USC is going to South Florida to play Iowa instead of New Orleans to play Georgia because of a bit of trickery the Orange Bowl pulled out of the bowl championship series playbook.
Perfectly legal, mind you, a variation of the old end-around.
Taking advantage of a one-time option provision in the BCS contract, the Orange Bowl was able to trump the Sugar Bowl's bid and match No. 5 USC against No. 3 Iowa in Miami on Jan. 2, bringing a merciful end to one of the most bizarre weeks in the history of bowl bidding.
Up until Oklahoma defeated Colorado in the Big 12 championship game Saturday night, it appeared USC was headed to the Sugar Bowl to play Georgia.
But the Orange Bowl switched gears and took USC to play against Iowa in a matchup that, for about 55 years, would have made a mouth-watering Rose Bowl.
The Rose Bowl lobbied against pairing the co-champions of the Pacific 10 and Big Ten conferences in the Orange Bowl, but had no legal recourse to stop the move.
"We learned a lot about the BCS this year and the way it operates," Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger said Sunday. "We did not anticipate all the subtleties of the system. Everything was conducted this year in accordance with the rules."
The Rose Bowl understood that, as perceptions go, an Iowa-USC game in the Orange Bowl simply did not look good.
There were even questions Sunday as to whether the Rose Bowl, out of frustration, might pull out of the BCS when the contract expires after the 2005 season, but Dorger gave no indication that would happen.
"We are committed in the BCS system," he said. "We have no position with regard of where we might go or if any changes are needed or not."
When asked if he was worried about whether the Rose Bowl might pull out, BCS Coordinator Michael Tranghese was emphatic.
"No, absolutely not," he said. "I think we've invested a great deal into this. I think at the end of the day, measuring everything it's done, the high side clearly outweighs the down side."
When the Orange Bowl made its final chess move, the fractious BCS bowl picture was at last finalized.
Miami (12-0) and Ohio State (13-0), which finished first and second in the BCS standings, will play in the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl for the undisputed national title.
The Rose Bowl will pair Pac-10 co-champion Washington State (10-2) against Big 12 champion Oklahoma (11-2), while the Sugar Bowl will play host to Florida State (9-4) and Georgia (12-1), champions of the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences.
The irony is that for all the confusion and controversy surrounding this year's BCS, the system will pair the nation's two undefeated schools in a title game that could not have been made under the old format.
"I'll remind everybody," Tranghese said, "that eight years ago you could have not brought together Ohio State and Miami. Ohio State would have been in Rose Bowl and Miami would have been in the Orange Bowl and everybody would have been clamoring for it. They would have said, 'look at the stupidity of this system.'
"And now we bring them together and now everyone wants to focus on everything else except the fact two teams, No. 1 and No. 2 and undefeated, are going to get a chance to play."
The problem with the BCS this year was the three major bowls not participating in the national title game.
The Rose Bowl agreed to join the BCS in 1998 knowing it could lose its traditional Pac-10/Big Ten pairing even in seasons when it was not hosting the national title game, but that realization hit hard this year.
Not only did the Rose Bowl lose Iowa (11-1) to the Orange Bowl, it then had to watch as the Orange Bowl used a legal maneuver to take USC (10-2).
"We were familiar with all the rules," Dorger said. "What I think came to light for us was the way in which those rules can create more permutations and combinations than we previously anticipated."
The Rose Bowl wasn't the only big player befuddled. Notre Dame, which at 10-2 thought it had a good shot at receiving a BCS bowl bid, ended up in the Gator Bowl, roughly a $12-million pay cut.
So how did the Orange Bowl get USC?
Among myriad rules in the BCS contract is one that allows a bowl with a higher payout to jump order in the selection process.
How it works: With Miami and Ohio State lost to the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl got the first pick and took Iowa. The Rose Bowl, selecting second and wanting to avoid a Washington State-USC rematch, selected 11-2 Oklahoma.
That left USC -- guaranteed an at-large berth in one of the four BCS bowls because of its No. 4 finish in the BCS rankings -- and Florida State to fill the last two spots.
The Sugar and Orange bowls both submitted on paper the schools they wanted in order of preference. Both bowls selected USC first. In accordance with BCS rules, the Orange Bowl exercised what is called a preferential pick, earning the one-time right to take USC.
The Orange Bowl earned this right by paying roughly $200,000 more a season, $900,000 over the life of the BCS contact, than the Sugar Bowl.
"Our board labored with the decision," Orange Bowl Chief Executive Keith Tribble said.
Tribble had to know the decision would not please the Rose Bowl, yet he saw this as a one-time opportunity to get a premier matchup and much better than the alternative -- Iowa vs. four-loss Florida State.
Tribble said the USC option "probably became more into focus after the games of Saturday materialized." He said he was sensitive to the Rose Bowl's concerns but ultimately had to make the best deal for his bowl under the rules.
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*--* LAS VEGAS BOWL at Las Vegas UCLA (7-5) vs. NEW MEXICO (7-6) Dec. 25, 1:30 p.m., ESPN
*--* ROSE BOWL at Pasadena WASH. ST. (10-2) vs. OKLA. (11-2) Jan. 1, 2 p.m., Ch. 7
*--* SUGAR BOWL at New Orleans GEORGIA (12-1) vs. FLORIDA ST. (9-4) Jan. 1, 5:30 p.m., Ch. 7
*--* ORANGE BOWL at Miami USC (10-2) vs. IOWA (11-1) Jan. 2, 5 p.m., Ch. 7
*--* FIESTA BOWL at Tempe, Ariz. MIAMI (12-0) vs. OHIO ST. (13-0) Jan. 3, 5 p.m., Ch. 7