Road to the Sugar Bowl NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE With the landscape cleared of most unbeaten teams, the battle for No. 1 becomes a three-team affair

October 19, 2003

While the Bowl Championship Series rankings won't be released
until after this weekend, last Saturday brought the title picture
into clearer focus by winnowing the field of BCS conference
unbeatens to three. Here's a look at the top eight teams in the
AP poll--those with the best shot at a berth in the title game.

LEADING These three 6-0 teams control their fates: If two of them
win out--there's no way all three can, given that Miami and
Virginia Tech face each other--they'll play for the national
title on Jan. 4 in New Orleans.

OKLAHOMA With an offense to match their dominant defense, the
Sooners are the most complete team in the nation. The Sooners
stumbled badly against Texas A&M after beating Texas last year,
but this year's well-rounded squad has a good chance of cruising
into, and out of, the Big 12 championship game without a loss.
Big games: Saturday vs. Missouri; Dec. 6, Big 12 championship

MIAMI Who needs an offense when your D and special teams have
scored eight touchdowns? The Hurricanes will, if only for their
Big East showdown with Virginia Tech. QB Brock Berlin has shown
he can win, but he must improve his touchdown-to-interception
ratio (seven TDs; 10 picks). Big games: Nov. 1 at Virginia Tech;
Nov. 8 vs. Tennessee; Nov. 29 at Pitt.

VIRGINIA TECH The Hokies are clicking behind hot-handed QB Bryan
Randall and Heisman-candidate tailback Kevin Jones, but they've
yet to be tested by a tough defense. Miami--the annual Everest
for Frank Beamer's boys--has possibly the toughest D this side of
Norman. Big games: Nov. 1 vs. Miami; Nov. 8 at Pitt; Nov. 29 at

LURKING If more than one of the top three falters--and who'd bet
against that this year?--these teams, all 5-1, are positioned to

GEORGIA As suggested by the Bulldogs' manhandling of Tennessee
last Saturday, when healthy, quarterback David Greene and a
hungry Dawg defense can beat up on anyone. Big games: Nov. 1 vs.
Florida (at Jacksonville); Nov. 15 vs. Auburn; Dec. 6, SEC
championship game.

USC With QB Matt Leinart in a groove and the run game producing,
the only question is which defense--the one that stuffed Auburn
or that caved to Cal--will show up on any given week. Big games:
Saturday at Notre Dame; Nov. 1 vs. Washington State; Dec. 6 vs.
Oregon State.

WASHINGTON STATE The Cougars' scrappy defense can hang with
anyone, but the offense, led by quarterback Matt Kegel, must show
it can roll against teams better than sliding Oregon and
Colorado. Big games: Oct. 25 vs. Oregon State; Nov. 1 at USC;
Nov. 15 vs. Arizona State.

FLORIDA STATE Miami exposed a vulnerable O-line and a
mistake-prone QB, and the schedule is packed with potential
pitfalls. Big games: Oct. 25 vs. Wake Forest; Nov. 1 at Notre
Dame; Nov. 29 at Florida.

OHIO STATE The Buckeyes were bound to lose at some point; whether
the Wisconsin defeat was an aberration will be revealed over the
rest of a tough conference slate. Big games: Saturday vs. Iowa;
Nov. 8 vs. Michigan State; Nov. 22 at Michigan.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK CATCH A BREAK USC needs great play by wideout Mike Williams--andlosses by other contenders--to get to the title game.

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