NEW YORK - Penn State moved into third place in the Bowl Championship Series standings, putting Joe Paterno's team behind unbeaten Southern California and Texas in the national title race.
The Nittany Lions became the first team to lock up a spot in the BCS by winning the Big Ten's automatic bid. They defeated Michigan State 31-22 to earn their second conference title.
The Trojans are on top, as they have been for four out of the previous five weeks, but their lead on Texas is tiny. USC has a BCS average of.9807 and Texas is at.9791.
The top two teams in the final BCS standings, which come out Dec. 4, will play in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.
The Trojans have been No. 1 in the AP, coaches' and Harris polls all season. The coaches' and Harris poll each count for a third of a team's BCS average. Texas is first in the computer rankings, which account for the final third of a BCS average.
Texas gained ground on USC in the polls Sunday after the Trojans' wild 50-42 victory over Fresno State.
The Longhorns were idle last week and finish their regular season at Texas A&M on Friday before playing in the Big 12 title game Dec. 3. USC finishes its regular season Dec. 3 against UCLA.
Penn State (10-1) is done with its regular season, and appears to be a good bet for the Fiesta or Orange bowls, but a loss by USC or Texas could put the Nittany Lions in Pasadena on Jan. 4.
Both fourth-place LSU (9-1) and fifth-place Virginia Tech (9-1) have one regular-season game and possibly a conference title game to play, giving each a shot to catch Penn State in the next two weeks.
The Tigers can clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship by beating Arkansas at home Friday. Virginia Tech will play Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game if the Hokies beat North Carolina on Saturday.
LSU is already ahead of Penn State in the polls, but the Tigers trail in the Nittany Lions in the computers. LSU's computer rating could get a nice boost with a win over Georgia in the SEC championship game on Dec. 3 in the Georgia Dome.
Ohio State is sixth, followed by Oregon, Notre Dame, Miami and Auburn.
Miami was No. 3 last week but lost its second game of the season on Saturday, 14-10 to Georgia Tech to fall out of title contention.
Notre Dame needs to beat Stanford on Saturday to reach nine wins and become eligible for selection by either the Fiesta, Orange or Sugar bowls.
TCU is 13th and needs to be 12th in the final standings to even be eligible for BCS selection. Realistically, though, even if TCU breaks into the top 12 the Horned Frogs are a big long shot to be picked for one of the big-ticket bowl games.
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