The BCS gives USC an uphill climb

With the release of the first Bowl Championship Series standings, every contender in college football is plotting the complex path it would take to get to the championship game.

And the world keeps spinning.

The October release is like clockwork; a whole bunch of numbers that mean nothing to the average college football fan is thrown out to justify a new hierarchy that leaves everyone bewildered. Now, the fiercest team loyalists have to have a nationwide consciousness of the game in order to understand their team’s place in the bigger picture.

There are too many games left to be played for any fans to start worrying about their chances at this point in the season. But USC fans had to be a little bit mystified when the Trojans debuted at No. 7 in the standings, despite being ranked No. 4 in both the AP and Coaches polls.

And while there’s the expected question of what it would take to get the Trojans to the Jan. 8 game in the Rose Bowl instead of the boring Jan. 1 version that they’re accustomed to, there’s another, more interesting scenario at hand. USC’s best chance to make it to the title game would also provoke more rumblings of an uprising from schools that felt jilted by the system.

As it stands, most prognosticators are calling for Texas to play the winner of the Southeastern Conference in the title game, a clean outcome that those affiliated with the BCS would love. After so many years of bad publicity, a year without controversy would help take some of the heat off the embattled system.

Of course, you don’t really need a system to pair together two undefeated teams at the end of the year, but the powers that be would probably like to remain behind the curtain on this one.

But considering that there hasn’t been a title clash between undefeated teams since USC met Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl, there’s always room for a little doubt. With the way the first half of the season has played out, the uncertainty would mean ugliness for college football.

Each of the three teams ahead of USC have been surprises in the early part of the season; few would have predicted Boise State, Cincinnati and Iowa to be this high in the polls at this point in the year. But all have potential pitfalls that could hurt them in the rankings.

The talk surrounding Boise State is if “the little team that could” might actually make a case for the national championship game. But with an uninspiring schedule remaining, the Broncos could get jumped repeatedly in the standings by teams who have more to offer on a weekly basis. In fact, there’s talk of TCU taking Boise State’s bid if the Horned Frogs win out, because they play against more impressive teams and in a more highly regarded conference.

Despite having the label of a major conference team, Cincinnati has been treated like a cute sideshow by most of the college football world. The Bearcats face similar challenges in perception as Boise State, though they get more respect for playing in the Big East Conference.

But even with an undefeated season Cincinnati would be impervious to being leapfrogged by one-loss teams like USC.

Iowa provides the most interesting obstacle, because the Big Ten Conference still has enough prestige behind it, despite being battered in the national spotlight repeatedly over the last three years. An unbeaten Hawkeyes team would be an attractive option if the Texas-SEC arrangement falls through. Scoreboard watchers will likely have their eyes on a Nov. 14 date with Ohio State, and USC fans will likely be asking for a favor from the team whose heart they’ve broken the last two years.

If the Texas-SEC marriage doesn’t pan out, the BCS will be forced to make an unpopular decision and pick among a horde of flawed teams. And though the system is here to stay, plenty of schools would at least temporarily make their voices heard in the campaign against the BCS.

Of course, none of this matters if USC doesn’t win out. With only Pac-10 games remaining, any slip up would cost the Trojans not only a shot at the national title game but also the conference crown.

Given that uncertainty, it’s probably best for USC fans to tune out the numbers talk for a few weeks and check back in if the Trojans are still undefeated after a Halloween game against Oregon. The final month will be more telling than any predictions available now.

And, if the system is still unintelligible to you, don’t feel bad. Number-crunchers such as Brad Edwards and Jerry Palm make careers out of interpreting the system.

Maybe USC should start offering “BCS analysis” as a major — it’s going to be needed almost every year.

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