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THE RIVALRY | UCLA 13, NO. 2 USC 9 | ANALYSIS

It's now Ohio State and _____________

December 03, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

Recalibrate your standings, double-check your dip-stick, rethink the entire process and take back all previous assumptions made, written or spouted.

USC is not going to the Bowl Championship Series title game to play Ohio State on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

That's not as in 13-9.

UCLA end Bruce Davis, who had a hand, and a foot, and a helmet in Saturday's humongous upset at the Rose Bowl, reacted unsympathetically to this (heart) breaking bit of news.

"Ha! Ha!" Davis said.

The question Davis did not answer was, now what?

If USC isn't going to play for the national title, who is?

Well, it's going to be the Ohio State Buckeyes versus hold-on-to-your BCS hats.

What seemed so simple Saturday morning, Ohio State vs. USC with a bit of grumbling out of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Gainesville, Fla., is now a points war between Michigan and Florida.

If you thought Dewey vs. Truman was a race, stay tuned to today's final BCS standings release.

Not even people who study the BCS for a living are willing to venture a guess.

"It's going to be close," independent BCS analyst Jerry Palm said Saturday night.

The day began with Ohio State, USC, Michigan and Florida as the top four schools in the BCS mix.

And while you might think form would follow, USC's dramatic loss does not automatically elevate Michigan to the No. 2 spot in the BCS and secure a rematch against Ohio State in the game for the national title.

Palm says Florida's 38-28 win over Arkansas will trigger Florida jumping over Michigan into the No. 2 spot in the BCS computers.

That will leave Michigan's fate in the hands of 114 Harris poll voters and 63 coaches.

Michigan had an 86-point lead over Florida in the Harris poll and only a 40-point lead in the coaches' poll.

The decision will come down to how many voters will put Florida ahead of Michigan on their final ballots.

Will voters, after a reassessment of the facts, determine they don't want to see an Ohio State-Michigan rematch and give Florida the nod?

"Reading the minds of 177 voters is really hard," Palm said.

Brian Dohn, a Harris voter who covers UCLA for the Los Angeles Daily News, said he was inclined to vote Florida at No. 2 ahead of Michigan.

"I don't think Ohio State should have to beat Michigan again," Dohn reasoned after Saturday's UCLA-USC game.

Photo football finishes mixed with controversy are nothing new in the BCS.

In 2000, Florida State edged Miami out of the No. 2 spot by the margin of .32, even though Miami beat Florida State that season.

A year later, Nebraska got in the game by the margin of .05 over Colorado, which beat Nebraska, 62-36.

In 2003, USC was No.1 in both polls but finished third in the BCS, .16 behind Louisiana State.

What happens in the final BCS standings will affect the outcome of major bowls.

USC, with its loss to UCLA, "drops" into the Rose Bowl.

If Ohio State plays Michigan in the BCS title game, USC will play Louisiana State in the Rose Bowl in an interesting match-up of schools many thought should have met for the national title in 2003.

If Ohio State plays Florida in the BCS title game, the Rose Bowl gets a traditional match-up of USC vs. Michigan, which will come as a shock to the television station in Baton Rouge, La., that last week "broke" the story that the Rose Bowl was going to invite Louisiana State.

In the BCS, see, you always have to leave room for the outrageously unexpected.

"I kept telling people there was a lot of football left to be played," Mitch Dorger, Rose Bowl chief executive, said Saturday night. "I clearly think it's going to come down to a decimal-points finish."

Louisiana State has already pre-sold more than 42,000 tickets to the Rose Bowl in anticipation of making its first appearance.

There will be plenty of nervous Tigers fans today, but they won't be alone.

They'll be joined by nail-biters in Michigan and Gators baiters in Florida.

If Michigan gets knocked out of a national-title chance without doing anything wrong, well, it wouldn't be the first time.

In 1997, a year before the BCS was formed, Michigan was No.1 in both polls and beat Washington State in the Rose Bowl. It earned the Associated Press half of the title but the voting coaches dropped Michigan to No. 2 behind Nebraska.

It's a little late in the game now to stage a get-out-the-vote campaign, but CBS, which televises Southeastern Conference games, was understandably putting in the good word for Florida's cause.

Michigan hasn't played since Nov. 18, so it didn't have a network to do its bidding.

The interesting thing is there's no telling how this will work out.

Tiny details might sway the outcome.

How about that late touchdown and two-point conversion Michigan scored against Ohio State to turn an 11-point deficit into a three-point loss?

Will people forget how much Ohio State really controlled that game?

Was a 10-point win for Florida, against an Arkansas team that USC beat, 50-14, enough to turn enough votes?

Not surprisingly, Florida Coach Urban Meyer thinks so.

"Florida belongs," Meyer said after beating Arkansas. "The other team [Michigan] had a shot. We went 12 and 1 and I think the country wants to see the Southeastern Conference champion against a Big Ten champion. I think that's what this is all about."

We'll find out.

*

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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