MULE': Premature Annointment

Do you think faces at ESPN are flushed?

For a week before the Rose Bowl anyone watching the sports giant of cable television were browbeaten with a litany of the great college football teams of the last half century, and comparing them – mostly unfavorably – to the media darling of the opening years of the 21st century, the Southern Cal Trojans.

The USC of 2005 would decimate the likes of such teams as the '56 Oklahoma Sooners and the '78 Alabama Crimson Tide. If you listened to ESPN, the only team in the 50 years that would have at least a theoretical chance against the Trojans were the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.

What was glaring in the series was the omission of the 2005 Texas Longhorns – the bunch that actually played – and beat – USC in Pasadena.


It was like that incessant phrase "Three-peat,'' a verbal homage to the Trojans and their quest for a third straight national championship.

But was it really? Or was ESPN, and a lot of the rest of the national media, conveniently forgetting a few facts?

If there is any "official'' No. 1 ranking, it would be that of the BCS, meaning the USC trophy case contains the same amount of crystal balls, symbolic of the national championship, as Tennessee, Ohio State or LSU: one. In fact, in the eight seasons since the BCS has been in existence, eight different schools have claimed its title.

And the BCS was formulated, if anyone cares to remember, in large measure to pit the sport's best two teams in a showdown for No. 1, the participants to be determined by a combination of opinion polls and cold calculating computer analysis. The last factor used because of a consistently perceived built-in bias by the sportswriters who vote in the media polls.

Everyone, including USC agreed, this was a specification worth following.

We, of course, know what happened in 2003. LSU won the BCS championship – the "official'' title – and USC was No. 1 in the AP poll, that voted upon by the sportwriters, which became the foundation of 2005's "three-peat,'' though it was interesting that those with the closest look at both teams – common opponents – seemed to think the Tigers might have had the edge. USC had the more eye-catching offense, LSU the more dominant defense. Seniors on the Arizona team said LSU was not only the best team they played in 2003, but the best team they played in their four years. Of course, Arizona's conference is the Pac-10, same as USC. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, whose team lost to USC 23-0 and to LSU 35-7, was diplomatic, saying both were outstanding – that USC's offense was playing at a very high level but that LSU's defense was playing at a plateau just as stratospheric.

The point is, the ingredients were there for a game to remember, one that might have gone either way – similar to Texas' victory in the Rose Bowl. As it turned out, that season LSU got that crystal ball. This season Texas did.

Meaning after this year's Rose Bowl what ESPN found was there actually is someone who could beat USC.

And, at most, what USC got is a one-and-a-half-peat.

* * *

These are the best two moments in the bowl season:

1) After losing to Texas, USC quarterback Matt Leinart congratulated the Longhorns, but sullenly added that even though the Trojans lost he thought they were still the better team. What sour grapes. Wins and losses are how the better teams are determined. If one goes by Leinart's logic, Notre Dame could argue it was the better team on Oct. 15 when Leinart was pushed illegally over the goal on the game's last play to prevail 34-31. Without that egregious non-call, USC might not have even been in the Rose Bowl.

2) Asked about what happened in the tunnel after the LSU-Miami Peach Bowl, Melvin Oliver said he didn't know, that he was on the podium receiving the defensive MVP award. Then he asked, "What did happen?'' He was told that some Hurricanes rushed into the Tiger tunnel after their 40-3 thumping by LSU, and that a couple of ‘Canes were knocked out. Oliver's response came straight from the belly: bellowing laughter!


Marty Mule' is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag and a former longtime sportswriter for the Times-Picayune. Reach him at

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