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Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Updated: December 31, 11:52 AM ET
Nothing from nothing leaves nobody

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

"Immortal Words" for a hundred, Alex.

Who said, "You cannot be serious!"

John McEnroe. And Johnny Mac won't be the last to ever utter those words, if Oklahoma wins the Sugar Bowl and is then awarded some abject, weird version of the "national championship" by the French and BCS judges.

BCS
Hey, how come USC and Michigan aren't in this photo?

You cannot be serious!

It will mean nothing (but revenue), unless you count the rampant speculation afterward about who's No. 1. Caring about speculation (and revenue) would make you more of a hedge-fund manager-type than a football purist/fanatic.

Now if the winners of the Rose and Sugar Bowls were to meet on, say, Jan. 12, 2004, for all the proverbial marbles and a quite real bottom line of, say, 35 mil-plus, counting network broadcast and re-broadcast rights fees, live gate, concessions, commercial TV time, other rights fees, et al., all in, to be split among participating colleges and conferences, along with, oh by the way, a real-instead-of-mythical national title, that ... would be serious. Considering the dollars involved and the fact the ballplayers are not allowed to share in any of it, I really don't understand why this hasn't happened yet.

As it is, with the BCS and AP national poll, we have a two-headed "mythical national championship" game, the Rose/Sugar/UnTidy Bowls, where any of four teams in the right circumstance can find itself called "national champ." By which we mean the best college-sponsored, minor-league, semi-pro squad.

That's how I see college ball, mostly: as ramp-up for the NFL draft. Sue me.

Actually? You can throw a net over all of them, according to your personal preference. I'm not talking about liking helmet designs here.

Despise O.J. Simpson? (Get in line.) Love Michigan.

Not accepted into USC's film school? Michigan again.

Think UM's admissions policies reek of reverse racism? USC's for you.

Consider Bob Stoops to be John the Baptist? OU.

Think of Cannon's Run as part of football lore and not as a dumbass Burt Reynolds flick? LSU.

Hey, after a couple hurricanes and a dozen blue-point oysters with lemons and Louisiana cayenne hot sauce, you can talk me into anything -- except that OU can be the national champion after losing 35-7 in the last game it played. I ain't going for that one, I don't care how drunk you get me.

Chris Perry
If Chris Perry ran for 154 against Ohio State's tough run D, what will he do against USC?

There are three teams that can become national champions where it really counts: on the field. And in the hearts and minds of purists, cognoscenti and alumni, who may come in more handy than my opinion after the players turn 35, physically and psychologically crippled after having variously-sized cups of coffee and resulting surgeries in the NFL, and are in need of a job, preferably a coaching job. Or at least a reference on their scant résumés.

In the Rose Bowl, if SC beats Michigan, that's ballgame, right there. SC is the undisputed national champion, or, at the very least, half of a national champion, in our minds -- as long as we don't live in Oklahoma or Louisiana, or are employed by the Southeastern or the Big 12 conferences.

The likelihood of this happening? Eh. Fifty-fifty. Mas or menos.

Actually, Michigan looked suspiciously like a real national champion while disposing of defending national champ Ohio State way back in November before more than 112,000 souls, the largest crowd in the history of college Triple-A minor-league pre-K semi-pro football. So, it's not like it can't happen.

In fact, we rather expect it to happen, just on the empirical evidence.

Ohio State had the greatest run defense in the history of college football, or it was about to, statistically. So various analysts told me, anyway, until it got run over by a truck named Chris Perry and the Wolverines. Everybody told me how Michigan wouldn't be able to run on Ohio State, basically because no one else had done it yet. The last guy who tried was named Willie McGahee.

So what happens? Chris Perry, the guy with the best set of teeth out there, he of the guest appearance on "Blind Date" and, oh yeah, the best back in both Double Jeopardy Bowls, went for a buck-fifty-four through the Buckeyes, aided and abetted by bruising blocks by a typical (read monstrous) Michigan O-line. I mean, this Justin Fargas, now a Raider, was SC's featured back last year, wasn't he? And he transferred in from Michigan, didn't he? You mean to tell me Chris Perry wasn't part of the reason? Not only that, Braylon Edwards would've had over 250 yards receiving against the Buckeyes if a 90-yarder hadn't been called back. He scored twice, anyway. Then there's multi-talented Steve Breaston, who plays wide, slot, wing, even quarterback, yet another Michigan kind of guy SC doesn't want to see with the rock.

Michigan always has a tight end or two who can't run all that fast but is as big as a bus and with hands like catcher's mitts. This year, they've even got one of those models playing at QB. His name is John Navarre. While John won't be making us forget Tom Brady, or even Brian Griese, you'd be mistaken if you think you can just let him lumber back seven steps and scan the field and throw the ball (total running time: six or seven lo-oo-ng seconds).

Michigan does have the little problem of overcoming Lloyd Carr, who has problems of his own adjusting to one-question halftime "interviews" -- much less pro-type blitz packages inserted by the likes of Pete "This Is Much Easier Than Beating the Jets, Isn't It?" Carroll. (By the way, is this Pete Carroll the professional role model for Steve Spurrier, or what?)

Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart and USC beat up on the Pac-10 ... but can the Trojans handle Michigan?

