Bittersweet: Polls' No. 1 not in Sugar

AP, coaches promote USC

LSU-Okla. playing for title

College Football

December 08, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The computers that compile the convoluted data to determine college football's Division I-A national championship game sent Oklahoma and Louisiana State to next month's Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, giving proponents of a true playoff format their strongest ammunition for changing the current system.

By overlooking Southern California, the No. 1 team in both the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters as well as the ESPN/USA Today poll of coaches, the Bowl Championship Series left the validity of its formula more hotly debated than ever before.

The Sooners remained No. 1 in the final BCS rankings but dropped to No. 3 in the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls after losing to Kansas State, 35-7, in Saturday's Big 12 championship game. USC went to No. 1 in both "human" polls but was No. 3 in the BCS. LSU was second across the board.

As a result, for the first time in the six-year history of the BCS, a No. 1 team in the two polls won't get a place in the championship game. The Pacific-10-champion Trojans will stay home and play Big Ten-champion Michigan, ranked fourth by the BCS, AP and coaches, in a traditional Rose Bowl matchup.

Even BCS coordinator Mike Tranghese, the commissioner of the Big East Conference, acknowledged that the system might need tweaking.

"I think our system is better than what we had, but in no way do I intend to diminish the disappointment that I know that USC is facing today," Tranghese said on last night's teleconference. "We had three one-loss teams, and, at the end of the day, strength of schedule proved to be the determining factor."

Oklahoma (12-1) finished with the 11th-toughest schedule overall. LSU (11-1) was 29th and USC (11-1) 37th after finishing its regular season with a 52-28 win over Oregon State.

The Tigers jumped more than 20 spots in schedule strength after defeating Georgia, 34-13, in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday. LSU's overall score in the BCS was .16 better than the Trojans and its strength of schedule was .32 better.

Two seemingly insignificant Saturday games also helped knock USC out of the BCS running. Because the Trojans had beaten Notre Dame and Hawaii, the Fighting Irish's loss to Syracuse and the Rainbows' defeat by Boise State boosted LSU.

"I'm sad that it worked out this way that three deserving teams came into the picture at the end and somebody didn't get the opportunity to play," Sugar Bowl chairman Paul Hoolahan said. "Coaches have always said football is a game of inches. Unfortunately with the BCS now, it's become a game of fractions."

Another issue was the fact that the Sooners lost their conference championship game and are now playing for a chance at a national title.

"This marks the second time in three years that we've had a team that wasn't a conference champion playing in a championship game, and it's something that we're going to have to talk about again in April," said Tranghese, referring to a situation with Nebraska two years ago.

USC coach Pete Carroll continued to take the high road.

"We look at it that we're the No. 1 team in the country and we're going to do everything we can to hold that No. 1 spot," Carroll said during yesterday's BCS announcement show on ABC. "By winning that football game [against Michigan], I think that at the end of the season, we're going to be the No. 1 team in the country regardless of what you say the other poll is."

LSU coach Nick Saban didn't echo Carroll's opinion.

"I think what we all have to do is take the system that we have [and] respect it," Saban said. "We're going to play a quality team in the Nokia Sugar Bowl in Oklahoma, and I think whichever team wins that game is certainly going to have the opportunity to say it deserves to be national champions."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops seemed clearly perturbed by the insinuation that his team didn't deserve a chance to play for the national championship.

"Though I respect both those programs [USC and LSU] and the way they've played, we've come almost 13 or 14 straight weeks of being No. 1 in the country, carrying that burden the entire year and played pretty well," Stoops said. "In the end, we're No. 1 in the BCS, not 2 or 3 or anything else.

"I think that also says enough. The system is what it is. I find no shame in that we're playing an extra game against a Top 10 team playing for the same thing we are. We all knew the system going into the year, and at the end of the year, we're No. 1 in the system. There's nothing to apologize about."

Another problem developed when the Fiesta Bowl and the Orange Bowl wanted Ohio State as its at-large representative. The Fiesta had the first choice and selected defending national champion Ohio State to play Kansas State in Tempe, Ariz.

That left the Orange Bowl with Miami-Florida State, a rematch of a game this season in Tallahassee won by the Hurricanes. The teams are also set to play in Miami to open the 2004 season as part of the Hurricanes' joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"We were faced with a situation where we had two bowls and they were both seeking something," Tranghese said. "If we made the change, we felt we were solving one bowl's problem and causing another problem for the other bowl. The Fiesta Bowl had the selection rights. It was a difficult call."

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