Is the bloom off the Rose?

Pasadena is one USC victory on Saturday from punting one of the greatest Rose Bowls ever to Glendale (Ariz.)

And then Pasadena will have a menu choice: Would you like "Gumbo?" or "Gipper?" with your Michigan?


Louisiana State or Notre Dame?


"We haven't made a decision yet," Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger said this week between incoming calls and aspirin intake.


It was easier in the old days, when two premier conferences handed their proud champions over to the Rose Bowl and watched Granddaddy stage a parade, a game and a sunset.


That was before 1998, before the Rose Bowl joined the Bowl Championship Series and all that it ensnarled.


Almost a decade later, the Rose Bowl-BCS experiment has been akin to the food most airlines now offer — a mixed bag.


You know the back story: The Rose Bowl agreed to surrender its Pacific 10 and/or Big Ten anchors to the BCS title game in years when those schools are ranked No. 1 or No. 2, or, in this case, No. 1 and No. 2.


In exchange, the Rose Bowl got the BCS title game every four years … and years like this one.


If USC beats UCLA on Saturday, No. 1 Ohio State will play No. 2 USC for the BCS title on Jan. 8 at University of Phoenix Stadium.


The Rose Bowl will be left to scrape together a replacement game, and making it means making hard decisions:


Option A: Michigan vs. Louisiana State.


Option B: Michigan vs. Notre Dame.


Option C (the least likely): Michigan vs. Louisville or Rutgers.


The debate has been ongoing at Tournament of Roses headquarters and may spill into Selection Sunday morning.


LSU argument


Pros: LSU has never played in the Rose Bowl and has never played Michigan.


LSU fans have already committed to purchasing more than 28,000 Rose Bowl tickets.


LSU would be the first Southeastern Conference team to play in the Rose Bowl since Alabama in 1946. A year later, the Rose Bowl entered into what would become the Pac-10/Big Ten arrangement.


"There is a tradition of SEC schools in the Rose Bowl game," Dorger said. "We're in the Alabama fight song, for heaven's sake."


The Pasadena passage goes, "Fight on, Fight on, Fight on, men! Remember the Rose Bowl we'll win then."


Michigan versus LSU is the best available Rose Bowl game on the board.


Michigan will be ranked third and LSU could move up to No. 4 if Florida loses in the SEC title game.


Cons: Neither team won its conference. LSU didn't win its own division of the SEC West. No matter how you dress it up, Michigan-LSU sounds like a glorified Outback Bowl.


Notre Dame argument


Pros: The Irish would be making their first appearance in Pasadena since 1925, when Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen rode west.


Notre Dame is a "can't lose" for television ratings and the love/hate interest component.


Cons: Michigan already beat Notre Dame, 47-21. Who wants to see that again? Notre Dame was just in the Los Angeles area, on the short end of a 20-point loss to USC.


So what is the Rose Bowl going to do?


Dorger isn't tipping his hand, and there is legitimate defense for either selection. Know this:


• The Rose Bowl isn't obligated to take the highest ranked team. It can make a flower out of Michigan-Notre Dame if it so desires.


• There's a provision in BCS rules that states the commissioners can overturn a selection for the good of the BCS — "We can look at that if we want to," BCS coordinator Mike Slive said Wednesday — but it never has.


• In the 2004 Orange Bowl, Florida State played Miami in a rematch.


• The BCS was designed to pair No. 1 and No. 2 and then allow the other bowls the flexibility to make the best game they can.


But the process is not always pretty.


In 2002, the Orange Bowl used a BCS provision to commandeer Iowa away from the Rose Bowl and pair it against USC.


Ouch. The Rose Bowl got so upset it got the rule changed.


• The Rose Bowl has every right to jump three or four higher-ranked schools to take Notre Dame and possibly leave No. 4 LSU in the BCS dust.


That could happen if Arkansas beats Florida in the SEC title game on Saturday and the Orange Bowl takes the 10-2 Gators on the rebound. The Sugar Bowl would not want LSU because it would not want an SEC rematch against Arkansas.


"A bowl is free to do what a bowl is free to do," Dorger said.


