Monday, November 13, 2006

LA Times: Rose could turn to Scarlet

Brace yourselves because these five words could become a reality: Rutgers to the Rose Bowl.

Chris Dufresne

Grab a chair, or a rail — anything to brace yourselves.  Because the five words you are about to read have never, in the history of mankind, been typed, formulated or otherwise uttered. Rutgers to the Rose Bowl … It could happen. And that's only one item from a grab bag of craziness that was airdropped over the college football landscape. Rutgers' win over No. 3 Louisville on Thursday night set off a chain-reaction that was followed by top-10 Saturday losses by Auburn and California, which made opening up Sunday's e-mail release of the Bowl Championship Series standings like opening a Christmas present. Ohio State and Michigan remained the top two BCS teams, no surprise there, but USC jumped all the way from seventh to third after its victory over Oregon.  USC is now one-loss poised to seize the No. 2 spot in the BCS, unless the Michigan-Ohio State loser next weekend doesn't drop below No. 2 — and that can happen too. USC overtook Florida and snagged, for now, the coveted No. 3 position after Florida needed to block a last-second field-goal attempt to beat South Carolina in Gainesville. Notre Dame jumped from ninth to fifth in the BCS after its victory over Air Force and moving into sixth, up seven BCS positions from last week, was Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights should change their nickname to the Rockets, because rocket is what they did. Known affectionately for years as the little program that couldn't, Rutgers has suddenly positioned itself for a run to the unfathomable. The Scarlet Knights cracked the top 10 in the polls for the first time in the school's 137-year history. "I think all of these are signs that we are going in the right direction and building a program and not just a team or a season," Rutgers' Coach Greg Schiano said in statement Sunday. "Hopefully that will become the norm and not the exception."

The Scarlet Knights, if they finish 12-0, which is a big "if" because they close the season at West Virginia, may get squeezed out of the national title game, but so might USC, Florida and Notre Dame. Yet, there is a prize out there for Rutgers that is not farfetched — a trip to Pasadena. Here's how it might happen:

Phase I: The loser of next week's showdown between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan does not fall below No. 2 in the final BCS standings, mandating a rematch of the teams in the Jan. 8 BCS title game.  This is a distinct possibility should Michigan defeat Ohio State in a close game.

Phase II: Cal beats USC on Saturday and clinches the Pacific 10 Conference's Rose Bowl berth.

Phase III: Notre Dame loses to USC on Nov. 25. In that scenario, who would Cal play in Pasadena on Jan. 1? The Rose Bowl couldn't take 11-1 Wisconsin because no conference can have more than two teams in BCS bowls. The Rose Bowl would be left to sift among available two-loss schools or a 12-0 Rutgers team ranked in the BCS top five. "It's a feasibility," Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger said Sunday when broached with the Rutgers scenario. "They'd be on a list of folks that are looked at. They'd have to be." That's all Dorger wanted to say on the matter. The Rose Bowl prefers to wait a week or two before assessing the possible permutations and crazy scenarios — and even the not so crazy ones. Rutgers in the Rose Bowl, though, well that's enough to break out the smelling salts in parts of New Jersey. This is a school that has played two bowl games in its history and lost them both to the same team — Arizona State. This weekend shakedown also increased Notre Dame's chances of playing in its first Rose Bowl since 1925. The straightest route for Notre Dame is Ohio State and Michigan meeting in a BCS title game rematch and Cal beating USC next week, then Notre Dame beating USC. That would put Cal in the Rose Bowl in a likely matchup against one-loss Notre Dame. Here's how the national title race is shaping up in order of Sunday's BCS standings:

•  Ohio State: The Buckeyes will clinch a bid with a win over Michigan on Saturday and might even earn a trip if they lose. In 2003, No. 1 Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game but was so strong in the BCS computers that it remained No. 1 and played Louisiana State for the BCS title even though USC ended the regular season as No. 1 in both human polls.

•  Michigan: The Wolverines are in if they beat Ohio State and possibly in if they lose. A blowout loss to Ohio State would probably drop Michigan out of the BCS title game but into the Rose Bowl.

•  USC. It didn't seem possible that the Trojans could get back in the race after their two-point loss to Oregon State in Corvallis, but here they are. USC needs to win its last three games against Cal, Notre Dame and UCLA and hope there is a lopsided winner in next weekend's Ohio State-Michigan game.

•  Florida. The Gators could make a compelling case as a one-loss Southeastern Conference champion, but Sunday's BCS release should be viewed as a storm warning in Gainesville.

If USC has already passed Florida in the BCS, how are the Gators going to overtake the Trojans with a closing schedule that includes Western Carolina, reeling Florida State and a possible SEC title-game against Arkansas, a team that USC beat, 50-14?

•  Notre Dame. It's hard to see how the Irish can get to Glendale because they are getting boxed out by Michigan, which crushed Notre Dame in South Bend, 47-21. Notre Dame's best chance would be for Ohio State to crush Michigan so thoroughly it would knock the Wolverines way down the polls or for Michigan to crush Ohio State.

•  Rutgers. Well, well, do we even dare to suggest it? What if Ohio State wipes out Michigan, USC loses to Cal but beats Notre Dame and Florida suffers a second loss?  Holy turnpike!

•  Arkansas. The Razorbacks need to win the SEC and hope USC loses, because the Trojans hold that big win over Arkansas in any one-loss, title-game discussion.  And while Boise State, even at 12-0, has no shot at the national title game, the Broncos did move up two spots to No. 12 in the BCS, the position the team needs to maintain to earn an automatic BCS bid. Boise State jumped to No. 12 by kicking a last-second field goal to beat San Jose State. We know what you're thinking: This BCS ball sure takes a lot of funny bounces.

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