USC, OU will meet in the Orange Bowl

Originally Published: December 4, 2004
By Brad Edwards | Special to ESPN.com

As expected, it's coming down to the wire.

When the polls are released on Sunday, we will learn a lot about the battle for No. 4 between Cal and Texas. If the Longhorns make up more than six points on the Bears between the two polls, then Texas stands to get the final BCS at-large spot, assuming the computer rankings don't change.

But it appears the anticipated battle for the critical No. 2 spot between Oklahoma and Auburn will give way to the closer race for No. 1 between USC and Oklahoma. The dominant Big 12 Championship performance by the Sooners not only ended any chance of them getting jumped by Auburn, but it also opened the door to the possibility that OU could gain further ground on USC in the polls.

If the Sooners can steal several first-place votes from the Trojans and also leap from third to second on some other ballots, it's possible that Oklahoma could -- thanks to a probable perfect score in the computer element -- climb past USC into the top spot in the BCS Standings. But if that happens, even though it would technically give the Fiesta Bowl the right to select its first participant before the Rose Bowl can select the opponent for Michigan, it shouldn't have any effect on the BCS matchups.

After the Orange Bowl snatched Big Ten co-champion Iowa from the Rose Bowl two years ago, a rule was instituted that now gives any bowl that loses its anchor team to the championship game first right of refusal to take another eligible team from that conference. What this means is that if Cal is ranked No. 4, then the Rose would still get the Bears, even if the Fiesta technically has the first choice. Therefore, if Texas is ranked No. 4, the Fiesta (as the natural home of the Big 12 champ) could keep the Rose from getting the Longhorns even if the Rose chooses first by BCS guidelines.

In this year's scenario, however, the Fiesta would likely be happy with either Texas or Utah and would probably allow the Rose to take the Longhorns if that game has a stronger preference for Texas. The Fiesta has been courting the Utes for several weeks and should show consideration to fans from a bordering state who have already purchased many travel packages for the game. The fact that a Texas-Michigan matchup would also be in the best interest of the Rose Bowl might help seal that deal.

The big question now, of course, is whether Texas will jump over Cal in the BCS Standings. Given that nearly 100 voters currently have the Bears ranked higher, and that many of them might have seen Cal play live for the first time all season on Saturday night in a 10-point win over Southern Miss, it seems logical that at least three or four would have been unimpressed enough to change their order and cause a BCS switch.

But regardless of which team finishes fourth, expect that team to be Michigan's opponent in the Rose Bowl. That leaves Utah against Pittsburgh in the Fiesta and Virginia Tech to play Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.

Stay tuned for further updates as the polls are released on Sunday.

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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