Jan. 01, 2005
SportsLine.com wire reports

MIAMI -- Pete Carroll calls this one the perfect matchup, and in many ways it is: USC vs. Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the national title.

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Preseason favorites to make it to Miami, the Trojans and Sooners were No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls all year. They feature the last two Heisman Trophy winners and about a dozen All-Americans between them.

Two of college football's most storied and tradition-rich programs, Oklahoma and Southern California have 11 AP national titles combined.

Of course, rarely is anything ever perfect when the Bowl Championship Series is involved.

Just ask Auburn.

The top-ranked Trojans (12-0) and No. 2 Sooners (12-0) meet Tuesday night for a national championship that will wrap up the college football season, but not necessarily the debate over who's No. 1.

On Monday night, No. 3 Auburn puts its 12-0 record on the line against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl with a chance to finish a perfect season that will compare favorably with the Orange Bowl winner's.

"It stinks the way it played out this year for them," Oklahoma quarterback Jason White said. "They're a great team. They probably deserve to be in this championship game just as much as either one of us. But that's the way it worked out."

USC and Oklahoma were right at the center of last year's BCS mess. The Trojans were left out of the BCS title game despite being No. 1 in the polls. The Sooners got in despite a lopsided loss in the Big 12 championship game.

In the end, USC finished on top in The Associated Press Top 25 and LSU beat Oklahoma to win the BCS crown.

"We were playing for the title in our minds last year," said Carroll, the Trojans' coach. "But this year there's an added dimension."

The BCS guys were determined to make sure a consensus No. 1 would never again be left out of the title game, so this year's formula emphasized the polls over the computers.

One problem solved.

Next problem: There are three unbeaten teams, all clearly worthy of a spot in the title game. For that, there is no BCS solution.

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"I'd love to see a playoff, though this does feel a little like a playoff," Carroll said. "But I'm not hopeful for that."

At least this season neither title game participant is being labeled undeserving, as the Sooners were last season after being throttled 35-7 by Kansas State for the Big 12 championship.

With a chance to redeem themselves, the Sooners fell flat in the Sugar Bowl. A battered White looked little like a Heisman Trophy winner in the 21-14 loss to LSU.

The Sooners turned last year's failures into this season's motivation.

"That's the last game we played, so we had that game fresh in our minds," All-American tackle Jammal Brown said. "So all through the offseason that's something that we talked about, and you never want to end it like that."

White returned for a sixth season and threw for 2,961 yards and 33 touchdowns, making a run at another Heisman.

A new star also emerged in Norman, Okla. Freshman Adrian Peterson has run for 1,843 yards and 15 touchdowns and finished second in the Heisman voting, just ahead of White.

"I'm not surprised to be (in the title game) my freshman season because I knew what I was coming into; I knew what kind of team I was coming to," Peterson said.

USC also lived up to its hype. The Trojans were an overwhelming preseason No. 1, despite losing several All-Americans from last year's title team.

The Trojans showed some flaws but never came undone.

"A lot of people had us No. 1 at the start of the year, but didn't think we'd go undefeated," USC quarterback Matt Leinart said. "It says a lot about the kind of team we have."

Leinart's leadership and precise passing made him USC's second Heisman Trophy winner in three seasons. The left-hander who took over for 2002 Heisman winner Carson Palmer has thrown for 2,990 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Leinart was joined at the Heisman ceremony in New York by teammate Reggie Bush. The versatile and explosive tailback averaged over 10 yards per touch with 15 TDs.

With Leinart on one side and White on the other, the ninth meeting between the Sooners and Trojans is not only the most important but it's a college football first. Never before have two players with Heismans faced off.

The Trojans are 5-2-1 against Oklahoma. Three times the Trojans were ranked No. 1 when they played the Sooners, starting with the first matchup in 1963.

Just like this meeting, 1981 was a 1 vs. 2 matchup. USC had Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen, but it was a 7-yard TD pass from John Mazur to Fred Cornwell in the final seconds that gave USC a 28-24 victory.

The last time USC and Oklahoma met was 1992, when both of the powerful programs had lost much of their luster.

In 1999, Bob Stoops, the former defensive coordinator at Florida, took over in Norman, and two years later the Sooners won their seventh national title at the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma has lost five games since 2000.

Carroll arrived at USC in 2001, two years after being fired by the New England Patriots. The Trojans went 6-6 in their first season under him, but have lost only three times since and enter the Orange Bowl with a 21-game winning streak.

"They got the longest winning streak going right now, Heisman Trophy winner, two guys up for it, a lot of great talent," Sooners guard Davin Joseph said, "and I just look forward to the challenge and that's what the national championship is all about: No. 1 vs. No. 2."