- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The top of the BCS standings has become as predictable as Florida State pulverizing an opponent before halftime or Alabama sucking the life out of its foes. Sunday night's newest rundown looks a lot like its predecessor: Alabama at No. 1, Florida State at No. 2 and then a gulf between everyone else.
The real drama this week -- and next week, as Alabama and Florida State face Chattanooga and Idaho, respectively, on Saturday -- concerns the teams just outside the top two. Ohio State retains the No. 3 spot in the standings, but for how long? Baylor lingers just 0.0013 behind the Buckeyes in BCS average.
The Buckeyes’ 25-point road win against 3-6 Illinois clearly didn’t impress as much as Baylor’s 29-point home triumph against a fast-fading Texas Tech squad. The Bears actually leapfrogged the Buckeyes in The Associated Press poll -- which is not part of the BCS standings -- and made up ground in the coaches’ and Harris polls. Baylor also has superior computer numbers, as the Bears are No. 3 in computer average while Ohio State is No. 5.
There almost certainly will be a change at No. 3 if Baylor beats No. 10 Oklahoma State on the road this weekend. Ohio State's only remaining chance for a signature win would come in the Big Ten championship against No. 13 Michigan State, which can punch its ticket to Indianapolis this week with a win over Northwestern or a Minnesota loss to Wisconsin.
And then there’s No. 5 Oregon. Remember the Ducks? They have new life after Stanford’s road loss at USC on Saturday night. Oregon now is back in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 North and host the league title game. A win in the conference championship ensures a trip to Pasadena, either on Jan. 1 or Jan. 6. The Ducks likely would need all of the top four teams to lose to reach the national title game. It’s a long shot, but crazy things tend to happen as Selection Sunday approaches.
Auburn needs even more help, but the No. 6-ranked Tigers can inflict a big blow to the standings when they host Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30. After what happened Saturday on The Plains, who knows what these Tigers can do?
Stanford, meanwhile, tumbles out of the title picture to No. 9 after its second loss to an unranked foe, albeit a rapidly improving one in USC, which enters the standings at No. 23.
The Stanford loss could help Big Ten at-large hopeful Wisconsin, which moves up to No. 19 after its fifth straight win. The Badgers still need a sizable boost to reach the top 14 and qualify for an at-large selection, but if they beat Minnesota and Penn State without having to deal with a league title game, they could rise as others undoubtedly fall.
UCF nearly saw its BCS hopes implode before rallying in the final minutes at Temple on Saturday. The No. 18-ranked Knights are two home wins (Rutgers and South Florida) and a road win (SMU) away from making one of the big bowls.
No. 16 Northern Illinois and its do-it-all quarterback, Jordan Lynch, made their BCS case on Wednesday with an impressive win against Ball State. The computers love the Huskies (12th in average) more than Fresno State (16th in average), but the human voters aren’t nearly as sold so No. 15 Fresno State retains a fairly sizable lead over NIU in the battle to bust the BCS.
The Huskies have another showcase opportunity this Wednesday at Toledo and the benefit of a MAC championship game, likely against Bowling Green or Buffalo. But NIU probably needs Fresno State to lose one of its final two games at home against New Mexico or at San Jose State.
All eyes in Week 13 will be on Baylor and whether Art Briles’ team can remain perfect as it faces its biggest test to date. If so, we’ll likely have a new No. 3 at this time next week, as the final selections will be just 14 days away.
2hMax Olson and Jake Trotter