Carr may find a way to overcome every edge Michigan has; and in that way, he is fitting successor to Bo Schem. But it's no crumbcake for SC. The New Wild Bunch may have shut down Auburn's so-called potent ground game in the season opener. What's different? Perry, for one. He's different. I know Matt Leinart and Mike Williams are a fabulous hook-up, but it's not going to look like the JV against them out there, as it did vs. UCLA and Notre Dame. Michigan's Deebs are a-gile, mo-bile, hos-tile and big. Safety Ernest Shazor hits like Earnie Shavers, and is 6-foot-4, 217. They only gave up five TD passes all season. And that's not my usual typo. Only five, all year.

Suppose Michigan, with two Ls, wins, and I take it on faith (the evidence of things unseen) that they just might. Are the Wolves the national champions?

Only if Oklahoma wins the Sugar. And then only to me, Desi Howard, Jon Jansen, Wood, Brady, Dierdorf, maybe a few other guys. OK, and gals.

If Oklahoma wins the Sugar Bowl and Michigan wins the Rose Bowl, there is no national champion, in effect. The office will have been vacated, by Kansas State, in the Big 12 Conference title game, the last game Oklahoma played. Now, all season, people told me how Bob Stoops had assembled maybe the greatest college football team ever. Only I look back on it and see OU just eased by Alabama, a terrible team, and ... well, forget that, bottom line is this: The Sooners lost the last game they played, their conference championship game, by four touchdowns. So the only way OU can win a national championship is if something inhuman votes.

Enter the BCS computers. Wherever and whatever they are.

If Oklahoma wins and is then awarded the national title by computer, BCS, or the random shout-out, the hoots you'll hear will be coming from Kansas City, Mo., Manhattan, Kansas, and my couch here at HQ. Please. Oh Please.

Which leaves us with LSU, the dark horse, running fourth on the rail. Forget the national championship. That's small potatoes. This is a chance to grub big-time! I'm beginning to feel a Homer Simpson coming on. A golden-fried hot shrimp-and-oyster po' boy on freshly baked bread from Ye Olde College Inn (Johnnie Cochran hooked me up with my first one, but that's another story), or some barbequed shrimp from Manale's ... ummm. You go to New Orleans to eat, listen to jazz, and eat, marvel at Mardi Gras, and eat, or to watch football. If you're going for any other reason, that's your problem.

LSU
LSU's Michael Clayton wants to point out one thing: Don't count out the Bayou Bengals.

Here's your Daily Double. Who will Nick Saban owe if the LSU ballplayers win and Saban gets a five-year, $25-million contract to coach somebody like the New York Giants? Hello? ... Hello? (sound of crickets chirping.)

* * * * *

The two pivotal players in the Sugar Bowl are both named Clayton -- Mark Clayton for the Sooners and Michael for LSU. Not that they are the best players on the field. Oklahoma QB Jason White already won the Hesiman Trophy, for example, and only God and Mel Kiper Jr. know how many Sooners and Tigers will be drafted and later exposed in the League.

I just have a feeling somebody named Clayton will turn either the Boomer Sooner Schooner or the Bayou Bengals into the Wreck of the Hesperus.

So there you have it. If they only played just one more game after the Rose and the Sugar Bowls -- wouldn't that be a coup for the Humanitarian Bowl, for it to become by default the national championship game? What would the Humanitarian Bowl people pay for a coup like that? Not a tournament, not anything requiring any brackets or gambling opportunity, or lessening the supposed import of bowls already in place, particularly the four bowls, Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange, correctly (!) IDed by the BCS as the best, most weather-temperate, vacation-friendly and traditional bowls.

Mark Clayton
Let's see ... lose by 28 points, still win national championship?! It's like that "Bizarro" episode of "Seinfeld."

You could just add the one more bowl to the mix, and just hold it wherever the Super Bowl is being held that year, which would make sportswriters, a notoriously sedentary lot anyway, quite happy, giving them a greater sense of their own self-importance, if such a thing is conceivable. Why, we (we?) could make even more money by having a lottery -- always a good idea, apparently -- to see who'd name this Bowl, which we will call, for now, in the interests of staggering irony, the Final Exam Bowl. Revenue streams would be running out of our mouths and down our faces like succulent grape juice. I volunteer to be executive director of said bowl, at a salary to be negotiated at a later date but which we guarantee will not be over seven figures. Maybe eight.

And that would do it. One more game. Then Oklahoma would be two games removed from its Kansas State debacle. If OU could beat LSU and, say, USC, the Sooners would then seem acceptable again as national champions. For now they are whistling past the above-ground graveyards on blue bayou.

So. Who am I picking?

Well, nothing from nothing leaves nobody. I'm just watching like everybody else. But, as I say, Michigan, the team with two losses, looks to me like they have the most weapons, while SC has the best total coaching and depth. OU has the best D and special teams, LSU the most team speed. On a given day, Kansas State could beat the lot of them, and has a player, a college player, QB Ell Roberson, who is as good an athlete as anybody on the four.

Once again, we learn it's all in where you put the mirrors.

Other than that ...

"Immortal words" for a thousand, Alex.

Who said, "Nobody knows anything"?

Don Cheadle? Steve Spurrier? Beano Cook?

No. William Goldman.

That's who gets credit for it, anyway.

Oh well. You can't pick 'em all.

Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.