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LSU Defeats Oklahoma; USC Beats BCS

Sugar Bowl-winning Tigers will share title honors with the Trojans, who finish atop AP poll.

January 05, 2004|Mike DiGiovanna and Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writers

NEW ORLEANS — Bringing an end to the college football season but not to the controversy that engulfed it, Louisiana State defeated Oklahoma, 21-14, on Sunday night to win the Sugar Bowl and the Bowl Championship Series national title.

LSU will share title honors with Rose Bowl winner USC, which was named Associated Press national champion later Sunday night.

The BCS was created in 1998 specifically to head off a shared championship, and had done so each season until this one. But USC's exclusion from the designated championship game -- despite a No. 1 finish in both traditional polls -- set off an outcry about the computer-assisted BCS.

Michael Tranghese, the outgoing BCS coordinator, acknowledged the system's flaws and said Sunday that significant changes could be considered before next season.

Tranghese said the conference commissioners who run the BCS would strongly consider a rule stipulating that any team finishing No. 1 in both traditional polls would automatically qualify for the BCS title game.

"What we have is an imperfect system," said Tranghese, who also serves as Big East Conference commissioner.

The BCS will consider a provision that requires title-game participants to have won their conference title, a feat that Oklahoma did not accomplish this season, Tranghese said. An additional "championship game" after the four BCS bowls are played might also be considered.

But Tranghese stressed that college presidents remain opposed to an NFL-type playoff system.

"If you want a full-blown playoff, you're going to have one of two things: You're going to have to play during exams or into the second semester," Tranghese said. "And our presidents have said, 'We're not going to do either of those things.' "

Many thought the BCS controversy and USC's ranking atop the AP poll took some sheen off the "national title" Sugar Bowl -- but that view was not shared by the championship-hungry fans of LSU, who were expected to party deep into the night on Bourbon Street in celebration of the school's first national title since 1958.

The Tigers (13-1) needed two strong defensive stands in the final three minutes to hold off a surging Sooner team that had trimmed a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit to 21-14 with 11:01 remaining in the game.

Oklahoma (12-2) had a first down at the LSU 12-yard line with three minutes left, but Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jason White threw four incomplete passes, the last one off Mark Clayton's fingertips in the end zone with 2:46 to go.

The Sooners got the ball back one more time at their 49-yard line with 2:09 remaining and no timeouts. But White, who was pummeled by LSU's blitz all evening, failed to complete another three passes and was smothered by Tiger linebacker Lionel Turner for a loss of nine yards on fourth down, turning the ball over to the Tigers on downs.

As the clock ran out, thousands of flashbulbs popped amid a Superdome-record crowd of 79,342, which seemed to give the Tigers a decided home-field advantage.

"All I know is the powers that be selected us to be here," LSU quarterback Matt Mauck said after the game. "They just gave us the national championship trophy. I don't know how you couldn't consider us national champions."

The result leaves unanswered a major question for college football fans: Which is the better team, USC or LSU?

To the writers and broadcasters who vote in the AP poll, the nod goes to USC.

The Trojans garnered 48 first-place votes in the final poll, compared with 17 for LSU. The news agency was to present its championship trophy to USC Coach Pete Carroll today at the university's Heritage Hall.

The coaches who vote in the USA Today/ESPN poll are contractually obligated by the American Football Coaches Assn. to rank the winner of the BCS title game No. 1. LSU finished first, with 60 votes, while three unidentified coaches bucked their association and picked USC No. 1. Carroll does not have a vote.

In the final regular-season USA Today/ESPN poll, USC received 37 of the 63 first-place votes.

In the BCS rankings, USC, which finished with a 12-1 record, was ranked third, excluding the Trojans from the Sugar Bowl. Instead, they faced Michigan in the Rose Bowl, defeating the Wolverines, 28-14.

"LSU is just as deserving as we are," USC quarterback Matt Leinart said Sunday night. "It would have been fun to be there [playing in the Sugar Bowl], but we did what we had to do and won a national championship too, and did it in our home state in front of our own fans. LSU did the same thing."

The complicated BCS formula is based on a series of factors, including poll results, seven computer rankings and strength of schedule, but it does not consider margin of victory. Oklahoma and LSU appeared to edge out USC on the strength of their schedules.

For his part, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said that a post-bowl championship game would penalize a team that goes undefeated and wins its bowl game, as the Sooners did in winning the 2000 championship.

"It's never going to be perfect, and it doesn't need to be. It's easy to say, 'Let's keep playing games,' but these guys are 18-22 years old. They go to school every day, they're not NFL guys; they've been going at it since August," Stoops said.

A playoff system, Stoops added, would diminish the importance of a regular season in which every game is important for teams with title aspirations.

Tranghese said he would like to see an oversight committee, similar to the one used in college basketball, help settle the No. 1 vs. No. 2 disputes in football.

Tranghese, however, said an NFL-style playoff would eventually destroy the bowl system and diminish the importance of the regular season.

"When I was on the basketball committee," Tranghese said, "I used to always say, 'Don't make us like the NBA.' I don't want college football to be like the NFL."

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

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