Saturday fallout produces BCS confusion, conflict

Now that USC has perpetrated the biggest choke in the 2006 college football season … now that UCLA has sucker-punched the status quo … now that the stunner in SoCal has launched the BCS into absolute anarchy … there is only one question to ask:

Florida or Michigan?

OK, you could ask one other question: How screwed up is this? What kind of twisted reality reduces a gorgeous regular season to haphazard guesswork at the 11th hour?

But there appears to be no imminent NCAA legislation that's going to abolish the BCS before its bids are announced, so we're playing the hand we're dealt.

Who do you like? Gators or Wolverines?

"Like" is the key word here. It's not love. It's not even infatuation. It's certainly not adamant belief or conviction.

It's conjecture and nothing more. Who ever decided a national title matchup on a hunch bet?

College football, that's who.

Nobody with a shred of neutrality is going Nikita Khrushchev here, beating his or her shoe on the BCS desk in absolute belief that either the Wolverines or Gators are the only deserving opponent for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Without a playoff, we're left to split hairs between one-loss teams from the Midwest and the South, from power conferences, with elite traditions.

We have no clue. Not the voters. Not the computers. Not you or me.

I'd personally cast a vote in favor of Florida. I agree that a team should win its conference title to play for the national title. I don't like the idea of putting the best team in America in double jeopardy against an opponent it already has beaten.

But if the system spits out Michigan Sunday, who's to argue other than Urban Meyer?

All we know for sure is this: USC gagged. Spit the bit. Blew it like no other team with a title-game bid on the line in recent memory.

The Trojans were playing a 6-5 opponent they'd beaten seven years in a row. Pete Carroll's program had owned the Pac-10 like nobody else -- ever. The Trojans still will represent the league in the Rose Bowl, but that will be cold consolation.

The only deduction from watching the game is that USC severely underestimated the resolve of the Bruins, the emotion of the rivalry and the relish UCLA would take in knocking USC out of its customary place in the national title chase.

OK, one other deduction: The Rose Bowl has become a nightmare venue for the Trojans (see: Texas last January, and UCLA Saturday).

The trickle-down from Pasadena was immediate and nationwide. There certainly was rejoicing in Ann Arbor, and an immediate buoyancy in the Georgia Dome, site of the SEC Championship Game. Both tribes can now argue until they're out of breath.

But that was only part of the Saturday fallout.

With USC's fall, we now have this BCS gem: What figures to be two of the top four teams in the final standings did not win their league championships (Michigan and LSU). Nice system. At least they'd make a nice Rose Bowl matchup.

We also have this: ACC champion Wake Forest, of all poverty-stricken programs, in the Orange Bowl -- probably against Louisville, which had the Big East championship delivered to it in triple overtime when West Virginia beat Rutgers 41-39. Neither program has ever played in a BCS game.

The stakes were evident by mid-afternoon in Louisville. In a tongue-in-cheek admission of the desperate situation at hand, they played "Country Roads" on the public address system after the football game Saturday in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

In a response that violated instinct, the crowd roared.

That John Denver tune is rival West Virginia's signature song, of course. On most days in this city, it would be as popular as a Dixie Chicks ditty at the Republican National Convention. But after the Cardinals routed Connecticut 48-17 to clinch at least a share of the Big East title and position themselves agonizingly on the outskirts of BCS Land, every Louisville fan was suddenly embracing WVU.

In order to lock up their first-ever BCS bid, the Cards needed the Mountaineers to beat Rutgers Saturday night. Without that help, Louisville stood to be the biggest loser of the 2006 bowl shuffle.

Try this on for size: You're 11-1, you're ranked sixth in the BCS standings … and you might be ticketed for the Sun Bowl?

"A bowl game is a bowl game," Louisville wide receiver Harry Douglas proclaimed.

Clearly, Douglas has never been to El Paso.

Louisville was trying to put a smiley face on its worst-case-scenario bowl destination. But if you look closely at this picture, you'll notice that those teeth are more gritted than grinning.

Coach Bobby Petrino came close to coughing up his true feelings about Louisville's predicament, when asked how he'd feel about having his team accomplish everything it has this season and still be left outside the glamour bowls.

"Unfortunately it's not just the best team," Petrino said. "There's tradition that plays into it. And one team gets a little favoritism, I guess."

One hundred guesses and an autographed DVD of "Rudy" if you can name which team Petrino might have been referring to.

Notre Dame appears ticketed to the Sugar Bowl. That would have been the BCS spot Louisville had been angling for if West Virginia hadn't come through on its behalf. But the Mountaineers took care of business, creating a wild celebration scene in the Cardinal Hall of Fame Café, less than a mile from the Louisville stadium, as fans watched the end of the drama in Morgantown on television.

This is how weird it got in the final throes of the regular season. Louisville fans who were hatin' Steve Slaton exactly one month ago were celebratin' Steve Slaton Saturday night.

Only the BCS can produce this sort of confusion and conflicted outcome. And the arguing is nowhere near over.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.