USC, Oklahoma in driver's seat

Originally Published: October 10, 2004
By Brad Edwards | Special to ESPN.com

After the dust finally settled on Showdown Saturday, the guys flashing the badges were still riding high in their saddles.

Worthy contenders took aim at the authority of USC and Oklahoma, but none could unseat the Trojans or Sooners from their positions atop the college football world.

BCS Projection
1. USC
2. Oklahoma
3. Miami
4. Auburn
5. Florida State
6. Purdue
7. Virginia
8. Utah
9. Tennessee
10. Georgia
11. Texas
12. California

Others of interest:
17. Boise State
18. Louisville
On paper, it appears that both teams just cleared the biggest hurdle on their respective schedules. More challenges remain, of course, but USC and Oklahoma seem to be on a collision course for the FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 4.

Their wins along with Georgia's loss on Saturday gave the Trojans and Sooners a stranglehold on the first- and second-place votes in both polls, which now account for two-thirds of the BCS formula. In past seasons, they might have had to worry about schedule strength, quality wins or some other quirk in the formula that could give another team a chance to jump them from behind. But not this year.

As long as they stay undefeated without too many close calls along the way, neither USC nor Oklahoma should have any concern about the BCS Standings. Another team might ultimately have better computer ratings (the other one-third of the formula), but unless that team can significantly close the gap in voting points between itself and the Trojans or Sooners, it won't make any difference. The polls are that significant now.

Over the past several years, I always said the most disastrous scenario that could take place for the BCS would be to have a team ranked No. 1 in both polls finish worse than No. 2 in the overall standings and be left out of the title game. It happened last season, of course, and now that I've seen the fallout, I believe I was wrong in my estimation.

As was the case with every previous BCS controversy, the powers-that-be just changed the formula to make certain that the injustice couldn't take place again. So now I see the light. The most disastrous scenario that could take place for the BCS is actually to have more than two major undefeated teams, especially if at least three are steeped in tradition.

That injustice couldn't be fixed by a change of formula. Only a change of format would do the trick.

USC and Oklahoma are ranked 1 and 2 because they were there in the preseason poll and neither has lost or played poorly enough to be replaced. What if both finish up strong, along with Miami? What if Auburn runs the table (including the SEC championship game) in what many believe is the strongest conference in college football this season? What if Virginia beats Florida State and Miami and finishes 11-0? What if Purdue or Wisconsin goes undefeated?

For any of those teams to complete a perfect regular season and not be allowed to play for the national title -- not even a share of it -- would be even more unfair than what happened to USC a year ago. And the BCS formula can't keep it from happening. Only a playoff can.

No season under the BCS umbrella has ended with more than two major undefeated teams, and the odds of it happening are slim. But I'm hoping it happens sometime soon, just to see what takes place as a result. It would be really rough on whatever team got left out, but ultimately it might be the best thing that could ever happen for college football.

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.

• Analyzes college football and the BCS 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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