An old college football adage says it's always better to lose early in the season than late.
But thanks to the BCS, that line of thinking has become as outdated as leather helmets.
Now this doesn't mean losses in November are suddenly a good thing. But ever since computers entered the process of determining the participants in college football's national championship game, the quality of a loss has become just as significant as the timing of a loss.
And the Texas Longhorns are hoping this holds true in 2008.
Even fresh off its first defeat of the season, Texas is still well-positioned for a run to the BCS Championship Game. Although the Horns trail the undefeated major-conference teams in this week's BCS standings, they have the best loss of all the once-beaten teams, and they also have a head-to-head advantage on two other teams in that group (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State).
And if you take a good look at the remaining schedules, Texas could still be considered the favorite to win the Big 12. Unless Texas Tech can beat Oklahoma State this week (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) and also win at Oklahoma later in the month, the Longhorns are likely to end up in some sort of tiebreaker scenario between once-beaten teams in the Big 12 South. And UT will have the edge in most of those scenarios.
Only a two-way tie between the Longhorns and Red Raiders would definitely be bad news for Texas. But if the Horns can win their next three games (Baylor, at Kansas, Texas A&M), they should capture the division if either Oklahoma (at A&M, Tech, at OSU) or Oklahoma State (at Tech, at Colorado, OU) can also win out.
The biggest threat to Texas among the once-beaten teams is probably Florida, which is gaining momentum with four straight SEC wins by 30 or more points, including an impressive 49-10 beating of Georgia on Saturday. If the Gators can complete their regular-season run with victories at Florida State and against Alabama in the SEC championship game, they could have enough quality wins to make that home loss to Ole Miss a distant memory to voters ... and perhaps challenge Texas for a spot in the BCS Championship Game.
Although Penn State leads Texas Tech in both the coaches' and Harris polls, the computer boost from the win over Texas lifted the Red Raiders to the No. 2 spot in this week's BCS standings. Last week, Tech was tied for 10th in the computers. This week, they are tied for first, even with two of their nine wins coming against FCS (I-AA) teams. That's how powerful the Longhorns were (and still are) within the computer element.
And if the Raiders are able to beat Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the coming weeks, the gap between them and Penn State will only increase. That's not exactly breaking news, of course. We've known for more than a month that no undefeated team from the Big 12 or SEC would take a backseat to any team from the Big Ten.
What should be more concerning to Penn State fans is that Texas, even with a loss, is ranked ahead of the Nittany Lions in the computers. And if Florida wins out, there's a good chance the Gators will be, too.
So if either Alabama or Texas Tech loses before Dec. 7, and the other stays unbeaten, Penn State isn't necessarily a lock to finish No. 2 in the BCS. This week is proof that a narrow lead in both polls isn't always enough to hold off a team that's superior in the computers.
Let History Show ...
The top two teams in the BCS standings went a combined 3-7 in November and December of last season, and they are off to another rocky start this November after the loss by No. 1 Texas.
More potential trouble lies ahead for the top teams this Saturday, when all three of the major-conference unbeatens face one of their most challenging remaining hurdles. Alabama (at LSU) and Penn State (at Iowa) are playing their final road games of the season, while Texas Tech must regroup after its emotional win and host another top-10 team (Oklahoma State).
These three games might determine whether the final weeks of this season could be as chaotic as they were a year ago, or whether BCS drama might be at a minimum until Championship Saturday in December.
Thursday's game between TCU and Utah should clearly identify which Mountain West team will join Boise State in the race for the non-BCS conferences' potential automatic bid. The higher-ranked team at the end of the season will gain that spot, provided that team finishes in the top 12 of the standings. But there seems to be an increasing chance that the other one (or undefeated Ball State) could also get into the BCS.
There are five BCS games and, therefore, spots for 10 teams to play in those games. Six of the bids go to the champions of the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC, and we'll assume another bid will go to a non-BCS-conference champion that finishes in the top 12. That leaves three at-large spots available.
At this time, it's logical to assume the Big 12 and SEC will each get a second team into the BCS as an at-large selection, and that would leave only one spot available. But there's a rule that no conference can get more than two teams into the BCS, so all those other highly ranked Big 12 and SEC teams won't be eligible.
At-large selections must come from the top 14 of the final standings, so the question becomes, "Will the ACC, Big East, Big Ten or Pac-10 have a team other than its champion ranked in the final top 14?"
Right now, only the Big Ten seems to be in good position to have a second team ranked that high, but that could change if Ohio State loses again, and the Buckeyes still have to play at Illinois.
This is merely a sidebar to what could be another dramatic November near the top of the BCS standings, but the chance for more than one team to crash the BCS party is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.