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Rising USC Joins BCS-tablishment

Trojans move up to No. 4 in bowl championship series and are positioned for a major bowl bid.

December 03, 2002|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

USC completed 32 passes against Notre Dame on Saturday, but those were all flanker screens compared to the pass the Trojans made Monday, when they zoomed by Iowa into the all-important No. 4 spot in the bowl championship series standings.

If USC can maintain its position through Sunday's final rankings, it will under BCS rules be guaranteed a $13-million at-large bowl berth.

The Trojans, who trailed idle Iowa by .94 last week, now lead the Hawkeyes by .71 with both schools having concluded their regular seasons.

It appears the only way USC could lose this advantage would be for Miami to lose to Virginia Tech next weekend and drop between Iowa and USC in the media and coaches' polls, which could provide Iowa the poll average point it needs to reclaim the No. 4 spot.

USC was able to make up ground by improving its computer average by 2.33 points, from 5.33 to 3.00, while Iowa made up only 1.66 in the category. The Trojans also gained a half-point in the poll average and another .28 when Iowa's strength of schedule fell from 40th to 47th.

Miami remained No. 1 in the BCS with 3.53 points followed by Ohio State at 4.01, Georgia at 9.03, USC at 9.84 and Iowa at 10.55. Notre Dame fell three BCS spots to No. 10, but the Irish will be BCS-eligible if they finish in the top 12.

USC's leapfrog move over Iowa, however, potentially throws the BCS into a contentious showdown between the Rose and Orange bowls and could force the Rose Bowl to reassess its relationship with the coalition.

The Rose Bowl, which for 55 straight years hosted a matchup of Pacific Coast and Big Ten schools, is miffed that the Orange Bowl might take 11-1 Iowa and leave the Rose with a potential rematch of USC vs. Washington State.

And if the Rose Bowl does not get Iowa?

"We would be severely disappointed," Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger said Monday.

A UCLA victory over Washington State would solve the problem because it would move USC from an at-large berth into the Rose Bowl as outright Pac-10 champion.

In that scenario, the Orange Bowl, which gets the first BCS pick if it loses No. 1 Miami to the Fiesta Bowl, might be inclined to take Notre Dame and let Iowa go to the Rose Bowl.

But if Washington State wins Saturday to earn the Rose Bowl berth, it forces one of the other three BCS bowls -- Orange, Sugar or Rose -- to take USC.

In that situation, the Orange Bowl would have to choose among USC, Iowa or Notre Dame. Since filling seats is critical to the bowl, that choice would likely be narrowed to Notre Dame or Iowa.

The Orange Bowl could not, in good conscience, take two-loss Notre Dame over Iowa because it would knock Iowa out of a BCS game (Remember, USC has the other guaranteed spot).

So, logic says the Orange Bowl would take Iowa to protect itself financially and let Notre Dame fall all the way to the Gator Bowl to the tune of a $11.5-million bowl pay cut.

And that would leave the Rose Bowl with steam coming out of its ears.

The Rose Bowl entered the alliance to ensure that the No. 1 and No. 2 schools could meet in a national title game, which it would host every four years, but did not envision being stripped of its traditional Pac-10/Big Ten pairing in other seasons.

Yet, this year, the Rose Bowl can't get Ohio State because the Buckeyes are playing in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title and may also lose out on Iowa, the nation's third-ranked school.

"It would clearly not be what we signed up for, and it would clearly be a factor in future considerations," Dorger said of the Rose Bowl's relationship with the BCS. "But I can't say that it would alter anything."

The Rose Bowl is contracted with the BCS through the 2005 season, and will host the 2006 title game.

After that, who knows?

The potential of losing Iowa has the Rose Bowl perplexed.

"It's different than we expected," Dorger said. "We expected essentially a national championship game and three years of normalcy. We recognize that there was always that possibility, but there was always the unspoken expectation that the tradition could still continue in some shape."

How's this for tradition:

If push comes to shove, the Rose Bowl may have to take USC with its at-large pick and match it against Washington State.

That prospect became more of a reality when Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State.

Now, in the Washington State beats UCLA scenario, the Rose Bowl may be left with a choice among USC, four-loss Florida State, three-loss Colorado or two-loss Oklahoma.

Before it lost, Oklahoma at 12-1 would have been an attractive option to pair against Washington State in the Rose Bowl.

Dorger says the Rose Bowl does not want a USC-Washington State rematch, but that may be better than the alternatives.

"It would be unprecedented in the BCS and probably unprecedented in the Rose Bowl to have two teams from the same conference," Dorger said. "But it would certainly be something we'd have to look at and compare. It is clearly a technical option and something we would have to look at."

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