Matt Leinart picked up the phone the other day and gave a shout out to Vince Young.

The two weren’t trading team secrets, just pleasantries.

Things figure to be a little more serious when they meet in person. They’ll likely spend some time together in Manhattan in December, where they give away a certain bronze statue every year.

And on Jan. 4 they figure to get together again in Pasadena because, no matter how goofy the Bowl Championship Series is, even a blind Trojan horse could get this one right.

At least that was the prevailing thought before the wizards of the BCS fed a bunch of information into their computers this week, pressed “enter” and waited for the smoke to clear.

When it did, college football somehow had a new king.

The Texas Longhorns have always been No. 1 in the hearts of most of the 23 million or so who call that football-crazed state home.

But No. 1 in the country?

Explain how that happens when to get to the top they had to pass a Southern California team that is averaging just under 50 points a game, might soon have two Heisman winners in the backfield, and hasn’t lost in more than two years.

No, wait. Don’t bother. That would involve another mind-numbing explanation of rankings, power ratings, mathematical calculations, and computer computations that would make the eyes of even the nerdiest geek glaze over.

There are people whose very livelihood is at stake with the BCS and even they can’t figure it out.

“I still don’t know how the BCS rankings really work, except that computers are involved,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “And I don’t know how you get mad at a computer.”

Carroll has more reason than most to wish a nasty virus or two on the computers that have so much say in who will play for a multimillion-dollar payout and the BCS title at the Rose Bowl.

The same machines, you might recall, cost his Trojans a spot in the BCS national championship game after the 2003 regular season even though USC was No. 1 in The Associated Press media poll and USA Today coaches’ poll.

The Trojans are still atop both polls, yet somehow second in the BCS. This comes even after the BCS tweaked the way it adds in the six computer rankings for part of the magical equation that never seems to work right.

BCS experts (yes, there are people who actually analyze this gibberish) say it doesn’t really matter that Texas and USC flip-flopped places in the latest rankings because both are still comfortably ahead of third-place Virginia Tech.

And it does give people in Texas something to brag about other than the price of oil, so maybe a little controversy over who is really No. 1 isn’t all that bad.

But we’re talking about fairness here, and it seems only fair that a team that has won 29 straight games and outscored opponents by an average of four touchdowns a game while playing five of its first seven on the road shouldn’t be ranked No. 2 by anyone or any computer.

If you don’t buy that, let’s find out from the real experts who is really No. 1.

Toss out the computers and shred the polls. Sorry, NCAA, but you’ve forced our hands because you refuse to give us a national football playoff.

We’re asking the bookies who the best football team in the country really is. They should know because, unlike the pollsters or the geeks, they have to back their opinions with money.

Sorry Longhorns. It’s the Trojans who are No. 1 where it really matters – and it’s not even that close.

Offshore sports books are already offering action on a possible national championship meeting between Texas and USC at the Rose Bowl. The matchup may be hypothetical, but there’s nothing hypothetical about the money you can bet on it right now with just a few clicks of the mouse.

USC is favored over Texas by nearly a touchdown at Sportsbook.com, while the Trojans are a 5-point pick at PinnacleSports.com. Should Texas falter and allow Virginia Tech into the game, USC is a 7-point pick over the Hokies.

Bookies, of course, use computers, too. Somehow, though, they’ve figured out a way to get it right.

So have the voters in the AP and coaches’ polls, who may not know what a megabyte is but recognize a dynasty in the making when they see one.

Right now, it’s just for bragging rights because unless both teams win out, the question is moot. Assuming they do, this Rose Bowl really could be the Grandaddy of Them All.

No. 1 vs. No. 2.

Leinart and Young.

Reggie Bush running wild.

Even the BCS will have trouble screwing this one up.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

AP-ES-10-25-05 1724EDT


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