I keep hearing the college football "experts" say USC is going for its third consecutive national title. I was wondering, how can that be? Following the 2003 season, USC did not play in the BCS championship game (I believe the title game that year was the

Great points and questions.

Technically, the BCS is not a two-team national playoff. Its purpose is to match up the two best teams in the country in a designated bowl game, with the hope that the outcome will leave no doubt which team is the best.

The polls still determine the national champion.

Thus if the No. 1 team in the polls -- as Southern Cal was at the end of the 2003 season -- doesn't make the BCS "title game," chances are pretty good that if that No. 1 team wins its bowl game, it will stay No. 1 regardless what happens in the game between the teams ranked 1-2 in the complicated BCS system.

Actually, Associated Press had USC No. 1 before and after the 2003 season bowl games but the other major poll, USA Today, had LSU on top after the Sugar Bowl. That split decision is the only one in the seven years of the BCS (1999-2004). There were 10 split titles in the 44 years from 1954-1997.


So while the system -- despite annual tweaking -- hasn't proven to be The Answer, it has helped.

Boy are we glad you didn't ask to explain the BCS system. The Cliffs Notes answer to that is it's a system that weighs one-third coaches poll, one-third Harris Interactive poll (AP got out of the system after last year), and one-third a compilation of six different computer rankings.

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