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National College football

A tricky game of leapfrog

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / December 3, 2010

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The question of the week is: What if No. 1 Auburn or No. 2 Oregon loses?

Under normal circumstances, if the No. 3 team were undefeated and in an automatic qualifying BCS conference such as the Pac-10, Big Ten, or SEC, the answer would be simple. No. 3 would move to No. 2 or No. 1 and into a BCS championship game slot.

But what if that unbeaten No. 3 team is TCU, which until Monday — when it announced that it was joining the Big East — was from a non-automatic BCS conference (Mountain West)?

Some BCS-ologists are crunching numbers that suggest that even if Oregon or Auburn loses Saturday, they could still cling to the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the final standings, which will be released Sunday night.

Outrageous, you say? Shouldn’t you at least have to win your conference championship before being considered for a slot in the national championship game?

Well yes, but . . .

Look at what happened in 2003. Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 throughout the season, but was upset by Kansas State, 35-7, in the Big 12 title game. Bye bye, Sooners? Well, not exactly.

The two human polls used at the time — Associated Press writers and ESPN coaches — dropped Oklahoma to No. 3 behind Southern Cal and LSU. The computers thought otherwise, overrode the human polls, and put Oklahoma and LSU in the title game. USC, which was ranked No. 1 in both human polls, was left out of the title game.

It was a glitch that remains the most outrageous move in BCS history, and it nearly brought down the system. The BCS folks did some tweaking — BCS folks love to tweak — and made the human polls count for two-thirds of the vote and the computers for only one-third. They assured us such outrageous things would not happen again.

This, of course, happened two years after Nebraska, which had been ranked first or second throughout the season, ended with a 62-36 loss to Colorado and didn’t even win its own division. But the computers overruled again, and Oregon, which was No. 2 in both human polls, was bumped by the Huskers, who were slotted into the BCS title game against Miami, which romped to a 37-14 victory.

History can repeat itself, and does repeat itself, especially in the BCS. Whether TCU will pay the price this year remains to be seen.

TCU, like Boise State, which stumbled last week against Nevada, has paid its dues and deserves to be in the title game if Oregon or Auburn loses. And the Horned Frogs clearly should be in the game ahead of any once-beaten team.

But such uncertainty is one of the prime reasons TCU is making the switch to the Big East, which geographically makes no sense.

What does these days? The Big 12 is being reduced to 10 teams. The Big Ten and the Pac-10 are moving to 12 teams. The Western Athletic Conference includes a team from Louisiana. And now the Big East will have a team from Texas.

More moves are coming. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said he will meet with the school presidents this month to see whether there is any sentiment to get even bigger. If there is, watch out.

The Big East, which will have a nine-team football league and a 17-team basketball league, is going to add one and perhaps two more teams in football.

The Big East is still waiting for Villanova to decide whether it wants to move from FCS to FBS status in football, and Central Florida is its next likely target simply because the Orlando television market — like Dallas-Fort Worth — is too lucrative to pass up.

College football now is not about rivalries as much as it is about television exposure. To be a player, the Big East has to expand the definition of “East.’’ As Big East commissioner John Marinatto said, “The Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC East.’’

So they are. And TCU is headed for the Big East, so the Horned Frogs will have the secure feeling that they can lose two, three, or even four games and still qualify for a BCS bid if they win the Big East regular season the way Connecticut (four losses) and West Virginia (two losses) are doing this year.

And by Sunday, the Big East will have a team not only in the Fiesta Bowl or Orange Bowl (West Virginia or UConn) but also in either the BCS title game or the Rose Bowl (TCU).

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

Globe Top 10

1. Auburn

2. Oregon

3. TCU

4. Stanford

5. Wisconsin

6. Michigan St.

7. Ohio State

8. Arkansas

9. Oklahoma

10. Boise State