Louisiana State 21 – Oklahoma 10. LSU will win the BCS/Coach’s Poll title and Southern Cal will win the Sportswriters’ title.

Despite the bizarre mechanics of the team ranked #1 in both the major polls not getting invited to the championship game, LSU put on an impressive display tonight and deserves a share of the title under the current system. They certainly played a much more grueling schedule than USC.

Update (0934): The schedules from ESPN. LSU and USC.

LSU played five teams that were ranked at the end of the season:

September 20 No. 11 Georgia W 17-10 4-0 (1-0 SEC)
October 11 No. 17 Florida L 19-7 5-1 (2-1 SEC)
November 22 at No. 18 Mississippi W 17-14 10-1 (6-1 SEC)
December 6 at No. 11 Georgia W 34-13 12-1 (8-1 SEC)
January 4 vs No. 3 Oklahoma W 21-14 13-1 (8-1 SEC)

They went 4-1 in those games, including two postseason games. I’d also note that Georgia’s ranking is artificially deflated by the two loses to LSU. Their only loss all season was to #17 Florida.

USC played two teams that were ranked at the end of the season:

November 1 No. 14 Washington State W 43-16 8-1 (4-1 Pac-10)
January 1 vs No. 4 Michigan W 28-14 12-1 (7-1 Pac-10)

They won both of those, but lost to an unranked team:

September 27 at California L 34-31

Cal was a medicre 8-6, with the USC win the only meaningful one of the year.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. melvin toast says:

    While it may be true that USC didn’t play as grueling a schedule, the argument could be made that it didn’t start out that way. They smoked Auburn in the season opener when Auburn was ranked #1. As it turned out, Auburn fizzled and they didn’t even finish in the top 25.

    Strength of schedule is an arbitrary metric that only makes sense because you don’t have a playoff system. Even just adding one more championship bowl simplifies the exercise. USC would have gotten a shot last year at Ohio St and they would have gotten a shot at LSU this year. I’d pay to watch that! You could argue that number 5 teams didn’t get their shot at the playoffs but it’s not the same as saying a number 1 or 2 team got screwed.

  2. anti-parrot says:

    “They [LSU] certainly played a MUCH more grueling schedule than USC.”

    No, they didn’t.

    Louisiana-Monre, Louisiana Tech, and Western Illinois? Give me a break.

    Check out each team’ s 2003 schedule. USC and LSU also played 2 common opponents. In the comparative margin of victories, LSU won by a nose (+2).

    You accept as true the fallacy of the BCS formula that prevented the obvious national championship matchup
    for yet another year. Remember the Nebraska debacle a couple years ago?

    Having said all that, LSU and USC would’ve been co-champs pre-BCS and since they can’t decide the issue on the field, both deserve a share. However, LSU gets the “legit” crown and USC does not.

  3. James Joyner says:


    Strength of schedule is arbitrary in that it’s not that predictable at the time the schedules are set, and thus largely out of the team’s control. Still, it’s useful in comparing two one-loss teams.

    I’d also note that USC was ranked ahead of LSU merely because of the bizarre conventions of the polls, in which teams start out with a ranking and then move up or down incrementally based on the initial ranking. USC lost to an unranked opponent, but did so very early and could recover. LSU lost to a better one late and were penalized.

  4. mark says:


    Why would USC have “gotten” a shot at Ohio State last year? Ohio State and Miami were the only 2 undefeated teams, and Ohio State won. USC had no claim whatsoever to a chance at playing in the title game. And, there was no need for an “extra” game that year. Everything worked according to plan.

  5. Steven says:

    There can be no doubt that LSU road to the Sugar Bowl was harder than USC’s route to the Rose. Having to win the SEC is simply more difficult than winning the PAC 10.

    And, I would note: LSU beat Georgia twice (which finished at 11th) and Mississippi(17). The only team USC beat that finished in the top 25 was Washington State (14). (numbers are for the pre-Bowl polls.)

  6. Paul says:

    Maybe I’m just too political but….

    I see an interesting parallel between this race and the 2000 election.

    Bush won the electoral college but a whole bunch of people want to whine about the popular vote. The problem is that rules dictate how the game was played. Both candidates would have run completely different campaigns if all they needed was more votes. The method of determining the winner was known well before the race started.

