NEW YORK — Oregon and Auburn swapped spots atop the BCS standings and Boise State was passed again, this time by TCU.
The Ducks (8-0) moved into first place for the first time this season, which is interesting but not necessarily important. Auburn (9-0) grabbed the top spot last week, but Oregon caught up after beating Southern California 53-32, leaving the Tigers in second place.
The top two teams in the final BCS standings on Dec. 5 play in the championship game Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz. Right now, the Ducks and Tigers are in control of the title race.
“They’re fighting over what color uniform to wear in the championship game,” BCS analyst Jerry Palm said.
Oregon is No. 1 in the two polls used in the standings and No. 2 according to the computer ratings. Auburn is first according to the computers and No. 2 among the voters of the Harris and coaches polls.
The other three unbeaten teams, TCU (9-0), Boise State (7-0) and Utah (8-0), are next in the standings, but they’ll need Oregon or Auburn to lose to even have a shot at playing for the national championship.
Boise State had been No. 3 for two weeks, but as the Broncos beat up on the soft part of their schedule, others are catching up — as expected. TCU jumped from fourth to third.
Utah, which plays TCU on Saturday, is fifth. Alabama is the highest rated one-loss team in sixth. With a game against rival Auburn to end the regular season and a possible Southeastern Conference title game, the defending national champion Crimson Tide (7-1) are definitely alive to repeat.
What are the chances the Tide returns to the national title game if it wins out?
“I don’t think it’s a slam dunk,” Palm said. “If forced to make a prediction now, I’d guess Alabama would go over undefeated Boise State or TCU, but I’m not operating under the assumption that would happen.”
Voters are giving more support than ever before to Boise State and TCU, and both are benefiting from some good non-conference victories that help their computer ratings. Those two factors could keep ‘Bama at bay, Palm said.
Still, the Broncos, Horned Frogs and Utes better watch their backs while they’re keeping an eye on each other.
Boise State beat Louisiana Tech 49-20 on Tuesday. Utah beat Air Force 28-23, and TCU easily handled UNLV 48-6 on Saturday. Those results didn’t necessarily swing things toward the Horned Frogs as much as Oregon and Auburn’s performances did.
After both won convincingly on the road, the Ducks and Tigers gained support in the polls and Boise State slid from second to third. The Broncos’ computer rating still lags behind in seventh.
Meanwhile, TCU’s No. 4 ranking in each poll, plus a third-place rating in the computers, added up to the Horned Frogs moving up.
The Broncos, Horned Frogs and Utes are all trying to become the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to reach the BCS title game.
TCU at Utah will likely eliminate one of those Mountain West Conference teams from BCS contention all together.
Boise State’s toughest tests the rest of the way in the Western Athletic Conference should come from No. 25 Nevada (7-1), Hawaii (7-2) and Fresno State (5-2). One loss would finish the Broncos’ BCS hopes.
The real race between the non-automatic qualifiers might be for that so-called BCS Buster bid — just like last season.
One, and only one, of those teams can grab an automatic BCS bid by finishing in the top 12 in the final BCS standings. Last year, TCU was highest rated and earned an automatic bid, but Boise State became the first team from a league without automatic entry to receive an at-large berth to one of the five big-money bowl games.
The Broncos and Horned Frogs were matched up in the Fiesta Bowl and Boise State won the battle of unbeatens in Arizona.
A similar scenario could play out this season with the winner of TCU-Utah or Boise State getting an automatic BCS bid and the other hoping to receive an at-large invite. But that invite is far from a guarantee when big-name teams such as Wisconsin, Ohio State, Nebraska and Oklahoma could also be available to bowl organizers.
“I’m not optimistic we’ll see two non-majors this year,” Palm said.
The other twist this season is the automatic bid would be a spot in the Rose Bowl if Oregon wins the Pac-10 and plays for the national championship.
The Rose Bowl is committed this season to taking the BCS Buster if it losses either the Pac-10 or Big Ten champs to the title game.