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Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Uncertainties for Bowls Are Hardly Garden Variety

November 23, 2003|Chris Dufresne

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — USC is one win from playing Oklahoma for the national title.

(Probably).

Michigan is headed to the Rose Bowl.

(You can almost book it.)

Washington State's loss to Washington left the Rose Bowl in a big lurch.

(Bigger than that one on "The Addams Family.")

The New York Times computer will not drop USC two spots after another blowout win.

(Can't say for sure.)

The bowl championship series, despite its many critics, will work itself out and prove to be a satisfactory way of sorting out college football's postseason.

(Tell it to Louisiana State, the Rose Bowl and/or check back with us Dec. 7).

Whatever you thought of the BCS system last week, as Trojan fans prepared to raise torches and head toward the BCS village square, the headline for Saturday's BCS newsletter was: A whole lot of shake out going on.

Anyone having fun yet?

Sometimes, as they say, good things come to teams that wait.

First off, it was a dream day for USC, almost perfect. It could have only been better had Mississippi found a way to upset LSU instead of Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning's tripping over his feet, on a fourth-down play, in a three-point loss.

Still, a bright, shiny, sing-song Trojan day.

Like a snow-blower in the Ann Arbor winter, Michigan's 35-21 win over Ohio State virtually cleared USC's path to the national-title game.

Mascots wearing ancient Roman garb were up in arms last week when Ohio State jumped over USC into the No. 2 BCS spot, quite an overtaking in a four-fangled ranking system that sends only the top two teams to the title game.

In reality, last week was only a snapshot of the season, not an engraving.

This week, BCS order will be restored -- we think.

In a nut, USC beat up on UCLA, Michigan took care of Ohio State and now the Trojans can almost start packing for the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl. There is only one piece of business left to take care of: beating Oregon State in the Coliseum on Dec. 6.

USC will return to No. 2 in Monday's BCS standings with one-loss LSU the only team that can catch the Trojans.

But even that is a longshot.

USC had a 4.50 lead over LSU in last week's BCS. Neither No. 2 USC nor No. 3 LSU will gain in the poll average because Ohio State was behind both schools at No. 4 in both polls.

Unless LSU can jump USC in either of the human polls the next few weeks, it will be tough for LSU to make up the deficit. The Trojans held a 2.50 lead over the Tigers in the computer average, with a 1.40 advantage in the strength-of-schedule component.

If LSU beats Arkansas next week and then wins the Southeastern Conference title game, the Tigers will pick up BCS ground on USC but probably not enough to threaten the Trojans.

Then, the cries of BCS outrage transfer from Los Angeles to Baton Rouge, right?

The Rose Bowl has its own problems ... big, thorny problems.

It is never comforting when the Big Ten crowns its champion and the Rose Bowl cannot officially extend a bid.

Many Wolverine players waved single roses as they left Michigan Stadium, but no one was sure exactly what to think.

"The Rose Bowl is great; we got the bid in the locker room," Michigan quarterback John Navarre said.

"Whatever happens after that is out of our hands."

Navarre was half right.

Because there is a slight chance Michigan could maneuver to the No. 2 spot in the BCS and play for the national title, the Rose Bowl could not sign off on the Wolverines.

"We have extended an invitation," Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger said from his Los Angeles-area home. "We understand they cannot accept it now pending a whole series of things that might happen."

For instance: Michigan, No. 9 in last week's BCS, might play Oklahoma for the national title if USC, LSU, Texas, Georgia and Tennessee all lost.

Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr summed up the murkiness when he said, "We are excited about whatever opportunity we're presented with as we go forward."

Asked what he thought of the words a Rose Bowl official said to the team in the Michigan locker room, Carr said, "Honestly, I didn't hear him. We were making too much noise."

The Rose Bowl's day was anything but sunshine and roses, especially after Washington's Saturday night win knocked Washington State from the Rose Bowl to the Holiday Bowl.

Instead of a likely matchup of Washington State vs. Michigan -- yeah, just like the old days! -- the Rose Bowl now hangs a sign outside its doors: gone fishing.

If Oklahoma finishes No. 1, the Fiesta Bowl gets the first at-large BCS pick and the Rose Bowl's choice to find a playing partner for Michigan will depend on what the Fiesta does.

If it takes the Southeastern Conference champion, the Rose can nab Texas to play Michigan.

If the Fiesta takes Texas, the Rose can take the SEC, ACC, Big East champion or any eligible top-12 BCS squad.

The BCS is funny business.

See, it was in the Rose Bowl's self-interest for Ohio State to beat Michigan and keep USC in the No. 3 BCS slot; in that case, the Trojans would fall into the Rose Bowl.

Michigan's victory all but eliminated that possibility.

In the Wolverines, the Rose Bowl will be getting a 10-2 team on the rise.

What could the Rose Bowl say? "We don't play favorites among friends," Dorger said of a bowl relationship with the Big Ten that started in 1947.

It was another crazy Saturday in another crazy season.

And do you know what Mitch Dorger did to stay busy through all the madness?

He went to his garden ... and pruned roses.

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