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Fitting ending in cards for final BCS

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The Bowl Championship Series is in its death throes, and few are mourning its passing.

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Come next season, the path to the national championship will go through two playoff games, and a blue ribbon panel will pick the lucky participants. It's hardly a perfect system because invariably some worthy school will get left out, but it is a major step toward deciding the title mostly on the field instead of inside somebody's basement computer.

But while the BCS is going down, it may not be going quietly. With a group of undefeated teams jockeying for position, the 16th and last year of the bowl series may be the most controversial of all.

That's not good news for the schools that could be left out. But it could be poetic justice for a system that, while much maligned, seems to have done its job in protecting the college football franchise.

You may not like it, but you will watch. Especially this season when there are four unbeaten teams that can legitimately claim their right to a spot in the title game, and a fifth that comes awfully close.

Leaving a Boise State or Texas Christian out of the equation in other years was easy enough because of their size and schedule. But can a case really be made for Oregon or Florida State to be on the outside looking in this season? How about Ohio State, where Urban Meyer is deep into his second season and still hasn't lost a game?

And don't forget Baylor, which posts a lot of crazy numbers but none crazier than this: The Bears are outscoring opponents by an average of 48 points a game.

All very possible in a season where winning out only guarantees a spot in the title game for the two-time defending champions from Alabama.

''Our goal is to win the national championship, but we don't put that down,'' Meyer said this week. ''There's too many variables involved.''

Meyer's team will have to have a few of those variables break its way for Ohio State to move up from its current No. 4 spot in the BCS standings and make the Jan. 6 title game at the Rose Bowl. The same goes for Baylor, which is No. 6 but is just entering the tough part of its schedule.

Imagine, though, the outcry if Florida State runs the table and doesn't make the title game. The Seminoles are currently No. 2 in the BCS, but if Oregon beats Stanford this week the Ducks will almost surely reclaim the second spot they have held most of the season.

''We're just going to keep playing well and let people judge,'' Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. ''This is a heck of a football team here.''

That the BCS is inherently flawed is no secret. The combination of polls and computer rankings to determine the best teams in the country is nonsensical in so many ways that even those involved have trouble explaining how it operates. It had to be replaced not just because no one liked it, but because it had no credibility.

It seems only fitting that in its final season it has the potential to cause even more heartburn than usual.

Much could still change, of course, and make the BCS title game picks more clear-cut. That happened last year in the next-to-last weekend of the regular season when both Oregon and Kansas State fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, clearing a path for once-beaten Alabama to meet Notre Dame in the title game.

It might not take long to begin sorting things out for this season's title game. In what has to be the best Thursday night of college football ever, Oregon plays BCS No. 5 Stanford and Baylor (BCS No. 6) takes on Oklahoma (BCS No. 10). That's followed on Saturday with everyone's No. 1 Alabama playing at home against LSU, the No. 13 team in the BCS rankings.

Still, there's a very real possibility that the season will end with more than one unbeaten team for the first time since 2010. If it ends up with more than two, it will be a lot harder justifying how to keep those teams out than it was then brushing aside TCU in favor of Auburn and Oregon.

Fans will be howling, though it could still lead to some intriguing games. Imagine the traditional Rose Bowl conference pairing on New Year's Day between Oregon and Ohio State, followed five days later by Alabama and Florida State on the same field.

Could happen, with the winners then playing for the real national title.

Oh, wait. That's not until next season.

----

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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The Associated Press
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