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Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Trojans Could Lose a Spit Decision

November 16, 2003|Chris Dufresne

TUCSON — It is a freaky football world when USC can do everything right on a Saturday night and lose ground in the national title chase while Ohio State can win without scoring an offensive touchdown and gain ground.

USC played a crisp game on a crisp night and handled Arizona like a play toy, 45-0, at Arizona Stadium.

"A beautiful game," Trojan Coach Pete Carroll called it.

Ohio State barely held on at home to beat Purdue, 16-13, in overtime, yet the Buckeyes will likely get the bigger BCS bump in the race for the Sugar Bowl.

Brandon Hance, the USC backup quarterback who transferred from Purdue, thought his former teammates were going to eliminate Ohio State as USC's No. 1 bowl championship series headache.

"I thought they had a good shot," he said, "but there's nothing we can do about it."

Trojan fans must scratch their heads in mulling these developments.

Oklahoma is No. 1 in both national polls and USC is No. 2.

Before there was a BCS, being No. 1 and No. 2 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls would have been good enough for Oklahoma and USC to meet for the national title provided both teams won out.

But that's not the way it works anymore. The bowl championship series standings were introduced in 1998 as a way to more fairly determine the title-game participants.

But no one ever stopped to ask, what if there is no dispute?

In 2000, Oklahoma and Miami were Nos. 1 and 2 in both polls, but the BCS standings dictated Florida State play Oklahoma. In 2001, Miami and Oregon were Nos. 1 and 2 but Miami had to play Nebraska because Nebraska is what the BCS spit out.

This season could be headed toward a similar saliva check.

USC won Saturday but really lost, for now, and it will be up to the churning of BCS computers to decide by how much.

It's almost beyond obvious now that Oklahoma will finish unscathed and claim one of the top spots in the Sugar Bowl.

USC started the weekend in the No. 2 BCS spot, with a 1.46-point lead over No. 3 Ohio State.

Because Arizona was a weak opponent, however, USC's victory may ring as hollow as Saturday's half-empty stadium.

And while Ohio State's victory was as ugly as a Buckeye boil, it will probably pick up BCS ground because it defeated a stronger opponent in Purdue.

"We know, we know," USC defensive end Kenechi Udeze said when asked about Buckeyes approaching in his rearview mirror.

He also added, "We have no control over what happens."

The price for USC's beating Arizona may be a worsening of the Trojans' No. 16 strength-of-schedule ranking in the BCS. This should help Ohio State cut into USC's 1.46 advantage as the Buckeyes will probably improve their schedule strength with a win over No. 11 Purdue.

It has become almost comical how many other games are having an impact on USC's BCS fortunes.

One online BCS analyst noted USC's BCS ranking would be helped by the following outcomes: Washington State over Arizona State; Auburn over Georgia, Brigham Young over Notre Dame, Hawaii over Nevada, UCLA over Oregon, California over Washington, Kansas State over Nebraska, Pittsburgh over West Virginia and New Mexico over Air Force.

How did it come out? In those games, USC ended up with four results that helped and five that hurt.

For sure, Washington State's win over Arizona State was a bonus because it will keep the Cougars in the BCS top 10. The Trojans will receive a "quality win" deduction for beating Washington State should the Cougars finish in the BCS top 10. That position will be assured if Washington State beats Washington next week.

UCLA could have helped USC by defeating Oregon because USC plays UCLA next week. To follow this through, a win over 7-4 UCLA would have helped USC more than a win over 6-5 UCLA.

Final score: Oregon 31, UCLA 13, proving you should never count on your archrivals for anything.

How this will shake out, no one knows.

Louisiana State's 27-3 win at Alabama assures LSU will keep its No. 3 poll ranking and, more important for Trojan interests, will keep Ohio State at No. 4 in the polls.

If Ohio State is able to jump LSU into the No. 3 spot, the Buckeyes could end up jumping USC for the final Sugar Bowl spot.

It could be that close.

"It's tempting to think about all that, about who we want to win or lose," Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart said, "but we just have to keep winning."

Other than winning out against UCLA (no problem) and Oregon State (probably no problem), USC should now be rooting hard for a Michigan victory over Ohio State next week in Ann Arbor.

There is no reason to believe chug-a-lug Ohio State can win this game, other than the fact Ohio State has been winning these kind of scrums for two years now.

Trojan receiver Mike Williams' reaction was, "Who cares?"

How about USC fans who have already booked nonrefundable flights to New Orleans?

So while "Fight On" will be the rallying cry for USC fans next week against UCLA, it should be followed heartily by the cheer of Michigan faithful:

Go Big Blue.

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