About that 'best title game ever' talk ...

Originally Published: January 4, 2005
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN The Magazine

MIAMI -- The game of the year, decade, century, epoch -- take your pick; this BCS Championship has been hyped more than Tilt -- did what it could to equal the pre-Orange Bowl build-up. The only thing missing was Shaq tossing Kobe Bryant instead of the ceremonial coin.

Oklahoma scored on its very first drive, a beautifully executed 12-play journey that began at the OU 8-yard line and ended 92 yards later in the USC end zone. Then the Trojans responded with their own touchdown drive, thanks to the prettiest one-handed scoring catch you'll see this side of NFL Films.

Pete Carroll
APPete Carroll and USC had the ADT Trophy won by halftime.
So I'm thinking, we'll have this thing up and running on ESPN Classic by breakfast, right?

Sure we will -- just as soon as the Worldwide Leader launches its newest channel: ESPN Classic Routs.

USC won a rare second consecutive national championship Tuesday evening, and this time the Trojans won't have to share it with anyone, no matter what Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville says. Tuberville just happened to be in the Pro Player Stadium neighborhood and stopped by the press box long enough to campaign for his 13-0 Tigers.

But even Tuberville knows USC's 55-19 victory ends all hopes, however delusional, of a split national title. As for history, the Trojans get their Re-Pete (Carroll), but all of that Game-of-the-Century talk took it in the shorts. This wasn't even the Game of the Last Four Days; the Rose Bowl was.

USC led, 38-10, at halftime. By then, the only question remaining wasn't what the final score would be, but if Tuberville could get his Tigers here by the start of the third quarter. They couldn't do any worse than the Sooners, who played as if they were wearing street clothes.

Will Ferrell, a USC alum who was on the sidelines for the game, could appreciate the comedic qualities of this mess. After all, where else could you find an OU senior wide receiver choosing inexplicably to field a punt inside his own 5-yard line with everybody but USC's trusty horse Traveler surrounding the ball? But that's what the normally dependable Mark Bradley did late in the first quarter, reaching for the punt in some nutty attempt to pull a fast one on the USC coverage team.

Instead, the ball squirted out of Bradley's hands and into Josh Pinkard's. One play later, LenDale White had a 6-yard TD run and the Trojans had a 14-7 lead. Bradley looked as if he wanted to enter the Witness Protection Program.

He had company. OU quarterback Jason White had his brain stolen moments before he decided to throw a seam pass off his back foot. Into quintuple coverage. You don't see that too often.

The Trojans held a team meeting at the ball, where USC free safety Jason Leach plucked the Aflac duck from the air. Six plays later, the Trojans were up, 21-7. OU coach Bob Stoops wanted to gnaw on his visor

I wish I could say it got better for the Sooners. I wish I could say this, especially since a day earlier I detailed the 20 reasons why OU would beat the Trojans. Instead, there was another White interception, this time the result of a slip and fall by Bradley. And, as usual, there was another USC touchdown off the turnover.

Do you think the Song Girls accept apologies?

I don't remember much about the second half, and if the Sooners are lucky, neither will they. The USC band played, "Fight On," about 11,000 times, which is the approximate number of touchdown passes thrown by Heisman winner Matt Leinart. OU fans poured out of the once-packed stadium. Then again, that could have been Ashlee Simpson's fault. She sang at halftime.

By game's end OU had suffered its worst defeat during the proud Stoops Era. Stoops has only lost 12 games during his six seasons, but this memory won't fade anytime soon. Nor will the distinction of presiding over this bit of OU trivia: most points given up in a Sooners bowl game.

Who knows if Auburn could have made it a game. Maybe. But Carroll's team doesn't have to answer that question, nor should it. USC did everything but give the Sooners a wedgie. Carroll is going to run out of ring fingers soon. And one of these days someone will explain to me why Trojans offensive coordinator Norm Chow isn't a head coach.

USC's season began Aug. 28 against Virginia Tech. It ended Jan. 4 against an OU team in need of a hug. In between, college football suffered from controversy (the BCS debate), greed (Bobby Petrino's job quest), illogical firings (Tyrone Willingham's dismissal by Notre Dame), tragedy (the shooting death of a Vanderbilt player), scandal (Ohio State), inequality (only three minority head coaches in D-IA), and a lack of sportsmanship (the Clemson-South Carolina brawl).

No, Tuesday night's game didn't provide a BCS classic, but it did provide closure to a strange, sometimes troubling season. The landscape will change in 2005, but an indisputable truth will remain the same:

Only USC can win a three-Pete. And I can give you 55 reasons why it could happen.

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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