Penn State on the Outside Looking in for BCS Championship

Nittany Lions will need help to play in National Championship Game

NEW YORK (AP) -- The grid is set for the race to the BCS national championship game.

Texas holds the pole position and Alabama is second. Penn State joins the Longhorns and Crimson Tide in the front row, but the Nittany Lions already might have too much ground to gain.

The Longhorns were way ahead of the field when the season's first Bowl Championship Series standings were released Sunday -- as expected. Texas appears to be in position to play for the national title on Jan. 8 in Miami if it can stay unbeaten. The top two teams in the final BCS standings play for the championship.

Texas is an overwhelming No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll and the Harris Poll, and rated first in each of the six computer rankings, giving the Longhorns a BCS grade of .998 out of 1.000.

Alabama is second across the board, behind Texas in the polls and the computers. The Crimson Tide has a BCS average of .949, which bodes well for Alabama. The Tide will be tough to catch from behind if it can stay unbeaten.

That's bad news for third-place Penn State. With an .867 average, the unbeaten Nittany Lions will have to keep winning and hope Texas or Alabama slips.

In fact, fourth-place Oklahoma (.832) might be able to catch Penn State, even if coach Joe Paterno's team wins out.

Texas, coming off a 56-31 victory against Missouri, plays Oklahoma State and Texas Tech the next two weeks, Kansas down the road, and a Big 12 championship game if it can get there. Against that schedule, even a loss would not eliminate the Longhorns from championship contention.

"I'm really proud of how they handled any distractions the No. 1 ranking and all of the added attention could have presented last week," Texas coach Mack Brown said Sunday. "But, we have a long way to go and a lot of room to improve.

"Watching film today on Oklahoma State will get your mind off of the ratings in a hurry and definitely will grab our player's attention as we start to prepare for another great challenge in Big 12 play."

Similarly, the strength of the Southeastern Conference should benefit Alabama -- as long as the Tide can survive. It was struggle for Alabama on Saturday, as the Tide held on for a 24-20 victory against Mississippi.

Penn State plays Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday in a game that could decide the Big Ten. But after that none of the Nittany Lions' remaining opponents are ranked.

As for the potential BCS busters, unbeaten Utah (.634) from the Mountain West Conference is 11th and unbeaten Boise State (.587) from the Western Athletic Conference is 12th.

Either would need to finish in the top 12 to earn an automatic BCS bid, but only one team from the five leagues (MWC, WAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC) without automatic qualification can get in that way. So Utah and Boise State have to keep an eye on each other, too.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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