Football   
    Controversial Finish: USC No. 1 In Polls, Third In BCS
    Coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans will take on Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
    Coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans will take on Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

    Dec 7, 2003

    By JOSH DUBOW
    AP Football Writer

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

    And get ready for a new round of controversy.

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

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

    Despite getting walloped by Kansas State 35-7 on Saturday night, Oklahoma will take its 12-1 record to the Sugar Bowl against LSU, which won the Southeastern 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 Associated Press 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 hold that spot," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "If we win that football game, we feel like we'll be the No. 1 team in the country regardless of what that other bowl 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 without playoffs.

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

    "Unfortunately, there seems to be three teams that people would like to see and 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 its top spot in five of the seven computers, the 11th-toughest schedule and a quality win over Texas. The Sooners were third in both polls.

    "The system is what it is and we can't control it," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "We feel we have more than earned our way into 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 second closest finish in the six-year history of the BCS. Nebraska beat Colorado by 0.05 in 2001.

    The Trojans got 79 of the 128 first-place votes in the polls but finished third 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 a tougher 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 beat Hawaii at 3 a.m. EST Sunday. The Trojans' strength of schedule was hurt because they beat Hawaii in September.

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

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

    The No. 2 teams in the polls won their bowl games those years and could have won the AP title if the top-ranked teams lost. The only way to avoid a disputed finish 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 without winning the Big 12 to make a winning a conference a requirement to make the championship game. There are sure to be more calls for that change because of Oklahoma.

    "With the events this year, we'd be foolish if we didn't look at it again in 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 Kansas State (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 for a 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 between the schools. The game features two high-powered offenses. USC is sixth in the nation 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, which features game-breaking receivers in Mike Williams, Keary Colbert and Steve Smith and a dangerous running duo of Reggie Bush and LenDale White.

    Michigan is led by quarterback John Navarre, who has delivered his biggest games against the best opponents this year. The Wolverines also have talented receivers in Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston, and a top running back in Chris Perry.

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

    This game features the country's two best defenses. Oklahoma leads the nation, 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 to Oklahoma's third-best 14.9.

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