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Sports

Football at its finest

Chris Dufresne Los Angeles Times

The words “greatest,” “best” and “epic” really have no place in level-headed sports journalism, but what does any of that that have to do with any of this?

Hyperbole here we come.

If you didn’t like last Saturday in college football, you don’t like kids eating ice cream, on-time airline arrivals, manual transmissions, “The Catcher in the Rye,” Kevin Costner’s monologue in “Bull Durham” or side two of “Abbey Road.”

Saturday was a philharmonic of football, set to wand-wave and crescendo by USC’s 34-31 “epic” victory against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Followers of college ball could not be blamed for calling in sick today citing outbreaks of “post-dramatic syndrome.”

USC fans flying back from Chicago on Sunday wondered aloud whether they really needed the plane.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” one said before he boarded United flight No. 111 back to Los Angeles International Airport.

NBC reported a 7.9 overnight rating (wow) and a 17 share (that’s a whopper) and trotted out a quote from announcer Pat Haden proclaiming the closing credits on USC-Notre Dame were “as entertaining a last three minutes of a college football game as I’ve ever seen.”

And that was just one game.

Ten schools ranked in last week’s Harris poll top 25 either won or lost in the last 1:18 or less.

Five schools won or lost on the last play – and that doesn’t include USC and Notre Dame because there were three seconds left when Matt Leinart made his long-legged leap.

By the way, if that was USC’s push to get Leinart his second Heisman Trophy, give tailback Reggie Bush all the credit because he did push him.

USC and Notre Dame was only the cherry on top.

Alabama stayed undefeated on a last-second field goal against Mississippi.

Michigan handed Penn State its first loss as time, but thankfully not 78-year-old Joe Paterno, expired.

Wisconsin recovered a blocked punt in the end zone to beat Minnesota. The block was primarily the result of the Minnesota punter’s bad hands – he dropped a near-perfect snap.

UCLA rallied from 21 down to beat Washington State in overtime. If Bruins coach Karl Dorrell’s heart pounds any harder he will have to move the next home game to the UCLA Medical Center parking lot.

If you turned Louisville-West Virginia off with Louisville up by 24-7, you missed West Virginia winning in triple overtime.

Now, for the downer news.

Hate to bum you out, but …

What was transmitted into Nielsen homes Saturday is the reason there will not, and might not ever be, an NFL-style playoff in college football.

This is what conference commissioners keep harping about when they say their sport has the best regular season in all of sports, and any playoff format would only undermine the multi-tiered (and jacketed) bowl system and devalue in-season games.

Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen, who attended UCLA’s victory in Pullman, looked like a kid who just got a red wagon for Christmas at O’Hare as he waited for a connecting flight to Indianapolis (he was on his way to an NCAA meeting.)

“It was a great day,” Hansen beamed.

Every week in college football is a playoff, he contended, and there are days such as Saturday when you almost have to throw up your hands.

Hansen said it isn’t that schools are necessarily knocked out of title contention with early season losses; the drama unfolds because teams think they are.

“I wouldn’t call it desperation,” he said of the buzz of these games. “It’s a realization that you can afford one loss at the most, and that two takes you out of the national title game.”

Many longtime college football observers have already placed USC-Notre Dame in the pantheon of greatest games ever played. The short list usually starts with Miami’s upset win over Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, the game in which coach Tom Osborne stoically played for the win in the end and lost when the two-point conversion failed.

Of games I have attended, nothing tops Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie’s miracle pass to beat Miami in 1984, although Saturday probably checks in second ahead of Miami vs. Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Texas A&M over Kansas State in the 1998 Big 12 title-game and Division III St. John’s (Minnesota) Coach John Gagliardi picking up career win No. 409 with a win against Bethel.

The BCS genie can only offer Notre Dame fans this sliver of hope. No team in the BCS era has ever made the title game with two losses, although you could argue two-loss Colorado should have played Miami in 2001. That was the year Nebraska won the No. 2 golden ticket by 0.05 over Colorado despite losing to the Buffaloes, 62-36, the day after Thanksgiving in Boulder, Colo.

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