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Oklahoma loses - now what?

The bowl picture will clear today, with OU, LSU and USC vying for the national title game.

BOB HARIG
Published December 7, 2003

Warm up the computers, check the hard drives. College football's national title game will be determined today in bytes.

No doubt, somebody will say the system bites.

Kansas State assured chaos today by upsetting No. 1 Oklahoma on Saturday night in the Big 12 Championship Game, jumbling the Bowl Championship Series standings and leaving the number-crunchers to decide who will play in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl for the national championship.

Oklahoma, No. 2 USC and No. 3 LSU will wait nervously today to see what the computers spit out. The top two teams qualify for the national title game.

The pairings will be announced on the BCS selection show at 5:30 p.m. (Ch. 28.)

The Sooners appeared poised to get one of the two Sugar Bowl spots, regardless of Saturday's outcome. But their 35-7 loss could make things interesting, certainly among poll voters.

USC's 52-28 win over Oregon State will likely move the Trojans to the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls.

And what about LSU? The third-ranked Tigers defeated Georgia 34-13 in the SEC Championship Game to complete a 13-1 season. Oklahoma is also 13-1. Will LSU move ahead of Oklahoma in the polls? If so, could the supposedly unbeatable Sooners get knocked from the title game?

Controversy is sure to follow.

If Oklahoma gets one of the top two spots, it will be the second time in three years a team that did not win its conference plays for the national championship. In 2001, Nebraska - which didn't even make it to the Big 12 title game - got the nod after a series of upsets.

And should Oklahoma get in, who is to say that USC or LSU should not? The teams were separated by just 1.53 points in the BCS standings heading into the weekend. The BCS rankings are comprised of the two major polls, seven computer rankings and a strength of schedule component.

"I think we proved all season that we've played good ball," said USC quarterback Matt Leinart after his team's victory. "We want a shot at it."

One of those three teams will come up a loser. So will Texas, which saw its BCS at-large hopes disintegrate in Kansas City.

The Longhorns were probably headed to the Fiesta Bowl with an Oklahoma victory. But no more than two teams from the same conference can get a BCS bid. Kansas State, by winning the Big 12, is assured of a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.

The BCS standings were so close that a meaningless contest between Notre Dame and Syracuse might have had an impact on the standings. Same for the late game between Hawaii and Boise State. USC played Notre Dame and Hawaii, and the results could affect their strength of schedule.

Leave it to the computers.

Once the Sugar Bowl matchup is set, the other games fall into place. The Orange Bowl must decide between Miami (Big East champion) or Florida State (ACC champion).

Most speculation had the Miami bowl wanting a rematch of last year's national championship game between Miami and Ohio State. But the Orange Bowl was not committing.

"We are evaluating all options," said Keith Tribble, chief executive officer of the Orange Bowl.

The pecking order is then based on what happens in the Sugar Bowl. If USC goes to New Orleans, the Rose gets first pick because it is losing one of its anchor teams from the Pac-10. Rose Bowl representatives, despite extensive lobbying by FSU, seemed more interested in the best matchup in terms of rankings. That likely means LSU or Oklahoma would face No. 4 Michigan, the Big Ten champion.

The Fiesta Bowl could then pick from among Ohio State, Tennessee and FSU or Miami (depending on whom the Orange Bowl takes). Since neither FSU nor Miami travel well, don't be surprised to see the Fiesta choose the Buckeyes or Volunteers, leaving the Orange with a FSU-Miami rematch.

Or, if the Orange picks Miami, the Rose could put FSU coach Bobby Bowden in the only major bowl he has yet to attend.

That seems a long shot right now. But so did Kansas State beating Oklahoma.

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