Nearly perfect-USC-OU as close as BCS can get this season

Sunday, January 2, 2005

MIAMI -- Pete Carroll calls this one the perfect matchup, and in many ways it is: USC vs. Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the national title.

Preseason favorites to make it to Miami, the Trojans and Sooners were No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls all year. They feature the last two Heisman Trophy winners and about a dozen All-Americans between them.

Oklahoma and Southern California have 11 AP national titles combined.

Of course, rarely is anything ever perfect when the Bowl Championship Series is involved.

Just ask Auburn.

Top-ranked USC (12-0) and the No. 2 Sooners (12-0) meet Tuesday night for a national championship that will wrap up the college football season, but not necessarily the debate over who's No. 1.

On Monday night, No. 3 Auburn puts its 12-0 record on the line against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl with a chance to finish a perfect season that will compare favorably with the Orange Bowl winner's.

"It stinks the way it played out this year for them," Oklahoma quarterback Jason White said. "They're a great team. They probably deserve to be in this championship game just as much as either one of us."

USC and Oklahoma were right at the center of last year's BCS mess. The Trojans were left out of the BCS title game despite being No. 1 in the polls. The Sooners got in despite a lopsided loss in the Big 12 championship game.

In the end, USC finished on top in The Associated Press Top 25 and LSU beat Oklahoma to win the BCS crown.

"We were playing for the title in our minds last year," said Carroll, the Trojans' coach.

The BCS guys were determined to make sure a consensus No. 1 would never again be left out of the title game, so this year's formula emphasized the polls over the computers.

One problem solved.

Next problem: There are three unbeaten teams from major conferences, all clearly worthy of a spot in the title game. For that, there is no BCS solution.

"I'd love to see a playoff, though this does feel a little like a playoff," Carroll said. "But I'm not hopeful for that."

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