Techno Bowl

Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2004

NEW ORLEANS The Sooner Schooner is in town, pulled by horses named Boomer and Sooner. The glittery Golden Girls and their 325-member Golden Band from Tigerland are here, too.

The LSU flagship radio station was set to start 24 straight hours of football coverage and RVs toting OU wind socks rolled in by the dozen. More than 1 million people might descend on Bourbon Street by Sunday night while 75,000 fans lucky enough to get tickets will pack the Superdome.

Too bad they won't get to see a team win a true national championship.

Because as much as the Sugar Bowl is about a matchup between No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Oklahoma, this game has brought into focus an even bigger issue in college football humans vs. computers.

''It's not going to be perfect,'' Sooners coach Bob Stoops said.

The winner of this Bowl Championship Series title game automatically receives the USA Today/ESPN coaches' crown. The Sooners are a six-point favorite, but even a six-touchdown romp would almost assuredly produce yet another split national championship.

Top-ranked Southern California virtually wrapped up The Associated Press title with a 28-14 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

''The system is not equipped to handle three teams at the top,'' LSU coach Nick Saban reiterated Saturday. ''Somebody was obviously going to be the odd man out.''

So while voters in the AP media poll and the coaches' poll picked USC as No. 1 going into the bowls, the computer rankings put LSU and Oklahoma ahead of the Trojans and sent them to New Orleans.

And the one sure way to wind up with only one champion a playoff, as they have in Division I-AA and all other ranks is also out for now. BCS coordinator Mike Tranghese is sure of that after hearing from university presidents.

''They don't even waver on this thing,'' he said Saturday. ''They just say we're not going to do it.''

So how would Tranghese weight it?

''I have always been a proponent of the human element,'' he said.

The BCS system started after Michigan and Nebraska split the title in 1997. It was the third time in the decade that two teams called themselves champions, and it was too much for too many college officials. Now, it's happened again.

Stoops, for one, isn't fretting. In fact, he kind of likes all the attention the controversy has created.

''It's a positive,'' he said. ''Instead of the NFL, people are talking about college football.''

There's certainly plenty to talk about as the Tigers take on the Sooners.

Will Oklahoma quarterback Jason White break the Heisman Trophy jinx? Other recent winners such as Eric Crouch and Chris Weinke did not do well in championship games.

Will LSU quarterback Matt Mauck break the Cubs' curse? Before he came to school, he was a minor leaguer in the Chicago system. At 24, he's hoping to do what the Cubs could not accomplish this season win a title.

For the Sooners, the game represents a chance to add to their legacy. A longtime powerhouse, the program had fallen on hard times until Stoops' arrival five years ago.

Since then, they've returned to elite status, winning the championship outright in 2000 and stampeding toward another title this season until a startling 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.

For LSU, it's an opportunity to win its first title since 1958. In four years with the Tigers, Saban has revived a program that had lost its luster in the Southeastern Conference.

Naturally, speculation has swirled this week that Stoops and Saban might have futures as NFL head coaches. There's been talk the New York Giants might want Saban.

''It's very flattering that anyone would consider you for anything,'' Saban said. ''The stability of NFL coaches right now hasn't had a real good history.''

Saban was an assistant coach in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and Houston Oilers. Stoops has never been there, and isn't sure he'd want to go.

''Let me tell you, the NFL isn't the end all,'' Stoops said. ''We have better jobs than a lot of those NFL guys.''

Stoops has a $2.3 million salary. Saban makes $1.5 million, although a clause in his contract assures him $1 more than the highest-paid college coach that would be Stoops if he wins this game.



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