Friday, September 26, 2008

The Race Is On

The Thank-you notes are pouring into Corvallis right about now ... from Athens, Ga., Gainesville, Fla., Norman, Okla., Baton Rouge, La., and maybe a few other places. The 2008 BCS race has just been blown wide open.

Oregon State's unimaginable 27-21 upset victory over top-ranked USC will shake up the BCS standings. The Trojans, ranked No. 1 since the first week of the season, had been seen as unbeatable after a 35-3 dismantling of Ohio State on Sept. 13. The teams left on their schedule were only the "Nine Little Dwarfs" of the Pac-10 and mediocre Notre Dame. USC was going to have clear sailing into the BCS title game in Miami.

Well, well.

USC, too busy making future plans, obviously forgot that those games still needed to be played. But now, with a loss against a Oregon State team that had been annihilated by Penn State, the Trojans will need a lot of help - if they're lucky - to get back into the BCS championship picture. For now, the race will be in the hands of the heavyweights of the SEC and Big 12.

The unofficial BCS standings, after last week, had seven teams from the SEC and Big 12 in the top nine, besides soon-to-be former No.1 USC and No. 7 Wisconsin. These teams will begin beating up on each other to sort out the conference races, with No. 2 Georgia taking on No. 8 Alabama on Saturday.

And the Mountain West Conference is definitely staking its ground in the BCS standings as well. Brigham Young, at No. 10, and No. 11 Utah, are already in range required for non-BCS members to claim a BCS bowl berth. Both 4-0, these bitter rivals will face off on Nov. 22 for perhaps the MWC title and a BCS berth - but both still must also get by No. 23 Texas Christian, which is also 4-0.

But back to USC. The loss to Oregon State, while shocking, was hardly unprecedented. The Trojans' recent history is littered with losses to unranked and/or overmatched Pac-10 foes. Since USC began its dominating run in the Pac-10 in 2003, the Trojans have lost just once to a non-conference opponent - the 2005 BCS title game to Texas - but have dropped a whopping six games against Pac-10 teams.

In 2003, a triple-overtime loss at California ultimately cost USC a shot at the BCS title game. In 2006, the Trojans lost at Oregon State and at UCLA - another costly loss that kept them out of the BCS title game. In 2007, they stumbled against Stanford (a 41-point underdog) at home and lost at Oregon.

So what are USC's chances to get back in the BCS race after another loss to a double-digit underdog? Actually, fairly decent - if recent history is any indication, and assuming the Trojans don't stumble again. USC likely will still stay in the top 10 in next week's BCS standings, and will get a chance to creep back up every time a team loses in the endless internecine warfare in the SEC and Big 12.

Destiny, however, has left the Trojans. They're now at the mercy of their fellow competitors and the whims of the BCS.

For the rest, the party is just getting started.

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