In the third quarter of USC's 52-28 victory over Oregon State last Saturday, Trojans tailback Reggie Bush tried to turn the corner on a sweep but found himself hemmed in and reversed his direction. As the defense gave chase, USC receiver Mike Williams came back and laid a crushing blindside block on Beavers cornerback Aric Williams. The blow was so devastating that the flattened defender simply got up and staggered from the field while the play was still going on. � We can only be thankful that there is no Bowl Championship Series formula to dissect such hits. Otherwise it might have taken the players' heights and weights, the yardage gained on the play and the won-loss record of other teams that had pancaked Oregon State's Williams, crunched the numbers and declared the block inferior to several others this season that had a more impressive set of variables. Anyone who saw the play needs no such analysis to know that it was as hellacious a hit as anyone has administered all year.
Therein lies the fatal flaw of the BCS. With its reliance on computers and complex formulas, it sometimes produces results that contradict what a reasonable observer can see with his own eyes. That simple truth emerged from the chaos of last weekend, when Oklahoma (despite being whipped by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 championship game) and LSU were given berths in the national-title game at the Sugar Bowl, while USC, despite climbing to No. 1 in both polls, was left out of the mix. The Trojans will play Michigan in the Rose Bowl in what USC coach Pete Carroll, in a brilliant bit of instant spin, called "the other championship game."
The Sugar Bowl could just as easily be saddled with that title. Carroll and his players showed remarkable equanimity considering how badly they were shafted. Only a system that places more emphasis on formulas than on football could examine three one-loss teams and eliminate the one that lost only in triple overtime, hasn't lost since September and blew out its opponent on a pressure-packed final weekend.
With all due respect to 12-1 LSU, which won the SEC on Saturday with a 34-13 victory over Georgia and deserves its title-game berth, a national-championship game that doesn't include USC is a sham. Regardless of what the final computer readouts say, anyone who watched college football at all closely this season surely realizes that the 11-1 Trojans belong in the Sugar Bowl. The number crunchers need to look up from their computer screens and glance at a football game every now and then.
USC's merits were plain to see in the victory over Oregon State, which included cornerback Will Poole's 67-yard touchdown return on an interception and a one-handed TD catch by Mike Williams that looked like a special-effects trick. How potent are the Trojans? They scored 52 points on Saturday, yet Williams was right when he said it wasn't one of the offense's best days: "I don't want to sound arrogant, but what you saw today was only a taste of what we can do."
USC is being shut out of the title game essentially because of one bad half—the first at Cal on September 27, when the Trojans trailed 21-7 after two quarters before losing 34-31 in triple OT. LSU lost to a more formidable opponent, Florida, and played in a conference, the SEC, that is arguably tougher than the Pac-10. But the Tigers also count Louisiana-Monroe, Western Illinois and Louisiana Tech among their victims.
Indeed, the strength-of-schedule component of the BCS often defies logic. One of the reasons LSU passed USC in the standings is that two of the Trojans' past opponents, Hawaii and Notre Dame, lost their final games on Saturday, lowering USC's strength-of-schedule ranking. But the computer knows only that those two lost. It doesn't know whether the Fighting Irish were so demoralized by their poor season that they were a much weaker team on Saturday than they were when they played the Trojans. It doesn't know whether Hawaii used its last game to give underclassmen experience or reserves some playing time. (Nor, of course, does the BCS differentiate between tough losses like LSU's and USC's and the drubbing Oklahoma received last Saturday.)
The BCS depends on computer formulas that try to measure the unmeasurable. It gave the Tigers a .32 edge over USC in strength of schedule, a number that is meaningless to players, coaches and fans. Indeed, the entire system is mostly a mystery. Ever heard of Anderson, Hester, Massey and Colley? They're not partners in a law firm but rather BCS contributors whose computer formulas ranked LSU ahead of USC. When the only people who understand the system are—there's no way to put this nicely—computer nerds, something is terribly wrong. You think it's anti-climactic when a spindly placekicker decides a game? That's nothing compared to having the national championship decided by the folks in tech support.
For a system that was supposed to be a reasoned, unbiased method of rating teams, the BCS has an uncanny way of producing illogical situations. LSU actually hurt its rating by beating Georgia on Saturday. Jeff Sagarin's computer ranking, a component of the BCS formula, had USC fourth in the nation behind Miami—of Ohio. Meanwhile The New York Times's computer, also part of the formula, had USC No. 1 and those same Miami RedHawks 22nd.
So what's the solution? There's little chance of a lengthy tournament—college presidents don't want one, and the folks who run the bowls fear that the large fan groups they count on for tourist dollars won't travel to see their team play in more than one game. Still, the system must change.