USC or LSU?
It might have been as simple as "win and you're in" for the Trojans if they hadn't been let down by their Pac-10 brethren on Saturday. Washington State's fourth-quarter collapse in the Apple Cup cost USC potentially important quality-win points in the BCS, and Oregon State's loss in the Civil War means a season-ending win over the Beavers will now be worth less.
Assuming USC finishes the regular season ranked one spot ahead of LSU in the polls, the Tigers' best chance of catching the Trojans in the BCS Standings is to make up a significant amount of that deficit in the quality-win component. At 10-2, Washington State would have essentially eliminated that possibility, but the Cougars' third loss leaves the door slightly open for LSU.
The Tigers are currently getting a quality-win bonus for their victory over Georgia, and they can't afford to lose it. This means LSU needs the Bulldogs to finish 10-2 but not reach the SEC championship game. If UGA does get to Atlanta, the Tigers would lose most (if not all) of that bonus by beating the Dawgs a second time. Therefore, LSU needs help.
Florida must beat Florida State and move ahead of Tennessee in next week's BCS Standings to prevent Georgia from reaching the SEC title game. A Vols' loss at Kentucky would be ideal for LSU. If they don't lose, LSU must hope the Kentucky game weakens Tennessee enough in the BCS for the Gators to make the leap.
This may not be possible, but if it happens, LSU's four-tenths of a point bonus for beating Georgia would be secure. That would leave six-tenths of a point the Tigers would still need to make up on the Trojans through schedule strength and the computers.
Because schedule strength is a factor in the calculations of the BCS computers, this decimal-point battle could be decided by the results of remaining games involving USC's and LSU's opponents. The biggest of those games will be Alabama at Hawaii because it is a head-to-head matchup between an opponent of LSU and an opponent of USC. Here's a list of games that could make a difference in this race for No. 2.
More important (opponents' games)
Hawaii over Alabama
Notre Dame over Syracuse
Hawaii over Boise State
Alabama over Hawaii
Arizona over Arizona State
Georgia over Georgia Tech
Florida over Florida State
Louisiana Tech over Rice
Less important (opponents' opponents' games)
Pittsburgh over Miami (FL)
Georgia Tech over Georgia
Syracuse over Rutgers
Stanford over Notre Dame
Boise State over Nevada
Florida State over Florida
UNLV over Wyoming
Tennessee over Kentucky
Miami (FL) over Pittsburgh
Texas over Texas A&M
Virginia over Virginia Tech
Ole Miss over Mississippi St.
SMU over TCU
UAB over Houston
Oklahoma over Kansas St.
USC's final opponent, Oregon State, has a 7-4 record that includes a win over I-AA Sacramento State. LSU must still play 8-3 Arkansas and then either a 9-3 or 10-2 team in the SEC championship game. The Tigers are currently 22 spots behind the Trojans in the schedule strength column, but these remaining opponents along with the games listed above could help LSU finish with a stronger schedule.
Currently, LSU is ahead of USC in only the BCS version of Kenneth Massey's rankings, but the Tigers appear to be within range of jumping the Trojans in a few other computers, too. If LSU can get on top of USC in five of the seven ratings systems, that would translate to an advantage of half a point in average computer ranking, assuming the teams were within one spot of each other in every computer.
If USC stays one spot ahead in both polls, and LSU is able to keep its advantage of .4 in the quality-win component while chipping away another .5 in the computer element, then the Tigers would only need to finish three spots ahead of USC in schedule strength to make up the difference and finish No. 2 in the BCS.
It looks simple on paper, but we don't know whether it's even possible for Florida to jump Tennessee in next week's BCS Standings, or whether it's possible for LSU to finish ahead of USC in five computers on Dec. 7. There are too many games that must still be played. A week from now, though, we will certainly have a better indication of the likelihood for this scenario.