Ohio State (10-1, 6-1 in the Big Ten) moved up to No. 2 in the latest issue of the 2003 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings released today, as four Big Ten programs appear among the top 25. The defending national champions rose one spot from third place by registering 7.52 points to narrowly pass Southern California’s sum of 7.71 points. The top two teams in the final BCS standings will play for the national crown.

The Buckeyes appear in the top two of the BCS poll for the first time since the final 2002 rankings, when OSU earned the right to face Miami (Fla.) in last year’s national title game. The 2003 Big Ten Championship and the league’s automatic berth into the BCS will be on the line this Saturday, when Ohio State will battle Michigan (9-2, 6-1) for the 100th time in the schools’ legendary rivalry. The Wolverines, at No. 9, are the second-highest ranked Big Ten program in the latest BCS rankings.

“That’s great, I guess, but it doesn’t really mean anything until we go up and play Michigan,” Ohio State defensive end Will Smith said, when asked about the latest rankings.

“After we play Michigan and hopefully come out with a win, then we can see where we’re ranked then.”

Oklahoma (10-0) remained the runaway leader in the standings that will determine which two teams will play for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl.

The Sooners have a 1.0 for poll average, 1.0 for computer-rank average, 0.40 for strength of schedule, zero for losses and 0.6 bonus points for beating fifth-place Texas for a 1.8.

Ohio State was second with 7.52 points, followed by USC at 7.71 and LSU at 12.21.

“I wasn’t concerned about it last week and I am not concerned about it this week,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “We have a big game coming up against UCLA. We’re just trying to take care of business this week.”

TCU, the only undefeated team in Division IA besides for Oklahoma, fell from sixth to eighth. The Horned Frogs need to be in the top six to guarantee an at-large berth in a BCS bowl.

The biggest development this week was Ohio State’s move to second, although it might only be temporary.

Even with a win against a quality opponent like Michigan, the Buckeyes can’t improve their computer ranking unless Oklahoma loses. They are second in six of the computers and third in the other, but the lowest ranking is dropped.

Also, Ohio State’s strength of schedule will only improve marginally after this week’s game.

USC, which ends the season against UCLA (6-5) and Oregon State (7-3), could edge up a bit in the strength of schedule and the computers. The Trojans also could benefit with a bigger quality-win bonus if Washington State moves up from 10th in the BCS.

“You can’t look at the numbers without looking ahead,” BCS expert Jerry Palm said. “The big misconception about the BCS is people think it works like the polls do, where if you win, you won’t drop. It doesn’t.”

Palm did say that the Buckeyes will be almost impossible to catch if LSU loses, which would allow Ohio State to move from fourth place to third in the polls.

“What is most important at this time is the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and the Big Ten championship,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “Right now, the BCS rankings are secondary.”

Texas remained fifth this week, followed by Tennessee, Georgia, TCU, Michigan and Washington State.

Georgia remained in the best position to win the SEC East. If there is a three-way tie with the Bulldogs, Tennessee and Florida, the winner will be determined by the BCS standings.

The Bulldogs need to stay within five spots of the Volunteers to get the right to play in the title game because they beat Tennessee earlier this year.

If Tennessee loses to either Vanderbilt or Kentucky, Florida would win a head-to-head tiebreaker with Georgia based on its win over the Bulldogs earlier this month.

If Georgia loses to either Kentucky or Georgia Tech, Tennessee will likely win the East.

The BCS was started five years ago to create a national title game without playoffs. Champions of six conferences — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC — qualify for a BCS game, and two at-large teams are selected to fill out the field.

The BCS formula uses the AP media and USA Today/ESPN coaches’ polls, seven computer rankings, strength of schedule, losses and a bonus-point system for quality wins.

-compiled from staff reports

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