Utah could hardly have done more to justify its sixth-place ranking in the Bowl Championship Series standings last weekend. The Utes walloped Colorado State, 63-31, to extend their record to a school-best 9-0. Then came yesterday, when they watched their ranking drop to seventh.

The difference represents more than one spot in the standings. It could represent roughly $13 million: The difference between the payout for appearing in a major BCS bowl (Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar) and the payout for the 24 other bowls.

The six major conferences created the BCS in 1998 and reserved six of the eight spots in the big-money bowls for their champions. No team from outside those conferences has gotten one of the two at-large spots. Utah would become the first by finishing among the top six, but was leapfrogged by Texas in the latest BCS standings following the Longhorns' 56-35 comeback over Oklahoma State.

The top five remained unchanged, with Southern California and Oklahoma on track for a meeting in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl, this year's title game. Auburn is third, followed by California and Wisconsin. Virginia vaulted from 14th to 11th; Florida State is 12th.

Utah Coach Urban Meyer was critical of the BCS formula in a telephone interview yesterday. "It's official: It's a failure," Meyer said. "I have great confidence in logical thinking, and at some point they're going to have to rectify this. I think you need a system in place where the best teams play; it's not conference affiliation. You do it on the field."

The BCS formula gives one-third weight each to the coaches' poll, writers' poll and the average of six computer rankings.

What hurt Utah was strength of schedule, which is reflected in the computer rankings, according to BCS spokesman Bob Burda. Utah "falling is a combination of their strength of schedule -- they played a Colorado State team last week with a losing record -- and the fact that Texas played a top 25 Oklahoma State," Burda said.

Meyer said his disillusion with the formula peaked after hearing Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, a coach he greatly admires, explain that his team kept scoring in its 41-10 rout of Kansas with an eye toward how BCS voters would react. "Respect for your opponent and all the things that make [college football] different from the pros -- it's over now," said Meyer, adding that he intends to lobby during the offseason for a more equitable system.