LOS ANGELES (AP) – A perfect championship game, a classic coaching matchup and Notre Dame.

The Bowl Championship Series couldn’t have asked for more – a glitzy lineup with little for critics to gripe over. Only Oregon has a case to complain, as the Pac-10 has a 10-1 team left out of the marquee bowls for a second straight season.

“I certainly understand that there are teams that are not in these four games that have had a great seasons, as we have every year,” BCS coordinator and Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg said Sunday. “I must say that there’s a lot of consensus that we have quality matchups among highly regarded teams in this year’s BCS games.”

Southern California and Texas, the only unbeatens left in Division I-A, will decide the national title in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4.

“They do have the No. 1 team in the country,” Texas coach Mack Brown said of the two-time defending champion Trojans. “They’ve just blown out people out right and left and that will be challenge for us. But that’s fun.

“For Texas not to be in the national championship game for 36 years and to see where (USC coach) Pete (Carroll) has brought their program the last three years, that’s where we want to be. That’s where we want to go.”

Major college football’s two winningest coaches, septuagenarians Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, will meet in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.

The Fighting Irish are back in the BCS after a five-year absence. Charlie Weis’ team faces Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.

The relocated Sugar Bowl will be played in Atlanta on Jan. 2 after being chased from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, making it a quick and familiar trip for Southeastern Conference champion Georgia and its fans to the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs (10-2), who won the SEC title by beating LSU in the Georgia Dome on Saturday, meet Big East champion West Virginia (10-1).

The BCS has been hammered in the past for putting the wrong teams in its championship games. Two years ago, USC got left out and college football ended up with a split title, just what the BCS was created to avoid. Last season, the problem was too many unbeaten teams, and many felt Auburn should have played USC for the championship instead of Oklahoma.

The other common complaint is the BCS doesn’t create compelling matchups beyond the title game. Well, it all worked out for this season. Even before a bowl game is played, the BCS can declare victory.

Sure, anyone could tell you that Texas and USC should be playing for the championship. But remember, in the pre-BCS days of college football the two superpowers would be going separate ways for the postseason.

Before the BCS brought all the major conferences together in 1998 to make a 1 vs. 2 matchup to end each season, a Pac-10 champion, such as USC, had to play the Big Ten’s best in the Rose Bowl.

“Anytime we have a matchup that is widely lauded as being a great matchup in the championship game, you can really see the benefit of a system like this in which through the bowls we’re able to bring together the No. 1 and 2 ranked teams that otherwise wouldn’t have come together through the (old) bowl system,” Weiberg said.

Now the Trojans (12-0) and Big 12 champion Longhorns (12-0) can determine which team is best in the Granddaddy of Them All.

USC has won 34 straight games and will be looking to make history with an unprecedented third consecutive national title.

“We’re sitting here at 19 straight wins and there is a tremendous amount of pressure on kids and coaches to keep it going,” Brown said. “And these guys have done it now for three straight years.”

Many of the Trojans got together on campus Sunday to watch the bids become official. Their reaction: “Mello,” defensive end Frostee Rucker said. “We’ve been here before.”

The Trojans could make Heisman Trophy history as soon as they run an offensive play in the Rose Bowl.

Reggie Bush is the front-runner to win the Heisman when it’s handed out in New York on Saturday, which would make USC the third team to have two players win the award in consecutive seasons.

But never before have teammates played together after winning the award. Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heinemann winner, could become the first.

Or maybe Texas quarterback Vine Young will take the trophy as college football’s best player, and for the second straight year Heisman Trophy winners will go head-to-head in the national title game.

“The problem is (the Longhorns) have a lot of other players that play really well, too,” Carroll said.

Leinart and Oklahoma quarterback Jason White became the first Heinemann winners to play each other in the Orange Bowl last season.

USC and Texas, two of the sport’s most storied programs, have played four times but not since 1967. The Trojans are 4-0 against UT.

Bowden (359 victories) and Paterno (353) have combined for 712 career victories, ranking first and second in Division I-A. They’ve coached against each other seven times, but only once since Bowden has been at Florida State. The Seminoles beat the Nittany Lions 24-17 in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl.

When Big Ten champion Penn State (10-1) and Atlantic Coast Conference champ Florida State (8-4) face off in the Orange Bowl, Paterno will be 79. Bowden will be 76.

“I hope it doesn’t come down to where it’s Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno because he can’t run and I run slower,” Paterno said.

In his rookie season as Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis has the Fighting Irish (9-2) in the BCS for the first time since they lost the 2001 Fiesta Bowl 41-9 to Oregon State. They automatically qualified for a spot by finishing sixth in the BCS standings.

While some complain that Notre Dame has bulked up this season on a weak schedule – only three wins over winning teams – and gets too much credit for a 34-31 loss to USC, the Fighting Irish are college football’s No. 1 drawing card. They will receive a payout of more than $14 million.

Ohio State (9-2) out of the Big Ten was assured of an at-large bid by finishing fourth in the final standings released Sunday.

That left no room for Oregon, which had a better record than both the Buckeyes and Irish and lost only to USC.

Last season, California was 10-1 but got bumped out of the Rose Bowl by Texas, a slight that caused an outcry from the Pac-10 and elsewhere.

The Ducks won’t get as much sympathy this season.

And for once the BCS gets to gloat.

AP-ES-12-04-05 1926EST


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