Yet, in recent years, there seems to be a more of a "common-good"




Dorger is aware that what's best for the BCS this year is for LSU not to be excluded.


And while the idea of Notre Dame is intriguing, pairing Michigan and LSU would solve a lot of problems.


Taking LSU would free the Sugar Bowl to pair Notre Dame against the Florida/Arkansas winner and create BCS symmetry.


Taking LSU would avoid a Notre Dame-Michigan rematch that Michigan, a long-standing Rose Bowl partner, would not want.


"We're mindful of the system we're involved in," Dorger said.


If you had to bet the Big House, bet Michigan vs. LSU.


The Rose Bowl decision will be made Sunday morning by a nine-member committee.


Dorger said past decisions have always been made with unanimous consent — there has never had to be a vote.


This year could be different.


The Rose Bowl would be relieved of the decision, of course, if UCLA upsets USC.


That would drop the Trojans into the Rose Bowl and make LSU the slam-dunk-choice opponent.


USC vs. LSU — the two schools many think should have met for the BCS title in 2003.


If nothing else works in the BCS, that would.


Hindsight in 2006


Did the Rose Bowl make a mistake in joining the BCS? Many traditionalists still think so, although without the Rose Bowl joining, college football would have been denied a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in


2002 (Ohio State was No. 2), 2004 (USC was No. 1) and 2005 (USC was No. 1).


It cuts both ways. Last year, because it joined the BCS, the Rose Bowl got to stage No. 1 USC vs. No. 2 Texas in one of the best national title games ever.


In the 2004 Rose Bowl, USC claimed the Associated Press title with a win over Michigan.


The Rose Bowl also got ho-hum Miami versus Nebraska in 2001 and, a year later, watched a USC-Iowa Orange Bowl while the Rose got Washington State-Oklahoma.


Blitz package


Five things you need to know about the BCS process before Sunday's final standings release:


1: If the Rose Bowl loses Ohio State and USC to the BCS title game, the Rose Bowl will get the first two replacement picks for losing teams that would have otherwise played in the Rose Bowl.


2: The at-large selection order after the Rose Bowl is Sugar, Orange and Fiesta. The Sugar Bowl must take the SEC champion if it is not ranked No. 1 or No. 2, the Orange gets the Atlantic Coast Conference champion and the Big 12 champion goes to the Fiesta.


The Big East champion is not "anchored" to any bowl but must be taken by the Rose, Fiesta, Orange or Sugar bowls.


3: If Florida loses on Saturday and LSU moves up to No. 4 in the BCS, the Tigers are not a "must-take" under the 3-4 provision. If the final BCS order is Ohio State, USC, Michigan and LSU, Michigan gets an automatic bid but LSU does not. If the top three teams were all conference champions, then LSU would get an automatic berth at No. 4.


In 2004, remember, Texas got the Rose Bowl bid at No. 4 ahead of No. 5 California because the top three teams that year were conference


champions: USC, Oklahoma and Auburn.


4: No. 7 Wisconsin, at 11-1, can't go to a BCS game when it has a better record and a higher ranking than schools that will be selected because BCS rules states one conference cannot send more than two teams to BCS games. Wisconsin's Big Ten partners, Ohio State and Michigan, have already locked up those bids.


5: The Rose Bowl could select No. 8 Boise State, the only undefeated other than Ohio State, with its at-large pick. Will it happen? No!


• Change that may be coming: When he took over as BCS coordinator last January, Slive said he was personally open to the idea of adding a "plus-one" layer to the BCS — an extra game after the major bowls are played.


"I haven't changed a bit on that issue," Slive said Wednesday.


Alabama fired another football coach this week. That makes it, oh goodness, who can even keep track…. The latest Crimson Goner, Mike Shula, dared to go 6-6 the season after he went 10-2.


See if you detect a trend in the legend-following business.


UCLA basketball coaches since John Wooden retired: Gene Bartow, Gary Cunningham, Larry Brown, Larry Farmer, Walt Hazzard, Jim Harrick, Steve Lavin, Ben Howland.


Alabama football coaches since Bear Bryant retired: Ray Perkins, Bill Curry, Gene Stallings, Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula.


With its next hire of the post-legend era, Alabama will tie UCLA at eight.

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