Pac-10 Analysis

Breaking Down the Top Two Pac-10 Contenders for the Rose Bowl, and How USC Can Sneak Into the BCS Title Game

Photo: USC linebacker Brian Cushing (10) and the Trojans defense is vying for the distinction of best in the nation, having allowed just 6.7 points per game.
Anna Hiatt/File
USC linebacker Brian Cushing (10) and the Trojans defense is vying for the distinction of best in the nation, having allowed just 6.7 points per game.

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What are the chances USC plays for the National Title?

When USC fell to Oregon State in its third game of the season, the Trojans' hopes of a National Championship berth were all but dashed.

But since then, now-No. 6 USC has made a compelling case to be one of two teams to compete for the title in January, led especially by its stellar defense.

The Trojans' D has been as dominant as any in recent memory.

Allowing just 6.7 points per game, USC has managed to limit opponents to less than a touchdown six times this season, including its 17-3 domination of Cal last weekend in which the Bears gained just 165 total yards on offense.

But as utterly terrifying as the Trojans have been to the majority of the Pac-10, voters and computers have not been as impressed with USC's dismantling of a conference in the middle of a "down year."

After a 56-0 throttling of Washington two weeks ago, the Trojans fell two spots in the BCS polls and climbed just one position after their win over then-No. 21 Cal.

With just three games left-two against teams with losing records-USC is going to need some help if it hopes to make it to Miami.

With three Big XII teams ranked in the top five, it is inevitable that just one can prevail. Providing a team like No. 12 Missouri (or any team from the conference's North division) doesn't pull off the upset in the Big XII title game, it is likely that either No. 2 Texas Tech, No. 3 Texas or No. 5 Oklahoma will lock up one of the BCS's top two spots.

As of now, the SEC looks primed to fill the other vacancy.

Unless No. 1 Alabama falls to Mississippi State or Auburn to close out the season or No. 4 Florida comes up short in any of its final three games, it seems as if the winner between the Crimson Tide and Gators in the conference championship will secure the second BCS title bid.

Ideally, a Big XII champion from the North would be the best-case scenario for USC, as it would likely eliminate the Red Raiders, Longhorns and Sooners from national-title play-though, don't put it past the polls to put a one-loss Big XII team that either lost the conference championship or didn't even appear in it (Texas) above a one-loss USC in the rankings.

If such a scenario happens, the Trojans would likely step into a National Championship against the winner of the Alabama/Florida matchup, unless, of course, they too are upset along the way.

Actually, for USC, it's pretty simple: One way or another, they need all of these teams not only to lose, but to lose to the right people.

At this point, the Trojans are looking at either another trip to the Rose Bowl or-in the advent of a first-place Pac-10 finish for Oregon State-an at-large bid to a different, non-title BCS game.

What needs to happen for Oregon State to reach its first Rose Bowl since 1964?

Right now, the No. 25 Beavers are in a unique position in the Pac-10 as the only team that controls its Rose Bowl destiny.

Cal's loss to USC at the Coliseum on Saturday left Oregon State and the Trojans as the only one-loss teams remaining in the conference. Thanks to their 27-21 shocker at Reser Stadium earlier this season, the Beavers own the tiebreaker with USC.

It's simple: Win out and Oregon State plays for the roses on New Year's Day.

Granted, the Beavers have their toughest three-game stretch to close out the season, hosting the Bears this weekend, traveling to Arizona-where ranked teams go to die-and returning to Corvallis for their regular season finale against Oregon.

And if OSU drops any of these games, it can kiss the BCS goodbye. The odds of a Rose Bowl committee staying true to a Pac-10-Big Ten matchup featuring a Beavers team with four losses-on the outside chance that USC works its way into the BCS title game-is about as likely as Joe Paterno retiring before he dies.

If Oregon State does lose one of its last three games, the Rose Bowl falls into the lap of the Trojans and the rest of the Pac-10 is left to battle for the Holiday Bowl. That is, unless USC jumps into the championship game, and then Pasadena is theoretically again open for a Pac-10 team with two conference losses and three overall (Cal or Oregon, if either one wins out).

If this is confusing, it's supposed to be. Say what you want about the BCS, but it sure does make things interesting around Thanksgiving.

Of course, the Beavers can make all of these questions disappear by squeaking out their last three contests. But if they drop to the Bears on Saturday, then everything opens up again. Stay tuned.


Contact Matt and Jon at [email protected]

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