Oklahoma, LSU Wait to Play for BCS Crown

Friday, January 2nd 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Stephen Peterman eyed the prize, sitting right there on the 25-yard line at the Superdome.

``I ain't touching it,'' the LSU offensive lineman said, referring to the crystal trophy that surely will be held aloft Sunday night by the team that wins the Sugar Bowl.

``Rub it like a genie? Has anybody ever touched it and lost? Not me,'' he said Friday. ``It's a jinx. You can't touch it _ it's not ours yet.''

Even if it does end up with No. 2 LSU and not No. 3 Oklahoma, there's virtually no way the Tigers can call themselves undisputed champions.

Like it or not, the Sugar Bowl is headed for Splitsville. The winner automatically receives the USA Today/ESPN coaches' crown _ and more questions about which team truly was tops this season in college football.

That's because No. 1 USC won the Rose Bowl on Thursday. The Trojans posted an impressive 28-14 victory over Michigan, all but assuring themselves the championship in The Associated Press poll.

``Good. They won the Rose Bowl,'' Oklahoma All-American defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. ``They can be No. 1 as long as we can be national champs.''

Still, the specter of a shared title is sure to take some of the shine off the Sugar.

``You can't really say you're the best if you haven't been through the battle,'' LSU receiver Michael Clayton said. ``There's no better way to determine who's the best than to square off and have a game. I think the world would really enjoy something like that.''

And for now, that's not happening. Despite cries from critics of the Bowl Championship Series, there's no playoff in sight.

``Everybody agreed before the season to respect this system, that it was something we could live with,'' LSU coach Nick Saban said. ``In no way does that game have anything to do with this game. We all learn from our experiences. I think they'll do something to make the system more effective in the future.''

As in, maybe take the winners of the four major bowls and let them play.

``We've been talking about why don't we have a system that would include four teams,'' Saban said. ``The NCAA tournament has 65 teams and then they have a two-hour show to talk about the eight teams that didn't make it.

``I'm sure there's always going to be some controversy about somebody getting left out, regardless of the breadth of the playoff system that we have if we can get to a bowl playoff system, which is something I'd probably be in favor of.''

Saban said he was busy studying practice film Thursday and did not see any of the Rose. Some of the LSU players watched the proceedings in Pasadena.

Even though a Michigan win would've given his team a shot at a unified title, Tigers cornerback Travis Daniels said he was not upset with the outcome.

``I didn't really care. To me, this is the national championship game,'' he said. ``But if people still don't know who is the national champion after our game and want to see one more to decide it, that's OK. We've all got about five games left in us.''

The Sooners and Tigers both are 12-1. So how about an extra game at the end?

``I don't want it,'' LSU receiver Devery Henderson said. ``We're not really worried about USC.''

Teammate Ben Wilkerson admitted he would have liked to see Michigan win so that this business of who's best could've been cleared up in New Orleans. The center would also favor one final game, as would LSU defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

``Would I like to play them? Sure, we'd love to play them and decide it,'' he said. ``I'm sure USC is looking at it the same way as we are. To them, their game was the one that mattered.''

``But to us, this is the spotlight game. It's us against Oklahoma for all the marbles,'' he said. ``Well, most of them.''

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