Halfway through the Iron Bowl, Boise State fans had to be feeling as if the pieces were falling into place for the Broncos to finally get a shot at the national championship.
By the time Friday’s football feast was over, No. 2 Auburn had made a stunning comeback, No. 1 Oregon had turned a small halftime deficit into another runaway victory and Boise State was the team that had its national championship hopes dashed.
The top three teams in the country played a triple-header brimming with BCS implications the day after Thanksgiving and No. 19 Nevada’s 34-31 overtime upset of Boise State helped provide a much clearer picture with two more Saturdays left in the regular season.
Oregon and Auburn are a victory away from playing in the BCS championship game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
Both have tricky matchups next week, though both will be favored.
Oregon (11-0), which scored 34 points in the second half to beat No. 20 Arizona 48-29 on Friday, closes its regular season at archrival Oregon State (5-5).
Auburn (12-0), which erased a 24-point, first-half deficit to beat Alabama 28-27 in Tuscaloosa, faces No. 18 South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
If the Tigers and Ducks complete their unbeaten seasons, and No. 4 TCU does the same on Saturday against lowly New Mexico, the Horned Frogs will earn an automatic bid to the BCS — and this season that means a trip to the Rose Bowl.
The Big Ten champion would await TCU. That will be determined Saturday when the three-way tie between Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State gets sorted out.
If they all win on Saturday, there’s a good chance two will end up playing in the five BCS games, with one going to the Rose Bowl and the other getting an at-large invite to the Sugar or Orange bowls.
Boise State’s loss also means that — unlike last year — there’s virtually no shot the Broncos will get an at-large BCS bid.
That could open the door for a second Big 12 team getting an at-large bid or possibly Stanford from the Pac-10.
The Big 12 title game will feature North Division champ No. 16 Nebraska against either No. 14 Oklahoma or No. 10 Oklahoma State from the South. No. 17 Texas A&M is also mathematically alive to win a share of the South, but a long shot to get to the conference championship game.
The winner of the Big 12 title goes to the Fiesta Bowl, most likely against the Big East champion. Connecticut is in control of that race, but if the Huskies lose one of their last two games and West Virginia wins its finale against Rutgers, the Mountaineers would win the Big East.
The Sugar Bowl is almost certain to take another SEC team if Auburn plays for the national title. Saturday’s game between No. 6 LSU and No. 12 Arkansas might determine which team gets that trip to New Orleans.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, Virginia Tech has already locked up one division and a spot in the league title game. If North Carolina State beats Maryland, the Wolfpack earns the other. If N.C. State loses, Florida State plays Virginia Tech.
The ACC winner goes to the Orange Bowl.
Championship game: Oregon vs. Auburn.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. TCU.
Fiesta Bowl: Nebraska vs. West Virginia.
Sugar Bowl: Arkansas vs. Ohio State.
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State.