    The same can be said for the BCS. The rules were in place before the season. Now many whiners want to complain about the outcome. Everyone knew what they had to do to win. If Gore had won Tennessee he would be President. If USC had beaten California they would be champs.

    LSU earned it because they won more games than USC against harder opponents. How hard is it?

  7. bryan says:

    So no one from the Pac-10 should EVER be a national champion? Because the Pac-10 is never going to have the “strength of schedule” of a Big 10, Big 12 or SEC. Why? Because it’s on the west coast, and as much as we like to deny it, there is an east coast bias in the polling. It’s a vicious circle which affects all west coast teams. As for the teams that finished in the rankings, look at how many are from the aforementioned Big 10, Big 12 and SEC. Why is that? Because they play each other.

    Short of joining a conference on the east coast (say the ACC with Miami), I don’t know what USC could do to increase its chances.

  8. James Joyner says:


    Had they beaten Cal, this would be a non-issue. If they had a conference championship game, it would also add another quality opponent.

    Part of this is just bad luck–some of the out-of-conference games they scheduled, notably Auburn, should have been against quality opponents.

    I think USC should have had a chance to competed directly for the title, but with three one-loss major conference teams and no playoff, someone was going to get left out in the cold. I’m not sure USC was any more deserving than Oklahoma or LSU of a shot.

  9. bryan says:

    Hmmm, a loss to bitter conference rivals in overtime on a field goal vs. a loss in the conference championship that was humiliating in its totality.

    I think I can make an argument for who should get a shot.

    BTW, Cal won its bowl game. K-state didn’t.

  10. James Joyner says:

    I didn’t see much of the Big-12 championship game, but their Heisman trophy winning QB did mess up his throwing hand pretty badly–it was still giving him fits last night as well.

    And, as I noted at the time it happened, I agree that the best match-up would have been LSU-USC. My point here is that one can hardly blame LSU that it didn’t get to play USC head-on and that given a comparison of their two seasons in totality, it’s quite reasonable to say that, while USC got screwed in not getting a chance to win a championship outright, LSU deserved their half. Beating Georgia twice–including once in Georgia–is pretty impressive for staking their claim, since Georgia ended the postseason ranked #6 despite those two loses.

  11. Paul says:

    Everyone wants to blame the BSC for not concurring with the AP poll.

    They have it backwards. The BCS did a better job.

    This is not a case of the BSC failing. It is a case of people with predetermined prejudices disagreeing with it on emotional grounds. I submit that is the the EXACT reason we went to the BCS.

    Like it or not, it is better than the system it replaced.

  12. James Joyner says:


    Actually, I think we went to the BCS so that #1 could play #2 every year, which they were precluded from doing under the old conference-tied bowl system. That didn’t happen this year.

  13. melvin toast says:

    Strength of schedule is arbitrary because among other things it doesn’t prove anything. Beating bad teams doesn’t make your team worse unless you’re a BCS computer.

    As far as last year. My point is that USC lost early both years. But they got better. At the end of the season they could have had a chance at beating the top teams. That’s why BCS sucks.

    If you applied BCS to baseball, the Marlins could never be in the world series.

  14. James Joyner says:


    Beating good teams is, well, harder than beating bad ones. And, frankly, with a 162 game regular season, I hate the fact that wild card teams have won the last two World Series; why bother playing that long a season if there’s essentially no reward for winning?

    Your argument against BCS is one against a non-playoff system. I’d prefer a playoff myself–it makes sense in football because of shorter seasons–but they’ve never had a playoff in Division IA football. BCS is preferable to the pre-BCS system, though, since it matches up the #1 and #2 ranked teams. USC was just #3 in the pull that mattered.

  15. melvin toast says:

    The comparison of the BCS to the 2000 election is stupid. And I voted for Bush.

    The issue here isn’t about whether a vote is valid or not. The issue is that the system is stupid. Coaches poll and AP had USC as #1 and they don’t play for the national championship. Oklahoma doesn’t even win their division and they do. Even the BCS chair said they screwed up. When they’re admitting themselves that the system’s screwed… it’s screwed!!