BCS can't seem to shake controversy

After 15 weeks, it all comes down to one game.

For Miami, it's a meeting with Virginia Tech that gives the 'Canes a chance for a second straight undefeated regular season and an opportunity to win back-to-back national titles.

For Washington State, USC, Notre Dame and Iowa, the one game takes place on the other side of the country, as all four teams could have their BCS fate determined by the outcome of WSU at UCLA.

If Miami and UCLA win those games, everything will be fairly simple. If either loses, the BCS scenarios that seemed so simple just a week ago could become controversial.

But did anyone really think we might slide through a season without BCS controversy? I didn't think so.

For All The Tostitos
Let's start at the top.

Miami will be a substantial favorite to win on its home field this Saturday, and a victory would give the Hurricanes a 34-game winning streak to carry into their Tostitos Fiesta Bowl meeting with Ohio State. This much we know.

But if UM loses, there are a few interesting possibilities.

Oklahoma's loss moves Georgia into the theoretical on-deck circle in the BCS pecking order, but the Bulldogs might not be as strong of a No.3 as the Sooners were last week. The question becomes "how far would a loss drop Miami in the polls and the computers?" It's really tough to say.

If the 'Canes stayed ahead of UGA in the polls and some of the computers, it is conceivable that Miami might not even fall out of the BCS Top 2. This could set up a situation much like last year, in which a team finished second in the BCS after losing its final game of the season and not being ranked higher than third in either poll.

Iowa, which would likely move to second in both polls if Miami loses, would not have a very good chance to reach the national title game -- much like Oregon last year. Georgia would be the team with the more realistic shot to leap over UM and play Ohio State.

But if Georgia loses the SEC Championship on Saturday, the result of Miami's game is almost irrelevant. Without the Bulldogs breathing down their necks, the 'Canes are likely in the clear and would probably still go to Tempe even if the Hokies pull the upset.

The Bigger Mess
It's funny to imagine there being huge BCS controversy in a season with exactly two major unbeaten teams, but that could possibly be the case if Washington State wins the Pac-10 title on Saturday.

That result would leave three teams heavily in the mix for the BCS' two at-large berths. One of those is 11-1 Iowa, which is the preferred choice of the Rose Bowl because of its high ranking and perfect Big Ten record. The other two options are Southern California and Notre Dame, which just played over the weekend. In case you missed it, the Trojans beat the Irish by 31 points, while outgaining them by 500 yards.

The foundation for this drama is a BCS rule that automatically gives one at-large spot to any team finishing in the Top 3 of the BCS Standings without winning its conference title. If the teams ranked 1, 2 and 3 all won their respective conferences, then the team ranked No. 4 gets an at-large spot if it is not a champion.

If Miami and Georgia win on Saturday, the top-three teams in the final BCS should be Miami, Ohio State and Georgia -- all conference champions. The No. 4 team would be either USC or Iowa, so that team would also be guaranteed inclusion to a BCS game through this rule.

But whichever team ranks fifth overall is guaranteed nothing, so either the Trojans or Hawkeyes would then be left at the mercy of the BCS selection process. That process begins with a choice by whichever bowl would have normally had the rights to BCS No. 1. If that team is Miami, then the FedEx Orange Bowl gets to make the first pick.

Provided Notre Dame is ranked in the Top 12 of the BCS, the Irish would still be an option -- even if they are ranked lower than both USC and Iowa and were destroyed by the Trojans in a head-to-head meeting.

The BCS only assures that the Top-2 teams will meet for the national title. The other three games each year are, to some extent, left to their own discretion to create the matchups that work best for their own needs. . .and the biggest need for any bowl game is a sold-out stadium.

Therefore, Notre Dame's national fan base makes the Irish a very attractive option, even if they aren't the most deserving team available. The big issue now is whether the strength of Iowa and USC might make it a public relations disaster to pass over them.

The majority of fans would be outraged if the Irish are included at the expense of either the Trojans or the Hawkeyes, but that might not be as important to the Orange Bowl as the bottom line. If Washington State beats UCLA on Saturday, we'll find out which is the greater priority.

A New Issue
Since Florida State's four losses will be the most ever for a team to play in a BCS game, many people have suggested that a change should be made in the offseason to require certain standards for automatic qualifiers. Some think there should be a maximum number of losses allowed or a minimum ranking in the final standings.

The reality is that any measure put into place for the ACC Champion would have to be made across the board to apply to the winner of every BCS conference. And that's exactly the reason such a change would never take place.

There is way too much tradition between the Big Ten, Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl for those conferences and that game to support a rule that could prevent either champion from going there. Every team in the country doesn't have a reasonable chance to win the national title, so the BCS should never diminish the importance of winning a conference crown.

For a lot of programs, a conference title is their biggest goal of the season, and teams should be rewarded for achieving those goals. Sometimes this national championship talk can make us forget what college football is all about.

BCS Standings

1. Miami
2. Ohio State
3. Georgia
4. Southern California
5. Iowa
6. Washington State
7. Oklahoma
8. Kansas State
9. Texas
10. Notre Dame

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher for ESPN. Inside the BCS appears weekly.