22 October 2008

USC Needs A Lot of Help

(From BCS Guru)

(First thing first: Where was the Guru on this monumental first weekend of the BCS standings? Well, it was the weekend of Mrs. Guru's birthday so the Guru clan went on a camping trip roughing it in the woods. No internet, you see. But the Guru is back now and promises to go nowhere until after Dec. 9.)

At first glance, USC is No. 5 in the first official BCS standings of the season, slipping just one slot from last week, safely tucked behind Oklahoma among one-loss teams, ready to pounce as the unbeatens get peeled off, one by one.

But take a closer look, then you'll know that if the Trojans want to return to their first BCS title game since 2005, they'll need help - a lot of help - besides winning all of their remaining games.

The Guru had projected the Trojans to check in at No. 6, behind even Oklahoma State. USC got enough of a cushion in the polls to hold off the Cowboys by a mere .0024 points. But in the grand scheme of things, Oklahoma State is not going to be USC's problem.

If the Trojans are looking in the rearview mirror, they'll notice that Florida, Georgia, and even, gulp, Ohio State have more horsepower under their hoods, and there's not a thing they can do about it.

And this is assuming that among Texas, Alabama and Penn State, at least two of them will drop a game before the end of the season, thus allowing a one-loss team to get into the BCS title game.

So just what are we looking at, exactly?

To be sure, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will not be able to keep up. Both teams will face No. 1 Texas in the next couple of weeks. If they aren't beaten by the suddenly invincible Longhorns, they'll lose another game or two - or three - down the road. These two Big 12 South also-rans will not be a factor.

But Georgia and Florida will be. And with those two, the Gators have a better chance to get to the BCS championship game even though the Bulldogs are now three spots ahead of them in the standings. Those two will settle things on the field in Jacksonville on Nov. 1, but the Gators will benefit more from a win at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

All of Florida's remaining opponents - except I-AA Citadel - are credible teams, including the resurgent Florida State Seminoles. A winning streak against these teams - capped with an SEC title game win over Alabama - will rocket the Gators up the polls and leapfrog the Trojans. In other words, if both Florida and USC go undefeated from this point and on, Florida will finish ahead of USC in the final BCS standings.

What's more disconcerting for the Trojans is that they may be jumped by Ohio State, a team they walloped at the Coliseum, 35-3, on Sept. 13. With teams such as Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and the loser of the Florida-Georgia game guaranteed to drop in the standings, the Buckeyes will steadily move up. A victory over No. 3 Penn State this weekend will provide the fuel for Ohio State to make a significant jump.

If Ohio State is barely behind USC in the polls - one or two slots, say - then the Buckeyes eventually will jump the Trojans in the BCS standings because of their superior computer ratings. Had Ohio State been ranked sixth or seventh in the polls this week - in Texas Tech's slots, for instance - it would be ahead of USC purely on the strength of the computer numbers.

The poor computer ratings - to say nothing of their loss to Oregon State - may prove to be USC's undoing. In a year when the Pac-10 is exceedingly weak, the Trojans will be severely punished by their conference slate. They will not play another team within a sniffing distance of the top 25 the rest of the year and their Saturday's opponent - Arizona - happens to be the highest ranked team they'll face, at No. 34. All other remaining opponents range from damaged goods (Cal), middling (UCLA, Notre Dame, Stanford) to downright atrocious (Washington).

The irony is that the team that's beaten USC might be the best conference team it would face all year. Two of the Beavers' three losses are against undefeated teams (Penn State and Utah) and they really should've beaten the Utes. And it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Oregon State may win the Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl bid by winning their remaining five games.

In fact, it's improbable, but not impossible, for Oregon State to clinch a trip to Pasadena while "relegating" the Trojans to the BCS title game. But even for that scenario to occur, USC will need help - a lot of help.

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