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This may be the year BCS gets it right

Boise State's Chuck Hayes (55) celebrates with the fans after defeating Toldeo during the NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 in Boise, Idaho. BSU won 57-14. Boise State's Chuck Hayes (55) celebrates with the fans after defeating Toldeo during the NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 in Boise, Idaho. BSU won 57-14. (AP Photo/Matt Cilley)
By Tim Dahlberg
AP Sports Columnist / October 13, 2010

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It's midway through the season and all seems surprisingly well in college football. The defending national champion has gone down, there's a consensus No. 1 in the polls, and Boise State is getting at least a modicum of respect not possible in recent years.

Nothing about the first BCS standings that come out Sunday night is likely to change that. This might be one of the rare years where the most reviled ranking system in sports actually gets it right.

Keep winning, and Ohio State can book a ticket for Arizona in January. Same goes for Oregon, everyone's darling team of the moment.

Lose one, though, and there's probably no denying Boise State any longer.

That's really about it. With Alabama's loss to South Carolina, the paths are increasingly clear to the Jan. 10 national title game.

No controversy. No complaints.

But probably not nearly as much fun.

BCS supporters have said all along that the controversies raised by the imperfect rating system merely add to the lure of college football. Their argument is that anything that gets people talking about who is No. 1 is better for the sport than an actual playoff system to decide the true national champion.

They said it with a straight face when The AP's No. 1, Southern Cal, was denied a spot in the national championship game after the 2003 season. They said it again three years later when undefeated Boise State was left out along with a very good Michigan team while Florida coach Urban Meyer talked his team into the title game.

They might be right.

Sure, Boise State could complain that it shouldn't be passed in the polls by Oregon when it has done nothing but win games impressively this year. And supporters of No. 4 TCU will certainly scream if Nebraska moves past their school with a win over Texas on Saturday.

But if Boise State coach Chris Petersen adamantly refuses to get drawn into the debate, who are we to begin arguing the case of the BCS wannabes?

"I'll start out by saying I did not vote us No. 1, and I appreciate your guys' interest in all that stuff, but that's the last time I'm talking about that until December," Petersen said Monday.

An analysis this week by ESPN college football researcher Brad Edwards actually put Boise State at No. 1 on top of the BCS standings, while Ohio State was fifth, mostly because the Buckeyes have played an incredibly soft schedule so far. That likely will change even before the BCS rankings are out if Ohio State can get past No. 18 Wisconsin in a showdown crucial to its hopes of playing in the national title game once again.

Boise State, meanwhile, is traveling to California to play a pathetic San Jose State team whose only claim to fame is that it plays a far tougher schedule than the Broncos. Had Boise already played Alabama, Wisconsin, Utah and even Nevada this year -- as San Jose State has -- then we'd have a much clearer idea of just how good the Broncs really are.

The knock on Boise State isn't all its fault. The school is contractually obligated to take the field against the patsies who populate the Western Athletic Conference. But while the Broncos don't play anyone of significance except No. 19 Nevada, the teams ahead of them in the rankings do. And, as their schedules get progressively tougher, Ohio State and Oregon will cement their spots at the top of the BCS standings as long as they keep winning.

There are, however, still ways to mess this up. This is the BCS, after all, and something is bound to happen that doesn't make sense.

Nebraska and Oklahoma aren't out of this yet. They have reputations and they'll keep getting more votes as they keep winning, which is key in a system that relies two-thirds on polls and one-third on computer rankings.

Auburn and LSU are still undefeated, too, and any unbeaten SEC team will have a powerful grip on voters.

But Boise State and TCU have done enough in the last few years to gain reputations of their own. So much so that, if either Ohio State or Oregon stumble, there's a good chance one of the national championship contestants could be decided the day after Thanksgiving in Reno, of all places, when Boise State meets Nevada.

Right now, though, the pollsters seem to have it just about right. Halfway through the season, there's not a lot to argue about.

Leave an undefeated Boise State out of a national title game, though, and the BCS may find itself mired in its biggest controversy ever.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org