LSU, USC in tight race for Sugar Bowl

Updated: December 7, 2003, 3:41 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Now it's up to the computers and pollsters to decide.

Wins by Southern California and LSU and a loss by Oklahoma set up a chaotic finish in the Bowl Championship Series that is sure to leave one team crying foul when the national championship matchup is set Sunday.

Despite the 35-7 loss to No. 13 Kansas State in the Big 12 title game Saturday night, the top-ranked Sooners (12-1) had such a big lead in the BCS standings that they appear to be a sure bet to play in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4.

"I'm not going to sit here and lobby for any bowl," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "We just got whipped."

The race to be their opponent figures to be one of the closest in the six-year history of the BCS, with No. 3 LSU (12-1) poised to cut into USC's 1.53-point lead after beating fifth-ranked Georgia 34-13 in the SEC title game.

The second-ranked Trojans (11-1) won their season finale, 52-28 over Oregon State -- a less impressive opponent. USC could move up to No. 1 in The Associated Press poll and still be shut out of the Sugar Bowl because of the BCS computers.

"We deserve to go. We're 11-1 and we've been playing well the last couple of months," USC quarterback Matt Leinart said. "I think we've done as much as we can do. But it's not in our hands."

In that scenario, the Trojans would play No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl but could still win a share of the national championship. While AP voters can pick any team No. 1, the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll automatically gives its top spot to the winner of the BCS title game.

The final BCS standings will be released Sunday, determining which two teams will play in New Orleans for the national championship on Jan. 4.

While the BCS was started in 1998 to pit the top two teams in the country against each other in a bowl game, it has often struggled to do it.

In 2000, Florida State edged Miami for No. 2 despite losing to the Hurricanes in the regular season and the following year Nebraska made it to the title game despite failing to win the Big 12 North and losing its season finale 62-36 to Colorado.

Oklahoma also will likely play for the national championship despite failing to win its conference.

The BCS formula uses the AP and coaches polls, seven computer rankings, strength of schedule, losses and a bonus-point system for quality wins.

USC had the edge over LSU in four of the seven computers heading into the week, but the quality win by LSU could alter that. The Colley Matrix computer -- the only one to publicize its system -- will have LSU second and USC third because Syracuse beat Notre Dame 38-12.

That Syracuse win may allow LSU to make it to the BCS championship game, ESPN's BCS expert Brad Edwards notes. Another key game is Boise State vs. Hawaii tonight. A Boise State win helps LSU.

"It may not be a perfect system. It may not work in our favor," Tigers coach Nick Saban said. "But I'd like to see us have the opportunity to play for a national championship. I think our team deserves that. We've taken care of the business we could take care of."

After that, Edwards notes, "USC's only remaining chance would be for Oklahoma to lose and fall to No. 2 in the polls -- between USC and LSU. If the Sooners lose and fall to No. 3 in both polls, then USC would be No. 1 in both polls and finish third in the BCS."

LSU will be hurt by losing its 0.4-point quality-win bonus after beating Georgia for the second time this season. The BCS only counts one win against a team for that component and the Bulldogs are sure to drop following their third loss. If Georgia falls below 10th, LSU will get no bonus.

The BCS will also release the matchups Sunday for the three other major bowls. Michigan (Big Ten), Florida State (ACC) and Miami (Big East) join USC (Pac-10), Kansas State (Big 12) and LSU (SEC) as the automatic qualifiers.

Oklahoma will get one of the two at-large bids, with Ohio State and Tennessee battling for the second. Texas gets left out because no conference can have three BCS teams and Kansas State and Oklahoma will take the Big 12's spots.

The possible matchups for the other BCS games have Ohio State playing Miami in the Orange Bowl, Michigan facing USC, Florida State or LSU in the Rose, and Kansas State playing LSU or Florida State in the Fiesta.

The rest of the projected bowl lineup:

  • New Orleans (Dec. 16): North Texas (9-3) vs. Memphis (8-4)

  • GMAC (Dec. 18): Louisville (9-3) vs. Miami (Ohio) (12-1)

  • Tangerine (Dec. 22): North Carolina State (7-4) vs. Kansas (6-6)

  • Fort Worth (Dec. 23): TCU (11-1) vs. Boise State (12-1)

  • Las Vegas (Dec. 24): New Mexico (8-4) vs. Oregon State (7-5)

  • Hawaii (Dec. 25): Houston (7-5) vs. Hawaii (8-4)

  • Motor City (Dec. 26): Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

  • Insight (Dec. 26): California (7-6) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)

  • Continental Tire (Dec. 27): Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Virginia (7-5)

  • Alamo (Dec. 29): Nebraska (9-3) vs. Michigan State (8-4)

  • Houston (Dec. 30): Navy (8-4) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

  • Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): Washington State (9-3) vs. Texas (10-2)

  • Silicon Valley Classic (Dec. 30): Fresno St. (8-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)

  • Music City (Dec. 31): Wisconsin (7-5) vs. Auburn (7-5)

  • Sun (Dec. 31): Minnesota (9-3) vs. Oregon (8-4)

  • Liberty (Dec. 31): Utah (9-2) vs. Southern Mississippi (9-3)

  • Independence (Dec. 31): Missouri (8-4) vs. Arkansas (8-4)

  • San Francisco (Dec. 31): Colorado State (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)

  • Outback (Jan. 1): Purdue (9-3) vs. Florida (8-4)

  • Gator (Jan. 1): Maryland (9-3) vs. West Virginia (8-4)

  • Capital One (Jan. 1): Iowa (9-3) vs. Georgia (10-3)

  • Cotton (Jan. 2): Mississippi (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (9-3)

  • Peach (Jan. 2): Clemson (8-4) vs. Tennessee (10-2)

  • Humanitarian (Jan. 3): Tulsa (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6)

    Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.