- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

NEW ORLEANS — The college football season ended with eight consecutive Oklahoma incompletions, a fourth-down sack and an LSU punt that tumbled to a dead-ball stop as the Sugar Bowl clock expired.

Perfect.

What a fittingly ugly conclusion for a season defined by widespread discontent.

From the ACC’s money-mongering raid of the Big East to a Heisman laugher and a BCS mess, no season in recent memory was loaded with so many disappointments for the average fan. Here are the choices for the top-five frowners of a season best forgotten.

1. BCS distress — The system hiccuped before, giving us Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl and Florida State, instead of Miami, a team it lost to, in the 2001 Orange Bowl. But never before had it failed to deliver the nation’s No.1 team. The Rose and Sugar bowls then turned the Oklahoma error into a complete catastrophe, bearing out the fact that human polls would have given us a far better title game than the formula created to help eliminate human error.

So who wins between people’s champ Southern California (12-1) and computer-crowned LSU (13-1)? We’ll never know. The system cheated us out of a donnybrook featuring the nation’s top two defensive lines. Will the badder Butkus boys please stand up. Would it be Trojans sacksmith Kenechi Udeze (161/2 sacks) and a USC bunch that led the nation in sacks (55), or LSU All-American Chad Lavalais and the nation’s top scoring defense (11.0 points)?

On a positive note, there is a decent chance of scoring a Tigers vs. Trojans duel when the Orange Bowl takes its turn as BCS big boy next season. LSU could return as many as 17 starters, if quarterback Matt Mauck, wideout Michael Clayton and defensive linemen Marquise Hill and Marcus Spears return for their senior seasons. USC could put 15 starters back on the field next season, including all four members of that defensive line (though Udeze is likely to leave), Rose Bowl MVP Matt Leinart, All-American wideout Mike Williams and national freshman of the year Reggie Bush. Just for good measure, the two schools also ranked Nos.1 and 2 in last season’s recruiting wars and are in position to finish at the top again.

2. Idle in Indy — The NCAA, the supposed governing body of college sports, sat mutely by while the ACC turned the Big East into a basketball conference, and the Big East, in turn, laid waste to Conference USA. The NCAA doesn’t have the spine to mandate a college football playoff system or arbitrate peace between its member leagues, but it sure can put the quietus on a 19-year-old like Maurice Clarett.

3. OK’s not OK — Has any team in college sports history fallen faster from a higher perch than the Sooners? A month ago, folks were bootlicking Bob Stoops and Co., some even wondering where the squad fit among the pantheon of all-time greats.

Two beatdowns later, the Sooners are simply the overrated stooges who unjustly supplanted USC in the Sugar Bowl.

“We didn’t play well enough or coach well enough to win tonight, but I’m proud of the account my guys gave of themselves,” said Stoops after his team’s 21-14 loss to LSU.

Apparently, Stoops uses a different accounting technique. His team had two season-ending losses by a combined score of 49-21, each of which could have been far worse. The numbers show an offense that led the nation in scoring and was held to just 154 total yards by LSU. The Tigers defense is superb, but they held just one SEC opponent all season under 200 yards. Is the SEC that much more superior to the Big 12 conference that Oklahoma torched during the regular season? Nope, this was a meltdown, plain and simple. If the Tigers were tremendous, the Sooners were swill.

In one month, Stoops lost his brother to Arizona, his top-paid status, his cool on the sideline, and a hefty chunk of his chits as college football’s resident genius. Ouch. Now, Stoops seems human, and LSU’s Nick Saban is the demigod du jour. Saban, whose contract demands he make at least $1 more than the game’s erstwhile rainmaker (Stoops at $2.6million) for leading LSU to a national championship, has several NFL suitors. Despite his concerns about NFL job stability, Saban would be a great fit in Atlanta. A West Virginia-native with no ties to Louisiana, Nick could skip out for Vick.

4. White out — Can there be a Heisman recount? It was always a stretch to accept Jason White as Oklahoma’s best player. And it’s quite evident he wasn’t on the best team. But could he have flopped any worse than he did in his last two games? Did any player in the nation have a more ghastly postseason, with the possible exception of Oklahoma All-American wideout Mark “Hands of” Clayton?

Against Kansas State and LSU, White completed only 40 of 87 passes for no touchdowns and threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for game-defining touchdowns. Against LSU, he exhibited questionable accuracy, no mobility, hesitancy to throw away the ball, a willingness to throw into double coverage and suspect arm strength. Other than that, he was John Elway.

“It puts a big damper on it,” said White, when asked if his woeful Sugar Bowl outing taints his Heisman. “Sure, you win 12 games and a bunch of awards, and you really come away with nothing.”

Not totally true — you come away destined to be remembered in the same odious Heisman breath with Gino Torretta and Andre Ware. Blame the voters who sent in their ballots early, and preseason favorite Maurice Clarett for thinking he was bigger than the game.

5. JokePa — Over the last several seasons, one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports has devolved into a State College cartoon. It’s been beaten to death this season, but both the Penn State faithful and Joe Paterno’s legacy deserve better than this unseemly spiral into denial and oblivion. In his first 34 years at the helm, Paterno had one losing season. Over the last four years, he’s had three losing seasons, each worse than the last. What are you waiting for Joe — stigmata? The signs couldn’t be any clearer the game has passed by the 76-year-old Paterno. In the name of all things dignified, Joe, give it up.

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