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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Oklahoma's presence in Big 12 title game fuels Texas rivalry

Saturday, May 7, 2011

You take one of the country's top rivalries and add national championship considerations and the BCS standings and you have one big mess.

Whatever side you fall on in the debate, there is no clear-cut argument. Texas fans cling to the head-to-head defeat of Oklahoma and discount that it was actually a three-way tie with Texas Tech while Sooners supporters overlook that significance of the loss in Dallas. Nobody, however, was without bias.

Except the computers.

They were squarely in the corner of Oklahoma and rightfully so. The Sooners did play a more difficult schedule. TCU and Cincinnati both finished inside top 13 of the BCS and there was a 20-point road win at Oklahoma State, which the Longhorns barely beat in Austin.

One thing to remember from the history books of college football, head-to-head wins have never been the sole arbiter in sorting out the national championship.

• Notre Dame beat Florida State in November of 1993 and both teams finished the regular season with one loss. It was the Seminoles that went to the Orange Bowl and beat Nebraska for Bobby Bowden's first national title.

• Florida State fell to Miami in 2000, but managed to play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl because the BCS put the Seminoles ahead of Hurricanes.

• Colorado defeated Nebraska the following year and won the Big 12 title. The Cornhuskers were the ones that were soundly beaten by Miami in the Rose Bowl.

For Texas fans, there is still hope this year. A Missouri win against Oklahoma would likely send the Longhorns to the title game. And even if the Sooners win, could a close game cause more voters to switch sides and push Mack Brown's team to Miami?

We'll find out this weekend whether the Red River Rivalry has taken another turn and it is Oklahoma that will be the injured part in Dallas next year.

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida, 4 p.m.

The genius of Nick Saban will be tested. In the Tide's biggest games early in the season against Clemson and Georgia, the team started fast and cruised to impressive wins. He now must prepare for one of the nation's toughest offenses. Alabama can match up on the line of scrimmage, but they need to somehow match the big-play talent of the Gators, which could be limited if Percy Harvin is out with an ankle injury. Florida 26, Alabama 21.

No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 17 Missouri, 8 p.m.

One advantage for the Tigers is that they played in Arrowhead last week. Of course that was a last-second loss to Kansas. Another positive is that Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford has an injured thumb that could limit his ability to take snaps from center. That didn't seem to bother the Sooners in the last two quarters against Oklahoma State, however. Oklahoma 42, Missouri 24.

No. 5 Southern California at UCLA, 4:30 p.m.

With their national championship hopes likely out the window, it wouldn't be shocking if the Trojans were flat this week. But they still need a win to reach the Rose Bowl, and Pete Carroll will make sure to make his first meeting with Rick Neuheisel is memorable. Southern California 40, UCLA 3.

No. 12 Cincinnati at Hawaii, 11:30 p.m.

How do you play in a bowl game before your bowl game? The Bearcats are already headed to the BCS, making this trip to the islands one which they can enjoy more than if it was in the season. Cincinnati 30, Hawaii 26.

No. 13 Ball State vs. Buffalo, (Friday)

The unbeaten Cardinals are one of the great stories of the year. The Bulls, however, could be one of the great stories that nobody is taking about. This is a program that won six games in four years before Turner Gill took over three seasons ago. But Nate Davis makes sure they just miss the MAC title. Ball State 35, Buffalo 13.

No. 20 Boston College vs. Virginia Tech, 1 p.m.

A rematch of a game won by the Eagles last month. Also, it a rematch of last year's ACC title game following a regular season win by BC. That game in Jacksonville was won by the Hokies. Whatever happens, the three former-Big East schools in the league will hold scoreboard on the old guard with three titles in the five years since the merger. Virginia Tech 23, Boston College 20.

No. 23 Pittsburgh at Connecticut, noon

One week after spoiling rival West Virginia's last hope of a Big East title, the Panthers now are playing for bowl positioning with a trip to the Sun possible should they win. Pittsburgh 24, Connecticut 21.

Last week's record:  9-4

This year's record:  202-57


Erick Smith is the online college football editor at USA TODAY. Please send questions or comments to him at easmith@usatoday.com.

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