to a conference game.
In other words, if Miami can't win the ACC, it probably has to hope for an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl or Sugar Bowl. That wouldn't have been unlikely when the Canes were a perennial top-5 team, but this version of "The U" isn't quite as big of a draw in other parts of the country.
Miami's final hope for someone to hand Georgia Tech another conference loss now rests with Duke on Saturday.
Brad Edwards coordinates the college football research for ESPN and is an analyst for "College GameDay" on ESPN Radio each Saturday throughout the season.