Game gets USC plus BCS Nos. 3 and 4

Updated: December 8, 2003, 11:39 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- And the winner is: the Rose Bowl.

Amid the controversy over the BCS rankings, officials for the Jan. 1 game in Pasadena suddenly have reason to celebrate.

The Rose Bowl will feature what made it a big attraction in past years -- the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions -- and have the country's No. 1 team to boot.

Southern Cal found itself in a unique position on Sunday, ranked No. 1 in both polls but No. 3 in the BCS standings and out of the BCS championship game. So instead of going to New Orleans' Sugar Bowl, the Trojans will stay home for the holidays and bus to Pasadena to face No. 4 Michigan.

Rose Bowl officials predict high national interest, high television ratings, and high demand for tickets after two years without the traditional Pac-10 vs. Big Ten matchup.

"This is just huge, with the (BCS) No. 3 and the No. 4 sitting there. I think it's great they (the Trojans) are No. 1 in both polls," Tournament of Roses president Mike Riffey said. "They slid to No. 3 obviously in the BCS, but that's not our concern at this point.

"I think we're going to have the national championship game right where we are."

Although the Trojans (11-1, 7-1) would have preferred to play either Oklahoma or LSU in the Sugar Bowl, they also will consider their game against the Wolverines (10-2, 7-1) their shot at a national title.

"We're real proud of where we are, excited as can be to be playing in the Rose Bowl and to be the No. 1 team in American playing for that," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "This is the national championship game for us, and Michigan is a great opponent.

"The fact that there's a little controversy just makes it that much more interesting."

USC athletic director Mike Garrett said the BCS system is "fine but needs to be tweaked," and that he believes everything worked out just dandy for the Trojans.

"We get to play in the Rose Bowl, have a chance to win a national championship, and we get to hound the BCS to be even better," he said. "So three positive things come out of this."

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said he didn't think this Rose Bowl would be overshadowed by the BCS title game.

"The entire country is aware of this situation," he said. "In both polls, the media and the coaches, USC is No. 1. There is not a chance it will get lost."

The bulk of the Trojans' players watched quietly Sunday afternoon in their campus dining hall as the final BCS rankings were aired. There was no noticeable response when it was announced USC was third behind Oklahoma and LSU.

The players did cheer shortly afterward when Carroll told them, "You're the No. 1 team in America."

Wide receiver Mike Williams indicated the Trojans were a bit disappointed that they weren't going to the Sugar Bowl to play either Oklahoma or LSU, the only other teams in the country with just one loss.

"The USC family (fans) would like to see us in New Orleans, and I've apologized to people who came up and told me they already have their ticket and things like that," Williams said. "The Sugar Bowl is where the national championship game is, so of course we want to be there. It would have been a new experience for this team.

"The one thing I can say is that we are the No. 1 team in the nation, and that is undisputed. If we went out and played either one of those teams (LSU or Oklahoma), we'd give them their best games and we'd probably win. But right now, that's a whole different thing. So we'll just deal with it and move on."

Carr is happy to be returning to Pasadena.

"I have always looked on it as the single greatest tradition in college football," the Wolverines coach said in a Rose Bowl conference call. "We are delighted to represent the Big Ten and play a great Southern Cal team. We are excited to play in a championship game in the greatest bowl of all."

Carr said he didn't know much about the Trojans because, "I didn't expect to be playing them. I expected USC would be in the Sugar Bowl."

Carroll and the USC players seemed to have anticipated USC finishing third in the BCS rankings, with computer programs in the end overriding the writers' and coaches' votes.

"I'm not real taken by it or shaken by it all, because this is a system that chooses, as opposed to the games being played," Carroll said. "It's clear as a bell to me. We're the top team in the country by the people (writers and coaches) that chose, and we want to hold that position by playing a great game."

When the Trojans won their last national championship 25 years ago, it was a split title. USC finished No. 2 in The Associated Press poll behind Alabama, but No. 1 in the coaches' poll. Since the final coaches' rankings now are determined by the BCS title game, USC only has a shot at the writers' championship.

"I'm not an expert on this, but if the No. 1 team at the end of the regular season wins its bowl game, how are they not the No. 1 team outright?" Williams said. "But we don't play LSU or we don't play Oklahoma, so you'll never know."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press