Another long autumn's journey through the BCS minefield is nearly finished, and once again the much-maligned hybrid of polls and computer formulas is on the verge of providing the public with the national championship game that it most wants to see. This year that game is No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Oklahoma against No. 2 USC in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4. Three things must still happen.
? Oklahoma (12-0) must beat 10-3 Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 6 in Kansas City, Mo. Probability: Very high, bordering on a lock. Bob Stoops's Sooners are not only the most talented and efficient team in the country, but they are also virtually lapse-proof. When they smell blood, they finish the job. Side note: Even if Oklahoma loses, some BCS-ologists predict that the Sooners will fall to no lower than No. 2 in the BCS rankings, ensuring that they would still go to New Orleans.
?USC (10-1) must beat 7-4 Oregon State at the Los Angeles Coliseum that same Saturday. Probability: High. The Trojans had their stumble at Cal on the last weekend in September. They learned from that slip. Don't count on another one.
?LSU (10-1) must not muddle the mix. The Tigers are third in the BCS rankings, with Friday's regular-season finale against 8-3 Arkansas and the Dec. 6 SEC championship game (against either Florida, Georgia or Tennessee) remaining. Because they finish with two strong opponents, they could catch USC by making up ground in the BCS's schedule-strength and quality-win categories. Whether LSU can make that jump depends on the results of more than 20 games this weekend involving past and future opponents of the two teams. Probability: High. USC remains in the driver's seat. But the computers sit in judgment for two more weekends. This is the BCS, remember. Strange things can still happen.