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USC finishes 0.16 points out

College football fans, get ready to crown not just one, but
possibly two national champions.

And get ready for a new round of controversy.

That's because the computer rankings had Oklahoma as the
country's top team Sunday while the human poll voters picked
Southern California.

It's exactly what the Bowl Championship Series was designed to
avoid, with the prospect of a split title certain to renew cries
for a playoff.

Despite getting walloped by Kansas State 35-7 on Saturday night,
Oklahoma will take its 12-1 record to the Sugar Bowl against LSU,
which won the Southeastern Conference championship by beating
Georgia 34-13.

The winner in New Orleans on Jan. 4 automatically captures the
coaches' title under BCS format.

USC, which finished third in the BCS rankings, could win The
Associated Press championship by beating No. 4 Michigan in the Rose
Bowl.

"We're the No. 1 team in the country and we'll do everything we
can to hold that spot," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "If we win
that football game, we feel like we'll be the No. 1 team in the
country regardless of what that other bowl is called."

The No. 1 team in the AP poll has never dropped after winning
its bowl game.

The BCS was started in 1998 to create a national title game
without playoffs.

When the BCS contract expires after the 2005 season, a one-game
championship might be instituted after the bowls. That would be too
late to fix this year's mess.

"Unfortunately, there seems to be three teams that people would
like to see and the system can't satisfy three teams," LSU coach
Nick Saban said. "Unfortunately we can't have all three teams
because we don't have a playoff."

In the final BCS standings, Oklahoma was first with 5.11 points
based on its top spot in five of the seven computers, the
11th-toughest schedule and a quality win over Texas. The Sooners
were third in both polls.

"The system is what it is and we can't control it," Oklahoma
defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "We feel we have more
than earned our way into this game and don't have to apologize to
anybody."

LSU (12-1) was second with 5.99, edging out USC (11-1) by 0.16
in the second closest finish in the six-year history of the BCS.
Nebraska beat Colorado by 0.05 in 2001.

The Trojans got 79 of the 128 first-place votes in the polls but
finished third in five computers because of a weak Pac-10 schedule.

LSU was second in the polls and six computers and edged out USC
based on a tougher schedule. LSU and USC were each picked first in
one computer.

The Tigers' spot in the title game wasn't assured until Boise
State beat Hawaii at 3 a.m. EST Sunday. The Trojans' strength of
schedule was hurt because they beat Hawaii in September.

The dream matchup for the Rose Bowl, a traditional pairing of
Big Ten and Pac-10 champions with national title implications, is
the doomsday scenario for the BCS.

It's the third time in four seasons that a team in the top two
in the polls didn't make it to the BCS title game. The BCS avoided
disaster those years because No. 1 Oklahoma beat Florida State in
the 2001 Orange Bowl and No. 1 Miami beat Nebraska in the 2002 Rose
Bowl.

The No. 2 teams in the polls won their bowl games those years
and could have won the AP title if the top-ranked teams lost. The
only way to avoid a disputed finish this year is if Michigan (10-2)
beats USC.

"I know there's controversy but that comes with the system,"
Carroll said. "Until a playoff that's what will happen."

There was talk two years ago when Nebraska made the title game
without winning the Big 12 to make a winning a conference a
requirement to make the championship game. There are sure to be
more calls for that change because of Oklahoma.

"With the events this year, we'd be foolish if we didn't look
at it again in the spring," said Big East commissioner Mike
Tranghese, who runs the BCS.

The other BCS matchups have No. 10 Miami (10-2) playing No. 9
Florida State (10-2) in a rematch from the regular season in the
Orange Bowl and No. 8 Kansas State (11-3) facing No. 7 Ohio State
(10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl.

Champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC
qualify for a BCS game. Oklahoma and Ohio State were picked as
at-large teams.

Despite the controversy, there are still two intriguing
matchups.

First up is USC-Michigan on Jan. 1 in the seventh Rose Bowl
meeting between the schools. The game features two high-powered
offenses. USC is sixth in the nation in scoring at 42.2 points per
game and Michigan is ninth at 37.2.

Quarterback Matt Leinart leads a balanced offense for the
Trojans, which features game-breaking receivers in Mike Williams,
Keary Colbert and Steve Smith and a dangerous running duo of Reggie
Bush and LenDale White.

Michigan is led by quarterback John Navarre, who has delivered
his biggest games against the best opponents this year. The
Wolverines also have talented receivers in Braylon Edwards, Jason
Avant and Steve Breaston, and a top running back in Chris Perry.

Three days later, LSU will play Oklahoma in what will almost be
a home game for the Tigers at the Superdome in New Orleans -- a
short drive from LSU's campus.

This game features the country's two best defenses. Oklahoma
leads the nation, allowing only 255.6 yards per game, slightly
better than LSU's 259.5. The Tigers have the top scoring defense at
10.8 points per game compared to Oklahoma's third-best 14.9.

Both teams also have big-play quarterbacks. Jason White has 40
touchdown passes and is a Heisman Trophy candidate for Oklahoma,
while LSU's Matt Mauck has 28 touchdown passes.