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Nothing yet assured in BCS bowl picture

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 2002

You can almost hear the howling from the West Coast, the cries for USC. The Trojans are undoubtedly playing some of the best football in the country. Quarterback Carson Palmer should get Heisman Trophy consideration. The Men of Troy would have no problem with Ohio State and might even give Miami a game.

Alas, college football doesn't work that way.

Southern Cal opened plenty of eyes with a 44-13 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday night, but those two early-season losses are proving troublesome. With no national playoff, the Trojans have no shot at playing for the championship in the Fiesta Bowl. In fact, they are not even assured a Bowl Championship Series bid.

With a week to go in the regular season, there is plenty to be decided, and not all of it is clear-cut.

First, the simple stuff:

If No. 1 Miami defeats Virginia Tech on Saturday in Miami, the Hurricanes will play second-ranked Ohio State on Jan. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl, where the two undefeated teams will play for the national championship.

If Georgia, ranked fourth in the Associated Press poll, defeats Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference title game on Saturday in Atlanta, the Bulldogs will advance to the Sugar Bowl and face Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State.

The winner of the Oklahoma-Colorado Big 12 title game Saturday in Dallas is assured another BCS slot, likely in the Orange Bowl and possibly against No. 11 Notre Dame.

But so much more is undecided, courtesy of USC, which gave BCS bowls three at-large teams to consider for two spots.

If Miami and Georgia win on Saturday, either No. 3 Iowa (11-1), Notre Dame (10-2) or fifth-ranked USC (10-2) will be left out of the BCS mix, and it likely will come down to next week's final BCS standings. A team that finishes among the top four in the final standings must get an at-large bid -- as long as another at-large team is not ahead of it.

And after their impressive win over the Irish, the Trojans are poised to pass Iowa and move into the top four behind Miami, Ohio State and Georgia. Even though the Hawkeyes shared the Big Ten title with Ohio State, they are not assured a spot in the Rose Bowl, which could, for example, choose Notre Dame.

Rest assured, bowl politics will play a part in anything that is not mandated. For example, should it come down to USC and Notre Dame for a spot in the Orange Bowl, the Miami-based game is not going to select the Trojans. It's all about selling seats, and USC is not expected to send a lot of fans to South Florida.

USC still could go to the Rose Bowl as the Pac-10 champion if Washington State loses to UCLA on Saturday. If the Cougars win, they are the Pac-10 champs and will play in the Rose Bowl. That would leave USC hoping to be among the top four.

None of this takes into consideration any upsets on Saturday.

What happens if Miami loses to Virginia Tech? The Hurricanes still are the Big East champions and assured a BCS berth, meaning they would go to the Orange Bowl. But if Georgia loses in the SEC title game, the Hurricanes could still be among the top two and go to the Fiesta Bowl.

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