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November 26, 2006

Ready for a rematch, throwback style

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The votes, polls, debates and speeches about Urban (Meyer) issues show college football has become as political as ... well, politics.

Determining who will run - and pass - against No. 1 Ohio State in the national championship game seems strangely akin to a presidential primary campaign that puts so much importance on a New Hampshire victory. If that were the case in college football we certainly could count out the Northwestern Wildcats, who were upset by Division I-AA New Hampshire on Sept. 9.

Attempting to cut through gridiron gridlock, the Buchanan Championship Selection committee - me - carefully observed this weekend's pertinent football games, diligently pored over statistics and objectively considered schedules to make a steadfast recommendation.

The national championship game definitely should be a rematch. A rematch of the 1985 Rose Bowl, that is.

That was a great game 21 years ago, with No. 18 Southern California holding off a late rally to upset No. 6 Ohio State 20-17.

If USC (10-1) - which blew out Notre Dame 44-24 on Saturday - closes its season with a victory over cross-town rival UCLA next week the Trojans should face Ohio State on Jan. 8 for the national championship.

Matching USC quarterback John David Booty and receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith against Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith and receivers Ted Ginn Jr., and Anthony Gonzalez could offer offensive fireworks similar to Texas' 41-38 victory over USC last year.

Of course, that proclamation will no doubt render Michigan, Florida and Idaho red-faced states, but let's weigh the facts.

Like USC, Michigan has just one loss and a convincing victory over Notre Dame, having trounced the Irish 47-21 on Sept. 16.

The Wolverines would argue that their only loss was by a mere three points on the road against unbeaten and top-ranked Ohio State, while USC's loss was to (8-4) Oregon State - a team that was blasted by unbeaten and unappreciated Boise State.

That's a mighty powerful argument. But here's the rebuttal.

Consider the teams the Trojans beat rather than the one that beat them.

In its three non-conference games USC defeated Arkansas and Nebraska - which will play for their conference championships next week - as well as Notre Dame (10-2).

Michigan's non-conference opponents were Notre Dame, Vanderbilt (4-8) and mid-majors Central Michigan (8-4) and Ball State (5-7).

Also, the argument could be made that USC played a stronger Notre Dame team than Michigan did.

Some teams improve as the season goes along, and Notre Dame certainly did.

USC played the Irish when they were riding an eight-game winning streak.

Michigan played Notre Dame just two weeks after the Irish struggled to beat Georgia Tech and only a week before Notre Dame needed a furious fourth quarter rally to escape Michigan State. That's 4-8 Michigan State.

Finally, USC won the Pac-10 and Michigan did not win the Big Ten. Winning the conference championship should count for something.

Now, that won't be a factor for Florida if the Gators defeat Arkansas next week in the SEC championship game, but USC also has a huge scheduling advantage there.

There will be no argument here that the Southeastern Conference is the toughest in college football, but this year it isn't head-and-shoulders above the rest.

That was Tennessee eking out a 31-30 victory over 4-7 Air Force at Neyland Stadium, wasn't it? And wasn't that Georgia rallying to beat 2-9 Colorado in Athens? And didn't Kentucky get trounced 59-28 by Louisville?

Florida has an excellent defense, but quarterback Chris Leak has been unspectacular and his backup Tim Tebow is too predictable.

No doubt, Florida endured a midseason gauntlet when its faced LSU, Auburn and Georgia consecutively, but its non-conference opponents were mid-majors Southern Mississippi and Central Florida, Division I-AA Western Carolina and struggling Florida State. The Gators weren't overly impressive in beating the Seminoles 21-14 on Saturday.

Like it or not, style points count in a system that does not settle its championship or championship game opponents on the field. The Gators haven't always been impressive. That is, unless needing a final play blocked field goal to beat South Carolina is considered impressive.

That's why Florida didn't pass Michigan in the BCS standings after the Wolverines lost to Ohio State, prompting Meyer to demand a playoff format if the standings remained that way.

We're with you on that one, coach.

But imagine the frustration of undefeated Boise State, which has to be perfect just to play in a BCS bowl game, much less the national championship.

Boise State could argue it deserves a shot at Ohio State because it too won all its games and beat the team, Oregon State, which beat USC.

However, Boise State's opponents have a combined 64-75 record. The Broncos will get fewer votes than Ralph Nader.

No, this BCS has to put USC against Ohio State just like in 1985.

Well, maybe not just like that. That season the Trojans lost to UCLA.

If history repeats, I'll be hanging my reputation on Michigan and quarterback Chad Henne giving the Buckeyes another great challenge in a rematch.

Of course, the folks in Florida will cry foul. It seems they always have to deal with hanging Chads in these political issues.



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