Welcome to the BCS' next nightmare

ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

It appears USC, Louisiana State and Oklahoma are the best teams out there right now and that could ultimately lead to a contentious three-way battle for two spots in the Bowl Championship Series championship game.

These three power franchises have outscored five opponents by the total of 261-40.

The BCS title game this year is in the Louisiana Superdome.

Nick Saban is a coach in the Southeastern Conference.

Oh . . . my . . . God.

Is it 2003 all over again?

No one wants a repeat of that farce. College football wouldn't see another year like it until . . . 2004.

Refresher: USC finished No. 1 in both polls in 2003 but ended up No. 3 in the final BCS standings, leading to split national titles, cries of voter fraud and a long-distance screaming match from Los Angeles to Baton Rouge that continues to this day.

LSU defeated Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to win the BCS crown while USC claimed the Associated Press title.

That season gave us the Chicago-election moment of 34 voting coaches, under mandate from their governing board, dropping USC as No. 1 in their poll after the Trojans won their bowl game.

Now, you could almost justify that skulduggery if USC was going to beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl this year.

The idea that Doomsday II may be on the horizon is what we like to call premature speculation. There are (Les) Miles to go before we sleep.

Yet, we've discovered in the BCS that, generally, what can go wrong will go wrong. In 2003, when informed USC could be No. 1 in both polls but not in the BCS title game, a BCS official mused: "That can't happen . . . can it?"

Salacious seeds have already been sown. War between the Pacific 10 and Southeastern conferences is raging. LSU Coach Miles inflamed the West/South debate with his disparaging comments about the Pac-10.

So the propaganda campaign is on, on both sides of Continental Divide, and spin influences votes.

ESPN talking heads in Baton Rouge were already fomenting Saturday night that LSU, not USC, is really the best team in the country.

Sentiment -- or is it sediment? -- is already seeping into the minds of poll voters. The Trojans stayed No. 1 Sunday but lost 19 first-place votes in the AP poll and seven in the USA Today coaches' poll.

The website BCS Guru, which is tabulating unofficial weekly standings in advance of the official first release on Oct. 14, reports that LSU jumped USC into the No. 1 spot this week.

USC began the season a near-unanimous No. 1, won its opener by 28 points and had a bye last Saturday.

The top three teams in the unofficial BCS standings are LSU, USC and Oklahoma (UCLA is No. 11).

In 2003, remember, Oklahoma used its BCS computer strength to bully its way into a BCS title game that probably should have belonged to USC-LSU.

This year, Oklahoma might be on the downside looking up.

It's early, though, and for now the big factor that potential controversy has on it side is . . . time.

Weekend wrap

* One man's unofficial conference ratings through two Saturdays: 1, Pac-10 (signature wins: California over Tennessee, Oregon over Michigan, Washington over Boise State). 2, Big East (South Florida over Auburn, Cincinnati over Oregon State). 3, SEC (LSU over Virginia Tech). 4, Big 12 (thank goodness Oklahoma and Texas still play football). 5, Atlantic Coast (rise of Georgia Tech and Clemson offsets fall of Florida State and Miami). 6, Big Ten (wonder if it knows the season started?).

* The headline in Sunday's Detroit Free Press summed it up: "Maize & Boo". Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin told the paper he still has confidence in beleaguered Coach Lloyd Carr. "Of course," Martin said after Saturday's 39-7 home loss to Oregon. "Look at that man's record. Look at what he's done." Also, did you know: Michigan rallied from an 0-2 start in 1998 to win a share of the Big Ten championship.

* Start printing up the T-shirts: "Others Receiving Votes." Appalachian State didn't crack the top 25 in Sunday's AP poll but garnered enough points (19) to earn a No. 33 national ranking. It made perfect public relations sense for the AP to reverse field and allow selectors to cast votes for lower-division teams. Several writers wanted to vote for I-AA Appalachian State after it upset Michigan but couldn't -- and now they can. The move helps the AP regain a little poll punch after it pulled it out of the BCS rankings formula in the aftermath of the Texas-California voting scandal of 2004.

The two indexes that are presently used in the BCS standings -- the USA Today coaches' and Harris polls -- are not allowing selectors to vote for lower-division schools. "It is restricted to the 119 Division I-A teams," Harris spokeswoman Nancy Wong said in response to an e-mail. "If a vote came in by phone or fax with Appalachian State on it, for instance, we would disregard it and remind them that it would not be an option. The option is not possible for those who rank online, as the teams to be ranked are presented to them."

* What a nice season quarterback Colt Brennan had for Hawaii. He completed 76% of his passes for 964 yards with 10 touchdowns and only one interception.

What, that's only after two games?

* Quote of the year so far comes from former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, upset that North Texas kept passing the ball during a 79-10 loss to the Sooners on Sept. 1: "They had no game plan for losing. . . . Because when you can't win a game, you need to run the clock, don't let it stop, don't throw passes incomplete . . . get the game over with, get on the bus and go home."

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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Play it forward

1 Ohio State heads west to Washington for a game that suddenly doesn't look like a Buckeyes lock. Tyrone Willingham has Washington at 2-0 after Saturday's win over Boise State while Ohio State is 2-0 but hails from a conference that includes Michigan.

2 Florida International plays at Miami, a rematch of the game last year that included an ugly brawl at the Orange Bowl, disgracing both schools and ultimately leading to the last-straw demise of Hurricanes Coach Larry Coker.

3 No. 1 USC visits No. 14 Nebraska in the first of several important "ats" on the Trojans' schedule. Nebraska will use the game to gauge whether big-time Cornhuskers football is still an option in this day and age.

4 After tough losses against Georgia Tech and Penn State, Notre Dame finally catches a schedule break when it plays at Michigan. Michigan and Notre Dame rank 1-2 in the all-time wins list but will take a combined 0-4 record into their meeting for the first time.

5 Hawaii continues its march-across-the-mainland odyssey when it plays at Nevada Las Vegas one week after scoring a dramatic overtime victory at Louisiana Tech. The Warriors didn't return to the islands after the game, trading frequent-flier miles for a little time-zone tranquillity.

-- Chris Dufresne

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