DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
College football fans will have their dream matchup next month. The top two teams in the country, undefeated University of Southern California and undefeated University of Texas, will play in the Rose Bowl for the national championship. Today fans learned the top four college bowl match-ups. Those four games make up what's called the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, a complicated and often-controversial system for determining a national champion. It relies on statistics and computer rankings. But this year it appears the BCS will dodge a lot of the criticism it's drawn in the past thanks to this showcase game between USC and Texas. Joining us now to talk about this is NPR's sport correspondent Tom Goldman.
TOM GOLDMAN reporting:
ELLIOTT: So perhaps in your best Academy Award voice, you can tell us the match-ups for the four BCS games.
(Soundbite of Goldman imitating a drum roll)
GOLDMAN: That's a drum roll, Debbie. OK, here we go. The winners are--no, I can't keep that up. Fiesta Bowl will be Ohio State and Notre Dame; the Orange Bowl, Penn State and Florida State--now that matches the two coaches who've won more games in Division 1A football than any other, Penn State's Joe Paterno and Florida State's Bobby Bowden. The Sugar Bowl is between Georgia and West Virginia and, as you said, Texas and USC in the Rose Bowl. Eight very happy and rich teams. They're in for million of dollars; not only to the teams, but to their conferences for qualifying for these BCS games.
ELLIOTT: College football fans have been drooling about this matchup between USC and Texas and now they've got it after some decisive play yesterday. Why all the talk about this one?
GOLDMAN: Well, both are undefeated. USC has won 34 straight games, two straight national titles. They're trying for a third, and that hasn't been done since Yale did it in 1888. Texas used to be a national championship contender all the time, but it hasn't won a title since 1970. And for a football crazy state like Texas, it's a big deal to have the Longhorns back near the top.
Then you have as well as great teams great individuals: Matt Leinart, the USC quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy last year; Reggie Bush, the USC running back who everyone says should win the Heisman Trophy this year.
ELLIOTT: What about the Heisman hopeful from Texas?
GOLDMAN: And then there is the junior quarterback for Texas, Vince Young. He's a thrilling offensive player himself, a quarterback who can pass and run effectively, and he puts up gaudy numbers in touchdowns and yardage gain that rival Reggie Bush.
ELLIOTT: Given that we have these young stars that are headlining the postseason, we mustn't forget that there's also an old guy making some news, as well, although I'm kind of nervous about calling him old.
GOLDMAN: I would not, if I were you, call 78-year-old Penn State coach Joe Paterno old to his face. He'll actually turn 79 this month. He's one of the best coaches in the history of the game--he's won two national titles--and one of the most recognizable coaches, too, with his black football shoes and those big, thick eyeglasses.
But Penn State has had a couple of really rough years; they won 17 and lost 16 before this year. People were saying Paterno was too old; that this game has passed him by, it was time to retire. He said all along he needed a couple of good players to help turn things around, and he was right. This year the Nittany Lion roared back. They won the Big Ten championship for the first time in 11 years, and Penn State got to its first BCS game. So so much for old age and retirement.
ELLIOTT: For once, the college postseason maybe will be about great games and players and coaches and not complaints about the BCS?
GOLDMAN: Well, yes, certainly not as many complaints. Since the BCS started in 1998, there's been criticism because it hasn't always been as easy as this year to slot those top two teams in the championship game. Several years there's been a third team with a legitimate claim to the title game, but because of the labyrinthine system of computer rankings and statistics that you mentioned earlier, that third team doesn't make it. So there still are those who say a playoff is the only way to go. Let the teams play for a championship rather than to be slotted into this or that bowl. Even Congress will take up this argument this week.
GOLDMAN: A hearing on the BCS is scheduled in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, interestingly chaired by Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas. And you certainly can't say that his criticism of the BCS, which he says is deeply flawed--it can't be sour grapes because the team from his home state, University of Texas, is absolutely benefiting from the BCS this year.
ELLIOTT: True. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Debbie.
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