Sugar teams seek fair share

USC's win does not affect goal for Oklahoma, LSU

Saban: `It means nothing to us'

With split of crown likely, BCS controversy fueled

January 03, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Don't dare suggest to anyone associated with the Louisiana State and Oklahoma football teams that tomorrow's Sugar Bowl isn't being played for the national championship.

Those who do might consider putting on helmets and pads themselves.

Given what occurred Thursday night in Pasadena, Calif., where top-ranked Southern California thoroughly beat No. 4 Michigan, 28-14, in the Rose Bowl, it figured that media day at the Louisiana Superdome yesterday turned into yet another debate about the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series.

"I was so interested in the USC game that I didn't even watch it," said LSU coach Nick Saban, clearly tired of a subject that has been discussed ad nauseam since the pairings were announced last month. "All that it makes for is media controversy. It means nothing to us."

Said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops: "No one understands that it's not going to be perfect. In 2000, the big debate was who should be playing Oklahoma in the national championship game. Whenever there are more teams available than spots available, you're going to debate it."

But the Tigers, a consensus No. 2 choice and the Sooners, No. 1 in the seven BCS computer rankings but No. 3 in the two human polls, also know that the best either of them can do is share this season's national championship with the Trojans.

While the final Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters won't be announced until late tomorrow night or early Monday morning, Southern Cal (12-1) is expected to maintain its top ranking regardless of what happens between LSU (12-1) and Oklahoma (12-1).

Under the arrangement between the BCS and the American Football Coaches Association, those coaches who vote in the ESPN/USA Today poll will cast their ballots for the winner of the season's designated championship game - in this case the Sugar Bowl.

The players here are resigned to the fact that, at best, they will be sharing the title with a team they didn't get a chance to play.

"Unfortunately you're going to have two teams that only have one loss," LSU wide receiver Michael Clayton said. "Arguably, who's the best team? There's not going to be another game to play this season to see who really is the best. I've seen USC play and they deserve to be No. 1 also, they have an excellent team."

Oklahoma wide-out Mark Clayton, no relation to his LSU counterpart, said of the Trojans, "They did what they had to do to hold their position."

Though the buzz about tomorrow's matchup has certainly been quieted by what happened clear across the country, the Tigers and Sooners don't believe that the game has become an afterthought. Neither do the 80,000 or so fans who will pour into the Superdome, a majority of them wearing LSU's purple and gold.

"Their opinions are their opinions, but the national championship trophy is over there, and it's still out to be gotten," said LSU defensive tackle Torran Williams, fixing his stare on the football-shaped crystal. "We have a big game in front of us and the USC game has nothing to do with us."

Talking with reporters yesterday Stoops said, "The winner of this game is going to be the national champion in the [coaches'] poll. I think what frustrates you guys is you can't control it. I know one thing, LSU or Oklahoma is going to leave with that crystal ball. That's the way it works."

Stoops, who has a vote in the coaches' poll, is not going to break ranks as Michigan coach Lloyd Carr suggested he might after the Wolverines were outclassed by USC. Nor will Stoops believe his Sooners would be any less a champion than the seven other Oklahoma football teams to have done so.

Asked if the words "Split National Champions" will be engraved on either the trophy or the rings given the players in the event that the Sooners win, Stoops smiled.

"Are you kidding?" he said. "But I don't think USC will either."

Oklahoma All-American linebacker Teddy Lehman summed up the feelings of many players on both teams here toward the BCS system and the Trojans' claim as being "the people's champion."

"There's nothing I can really do about it, so why care?" Lehman said. "It hasn't meant anything to us since the day they announced we were coming here. We could care less what USC is doing. I don't care. Just write that down. I'm not answering any more questions about USC."

That doesn't mean any others won't be asked.

But for those formulating their questions for LSU and Oklahoma about this much-maligned formula might consider putting on a helmet and pads.

Sugar Bowl

Matchup: No. 2 LSU (12-1) vs. No. 3 Oklahoma (12-1)

Site: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

TV: Chs 2, 7

Line: Oklahoma by 6 1/2

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