Tue, Nov 01, 2005 - Page 19 News List

UCLA continues to surprise opposition, fans and the voters

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

By scoring 21 points in the final seven minutes of regulation, then beating Stanford in overtime on Saturday night, UCLA pulled off one of the most improbable victories of this college football season.

When quarterback Drew Olson lobbed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Breazell in overtime, the Bruins completed their fourth comeback of 10 or more points this season.

That frenetic finish kept UCLA (8-0) on the fringe of the race for the national title; it is one of five unbeaten teams.

With just a few weeks left in the season, seventh-ranked UCLA, No. 3 Virginia Tech and No. 4 Alabama face daunting odds of dislodging Southern California or Texas from the top spots in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The team with the best chance for a late-season run to the Rose Bowl may be the Cardiac Bruins, who have a chance to topple USC in their regular-season finale on Dec. 3.

There is a good chance that USC and UCLA will each enter that game undefeated.

Jerry Palm, an independent BCS analyst, said that voters would have the greatest impact on the formula that decides the outcome of the BCS.

"Voters are a fickle bunch and difficult to predict," Palm said. "But wouldn't it be surprising to vote the Bruins behind any other undefeated teams if they ended Southern Cal's winning streak and finished undefeated?"

Perhaps Virginia Tech is a more likely candidate to reach the BCS title game if USC or Texas drops out of the top places. The Hokies are a consensus No. 3, and their difficult schedule down the stretch -- starting with a game at No. 5 Miami on Saturday night -- will help them in the computer rankings. That is, of course, if they win the remainder of their games.

The blend of six computer formulas counts for only a third of the BCS formula. The Harris Poll and the USA Today coaches' poll make up the other two-thirds.

Boston College was ranked No. 13 last week, and Virginia Tech blew out the Eagles on Thursday night, 30-10. After playing Miami, the Hokies will play at Virginia, at home against North Carolina, then probably against No. 9 Florida State in the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference title game, in Jacksonville.

Texas took over the No. 1 spot in the BCS standings last week, but its weak schedule the rest of the season will probably cause it to fall to No. 2 behind USC.

If the Hokies win the rest of their games, they will have a chance to leap over Texas for the No. 2 spot. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said last week that he believed things would work out for the Hokies if they went undefeated.

"If they're able to do that, they have a chance to be the No. 1 overall team in the computers," Palm said.

A weak schedule down the stretch and a generally weak Big 12 improve the chances of Texas finishing undefeated, but those factors could hurt it in the computer rankings. The Longhorns play at Baylor, at home against Kansas, then at Texas A&M for their regular-season finale. Then they play in the Big 12 title game in Houston. None of the Longhorns' remaining opponents are strong enough to give them a boost in the computer rankings.

Palm said that the Hokies had "a legitimate chance to finish ahead of Texas in the computers," but added that "Virginia Tech still is going to have to close the gap in the polls."

Finally, there is Alabama. The combination of the Crimson Tide's impotent offense and its grueling schedule makes it perhaps the least likely of the undefeated teams to reach the BCS title game.

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