Auburn gained a measure of respect in the eyes of Associated Press pollsters for its 24-6 rout of Georgia on Saturday, but it wasn't enough to vault the Tigers ahead of Oklahoma for second in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The top four spots remained unchanged in standings unveiled yesterday, with Southern California hanging on to No. 1, followed by Oklahoma, Auburn and California.
Auburn tied Oklahoma for second in the AP poll but was ranked third by both the nation's coaches and the computers, which was enough to keep the Tigers at third overall.
The top two teams in the final BCS standings, to be issued Dec. 5, will meet for the national title in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4. With three weeks remaining, it's a three-way battle for the privilege, with USC, Oklahoma and Auburn each 10-0.
Should all three remain unbeaten, the current standings likely would remain intact, with No. 1 Southern Cal facing No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, according to BCS analyst Jerry Palm. Auburn's schedule isn't as tough as Oklahoma's, so the computers would treat the Sooners more favorably if the teams finish with identical records, Palm said.
"They're going to need help from the voters," Palm said of Auburn. "They're not going to get enough help from the computers."
USC earned a BCS score of .9808. Oklahoma is .0187 of a point behind; Auburn is .0271 behind the Sooners.
The close three-way race at the top may portend another controversy for BCS architects, who revised the formula for ranking teams after it failed to produce a consensus national champion last year. The new formula gives more weight to the human polls, with the views of coaches and media each weighted one third. The final third represents the computer rankings.
The prospect of an untidy ending doesn't daunt BCS Chairman Kevin Weiberg, who addressed it during a conference call on Sunday.
"This system does not eliminate every potential season-ending controversy," Weiberg said. "It isn't a playoff structure. Obviously, if you have three unbeaten teams, four unbeaten teams or five unbeaten teams there is the potential for disagreement in the public domain about whether the right two are playing in the final game."
While Southern Cal strengthened its grasp on the No. 1 spot, Utah inched back into the top six -- which is where the Utes must finish to clinch an at-large berth in a BCS bowl. In doing so, they would become the first from a mid-major conference to play in a big-money bowl game -- most likely the Fiesta Bowl.
Wisconsin's tumble from fifth to 13th gave the Utes the crucial opening, and Palm suspects that they will stay at sixth if they finish unbeaten. "They're about as close to being a lock as you can be if they go out and beat BYU," Palm said.