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The Point After: Now who's No. 2?

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That's not Mr. Blutarsky's grade-point average or Daniel Craig's character in Casino Royale.

It's the precious margin of difference between No. 2Michigan and No. 3 Southern California in this week's Bowl Championship Series standings.

No. 2 at season's end earns the right to play No. 1 Ohio State for the national championship Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz. No. 3 gets a fat check and an all-expenses-paid trip to a plush BCS game. A nice parting gift to be sure, but it doesn't earn you a potential invite to the White House or a gaudy gold-and-diamond encrusted ring emblazoned with the words "National Champions."

If a computer has ever made you feel helpless, you know the Wolverines' state today. Their current BCS lead means nothing. A 42-39 loss to the Buckeyes on Saturday finished them for the regular season at 11-1. They have, more or less, been logged out.

USC, meanwhile, is primed to continue its climb back from what seemed the college football equivalent of the crypt, a 33-31 loss at Oregon State, to play for the national title for the fourth consecutive year (counting the 2003 AP championship).

Unlike BCS math, the formula for the Trojans (9-1, 7-1 Pac-10) is pretty simple. Beat No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum, preferably soundly, then win at UCLA the following week and face Ohio State for all the chips in the desert.

Should USC screw up things by losing to Notre Dame, then it gets more complicated. The Irish, then 11-1, would argue that they deserve a shot at the Buckeyes, conveniently forgetting the fact they were squashed 47-21 at home by Michigan. There's not enough blarney in Killarney to rationalize an ND jump over the Wolverines.

No. 4 Florida and No. 6 Arkansas, who will meet in the SEC championship game, then would squawk that the winner of their conference is worthy of a title shot. With impressive wins over Western Carolina and Central Florida, along with narrow conference victories over Vanderbilt and South Carolina and a defeat to two-loss Auburn, who could deny the Gators? And Arkansas, shoot, they took care of business against Utah State, Southeast Missouri State and Louisiana-Monroe. The Razorbacks only lost to USC by 36.

Long forgotten will be Michigan, whose lone loss came to the top-ranked team in the country, by a field goal, on the road.

The BCS was designed to ensure a meeting between the top two teams in the country for the national championship. Nowhere in the bylaws does it say the teams can't be from the same conference. Nowhere does it say that the teams can't have met in the regular season.

But the flawed system, stubbornly instituted in place of a playoff, again appears poised to give us less than the best.

Unless maybe the computer shows some artificial intelligence.


GOING UP: Boise State. The Broncos (11-0, 7-0 Western Athletic Conference) and Ohio State are now the nation's only unbeatens. Boise State stopped Utah State 49-10 to earn at least a share of the WAC crown. More important, the Broncos moved to No. 11 in the BCS standings, and a top-12 finish assures them of a spot in a BCS bowl. Boise State closes the regular season at Nevada.

GOING DOWN: Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights' perfect season disintegrated in Cincinnati. Quarterback Mike Teel threw four interceptions and the Rutgers defense failed to put pressure on Bearcats QB Nick Davila, making his first start. The result: A 30-11 pasting by Cincinnati. Rutgers (9-1, 4-1) still can win the Big East, but it has to win at West Virginia to do so.

GOING NOWHERE: Alabama. The Crimson Tide lost 22-15 to in-state rival Auburn. It was Alabama's fifth straight loss in the Iron Bowl and coach Mike Shula's fourth consecutive loss to the Tigers. The Tide (6-6, 2-6 SEC) hasn't won a game in the series at home in six tries. Shula's in trouble.


  • Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State – 29 of 41 passing, 316 yards, four touchdowns, one interception in a 42-39 win over Michigan. Smith showed mental and physical toughness in the biggest game of the regular season and left no doubt he is the most outstanding player in the land. He also showed humility, crediting his teammates for the victory and even touting receiver Ted Ginn Jr. as the nation's top player. A class act.
  • Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame – 22 of 30 passing, 218 yards, three touchdowns, one interception in a 41-9 win over Army. Quinn picked apart another subpar opponent and will have the nation's eye this week when the Irish travel to face USC. But not even a huge day by the Notre Dame quarterback against the Trojans could overshadow Smith's body of work for the Buckeyes.
  • Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia – 23 carries, 215 yards rushing, six catches, 130 yards receiving, four touchdowns in a 45-27 win over Pittsburgh. Slaton left plenty of bruises in the “Backyard Brawl,” scoring on runs of 15 and 55 yards and on catches of 11 and 67 yards. He became the first WVU player to have more than 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game. Pro scouts probably noticed.

WELL SAID: ‘'There was nothing special about that defense."
– Michigan running back Mike Hart, on the No. 1 Buckeyes' unit. You think Hart and the Wolverines would like another shot at OSU?

THE NEXT BIG THING: Notre Dame (10-1) at USC (9-1, 7-1 Pac-10), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET (ABC) – A game that is huge annually just got a little bigger. USC has a legitimate chance to rise to No. 2 in the BCS standings and earn a date with Ohio State in the national championship game. To get there, the Trojans have to beat archrival Notre Dame, a team that believes it belongs in the title discussion despite getting dismantled at home by Michigan. Compound the usual vitriol between these teams with the fact that the Irish contend USC won last year's showdown in South Bend because Reggie Bush illegally pushed Matt Leinart over the goal line for the winning score as time expired. Bad blood. The SC song girls. The ND fight song. This is college football at its finest.

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