If the college football regular season ended today, Ohio State would play South Florida for the national title. That is the first development from the release of the Bowl Championship Series standings on Sunday, as Ohio State holds the top spot and South Florida is No. 2 thanks to strong numbers in the computer polls.
The only thing certain from here on is more changes in the next few weeks, given the volatility at the top of the rankings and all the games remaining.
With the chances of two one-loss teams playing for the nation title increasing every week, perception may be a key the rest of the season. Think it does not matter? Just look at South Florida's scoring 64 points against Central Florida, including 75- and 28-yard touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
"USF is No. 1 in the computers right now because they're a little more accomplished than Ohio State or Boston College," said Jerry Palm, an analyst for collegebcs.com. "But the voters don't know beans about them. They couldn't even probably find it on a map."
There are other examples in which perception will factor in down the stretch:
• It is highly unlikely that undefeated teams will play for the championship, because only four are legitimate contenders — Ohio State, South Florida, Boston College and Arizona State. That means a one-loss team will have to be strong in voters' eyes. Boston College and South Florida began the season unranked, so if they lose, the perception will be that they are not capable of playing for the title.
• No. 4 Louisiana State is still considered the most talented team in the country. The Tigers lost in three overtimes to Kentucky on Saturday but have a huge lead over No. 5 Oklahoma in the BCS standings. Some of that comes from computer strength. The rest comes from the idea that LSU has unworldly talent. Winning the rest of its games in the Southeastern Conference, especially with a title game, is no small task. But voters will look favorably on the Tigers. There are two intriguing notions here: Can the Tigers stay that high in the rankings with two losses and would they hop over an undefeated team like Boston College or South Florida if all three of them won out?
• Six teams are unbeaten: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 South Florida, No. 3 Boston College, No. 8 Arizona State, No. 13 Kansas and No. 18 Hawaii. There may be none by the end of the regular season.
If there is only one, chances are it would be Hawaii, which has the easiest schedule, with four home games. At No. 18 in the BCS, Hawaii has no chance of reaching one of the top two spots to qualify for the title game, but it is poised to crack the top 12 and qualify for a BCS bowl if it stays unbeaten.
• The top three teams all have enough tests left to think that they will lose. Ohio State travels to Penn State and Michigan. South Florida goes to Rutgers on Thursday and has Cincinnati at home later. Boston College plays at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night and at Clemson, with home games against Miami and Florida State.
• The wild card could be Arizona State, which also began the year unranked. The schedule falls nicely for the Sun Devils, who have marquee home games against California and Southern California and a road trip to Oregon. (Do not count out the No. 10 Ducks yet, either.) It is unlikely the Sun Devils will navigate that gantlet unscathed, but coach Dennis Erickson has proved he can win the Pacific-10. Because of perception, however, Arizona State has no chance if it has a loss. (No. 14 USC really does not have much of a shot, either, showing how the Trojans' reality has changed by losing to Stanford.)
• No conference's perception has been worse than the Big Ten's, coming off Ohio State's loss to Florida in the title game last season and Michigan's losses to Appalachian State and Oregon. If Ohio State wins out and plays for the national title, it is improbable that a Big Ten team will land in the Rose Bowl.
The minimum standards for at-large teams for the BCS games are nine wins and a top 14 BCS ranking. Michigan is No. 25 and has to play Ohio State. If the Wolverines finish 9-3, there is little chance they would be in the top 14. There is less of a chance that another Big Ten team would get there.
LUBBOCK'S DARK HORSE: Boston College's Matt Ryan, Kentucky's Andre Woodson and Florida's Tim Tebow are the quarterbacks receiving the most attention for the Heisman Trophy, while Graham Harrell of No. 22 Texas Tech (6-1) is hardly mentioned.
But Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said that Harrell, a junior quarterback, is worthy of such consideration, despite criticism that his statistics are inflated by the Red Raiders' pass-dominated spread offense. He leads the nation in passing yards (3,151), passing yards per game (450.1), touchdown passes (31), completions (258), attempts (347) and completion percentage (74.4).
"He's a real good quarterback," Texas A&M linebacker Mark Dodge said of Harrell, who threw for 425 yards and three touchdowns against the Aggies on Saturday. "Give him credit for that. It's real hard to defend when you've got guy a like that."
Because Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who leads the nation in receiving, play for Texas Tech, Leach said it was a "cop-out" for Heisman voters to discount their accomplishments.
"Just because they do their work more efficiently than others, doesn't mean they should be penalized," Leach said in a telephone interview. "Everybody else is trying to achieve the same thing. They're just doing it in a better fashion."