Sunday, October 31, 2004 Updated: November 1, 1:44 PM ET
Auburn, Cal, Utah benefit from upsets
By Brad Edwards Special to ESPN.com
I have this hunch that Sir Isaac Newton would not be very impressed by the BCS formula.
But even though it has nothing to do with physics, college football's new approach to selecting its national championship participants somehow seems to follow Newton's third law of motion: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
Within the BCS formula -- in both polls and the computers -- there is a specific number of points to be distributed among all the teams. If one team loses points, other teams gain those points. When one team's fans are crying, other teams are subsequently rejoicing. When Miami and Florida State are upset like they were on Saturday, someone is sure to reap the benefits of their misfortune.
This week's beneficiaries of Newton's law were Auburn, Cal and Utah.
Auburn was sitting fourth in the BCS Standings last week and needed at least one of the top three teams cleared out of its way. The Tigers would have preferred to see both Oklahoma and Miami go down, which almost happened on Saturday, but just getting rid of the Hurricanes gives Auburn a much better view of where it stands in the BCS landscape.
The ideal scenario for the Tigers is obviously a loss by either USC or Oklahoma, but the chances for either of those teams to be upset will diminish significantly after this coming weekend. If neither loses on Nov. 6, Auburn must implement Plan B: win and hope. The former might be the more difficult.
Auburn's remaining opponents are Georgia (7-1, likely 8-1 on Nov. 13), Alabama (5-3, likely 6-4 on Nov. 20) and probably Tennessee (7-1, likely 10-1 on Dec. 4) in the SEC Championship. That's a really strong closing schedule, but it's exactly what Auburn needs to have any chance to close the gap on an undefeated Oklahoma team.
If the Tigers run the table, that schedule strength would probably vault them over the Sooners in the computer ratings, giving them a chance to pass Oklahoma in the BCS Standings if they can make up enough ground in the polls. OU currently has an advantage of 49 voting points over Auburn in the AP poll and 50 points in the coaches poll. If the Tigers can gather several more first- and second-place votes over the next few weeks and get those margins under 20 points, they have a decent chance of moving into second in the final BCS Standings. That means they must continue to impress the voters and maybe get some assistance from a sluggish outing by the Sooners.
Before Florida State's loss on Saturday, there was a chance that Cal could have finished up a fabulous season at 10-1 and been left without a spot in a BCS game. There are still no guarantees, but the Bears are now in a much more comfortable position, thanks to Maryland.
One of the BCS rules states that if the highest-ranked team that is not an automatic qualifier (conference champion) is either third or fourth in the final BCS Standings, then that team gets one of the two at-large berths to the BCS. That rule was threatening Cal when FSU was sitting at No. 5 last week, but it's now a potential safety net for the Bears, who should be ranked No. 4 this week. As long as Cal wins out and doesn't get jumped by Georgia or Texas, it should be Rose Bowl bound if USC finishes No. 1.
Utah might also be able to secure a guaranteed at-large spot in the BCS if it can continue to win and get just a little more help along the way. The losses by Miami and Florida State allowed Utah to climb in both polls and the computers this week, which should keep them in the top 6 of the BCS Standings. Now, if the Utes can just keep from being caught from behind, they will make history as the first team outside of a BCS conference to play in a BCS game.
The biggest threats to Utah's position are the once-beaten teams with big names like Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Miami and Michigan. Any time one of these teams climbs over the Utes in a poll or in a computer, it will hurt their chances of holding on to the top-6 BCS ranking they need for automatic qualification.
But each time a team takes a second loss, as Florida State did Saturday, it should no longer be a threat to Utah. That's why the Utes' favorite team should now be Auburn. If the Tigers win out, it assures that both Georgia and Tennessee will have at least two losses.
Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.