Auburn looking like the odd team out

Originally Published: November 28, 2004
By Brad Edwards | Special to ESPN.com

Once again, there will be very little change near the top of the BCS Standings. USC impressed enough AP voters to gain seven more points, six of which came out of Auburn's total. The coaches, on the other hand, took one point away from both USC and Auburn and gave both of them to Oklahoma. The net result was that the Sooners increased their margins over the Tigers to 10 in the AP poll and seven in the coaches' poll.

BCS Standings
1. USC
2. Oklahoma
3. Auburn
4. California
5. Texas
6. Utah
7. Georgia
8. Boise State
9. Louisville
10. Miami
Although Colorado may be a more challenging opponent than Iowa State would have been in the Big 12 title game, that final-day shift in the Big 12 North will help Oklahoma within the BCS computers. Assuming the top three teams all win on Saturday, the Sooners should finish with an almost perfect score in the computer element, meaning Auburn will need to be elevated by nearly half of the voters for any realistic hope of overtaking Oklahoma in the BCS Standings.

More than likely, a shift of that magnitude could only take place if Auburn dominates Tennessee, while Oklahoma and USC both struggle to win their respective games. The Tigers have a much better chance of reaching No. 2 in both polls than they do of reaching No. 2 in the BCS Standings. And if they do the former without doing the latter, the controversy at this time next week will be even greater.

The Other Battle
Despite losing ground overall between the two polls, Texas should narrow the gap on No. 4 California in the battle for the remaining BCS at-large berth. The Longhorns are likely to improve their standing in a few computers because of the strength of their win over Texas A&M, while a couple of computers might downgrade Cal because of Arizona State's loss (the Sun Devils are the best team Cal has beaten).

After seeing the official computer ratings on Monday, it should be easier to project whether Cal could conceivably drop anymore without a loss. But with or without more computer movement, it would be extremely dangerous for the Bears to give voters any reason to doubt them by playing a close game against Southern Miss. For the moment, Cal is on the right side of a very fine line separating Pasadena and San Diego on their holiday agenda.

Bye Bye Boise
It appears that Georgia will climb over Boise State in this week's BCS Standings, which would essentially end any chance of the Broncos having a top-6 finish. The Virginia Tech-Miami winner is also likely to jump Boise, and Louisville is within range of doing so, too. When next Sunday rolls around, it's possible that Boise State could finish closer to tenth than it does to sixth.

Big East Drama
When Hurricane Ivan forced the Pittsburgh-South Florida game to be postponed from Labor Day to Dec. 4, it figured to be the least significant game played on that date.

We knew there would be a few games with BCS implications on the final day of the regular season, but nobody -- not in their wildest dreams -- imagined Pittsburgh-South Florida would be one of them. But I'm still not sure what's more unbelievable: that the Panthers will travel to Tampa this weekend with the Big East's BCS berth all but wrapped up, or that Syracuse will be crashing the BCS party if Pittsburgh somehow blows it.

The BCS may have been designed only to put two teams into a national championship game, but it offers so much more entertainment than that at this time of year. Not only do the standings have the additional purpose of sometimes selecting BCS at-large teams, but they are also used by most conferences when a tiebreaker is needed to assign the automatic BCS berth. And that brings us to Pittsburgh.

The four-way tie atop the Big East standings is settled by looking at each team's record against the other three tied teams. Pittsburgh and Syracuse were both 2-1 against the others, while West Virginia and Boston College were both 1-2. Therefore, the Mountaineers and Eagles are eliminated from contention, and the tie must now be broken between the Panthers and Orange.

In most conferences, the head-to-head result becomes a factor in a two-way tie, but not in this case. Although Syracuse beat Pittsburgh on the field, the BCS bid goes to the team with the better BCS ranking. And that's why the game at South Florida still matters.

Now being ranked in both polls, Pittsburgh will have better BCS numbers than Syracuse this week, and a win on Saturday would only solidify that position. But if the Panthers lose to South Florida, anything's possible.

Or is it?

Because of changes made to the BCS formula in the offseason, a team can now only get points in the system by being ranked in the Top 25 -- either on the ballot of a poll voter or by at least two of the six computers (high and low computer scores are both thrown out, so a Top-25 ranking by just one computer would be eliminated). If a team is not placed in the Top 25 by any human or computer, then that team has no BCS points.

Neither Pittsburgh nor Syracuse figures to rank in the Top 25 of more than one BCS computer this week, and if the Panthers lose to South Florida, that certainly won't change. So, in the event of a Pittsburgh loss, the battle for BCS supremacy would be decided by the voters in the media and coaches' polls. In other words, would enough voters remove the Panthers from their ballots to give the Orange the advantage?

Syracuse currently has 11 points in the AP poll (Pittsburgh has 304) and one point in the coaches' poll (to Pitt's 193). But with the Orange in the clubhouse at 6-5, their numbers aren't likely to see any significant change. That's the bad news for Syracuse ... and then there's more bad news.

Because only three of the 61 voting coaches are from the Big East, and because only seven of the 65 voting media are in Big East markets, it is unlikely that many of the voters will give much thought to where Pittsburgh should be ranked if it loses on Saturday. Their attention will be focused on ordering the top three to six teams on their respective ballots, which could directly impact who plays for the national title and which team gets the final BCS at-large berth. The Big East race, quite frankly, won't cross most of their minds, and that is clearly in Pittsburgh's favor.

Almost any voter would tell you the hardest part about filling out a ballot is deciding which teams to put in those 21-25 spots. And the easiest way to avoid that headache is just to leave the same teams there from the previous week. At least a few voters would probably keep a 7-4 Pittsburgh on their ballots simply to avoid having to decide which team to replace them with. They have better things to do with their time.

And even if the Panthers did disappear from almost all ballots, there is one other factor still in their favor. Their coach, Walt Harris, is a voter in the coaches' poll, and Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni is not. Simply by voting Pittsburgh 20th on his own ballot, Harris could give his team six points. And since Syracuse currently has only 12 points, that's half the battle right there.

One man's opinion: Only something close to a conspiracy can keep Pittsburgh out of the BCS at this point.

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

• 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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