Forum Spin Doctor
RALPH D. RUSSO
NEW YORK - Southern California bounced back in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
The Trojans were in third place, right behind Ohio State and Michigan, in the standings released Sunday, returning to the spot they held before losing three weeks ago. Southern California had a slight lead over fourth-place Florida, and Notre Dame, unbeaten Rutgers and Arkansas also were close behind.
When first-place Ohio State (11-0) and second-place Michigan (11-0) play Saturday it'll mark the latest in the regular season the top two teams in the BCS standings have met. The winner will virtually clinch a spot in the BCS title game on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.
USC was in the top three in the first two BCS standings with Ohio State and Michigan, and appeared in control of its destiny in the race to the national title game. Then the Trojans were upset at Oregon State, 33-31 on Oct. 28, and tumbled out of the top five.
But last week, four teams that were ahead of USC in the last BCS standings - Louisville, Auburn, Texas and California - lost.
Bolstered by a 35-10 victory over Oregon, the Trojans have rebounded with a BCS average of .8699. They moved up to third in the Harris Interactive poll and fourth in the coaches' poll - each count for a third of the BCS average. The computer rankings that account for the final third have USC fourth.
But Trojans aren't in the clear from the competition. Florida's BCS average is .8495.
The Gators and Trojans are nearly even in the polls and both have some tough games left on the schedule. The Gators play at Florida State in two weeks and have already secured a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game, where Arkansas is the most likely opponent on Dec. 2 in Atlanta. USC plays Cal on Saturday and Notre Dame the week after.
The Fighting Irish (.8193) are now in position to secure an automatic bid to one of the five BCS games, even if they don't reach the title game. Notre Dame needs to finish in the top eight in the final BCS standings for automatic entry. A top-12 finish makes the Irish eligible for selection.
Sixth-place Rutgers (.7866) beat Louisville 28-25 last Thursday to remain undefeated, but the Scarlet Knights are still stuck behind USC, Florida and Notre Dame, all with one loss. The computers love the Knights, though. The computer ratings have Rutgers second behind Michigan and ahead of Ohio State.
Arkansas (.7567) can clinch the SEC West division by beating Mississippi State on Saturday.
Boise State also took a significant step forward in the latest BCS standings. The undefeated Broncos moved up two spots to 12th place. They need to finish in the top 12 to earn automatic entry to the BCS, or a top 16 finish will do as long as they're ahead of one of the six conference champs with automatic bids.
Wake Forest was the highest ranked Atlantic Coast Conference team in 16th place in this week's BCS standings.
The Broncos of the Western Athletic Conference would likely end up in the Fiesta Bowl playing the Big 12 champion if they can become the second team from outside the BCS conferences to play in the big-money bowls. Utah from the Mountain West Conference was the first in 2004.