Walt Harris and Pete Carroll have been friends for more than three decades. That won't stop Pittsburgh's coach from reluctantly dropping Carroll's Southern California from No. 1 in the coaches' poll even if it wins the Rose Bowl.
''We have to go by what we agreed to, which includes me,'' said Harris, Carroll's position coach at Pacific University.
The 63 coaches who vote are obliged to make the winner of the Bowl Championship Series title game No. 1 at the end of the season. Harris isn't alone in thinking it might be time to change that as long as nothing happens until next season.
''If we need to tweak it, we'll do it,'' he said. ''This year there are three 11-1 teams, so someone has to be left out. It's kind of a tough deal. What made it tougher is that USC was voted No. 1.''
Of 19 coaches in the USA Today/ESPN poll surveyed by The Associated Press, 16 about 85 percent want to consider a change to the agreement that was made when the BCS began in 1998.
''Absolutely. It's a no-vote,'' Wyoming coach Joe Glenn said. ''What are we doing here? It's a joke.''
USC finished No. 1 in the AP and coaches' polls, yet didn't make the BCS title game because of lower computer rankings.
Oklahoma, which is third in the polls, will play No. 2 LSU for the BCS title at the Sugar Bowl. The Trojans play No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
USC can finish atop the final AP poll, but can do no better than second in the coaches' vote.
''It will be very difficult for me,'' said New Mexico coach Rocky Long, who voted USC No. 1 in the last regular-season poll. ''But I'll do it because I agreed to do it.''
Not all coaches disagree with the system in place. North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato doesn't see a need for change.
''I will vote for the winner of the Sugar Bowl,'' he said. ''We voted to give the winner of the BCS game No. 1. I think we should stay with that.''
But the issue is sure to be discussed when the coaches hold their annual meeting Jan. 7 in Orlando, Fla. The coaches voted overwhelmingly in favor of giving their title to the BCS winner in 1998 and haven't wavered since. But there hasn't been a situation like this year, where the No. 1 team is out of the title game.
''They only allow you to vote for 2 through 25,'' Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. ''It makes our poll insignificant (when it comes to) who we think the national champion is.''
The coaches could vote to change their agreement in time for next season. But the head of the American Football Coaches Association, Grant Teaff, said he would be ''very shocked'' if that happened.
The coaches surveyed by the AP represent eight of the 11 Division I-A conferences, including all six in the BCS. Coaches who put USC, LSU and Oklahoma No. 1 participated.
While many of the coaches who rank USC first say it will feel awkward to drop the team even if it wins the Rose Bowl, they aren't prepared to defy the agreement.
''I would like to be able to vote for the team that I feel deserves the national championship, but, by the same token, we agreed to this system,'' Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. ''Until it is changed, I think that is what we should do.''
Michigan can make it all moot by beating USC in the Rose Bowl. A Wolverines' win would guarantee an undisputed title for the Sugar Bowl winner, letting the BCS once again escape controversy.
In 2000 and 2001 there was talk of a split championship when the No. 2 team in the polls didn't make the title game. But both times, an unbeaten No. 1 team won the bowl, ending the debate.
''Everyone is leaving Michigan out of this and creating a huge clamor about what might happen,'' Colorado coach Gary Barnett said. ''Michigan's a good team. They might win. Let's wait and see what happens.''
No matter how this plays out, many coaches say changes need to be made to the computer-based system that determines the top two BCS teams.
USC dropped behind LSU in the computers and strength of schedule in the final week, in part because Hawaii and Notre Dame lost their final games. The Trojans beat those teams this season.
''The BCS winner needs to be the national champion,'' Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. ''If you take that away, you're taking away the power of the BCS. What we need to do is to make sure we have the two top teams in that game. Certainly if a team is ranked No. 1 in both polls that team has to be in that game. That's what we have to change.''
Bigger changes could be on the horizon for the BCS. When the current contract expires after the 2005 season, there is talk of adding one game after the bowls to determine the national champion.
While that could lead to a whole new set of debates, it would be the perfect tonic for this year's system.
''I wish we could play the winner of those games at the end and have a true champion,'' Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said.
For now, the coaches face the possibility of a split championship and their No. 1 team dropping to No. 2 after a bowl victory.
''Some days,'' Texas coach Mack Brown said, ''I wish I was a writer.''
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