Who's No. 2?
Traditional polls, Boise State-Hawaii game help decide Sugar Bowl
Posted: Sunday December 7, 2003 11:00AM; Updated: Sunday December 7, 2003 3:53PM
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For the first time in the BCS' six-year existence, the regular season ended Saturday with the national title matchup still a complete mystery.
With previously undefeated Oklahoma's stunning 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game, there are now three one-loss teams vying for two spots in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl. The other two contenders, USC (11-1) and LSU (12-1), each won Saturday, with the Trojans routing Oregon State 52-28 and the Tigers beating Georgia 34-13 in the SEC championship game.
The coaches' poll, released Sunday morning, has USC at No. 1 followed by LSU and Oklahoma. The AP poll will be released early Sunday afternoon. The official BCS pairings will be announced on ABC at 5:30 p.m. EST.
Despite the loss, the Sooners (12-1) are still considered a near-lock to make the Sugar Bowl, provided they don't fall below third in the AP and Coaches' polls (Michigan, a two-loss team, is currently fourth). That's because Oklahoma held a commanding lead in all seven of the computer ratings used by the BCS going into Saturday and because their strength of schedule ranking remains the highest of the three one-loss teams.
However, where exactly the Sooners land will go a long way toward determining whether they face USC or LSU in New Orleans.
"It depends on what the voters do with Oklahoma," said CollegeBCS.com's Jerry Palm. "If Oklahoma does end up between them [at No. 2], then LSU is done."
Under that scenario, LSU would be saddled with a two-point deficit in the polls that they probably could not make up in other areas of the BCS formula.
However, if USC and LSU remain just one spot apart in the traditional polls, chances look very good for an Oklahoma-LSU Sugar Bowl, and as a result, a Michigan-USC Rose Bowl. That's because Notre Dame's loss to Syracuse on Saturday assured that LSU, which was 17 spots behind USC in strength of schedule last week, will actually finish higher than the Trojans.
With Boise State beating Hawaii late Saturday night, the Tigers will hold an eight-spot lead (.32) in strength of schedule and would need to lead the Trojans in six of the seven BCS computer ratings, something Palm considers to be "very likely."
"It would have been better for USC if Oklahoma had put up more of a fight," said Palm, alluding to the increased possibility the Sooners will fall to third instead of second.
All of which means it's entirely conceivable at this point that USC will finish the season No. 1 in the AP and coaches' polls but No. 3 in the BCS. Under that scenario, Southern Cal still could gain a share of the national title by beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl and remaining No. 1 in the AP poll. (The coaches' poll will automatically crown the winner of the Sugar Bowl as its national champion.)