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Will this season be different? (cont'd)

Posted: Sunday December 4, 2005 9:08PM; Updated: Sunday December 4, 2005 9:55PM
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Three reasons why it won't

• Texas hasn't been seriously tested since the second week of the season. Give the 'Horns credit for their dramatic win at Ohio State back on Sept. 10, but this year's Big 12 was genuinely awful, as evidenced by the North Division champion, Colorado, losing its last three games by a combined score of 130-22. If Oklahoma's 9-0 conference record last year was misleading, Texas' may be completely invalid.

• For all his considerable positives (3,619 total yards, 35 touchdowns), Young is still prone to the occasional turnover (10 interceptions, two lost fumbles), and no one capitalizes on mistakes better than the Trojans, who lead the country with 37 gained turnovers. In last year's Orange Bowl, it was two Jason White interceptions that helped open the floodgates.

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• Even the '85 Bears couldn't slow down this ultra-balanced USC offense. It's entirely possible the Trojans could sit their Heisman-winning quarterback on the bench -- or have him overthrow receivers and fumble a snap like he did in the first half against UCLA -- and still gain 400 yards just with their running game. Bush, LenDale White and the O-line are just that good.

"There are no weaknesses when you've won 34 straight," Brown said of USC.

The only thing we know for certain is different about this year's title game is that, for the first time in three seasons, there's no arguing which two teams should be playing. Not only did the BCS get a controversy-free championship  -- and, as coordinator Kevin Weiberg was quick to point out, "two teams that wouldn't be in [the same] bowl game if it weren't for the BCS arrangement" (Big Ten champion Penn State, not Texas, would be facing the Trojans) -- but most of the potential controversies surrounding the other three games managed to magically erase themselves at the 11th hour.

A quick look at the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls:

Fiesta: Notre Dame (9-2) vs. Ohio State (9-2)

In the end, a potentially weighty decision regarding the two at-large berths was taken right out of undoubtedly relieved Fiesta Bowl CEO's John Junker's hands, as losses by No. 4 LSU and No. 5 Virginia Tech over the weekend turned both the Buckeyes (who moved up to No. 4) and the Irish (No. 6) into automatic entries.

That isn't going to leave the Holiday Bowl-bound Oregon Ducks -- with a No. 5 ranking and one fewer loss than both teams -- any less bitter, but the fact is Junker and his colleagues likely were going to choose the same pairings whether it was mandated or not. Critics can't even cry that the Irish received preferential treatment, as Charlie Weis' team got in under the same clause that Utah did last season.

Whether or not Notre Dame is actually deserving of that No. 6 ranking is the $14 million question that will get answered in the desert. A.J. Hawk and the rest of the Buckeyes' fourth-ranked defense will present the toughest test to date for Weis' prolific, Brady Quinn-led offense. Many believe the Irish will start next season at or near the top of the polls (assuming Quinn returns), but their performance in this one will go a long ways toward determining that.

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