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Archive for Tuesday, November 15, 2005

USC, Texas likely to play for title

November 15, 2005

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— Only once before has a team been where USC and Texas are in the Bowl Championship Series standings and not played for a national title.

The Trojans and Longhorns held the top two spots Monday, and are both unbeaten with three weeks left in the regular season. With two more victories each, they'll lock up spots in the Rose Bowl for a matchup that has appeared inevitable for months.

USC is in first with a BCS average of .9829, and Texas is second at .9771.

Miami is in third place with one loss, needing a misstep by the top two to play for a national title.

BCS history says USC vs. Texas on Jan 4. in Pasadena, Calif., is all but a sure thing.

In the seven previous years the BCS has determined college football's champ, 12 undefeated teams have held one of the top two spots in the standings with three weeks to go. Only one of those teams -- UCLA in 1998 -- didn't play in the BCS title game.

Oklahoma was unbeaten and first in the standings heading into its final regular-season game two seasons ago, lost the Big 12 Conference title game to Kansas State and still played for the BCS championship.

That year, USC was left out of the title game and eventually shared a national championship with LSU.

The Trojans and Longhorns are such a solid 1-2 in the BCS standings, the question that can now be asked is: Could USC or Texas lose a game and still reach the Rose Bowl?

BCS analyst Jerry Palm said it was unlikely the Trojans or Longhorns could do what Oklahoma did in 2003 or what Nebraska pulled off in 2001, when the Cornhuskers lost their final regular-season game to Colorado and still played Miami for the BCS title.

"The formula now is so poll-driven that if you lose late in the season you're pretty much dead," he said.

After Oklahoma was No. 3 in the polls but still played LSU in the Sugar Bowl two seasons ago, the BCS revamped its formula to make the polls worth two-thirds of a BCS average and the computer rankings worth only one-third. Also, the strength of schedule component was eliminated because computers and poll voters take strength of schedule into account.

"Oklahoma was the last of those teams in the polls, but the computers and strength of schedule moved them up," Palm said.

The key is the polls, and whether Texas or USC could hold one of the top two spots in the coaches' and Harris polls after a loss.

That'd be a tough task for the Longhorns, who will be big favorites at Texas A&M (5-5) on Nov. 25 and in the Big 12 championship on Dec. 3 against either Colorado, Missouri or Iowa State.

"Worrying about anything but A&M right now is just foolish," said Texas tight end David Thomas, reciting the party line.

USC, which has been No. 1 in the AP, coaches' and Harris polls all season, looks to have the tougher remaining opponents but both games are at home. The Trojans play Fresno State (8-1) on Saturday and UCLA (9-1) on Dec. 3.

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