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USC Gains, Cal Slips in BCS

Times Staff Writer

Could there be a positive aspect to this year’s bowl championship series formula?

Well, perhaps there is one.

It appears the BCS will avoid the repeat embarrassment of having USC at No. 1 in both polls but not qualifying for its championship game.

USC, boosted by its 41-10 win over Notre Dame, extended its lead in Monday’s next-to-last BCS standings and all but secured a spot in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4 -- provided the Trojans defeat cross-town rival UCLA on Saturday.

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USC is first in the BCS with an average of .9834, followed by Oklahoma at .9611 and Auburn at .9342.

USC increased its lead this week over No. 2 Oklahoma from .0147 to .0223.

Beyond that, it gets plenty complicated and potentially controversial.

Oklahoma and Auburn are vying for the No. 2 position, and, as of Monday, it looks better for the Sooners than the Tigers, should the top three teams all win their games next weekend.

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The top two schools in the final BCS standings, to be released Sunday, will advance to the Orange Bowl, site of this year’s BCS title game.

USC closes out regular-season play against UCLA, Oklahoma plays Colorado for the Big 12 championship in Kansas City, Mo., and Auburn and Tennessee meet for the Southeastern Conference title in Atlanta.

After making up some ground, Auburn still trails Oklahoma by .0269 in the BCS formula -- a number that may be insurmountable.

And that would leave the SEC champion out of the national-title mix for the first time in BCS history.

“I really don’t know what there is to explain about it, quite honestly,” Big 12 Commissioner and BCS Coordinator Kevin Weiberg said in a Monday teleconference with reporters. “There really are only two positions in the BCS and in the Orange Bowl, and we’re only going to have two of these teams playing in that game.... That’s the system we have.”

Although the BCS modified its formula to make sure what happened to USC last year didn’t happen again -- the Trojans finished first in the writers’ and coaches’ polls but third in the final BCS standings -- it cannot satisfy a situation in which there are multiple undefeated or one-loss teams.

There’s also a chance Auburn could move past Oklahoma in both human polls and still finish third in the BCS.

BCS officials made it almost mathematically impossible for a unanimous No. 1 team to get shut out of the title game, yet a unanimous No. 2 team may not be guaranteed that protection.

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The race for the BCS’ No. 4 spot also grew more interesting as No. 5 Texas moved to within .0013 of No. 4 California. The fourth-ranked team in the BCS will get an automatic at-large bid to a major bowl.

The Rose Bowl is hoping Cal stays at No. 4 so it can select the Golden Bears to replace Pacific 10 Conference champion USC. If Texas moves into the No. 4 spot, though, the Rose Bowl cannot take Cal because Utah has already clinched the other at-large spot by finishing in the top six of the BCS standings.

Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger said Monday he would be disappointed if his game were unable to take Cal but would not fight for an exception to be made in this case.

“We would have to honor it, just in the spirit of everything,” Dorger said of the selection process. “We would not blow the thing up over that. It would just be too tough on our conference partners.”

Cal (9-1) closes its season Saturday at Southern Mississippi. Texas has concluded its regular season. A convincing victory might secure Cal’s No. 4 standing, but there is no way to say for certain.

Cal actually slightly increased its lead over Texas in the human polls this week but lost most of its BCS edge over the Longhorns, in part by dropping in five of the six BCS computer rankings.

Boise State, No. 7 in last week’s BCS standings, had hoped to move up to No. 6 by parlaying a Texas or Cal loss with the BCS rule that grants an automatic berth to any non-BCS school that finishes in the top six.

That scenario seems remote now after Boise State dropped to No. 8 in this week’s BCS standings, despite a 58-21 weekend rout of Nevada.

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