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In the BCS, It Comes Down to Who You Are

Life isn’t fair and neither is college football, which is why we’re taking this time to explain why West Virginia can’t win the national title with one loss, Tennessee feasibly can and Utah can’t get there even if it pitches an 11-0 shutout.

To paraphrase Sgt. Friday: Just the facts, M’iami.

The race to the championship is about pedigree and positioning. It’s a beauty contest judged by a highly suspect panel that includes bald men with beer guts (sportswriters), grown men with whistles (coaches) and the pocket-pad patrol (computer geeks).

It is only after years of careful study that we can make this assessment:

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Some teams can afford to lose games; others can’t.

West Virginia lost at Virginia Tech on Saturday, dropped from No. 6 to No. 16 in this week’s Associated Press poll, and can be comfortably scratched from Orange Bowl consideration.

It says plenty about the flagging condition of the Big East Conference and West Virginia’s weak moorings that the Mountaineers were not even favored to win at Virginia Tech, an unranked team with two losses.

Now we know why.

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The problem: Unless everyone goes belly up, West Virginia has no chance of getting back in the hunt. The defections of Miami and Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference have diminished the Big East’s wow factor.

West Virginia does not play a ranked opponent the rest of the way, so how do the Mountaineers climb back up the polls?

West Virginia is one of several top 25 schools that, in this whack-out BCS system, simply cannot afford a fender ding. Others in the same BCS bus include No. 11 Utah, No. 20 Louisville and No. 21 Boise State, three coalition schools that must go undefeated to even have a chance at a major bowl bid.

On the flip side, Tennessee lost to Auburn, dropped from No. 10 to 17, yet could climb back into contention because the Volunteers play in the nation’s most ferocious conference, the Southeastern.

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Tennessee visits No. 3 Georgia next week and, if it runs the table and wins the SEC East, could avenge its loss to Auburn in the SEC title game.

In the vernacular of the sport, we call this “make-up” speed.

Here’s the short list of schools that could rebound from a loss:

* USC. The Trojans are high enough in the polls to absorb a hard-fought defeat next week to Cal. Recall that last year USC lost to an unranked Cal team and won a share of the national title.

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* Georgia: A loss to SEC East rival Tennessee next week would make it tough to even win the division, but Georgia could maybe afford a loss at Auburn on Nov. 13 should the Bulldogs avenge that defeat in the SEC title game. See how this works?

* Oklahoma-Texas: The loser of next week’s Red River Shootout, provided the game is close, might not even drop out of the top 10.

* Florida State and Florida.

Both schools have already dropped games but remain in title contention because they lost early to quality opponents -- Florida State in overtime to Miami and Florida on a controversial official’s call to Tennessee.

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* No. 6 Auburn: Just flip-flop the Georgia scenario: Auburn loses a tough game to Georgia on Nov. 13 but avenges the defeat in the SEC title game.

* No. 9 Purdue? All it really did Saturday was saddle an unranked opponent, Notre Dame, with its second loss (question: why do victories against the Irish still resonate?). The No. 9 Boilermakers jumped six spots in the AP poll and now a loss to Wisconsin, Ohio State or Michigan might not be fatal.

Schools that would be pushing it with a loss:

* No. 4 Miami might be able to recover but would have been better off losing to Florida State and then running the table.

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* No. 10 Virginia has the luxury -- if you could call it that -- of having both Florida State and Miami left on the schedule. It might be able to survive the right kind of defeat.

* No. 7 Cal. The Golden Bears had best not lose to any other team other than USC, and it better be close.

* No. 18 Ohio State was No. 7 until Saturday’s ill-advised overtime loss at Northwestern, but don’t give the Buckeyes the 10-count yet. They have games left against Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan.

On the outside looking in (for now): No. 13 Minnesota, No. 14 Michigan, No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 22 Oklahoma State and No. 19 Arizona State.

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Weekend Wrap

Remember a not-so-long-ago time when the power in the Pacific 10 Conference rested in the Pacific Northwest?

After weekend games, the four schools hailing from Washington and Oregon have an aggregate record of 5-12. The six Pac-10 schools outside the Pacific Northwest are 19-5.

OK, this is sort of spooky: Northwestern ended a 33-year losing streak with Saturday’s overtime victory against Ohio State.

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Northwestern scored 33 points. The winning touchdown was scored by Noah Herron, who wears jersey No. 33. He finished the game with 33 carries.

Why Notre Dame’s loss may be your gain. In the fine print of the current BCS contract, it states that should a non-BCS school earn a major bowl bid by finishing No. 6 in the final BCS standings -- which could happen this year if Utah goes 11-0 -- Notre Dame automatically gets the other at-large bid if it finishes with nine victories.

With remaining games at Tennessee and USC, it would appear unlikely that Notre Dame (3-2) can finish the season at 9-2.

How sad: Last week, Stanford played about as hard as a team can play in almost upsetting No. 1 USC.

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The Cardinal reward? Saturday, only 27,500 fans watched Stanford improve to 3-1 with a home win against Washington.


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