ORLANDO, Fla. - Southern California needs help to win the Pacific-10, but the Trojans appear to have helped themselves to a Bowl Championship Series berth no matter what happens this weekend.
USC's 44-13 blowout of Notre Dame elevated it to the No. 4 slot in the BCS standings released yesterday, a position that seems to guarantee it a coveted slot in a $13 million BCS game.
While Rose Bowl officials work through scenarios to regain their traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-10 game on New Year's Day, the Miami Hurricanes became the subject of another sort of de bate.
That is, could the "Canes, much like the 1996 Florida Gators, lose their final regular-season game and still play in the BCS title game?
The answer: Probably not, but not even the experts are sure.
Chicago-based BCS expert Jerry Palm, whose projections of the BCS" intricate formula have been right on the money, said he hasn't run the numbers of Miami stumbling at home Saturday against Virginia Tech.
Miami, 11-0 and a winner of 33 in a row over the past three seasons, has clinched a BCS berth by being Big East champion.
But with more than a five-point spread between No. 2 Ohio State (a 4.01 BCS total) and No. 3 Georgia (9.03), it's not out of the realm of possibility that Miami could slip - albeit narrowly - against Virginia Tech and fall only to No. 2.
Should Miami fall and Georgia (11-1) also lose Saturday's SEC championship game to Arkansas (9-3), Miami's margin over No. 4 Southern California (10-2 with a BCS total of 9.84) gives it even more cushion to make it to the Fiesta Bowl.
If Miami doesn't make it back to the championship game, Miami will be the host team at the Orange Bowl-and make life a lot simpler for most of the BCS partners.
For starters, that would allow the Rose Bowl to match USC against Iowa from the Big Ten.
Final BCS standings come out Sunday afternoon after Sat urday's SEC and Big 12 title games, and Washington State's game at UCLA with a Pac-10 championship on the line. The Cougars (9-2) can win the Pac-10 with a victory. But it's possi ble the Pac-10 champions could see a conference team they beat - USC - play for the national title.
Losses by Miami and Georgia figure to send the Trojans to the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State (13-0).
Meanwhile, the Orange Bowl is considering so many teams that boiling its choice down to Iowa or Notre Dame is not accurate, a spokesman said.
"There are a lot of teams in our mix-Kansas State, Iowa, Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado." Orange Bowl spokesman Joe Hornstein said.
Alan Schmadtke is a reporter for The Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.