Boise State still in line for at-large
Another week. Another standstill atop the BCS standings.
That wall separating Florida, Alabama and Texas from other national championship hopefuls is showing no signs of crumbling.
Even so, Saturday brought more clarity to defining the pool of teams most likely to play in this season's Bowl Championship Series. For the second straight week, TCU strengthened its hold on the automatic entry for the non-automatic qualifying conferences, while Boise State improbably had its own at-large chances improve in spite of TCU's success.
One of the major storylines over the past couple of months has been the possibility that two teams from non-AQ conferences could play in the BCS. The suspense will likely last until the selections are announced on Dec. 6, but thanks to Saturday's losses by USC and Miami, the bowls' major-conference alternatives to Boise State are nearing extinction.
Here's the situation.
There are five BCS games and, therefore, spots for 10 teams to participate. Six of those spots automatically go to the champions of the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC (Ohio State has already clinched the berth for the Big Ten).
That leaves four at-large spots. If a champion from the MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, WAC or Conference USA finishes in the BCS top 12, that team is guaranteed one of those at-large spots, unless more than one champion from those conferences is ranked that high. In that case, only the highest ranked of the bunch is guaranteed at-large entry to the BCS.
That's where we are right now.
If No. 4 TCU from the Mountain West and No. 6 Boise State from the WAC both win their remaining games, the Horned Frogs figure to maintain inside position and earn that at-large berth. But three other spots would still be up for grabs, and the Broncos would be eligible for those by being ranked in the top 14 of the final standings.
If it wins out, Boise State would be undefeated and probably ranked no worse than sixth. In most seasons, three big-name, big-fan-base teams from major conferences with one or two losses would be lurking a few places behind in the standings and snatch the remaining at-large spots from Boise's grasp. But this year hasn't played out like most.
Since no conference can have more than two teams in the BCS, the options for the major bowl games needing to make selections could be extremely limited.
The winner of the SEC championship game between Florida and Alabama figures to advance to the national title game, while the loser is almost certain to get an at-large bid to the Allstate Sugar Bowl. There's a slim chance that LSU could finish 10-2 and get that invitation to New Orleans instead of the conference runner-up, but either way it goes, you can expect the SEC to take an at-large bid to the BCS.
With TCU getting one spot, and the SEC getting another, that leaves two available.
The Big Ten won't have nearly as impressive of a second option as the SEC, but considering that Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin all have the potential to finish 10-2, it's hard to imagine one of them not getting an invitation.
The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will have an early pick to replace Big 12 champion Texas (if the Longhorns are playing for the national title), and given the likely pool of available teams, the Fiesta will probably have to lean toward a program that has proven itself to travel well and buy tickets by the thousands. One of those three from the Big Ten could very well be a no-brainer for that pick.
That would leave one at-large spot available.
The loser of the showdown for the Big East title between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would likely be eligible, but it's extremely rare for a team to be selected for a BCS game off a season-ending loss. In addition, neither of those teams has significantly more national appeal than Boise State and probably wouldn't be expected to sell any more tickets than the Broncos.
And in the ACC and Pac-10, aside from the league champions, every team will have at least three losses. That doesn't exclude a team from consideration, as long as it has a top-14 ranking, but it's rare for a three-loss team to be closing the season with momentum and an excited fan base.
The wild card is Oklahoma State. If the Cowboys can win out, they would be the probable choice by the Fiesta, leaving the FedEx Orange Bowl a decision between that second Big Ten team and Boise State.
That's a battle Boise isn't likely to win.
So, the same Oklahoma program the Broncos beat in the BCS three years ago could very well hold the key to BSU having another chance at glory this January. Boise State fans now need to root for the Sooners to knock off Oklahoma State on Nov. 28 in Norman.
Barring a 10-2 finish by OSU, the Broncos' chances of returning to the BCS are looking much better than average.
Brad Edwards coordinates the college football research for ESPN and is an analyst for "College GameDay" on ESPN Radio each Saturday throughout the season.