The Washington Times - August 22, 2008, 09:14AM

It began nearly four weeks ago with Idaho.

It ends today with five elite college football programs.


Let’s —- at long last —- finish this off.

5. Louisiana State. Rather than focus on the defending national champions, it’s time for a mini-rant on the idiocy of the college football overtime rule while looking back at how it impacted the Tigers last season.

Louisiana State twice “lost” games in triple-overtime. If you play 60 minutes and then trade possessions twice and are still tied, maybe that should be called a tie.

But since ties are messy and complicated and an unnecessary variable for the already fragile BCS computer programs (not to mention human voters), there’s got to be a way to make protracted overtime games less likely.

In fact, here’s one.

If you want to retain the current system but make it slightly harder to score, start each possession 40 yards out rather than 25 yards out. No kicker on the planet is going to be able to reliably boot a 57-yard field goal, so at the least offenses will have to actually do something to put points on the board.

Was Louisiana State the nation’s best team last year? Probably so. But it took a ridiculous amount of good fortune for the Tigers to even play for a championship, and a tweaked overtime system (with the possible inclusion of ties) would make it much more likely in the future for the best teams to overcome football’s answer to roulette.

4. Georgia. The Bulldogs might be the nation’s best team.

They’ll still be extremely fortunate to lose only one game all season.

They visit Arizona State. They get Alabama, Auburn and Louisiana State from the SEC West. There’s also that pesky game against Florida.

It doesn’t matter how loaded Georgia’s defense is. The Dawgs will stumble at least once. And if they fall twice, chances are a two-loss team won’t earn a BCS title game invite again.

So enjoy Knowshon Moreno and all the rest. Just realize their championship dreams could prove to be quite fleeting.

3. Ohio State. Last year’s Buckeyes arrived in the national title game a year ahead of schedule. Of course, they were aided by a league with a very dense middle section.

If the ACC is the Land of 8-4 Teams, the Big Ten has the rights to the name “Land of 7-5 Teams.” Or 6-6 teams.

Anyway, the Buckeyes shouldn’t be discounted just because they’ve been trounced in the last two title games and play in an overrated conference. This is one case where returning starters actually mean something.

Ohio State brings back nearly all of its vaunted defense. And with an early trip to Southern California, the Buckeyes will need it.

This is probably a situation where a team will be better but its record might not be. Ohio State looks like a 10-2 regular season team, but there’s a good chance it will be even better than last fall.

2. Oklahoma. Well, Bob Stoops is quickly getting the tag of not being able to win the big one, even if he did indeed win the big one back in January 2001.

The Sooners aren’t the nation’s best team. But they’re close, and odds are they’ll get a chance to prove it in Miami in another four-and-a-half months.

With Sam Bradford at quarterback, Oklahoma will again be in position to roll up plenty of points. The defense is a little bit of a question mark, but Stoops has been known to have that unit working by the middle of any season.

The schedule is as favorable as possible. The Sooners don’t play a true road game against anyone who finished better than 7-6 last year. They have some interesting nonconference games (Cincinnati, Texas Christian) and obviously the Red River Shootout with Texas.  But Oklahoma gets Kansas and Texas Tech at home and won’t have to deal with Missouri until the Big 12 title game, if at all.

It won’t come easy, but the Sooners have a visible path to the national championship game.

1. Southern California. As usual, the Trojans are loaded. That early visit from Ohio State could be tricky, but Southern Cal should dust off Virginia and Notre Dame and will encounter a Pac-10 that shouldn’t be quite as good as a year ago.

Now, that hasn’t stopped the Trojans from bizarrely losing some games the last few years. And certainly, the loss of more than half of the offensive starters from last year is a concern.

But no one reloads quite like Pete Carroll, and USC should be fine. The aura of invincibility from earlier this decade is long gone, but with so many possibilites scrambling for the title, it never hurts to bet on the most talented team.

And like it has been for pretty much five or six years, that team is Southern Cal.

—- Patrick Stevens