When the third Bowl Championship Series rankings of the year are released today, the top two teams -- Southern California and Oklahoma -- will almost certainly stay the same, as they are in both the Associated Press media poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. Auburn likely will be third, its highest ranking of the year.
But the biggest winner in the rankings is likely to be Utah, which likely will rise to heights previously unheard of for a team not from one of the six major conferences. And the Utes will get there because of an extremely costly day for the ACC, which saw its best two teams -- Miami and Florida State -- fall.
ACC coaches will try to say that Miami's loss to North Carolina and Florida State's loss to Maryland -- shockers that sent the Hurricanes tumbling from fourth to 11th and the Seminoles from fifth to 13th in the AP poll -- are the product of a league that is tougher than it ever has been from top to bottom, that the upsets are beneficial for the conference's reputation.
Fine. But at the league offices in Greensboro, N.C., as well as at the schools themselves, there had to be uneasy grumbling. Had they won out, Miami and FSU were poised to give the ACC two BCS bids for the first time in history. That chance has almost certainly passed -- and it will cost the league significant revenue.
The champions of the six major conferences -- the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-10 and SEC -- are guaranteed slots in the BCS, leaving two at-large bids. If Miami had gone as the league champion and FSU as an at-large, the payout would have been nearly $22.3 million. A one-bid league is guaranteed nearly $17.3 million. Because the ACC distributes revenue equally, Maryland and North Carolina may have taken money out of the hands of their own athletic departments by winning.
Utah, which long ago became this year's version of the little team that could, benefits from this mess.
"Everybody was firing scores at me as I walked down the hallway," Utah Coach Urban Meyer told the Salt Lake Tribune after his team beat San Diego State.
For a team from outside the BCS conferences -- Utah plays in the Mountain West -- to be guaranteed a bid in one of the four BCS games, it must be ranked sixth or higher in the final standings. The Utes (8-0) were sixth in last week's BCS rankings, but that was when they were ranked just 10th by the media and ninth by the coaches. In the new polls, they're seventh and eighth, respectively. Since the new BCS formula now puts equal weight on the AP poll, the ESPN/USA Today poll and an average of computer polls, the Utes will almost certainly further solidify their position today.
North Carolina Coach John Bunting, whose team lost to the Utes, 44-16, on Oct. 16, said yesterday Utah "definitely" deserves BCS consideration.
"It's not the ACC out there, but it doesn't mean they're not a very, very fine ballclub," said Bunting, who praised the Utes' offensive line and quarterback Alex Smith. "Defensively, they're maybe not the most talented group when you think about Florida State and Miami, but they play well. They play very physical. They play very hard. And they play with a lot of confidence."
Of the two surprising ACC losses, Florida State's was more costly. Miami still controls its fate in the ACC -- and the BCS.
"We haven't even talked about a national championship," Miami Coach Larry Coker said. "We're going to talk now about beating Clemson."
Bunting, in his fourth year at his alma mater, has been under intense scrutiny since going 5-19 over the previous two years. But the stunning win over then-No. 4 Miami -- the highest-ranked team the Tar Heels have ever beaten -- brings North Carolina to 4-4, 3-2 in the ACC, and, for a week at least, takes the heat off Bunting.
Whether the victory -- coupled with a surprising win over arch-rival North Carolina State -- is enough for Bunting to keep his job is another matter. Bunting's predecessor, Carl Torbush, was fired after going 6-5, and the Tar Heels need two victories in their last three games -- home to Virginia Tech, then at Wake Forest and at Duke -- to reach that total.
Bunting said yesterday he's not thinking about that.
"I've only been thinking about making the football team better," he said. "I have shut out any type of evaluation by the so-called critics. I'm doing what I can to get my job done right."
Don't look now, but California's defense is trying to draw as much attention as the Bears' offense. Late Saturday night, Cal beat Arizona State, 27-0, the Bears' second shutout in a row. Only three teams -- Wisconsin, Auburn and USC -- have allowed fewer points. . . . Tom Lensch of Dana College, an NAIA school in Blair, Neb., set an all-divisions record by attempting 101 passes in Saturday's 60-35 loss to Hastings College. Lensch completed 56 of the throws for a school-record 507 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, breaking the mark of 92 attempts set by Paul Gray of Hanover, Ind., in 1991. Purdue's Drew Brees owns the NCAA record of 82, set against Wisconsin in 1998.