A television replay of Friday's Rose Bowl game showed that Michigan State split end Andre Rison stepped out of bounds before catching a 36-yard pass from quarterback Bobby McAllister in the fourth quarter.
Rison caught the ball at the USC 34-yard line. Six plays later, John Langeloh kicked the winning field goal as the Spartans won, 20-17.
It was inconclusive on the TV replay if Rison was bumped out of bounds by USC free safety Mark Carrier, who was defending on the play.
If Rison wasn't forced out of bounds, he was an illegal receiver when he returned inbounds.
Channel 2 sportscaster Tony Hernandez showed the replay on the station's 11 p.m. news report Friday and made reference to Rison stepping out of bounds.
An official was near Rison on the third-down play when he made his catch between Carrier and USC strong safety Cleveland Colter.
More attention was focused on whether McAllister was out of bounds when he threw a jump pass under pressure near the sideline from his own 30-yard line. TV replays showed that he was not out of bounds.
NBC announcers Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen did not raise the question of whether Rison had stepped out of bounds.
USC Coach Larry Smith said Saturday that he was watching McAllister at the time and that he hasn't seen the film of the game.
"But I have a feel about it," Smith said, alluding to Rison going out of bounds. "My son, Corby, saw a tape of the game Friday night and he said, 'Hey, Dad, he was out of bounds.'
"Sometimes, things are just meant to be. There is an element of luck in any game that doesn't have anything to do with skill, coaching or execution.
"Certain things aren't explainable. For example, you can't blame our center (John Katnik) for the ball slipping out of his hands."
Smith was referring to Katnik's errant snap after Michigan State went ahead, 20-17. USC was in a position to win or tie the game with a second-and-two from the Spartans' 30-yard line and 1:37 remaining.
But the snap caromed off quarterback Rodney Peete's shin, and the Spartans recovered the ball at their 23-yard line.
Smith said that if USC had retained possession of the ball he would not have played for a tie, unless the odds were decidedly unfavorable on scoring a touchdown.
"Why play for a tie in a bowl game?" he said. "In fact, I'd be in favor of a tiebreaking rule for bowl games."
USC had 410 total yards to Michigan State's 276, the most yardage gained against the Spartans the entire season.
"Their defensive coaches told me that they couldn't stop us in the second half," Smith said. "We stopped ourselves."