Forum Spin Doctor
RALPH D. RUSSO
PASADENA, Calif. - Michigan or Florida?
One will play Ohio State in the BCS championship game. The other will be ticked off at the maddeningly imperfect system used to crown a major college football champion.
One thing's for sure, a Saturday stunner shook up the Bowl Championship Series and made selection Sunday a whole lot more interesting.
With a chance to lock up a third consecutive trip to the title game, Southern California lost 13-9 to UCLA in the biggest upset of the season and opened the door for the Wolverines or the Gators to play for the national championship.
"It is kind of a shock, but at the same time, they did a great job," USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett said.
Not long after the Trojans let their opportunity slip away, Florida (12-1) made its final case with a 38-28 victory over Arkansas in the SEC title game.
So it comes down to this for the poll voters and computer rankings the BCS uses to determine which team plays for the national title - a Michigan-Ohio State rematch or Gators vs. the top-ranked Buckeyes in the desert on Jan. 8.
"Michigan already had its chance," Florida freshman receiver Percy Harvin said. "I think we deserve a chance."
For the first time since the BCS was born eight years ago, after all the regular season games have been played, the championship matchup is anybody's guess going into selection Sunday.
And at least one person who will help make the decision, isn't looking forward to it.
"I don't feel real comfortable casting a ballot," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who votes in the coaches' poll, told ESPN. "I know we're going to have to play one of the two and I don't want to make either of them mad."
USC was second in the last BCS standings and appeared to be peaking at the perfect time. The Trojans had won four straight since losing at Oregon State, with impressive home wins over Oregon, California and last week against Notre Dame.
The last step for the Trojans (10-2) was a victory over UCLA (7-5), their barely over .500 crosstown rivals whom they had beaten seven straight times.
But this trip to Pasadena didn't go as planned for USC and now instead of playing Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. the Trojans will return to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 with far less at stake.
Michigan (11-1), which ended its season with a 42-39 loss at Ohio State (12-0) two weeks ago, was third in last week's BCS standings, sitting at home and hoping for help.
The Bruins came through for the Wolverines.
The Gators weren't too far behind the Wolverines in fourth - and even before USC lost, Florida coach Urban Meyer had made it known several times that he wasn't happy about the prospect of being left out of the national championship game.
The Gators only loss this season came at Auburn in October, a 27-17 setback that was four-point game until the Tigers scored on the final play.
Another SEC slight might cause an uprising in the South. In 2004, Auburn went undefeated but USC and Oklahoma played for the national title.
"We deserve a shot," Meyer said in Atlanta on Saturday night. "I have great confidence that the University of Florida will get that opportunity. I really do."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr passed on a chance to lobby for his team Saturday night.
"I think it's going to be extremely disappointing to the team that doesn't get selected and just as exciting for the team that does," Carr told ESPN.
Florida's fallback would be the Sugar Bowl. If Michigan gets passed up, the Wolverines will probably play USC in the Rose Bowl.
USC's stumble brought back memories of other championship Saturday shockers.
In 2003, No. 1 Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, which didn't keep the Sooners from playing LSU in the Sugar Bowl for the national title, but did allow USC to jump to No. 1 in the polls and led to the Trojans and Tigers splitting the national title.
The last time a team entered championship Saturday second in the BCS standings and lost was Tennessee in 2001. The Vols were beaten by LSU in the SEC title game and it led to Nebraska playing Miami for the national title.
In 1998, UCLA was second in the BCS when it lost to Miami on the final Saturday. Later that same day, Kansas State blew its shot to play in the title game by losing to Texas A&M and Florida State found itself playing Tennessee for the championship.
Despite the uncertainty at the top, the rest of the BCS matchups became clear on Saturday.
Just minutes before Southern California kicked off, surprising Wake Forest closed out a 9-6 victory over Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game in Jacksonville, Fla.
Coming off three straight losing seasons, the Demon Deacons (11-2) are headed to the Orange Bowl with its first league title in 36 years.
"I can't even put it in words," Deacons linebacker Jon Abbate said. "It's been an unbelievable season."
In the Big East, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia all entered the day with a chance to win the league crown and a BCS bid and the Cardinals came away with the big prize.
Louisville (11-1) beat Connecticut 48-17 at home to secure at least a tie for the Big East championship and eliminate West Virginia from contention. Then West Virginia knocked off Rutgers 41-39 in three overtimes in Morgantown, W.Va., to put Louisville in the BCS for the first time, probably against Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl.
Oklahoma (11-2) was last to lock up its BCS bid, getting in with a 21-7 victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship in Kansas City, Mo. The Sooners are headed to the Fiesta Bowl and a likely match with Boise State (12-0).
The Broncos, the Western Athletic Conference champs, are set to become the second team from outside the original six BCS leagues to play in the marquee bowl games. Utah was the first in 2004.
LSU and Notre Dame are expected to receive the two other at-large BCS bids Sunday. Where the Tigers and Fighting Irish end up playing depends upon who plays for the national title.