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COLUMN | ENTERPRISE | FEATURE | GAME | LOOSE DEADLINE
FIRST PLACE: GAME (IMMEDIATE DEADLINE)
Crown the Southern California Trojans kings of the college football world again. And this time there's no sharing.
No dispute, really, after the Trojans dismantled No. 2 Oklahoma 55-19 on Tuesday night in an Orange Bowl that turned out to be the most lopsided title game in the brief history of the Bowl Championship Series.
Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart set an Orange Bowl record with five touchdown passes, adding the MVP trophy to his display case. USC's defense forced turnovers on four straight OU possessions on the way to a 38-10 halftime lead.
"They kept giving us the ball back, and we just kept putting it in the end zone," Leinart said. So ravaging were the Trojans (13-0) that the only thing undone was to leave the Boomer Schooner up on blocks.
OU's famed covered wagon left the field with the Sooners (12-1) trailing 28-7, just in case, though it returned after intermission. By the end of the third quarter, droves of Sooners fans had found the exits.
"Sometimes it happens quickly, and it doesn't take much for it to happen," OU coach Bob Stoops said.
When the rout finally was over, the Trojans and coach Pete Carroll climbed a huge portable stage at midfield to jubilantly lift the crystal football that eluded them in last season's BCS fiasco.
The Trojans split that crown with LSU, left out of the Sugar Bowl title game despite ending the season ranked No. 1 in both polls. A Rose Bowl victory against Michigan gave USC the Associated Press title, but LSU got the coaches' nod as part of a standing agreement to give its trophy to the BCS championship winner.
No such division this time. Though No. 3 Auburn also finished 13-0, Monday night's 16-13 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech was nowhere near as impressive.
"This is so much better than last year," USC defensive lineman Shaun Cody said. "Winning [last year], we didn't know whether we would be champs or not. This year we got the job done."
The poll sweep figured to be complete within hours of the final gun, when the AP released its final results.
Leinart threw for 332 yards against the Sooners, completing 18 of 35 attempts to easily prevail in the historic showdown of Heisman-winning quarterbacks. Oklahoma's Jason White, the 2003 winner, finished with 244 yards but was intercepted twice in the pivotal second quarter.
"There's nothing I can do to change it," said White, who threw three interceptions total. "It's a low point, but I'll be all right. I'll pick myself up."
The Sooners also lost two fumbles, including one on an ill-advised Mark Bradley punt return.
Leinart's five TD passes broke the Orange Bowl mark of four by Florida State's Danny Kanell (1996), Michigan's Tom Brady (2000) and Florida's Rex Grossman (2002).
The junior has thrown at least four TDs seven times in his 26-game career, and has lost just once as a starter.
Steve Smith made three TD grabs, tying an Orange Bowl record by FSU's Andre Cooper (1996) and Michigan's David Terrell (2000). LenDale White added a pair of TD runs.
Freshman Dwayne Jarrett hauled in a 54-yard TD bomb, and tight end Dominique Byrd made a stellar onehanded grab for USC's first score.
Oklahoma took an early lead on White's 4-yard TD pass to Travis Wilson, but spent the next 48 minutes held out of the end zone. White caught the other TD with 3:59 remaining.
Freshman Garrett Hartley added OU's only other points on a 29-yard field goal, the first of his college career. Freshman sensation Adrian Peterson ran for 82 yards, held under the 100-yard mark for the first time.
The Sooners now have lost back-to-back BCS title games, victimized 21-14 by LSU a year ago.
All week, the game had been hyped as a clash of titans, perhaps rivaling such classics as Miami-Ohio State (2003 Fiesta Bowl), UM-Penn State (1987 Fiesta) or UM-Nebraska (1984 Orange).
Instead, it was a blowout.
"We didn't expect it to be this easy," Carroll said, "but the game went our way from the beginning."
Tied 7-7, USC's Tom Malone mishit a punt off the right side of his foot, but caught a break when the ball hit at the OU 20 and bounded toward the end zone.
Inexplicably, Bradley picked it up at the 3 and tried to head upfield. But USC's Collin Ashton poked the ball loose and Josh Pinkard fell on it at the 6.
Leinart handed to LenDale White, who bounded off a defender and stretched the ball over the goal line for a 14-7 lead.
Jason White drove the Sooners right back into USC territory, but threw a ball up for grabs that was picked off by Jason Leach. Six plays later, Leinart caught OU in a corner blitz and hit Jarrett for a 54-yard TD.
USC picked off White again four plays later, as Eric Wright stepped in front of Bradley and took it back 22 yards to the Sooners 11. Leinart needed three plays to hit Smith over the middle on a 5-yard TD.
After Hartley's field goal pulled OU within 28-10, Leinart hit Smith with a 33-yard TD. And a fumble by OU's Kejuan Jones was converted into a 44-yard Ryan Killeen field goal to end the half.
USC's 38 points set an Orange Bowl record for a half, and matched its entire output in their 2003 Orange Bowl victory against Iowa.
"We kept hearing about how great Oklahoma's defense was," Leinart said. "Obviously we have great respect for them, but we dominated them in every facet of the game. We've proven that we are the best team in the country."
Comment of the judge, Corky Simpson: This is a story worthy of the biggest game of the year. It jumps right into Southern Cal's 55-19 national championship rout of Oklahoma and doesn't go overboard with adjectives. Tight, taut and economical, it nevertheless puts us on the 50-yard-line. This isn't a story I wish I had written it's a story I wish I could write.
Second place: Brian Landman, St. Petersburg Times
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