Other bowl games could overshadow national championship matchup

Todd Porter

Flash and dash made a run at ruining Ohio State and LSU’s party in the Big Easy.

Because USC left Hummer-sized tire marks on the backs of Illinois, and Georgia barely broke a sweat against Hawaii, are the Buckeyes and Tigers really playing for a national title at the Superdome on Monday?

“I know we’re playing for the silver crystal that signifies the national championship,” Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel said Wednesday, about an hour after landing in New Orleans. “There are only two teams that have a chance at that. Outside, there’s other championships, and polls and that type of thing. For the one that really counts, only LSU and Ohio State have that chance.”

The possibility of a split national championship — Associated Press poll voters can cast their ballot any way they wish regardless of the national title game — is a likely scenario. But Tressel didn’t seem fazed by the thought Wednesday.

The winner of the BCS National Championship game is awarded the coaches’ trophy. It’s a $30,000 Waterford Crystal shaped like a football that sits on an ebony base.

USC Head Coach Pete Carroll did his best to politic his team’s case after it blasted Illinois in the Rose Bowl. Carroll sounded like he was headed to the Iowa caucus after beating the Illini 49-17. He stopped short of begging for a playoff system that would pit the Trojans against the OSU-LSU winner.

“Would we love to be still be playing right now? Sure would,” Carroll said. “We’d go out there any time, any place, any venue and throw our football out there and see what we could do.”

Trojan players were adamant they deserved a chance to play for the national title. USC, however, lost two games, including one to Stanford.

“I would love to play one more,” Southern Cal defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis said after the game. “I don’t think anybody in the NCAA could beat us right now.”

USC may be playing the best football of any team in the country. The BCS system matched the Trojans against upstart Illinois.

“Let the argument go on out there for the people who are battling the BCS process to try and figure it out,” Carroll said. “... I wish we could keep playing.”

AP poll voters are the ones who could throw a wrench into the BCS system. Because many people have an agenda, or just disagree with the BCS process, a split title is a possibility. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. Coaches must cast their top vote for the winner of the BCS national title game.

“Their season are over and there’s nothing else to talk about right now,” Tressel said. “Those are great teams. I watched some great football. Georgia is outstanding. Southern Cal is outstanding. Michigan was outstanding. Missouri was outstanding. There was some fabulous football games. They should all feel extraordinary about their seasons.”

All the New Years Day bowl talk may just be adding more fuel to Ohio State’s motivation. The Buckeyes, despite being ranked No. 1, are underdogs against LSU, the SEC champs. Nationally, media seem to expect a similar SEC rout that Georgia gave Hawaii. Never mind that Michigan beat up Florida and Ohio State helped retire Lloyd Carr.

“You always talk to your guys about doing the best you’re capable of doing and certainly the opportunity to show that you’re pretty good,” Tressel said. “I guess you remind yourself constantly, ‘Hey, the only way to feel good about your performance is to do it as well as you possibly can.’ The neat thing about this is, the whole world, then, will see it.”

And maybe, regardless of the outcomes, they still won’t be convinced.

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: