Fruits of Victory; Agony of BCS

Times Staff Writer

Like test scores on a classroom door, the final bowl championships series standings were posted Sunday -- and not all the student-athletes walked away happy.

Capping the end of another tumultuous regular season in college football, USC and Oklahoma finished first and second in the BCS -- and Auburn did not.

Texas is going to the Rose Bowl, for the first time, to play Michigan, for the first time.

And 10-1 California, ranked ahead of Texas in both human polls, is going to the Holiday Bowl.


Controversy reigns ... again.

USC finished first in the final BCS standings with an average of .9770, followed by Oklahoma at .9681.

Oklahoma and USC will play for the BCS national title in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl.

It marks the first time in the seven-year history of the BCS that a Pacific 10 Conference school has advanced to the title game.

“It’s a great breakthrough for our conference,” Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said Sunday. “I’m very excited for that. Obviously, we feel very badly about Cal as I know people feel badly about Auburn.”

Last year, the Trojans were No. 1 in both polls but finished third in the final BCS standings. USC earned a share of the national title by winning the Associated Press crown; this year the Trojans can make a unanimous statement.

Or can they?

Auburn finished third in this year’s BCS at .9331, becoming the first 12-0 team in Southeastern Conference history not to play for the national title.

Instead, Auburn will play Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

At No. 3 in both polls, it is doubtful Auburn could make a claim for the Associated Press title even if it scores a resounding victory and the Orange Bowl game is a dud.

Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville said unless college football goes to a playoff, “you’re going to have problems like this.”

Auburn isn’t the only team with a beef.

Cal, No. 4 in both human polls, was hoping to parlay its 10-1 record into the school’s first Rose Bowl bid since 1959.

Instead, the Bears will play in the Holiday Bowl because Texas, No. 6 in the AP media poll and No. 5 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, finished No. 4 in the final BCS standings. Under rules that won’t apply in two years when the new BCS contract goes into effect, Texas earned one of two automatic at-large BCS bids; Utah clinched the other spot by becoming the first non-BCS school to finish in the BCS top six.

“Obviously, we’re very disappointed,” California Coach Jeff Tedford said. "... There’s no use in sitting here whining about it or crying about it. Now we move forward.”

Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger said he also was disappointed Cal was not available for selection, but added, “we’re clearly going to take high road.”

He described Texas-Michigan as a “matchup of two of the most storied programs in college football. Texas has never been in the Rose Bowl and believe it or not, Texas has never played Michigan ... It’s a different plan than the one we envisioned earlier, but we have to play the cards we are dealt.”

Cal began weekend play at No. 4 in the BCS with a .0013 lead over Texas. Cal’s 26-16 win at Southern Mississippi, however, apparently wasn’t deemed good enough by enough voting writers and coaches.

Texas finished No. 4 with a BCS average of .8476 while Cal ended up at .8347.

Cal lost 11 points in the writers’ poll this week and 18 in the coaches’ poll.

Texas, which was idle, picked up 12 points in the AP and 15 points in the coaches’ poll.

While Cal stayed at No. 4 in both polls, the margin of total points narrowed enough for Texas’ lead in the computer component to send the Longhorns to Pasadena. Texas finished No. 4 in the computer rankings, Cal sixth.

The BCS rankings system was created in 1998 to help match the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a “national title game.”

What the BCS has most often produced, however, is criticism.

For the fourth time in the last five years, the season has ended with significant controversy.

In 2000, Miami finished No. 2 in both polls but Florida State and Oklahoma played for the national title.

In 2001, Oregon was No. 2 in both polls but was beaten out for the title game spot by Nebraska.

Last year, USC was No. 1 in both polls but No. 3 in the BCS standings and had to settle for a split share of the national title.

For all its flaws, it appears the BCS system will be in place for at least five more years.

College presidents have adamantly opposed a playoff and recently agreed to a new format, beginning with the 2006 season, that will add an additional BCS bowl game to each season but not a one-game playoff.

Last year, USC felt left out of the BCS system.

This year, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive knows the feeling with Auburn.

Slive -- whose conference benefited a year ago when Louisiana State finished No. 2 in the BCS and played in the title game instead of USC -- said he didn’t want to criticize a system that wronged his school because it would sound like “sour grapes.”

Slive did say, “I’m going to be very open-minded in the next year or two, I will tell you that.

“Is there a better way to do this? This is something I personally down the road will look at.”

Slive says he doubts that college football is any closer to a playoff than it was last week and that he respects the opinions of presidents who oppose a playoff plan.

“I don’t think the SEC presidents are out of touch, and I don’t think the presidential oversight committee is out of touch,” Slive said. “They have a position and they’ve maintained a position. I don’t know if there is a better way.”

Despite the fact Auburn drew the short BCS straw this year, Slive says the excitement college football produces week to week cannot be rivaled.

“We’ve got a great regular season,” Slive said. “Hattiesburg [Miss.] is the capital of the world for a day. Every one of the games is of interest. There are a lot of positives for keeping the regular season the way it is.”

One of the biggest complaints about the current BCS system is that each of the six conference champions receives an automatic bid, regardless of record.

Pittsburgh, with three losses, earned a Fiesta Bowl bid against Utah because it won a Big East Conference weakened by the defections of Miami and Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg said Sunday the automatic bid status for conferences is going to be tweaked at some point but added that the Big East’s status is safe for at least three more years.

“This system has always been one built around conference champions,” Weiberg said. “We would not be in favor of moving in the direction to take a championship team out of the mix.”



Final BCS Standings

(Tabular data not retained in TimesOnline)