BCS Picture Comes Into Clear Focus

The pieces of the BCS puzzle seemingly snapped into place over the weekend after two epic meltdowns jumbled the top of the college football world on the final weekend of the regular season.

Then No. 4 Boise State, the team most poised to force its way into the national title game, watched a 24-7 halftime lead evaporate against the No. 19 Nevada Wolf Pack before two missed field goals - one at the end of regulation and one in overtime - finally ended a 24-game winning streak with a three-point loss the day after Thanksgiving, 34-31. The upset dashed all hopes that the upstart Broncos would be the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to crash the sport's biggest party.

Auburn all but punched their tickets to Glendale by storming back from a 24-point deficit against heated rival No. 16 Alabama to remain undefeated with a 28-27 victory. On the strength of that win, the No. 2 Tigers hopped the No. 1 Oregon Ducks to land atop the BCS standings. Should Auburn, led by probable Heisman winner Cam Newton, defeat No. 19 South Carolina in the S.E.C. Championship Game on December 4, they'll next take the field on January 10 at the University of Phoenix Stadium for a chance to hoist the AFCA Trophy.

Much like Auburn, Oregon seems ready to fly to Arizona in January if it beats in-state rival Oregon State this weekend. After a slow start, the Ducks rolled over No. 21 Arizona, 48-29.

One other upset - No. 12 Arkansas' victory over No. 5 LSU - also helped clarify things.

No. 3 TCU, who finished its season with a 66-17 victory over New Mexico, sits ready to snag a spot in the BCS title game should either Auburn or Oregon falter. It currently seems likely to grab a Rose Bowl bid.

But the two teams that were most helped by the random chaos at the top of the pile were the No. 4 Stanford Cardinal and the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers. Stanford, whose only loss came to Oregon and was in danger of missing out on a big-money bowl game despite an 11-1 record, are contractually guaranteed a slot for finishing in the top four of the BCS. That's good news for the Cardinal, who don't have the reputation for having a strong, traveling fan base as do some of the other top programs.

Wisconsin, which finished in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State, edged out the other two schools for the fifth spot and is almost certain to clinch the league's automatic BCS bid and the other slot in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, pending any strange voting in the polls that determine the rankings.

Ohio State, currently No. 6 in the BCS rankings, will likely grab an at-large invitation to the Sugar Bowl against No. 7 Arkansas, if Auburn does indeed win the S.E.C. title. If Auburn loses, there's a good chance it would slide to the Sugar Bowl and the Hogs would be shut out of the BCS. 

The final two BCS games, the Fiesta Bowl and the Orange Bowl, will be determined in large part by games this forthcoming weekend. The winner of the Big XII title game, either No. 9 Oklahoma or No. 13 Nebraska, will claim a Fiesta Bowl spot and likely be rewarded with a matchup with Stanford. The ACC Title game between No. 21 Florida State and No. 15 Virginia Tech will make up one half of the Orange Bowl, with the winner most likely playing the top team from the Big East. That looks to be UConn, which only needs to beat South Florida to celebrate the New Year in the sun in Miami.

Selected Reading: ESPN, Sportsline, New York Times

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