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October 16, 2007

National title picture still far from clear

LEXINGTON, Ky. This usually is the time of the season when debates start to swirl about who might get left out of the national championship game if three teams finish unbeaten.

Not this season.

In this year of the upset, the more-likely scenario for the BCS is that no championship contender will finish unbeaten.

Ohio State, USF, Boston College, Arizona State, Kansas and Hawaii are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the nation. No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 USF and No. 3 Boston College are the only unbeatens ranked in the top 10 of the latest Associated Press poll.

The last time only three unbeaten teams were in the top-10 this late in the season was 2003, which ought to give BCS officials cause for alarm. No teams finished unbeaten that year, creating a postseason mess that concluded with USC and LSU sharing the national championship.

LSU fans still grumble that the Tigers had to share the title with USC that year despite beating Oklahoma in the BCS championship game. Now the Tigers find themselves rooting for a similar situation to arise this season.

"We're still in it," LSU linebacker Darry Beckwith said after the formerly top-ranked Tigers lost 43-37 to Kentucky in triple overtime Saturday. "A one-loss team can still make it to the national championship. Everyone might have one loss, so we are going to keep competing and hopefully we get there."

LSU stands to benefit the most from that type of scenario. The Tigers were ranked fourth the highest of the one-loss teams in the initial BCS poll, which came out Sunday. LSU still has tough upcoming matchups with Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas before a potential SEC Championship Game appearance.

That difficult late-season schedule creates the possibility that a one-loss LSU squad might leapfrog an undefeated team such as Boston College in the final BCS standings.

"Absolutely it's possible, but it would be up to the voters to make that happen," said Jerry Palm, the publisher of collegebcs.com. "Voters would have to decide collectively that LSU belongs in that title game. That's the only chaos the BCS has managed to avoid, a one-loss team making it ahead of an undefeated team."

LSU's best hope is that Ohio State, USF and Boston College each lose at least once during the regular season. That's not exactly a far-fetched possibility.

Ohio State has won its first seven games by an average margin of 29 points, but the Buckeyes still must face Penn State and Michigan on the road and Illinois and Wisconsin at home. The Buckeyes' 21-20 squeaker over the Nittany Lions in 2003 marks the only time they've won in their past five trips to Penn State.

USF faces a tough test Thursday night at Rutgers. Louisville's dreams of a perfect season and an appearance in the national title game last year ended with a Thursday night loss at Rutgers.

The six I-A teams Boston College has beaten have a combined record of 16-23. The Eagles' final five regular-season foes have a combined mark of 22-10.

"It's always nice to be in the top position, but we know it doesn't mean anything now in Week Eight," Ohio State offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. "We'll see at the end of November where things stand."

BCS Top 10
Ohio State 7-0.942
South Florida6-0.920
Boston College7-0.891
South Carolina6-1.743
Arizona State7-0.683
West Virginia5-1.662
By then, the standings could look quite a bit different.

Arizona State is only eighth in the current BCS standings, but the Sun Devils would move up quite a bit if they stay unbeaten by knocking off California, Oregon, UCLA and USC in their next four games. Of course, that demanding late-season schedule also increases the likelihood that Arizona State won't stay undefeated.

Unbeaten Kansas faces a different situation. The unbeaten Jayhawks are 13th in the BCS standings and have faced only two teams (Central Michigan and Kansas State) with winning records. Kansas won't play Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech unless it meets one of those teams in the Big 12 Championship Game.

Kansas' light schedule could allow the Jayhawks to stay unbeaten, but it also could keep them out of the title game even if they are perfect.

One team further down the BCS standings that warrants attention is No. 14 USC. No team ever has played in the title game after being ranked lower than 12th in the initial BCS poll, but USC's rugged remaining schedule gives the Trojans plenty of opportunities to improve their rating. The Trojans travel to Oregon (10th in the BCS standings), California (12th) and Arizona State later this season.

"If they win at Cal, at Oregon, at Arizona State, I could see them moving up in a hurry," Palm said. "They'd be a strong computer team with one loss at the end of the year. I don't think you can rule out USC until they rule themselves out."

The list of one-loss teams ahead of USC in the BCS standings: LSU, No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 6 South Carolina, No. 7 Kentucky, No. 9 West Virginia, Oregon, No. 11 Virginia Tech and California.

All those one-loss teams lost the right to control their destiny, but they still have reason for optimism. They just need to win the rest of their games and hope everything they can't control falls into place just right.

That plan worked for Florida last season, so why can't it work for a one-loss team this season?

"You never know what will happen," Beckwith said.

That's particularly true this season.

The top 10 in the BCS standings, and their remaining schedules.

1.OHIO STATE (7-0): Saturday vs. Michigan State, Oct. 27 at Penn State, Nov. 3 vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 10 vs. Illinois, Nov. 17 at Michigan.
2. USF (6-0): Thursday at Rutgers, Oct. 27 at Connecticut, Nov. 3 vs. Cincinnati, Nov. 10 at Syracuse, Nov. 17 vs. Louisville, Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh.
3. BOSTON COLLEGE (7-0): Oct. 25 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 3 vs. Florida State, Nov. 10 at Maryland, Nov. 17 at Clemson, Nov. 24 vs. Miami.
4. LSU (6-1): Saturday vs. Auburn, Nov. 3 at Alabama, Nov. 10 vs. Louisiana Tech, Nov. 17 at Ole Miss, Nov. 23 vs. Arkansas.
5. OKLAHOMA (6-1): Saturday at Iowa State, Nov. 3 vs. Texas A&M, Nov. 10 vs. Baylor, Nov. 17 at Texas Tech, Nov. 24 vs. Oklahoma State.
6. SOUTH CAROLINA (6-1): Saturday vs. Vanderbilt, Oct. 27 at Tennessee, Nov. 3 at Arkansas, Nov. 10 vs. Florida, Nov. 24 vs. Clemson.
7. KENTUCKY (6-1): Saturday vs. Florida, Oct. 27 vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 10 at Vanderbilt, Nov. 17 at Georgia, Nov. 24 vs. Tennessee.
8. ARIZONA STATE (7-0): Oct. 27 vs. California, Nov. 3 at Oregon, Nov. 10 at UCLA, Nov. 22 vs. USC, Dec. 1 vs. Arizona.
9. WEST VIRGINIA (5-1): Saturday vs. Mississippi State, Oct. 27 at Rutgers, Nov. 8 vs. Louisville, Nov. 17 at Cincinnati, Nov. 24 vs. Connecticut, Dec. 1 vs. Pittsburgh.
10. OREGON (5-1): Oct. 20 at Washington, Oct. 27 vs. USC, Nov. 3 vs. Arizona State, Nov. 15 at Arizona, Nov. 24 at UCLA, Dec. 1 vs. Oregon State.

Steve Megargee is a college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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