USC's slip opens national title door for Wolverines, Gators

Saturday, December 2nd 2006, 7:27 pm

By: News On 6

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Michigan or Florida?

One will play Ohio State in the BCS championship game. The other will be ticked off at the maddeningly imperfect system used to crown a major college football champion.

One thing's for sure, a Saturday stunner shook up the Bowl Championship Series and made selection Sunday a whole lot more interesting.

With a chance to lock up a third consecutive trip to the title game, USC lost 13-9 to UCLA in the biggest upset of the season and opened the door for the Wolverines or the Gators to play for a national championship.

"It is kind of a shock, but at the same time, they did a great job," USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett said.

Not long after the Trojans had let their opportunity slip away, Florida (12-1) made its final case with a 38-28 victory against Arkansas in the SEC title game.

So it comes down to this for the poll voters and computer rankings the BCS uses to determine which team plays for the national title -- Michigan or Florida?

And for the first time since this totally imperfect system was put into place eight years ago, after all the regular season games have been played, the championship match-up is anybody's guess going into selection Sunday.

USC was second in the last BCS standings and appeared to be peaking at the perfect time. The Trojans had won four straight since losing at Oregon State, with impressive home wins over Oregon, California and last week against Notre Dame.

The last step for the Trojans (10-2, 7-2) was a victory over UCLA (7-5, 5-4), their barely over .500 cross-town rivals who they had beaten seven straight times.

But this trip to Pasadena didn't go as planned for USC and now instead of playing Ohio State in Glendale, Arizona on January 8th, the Trojans will return to the Rose Bowl on January 1st with far less at stake.

Michigan (11-1), which ended its season with a 42-39 loss at Ohio State (12-0) two weeks ago, was third in last week's BCS standings, sitting at home and hoping for help.

The Gators weren't too far behind the Wolverines in fourth -- and coach Urban Meyer had made it known several times that he wasn't happy about the prospect of being left out of the national championship game.

The Gators only loss came at Auburn in October, a 27-17 setback that was three-point game until the Tigers scored on the final play.

Another SEC slight could cause an uprising in the South. In 2004, Auburn went undefeated but USC and Oklahoma played for the national title.

Florida's fallback would be the Sugar Bowl. If Michigan gets passed up for the championship game, the Wolverines will probably play USC in the Rose Bowl.

USC's stumble brought back memories of other championship Saturday up shockers.

It had been a few years since a significant upset scrambled the BCS this late in the season.

In 2003, No. 1 Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, which didn't keep the Sooners from playing LSU in the Sugar Bowl for the national title, but did allow USC to jump to No. 1 in the polls and led to the Trojans and Tigers splitting the national title.

The last time a team entered championship Saturday second in the BCS standings and lost was Tennessee in 2001. The Vols were beaten by LSU in the SEC title game and it led to Nebraska playing Miami for the national title.

In 1998, UCLA was second in the BCS when it lost to Miami on the final Saturday. Later in that same day, Kansas State blew its shot to play in the title game by losing to Texas A&M and Florida State found itself playing Tennessee for the championship.

Wake Forest was first to break into the BCS on Saturday.

Just minutes before Southern California kicked off, the surprising Demon Deacons closed out a 9-6 victory over Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game in Jacksonville, Florida.

Coming off three straight losing seasons, Wake Forest (11-2) is headed to the Orange Bowl with its first league title in 36 years.

"I can't even put it in words," Deacons linebacker Jon Abbate said. "It's been an unbelievable season. Unbelievable to be ACC champs, and I can't explain it."

Oklahoma and Nebraska played in the Big 12 championship Saturday night with the winner headed to the Fiesta Bowl and a likely match with Boise State (12-0). The Western Athletic Conference champs are set to become the second team from outside the original six BCS leagues to play in the marquee bowl games. Utah was the first in 2004.

In the Big East, Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia all entered the day with a chance to win the league crown and a BCS bid.

The Cardinals did their part, beating Connecticut 48-17 at home early in the day to secure at least a tie for the Big East championship and eliminate West Virginia from contention. Then the Cardinals had to wait for the outcome of the Rutgers-West Virginia game in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Rutgers could earn a co-championship and take the BCS bid, most likely a spot in the Orange Bowl opposite Wake Forest, by beating West Virginia.

A West Virginia victory would secure the championship and BCS bid for Louisville.

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