Controversial Finish: USC No. 1 In Polls, Third In BCS

Dec 7, 2003

AP Football Writer

College football fans, get ready to crown not just one, but possibly twonational champions.

And get ready for a new round of controversy.

That's because the computer rankings had Oklahoma as the country's top teamSunday while the human poll voters picked Southern California.

It's exactly what the Bowl Championship Series was designed to avoid, withthe prospect of a split title certain to renew cries for a playoff.

Despite getting walloped by Kansas State 35-7 on Saturday night, Oklahomawill take its 12-1 record to the Sugar Bowl against LSU, which won theSoutheastern Conference championship by beating Georgia 34-13.

The winner in New Orleans on Jan. 4 automatically captures the coaches'title under BCS format.

USC, which finished third in the BCS rankings, could win The AssociatedPress championship by beating No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

'We're the No. 1 team in the country and we'll do everything we can to holdthat spot,' USC coach Pete Carroll said. 'If we win that football game, wefeel like we'll be the No. 1 team in the country regardless of what that otherbowl is called.'

The No. 1 team in the AP poll has never dropped after winning its bowl game.

The BCS was started in 1998 to create a national title game withoutplayoffs.

When the BCS contract expires after the 2005 season, a one-game championshipmight be instituted after the bowls. That would be too late to fix this year'smess.

'Unfortunately, there seems to be three teams that people would like to seeand the system can't satisfy three teams,' LSU coach Nick Saban said.'Unfortunately we can't have all three teams because we don't have a playoff.'

In the final BCS standings, Oklahoma was first with 5.11 points based on itstop spot in five of the seven computers, the 11th-toughest schedule and aquality win over Texas. The Sooners were third in both polls.

'The system is what it is and we can't control it,' Oklahoma defensivecoordinator Brent Venables said. 'We feel we have more than earned our wayinto this game and don't have to apologize to anybody.'

LSU (12-1) was second with 5.99, edging out USC (11-1) by 0.16 in the secondclosest finish in the six-year history of the BCS. Nebraska beat Colorado by0.05 in 2001.

The Trojans got 79 of the 128 first-place votes in the polls but finishedthird in five computers because of a weak Pac-10 schedule.

LSU was second in the polls and six computers and edged out USC based on atougher schedule. LSU and USC were each picked first in one computer.

'I know there's controversy but that comes with the system. Until a playoff that's what will happen.'

The Tigers' spot in the title game wasn't assured until Boise State beatHawaii at 3 a.m. EST Sunday. The Trojans' strength of schedule was hurt becausethey beat Hawaii in September.

The dream matchup for the Rose Bowl, a traditional pairing of Big Ten andPac-10 champions with national title implications, is the doomsday scenario forthe BCS.

It's the third time in four seasons that a team in the top two in the pollsdidn't make it to the BCS title game. The BCS avoided disaster those yearsbecause No. 1 Oklahoma beat Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl and No. 1Miami beat Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl.

The No. 2 teams in the polls won their bowl games those years and could havewon the AP title if the top-ranked teams lost. The only way to avoid a disputedfinish this year is if Michigan (10-2) beats USC.

'I know there's controversy but that comes with the system,' Carroll said.'Until a playoff that's what will happen.'

There was talk two years ago when Nebraska made the title game withoutwinning the Big 12 to make a winning a conference a requirement to make thechampionship game. There are sure to be more calls for that change because ofOklahoma.

'With the events this year, we'd be foolish if we didn't look at it againin the spring,' said Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who runs the BCS.

The other BCS matchups have No. 10 Miami (10-2) playing No. 9 Florida State(10-2) in a rematch from the regular season in the Orange Bowl and No. 8 KansasState (11-3) facing No. 7 Ohio State (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl.

Champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC qualify fora BCS game. Oklahoma and Ohio State were picked as at-large teams.

Despite the controversy, there are still two intriguing matchups.

First up is USC-Michigan on Jan. 1 in the seventh Rose Bowl meeting betweenthe schools. The game features two high-powered offenses. USC is sixth in thenation in scoring at 42.2 points per game and Michigan is ninth at 37.2.

Quarterback Matt Leinart leads a balanced offense for the Trojans, whichfeatures game-breaking receivers in Mike Williams, Keary Colbert and SteveSmith and a dangerous running duo of Reggie Bush and LenDale White.

Michigan is led by quarterback John Navarre, who has delivered his biggestgames against the best opponents this year. The Wolverines also have talentedreceivers in Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston, and a top runningback in Chris Perry.

Three days later, LSU will play Oklahoma in what will almost be a home gamefor the Tigers at the Superdome in New Orleans - a short drive from LSU'scampus.

This game features the country's two best defenses. Oklahoma leads thenation, allowing only 255.6 yards per game, slightly better than LSU's 259.5.The Tigers have the top scoring defense at 10.8 points per game compared toOklahoma's third-best 14.9.

Both teams also have big-play quarterbacks. Jason White has 40 touchdownpasses and is a Heisman Trophy candidate for Oklahoma, while LSU's Matt Mauckhas 28 touchdown passes.

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