NEW ORLEANS - Perhaps the newest debate to emerge from the Bowl Championship Series format since the final rankings were announced last month is the fact that the coaches must vote for the winner of the designated national championship game as the No. 1 team in the country.
That means the 37 coaches who vote in the ESPN/USA Today poll were obligated to pick either No. 2 LSU or No. 3 Oklahoma after last night's Nokia Sugar Bowl, even if they believed that No. 1 Southern California was the best team. Several coaches have voiced their dilemma in recent weeks.
BCS coordinator Mike Tranghese shared that concern yesterday during a breakfast with the Football Writers of America, many of whose members vote in the Associated Press poll and were expected to select the Trojans No. 1.
"I can tell you the six commissioners do not take any delight or pleasure in having to defend a poll we didn't want to have in the first place," said Tranghese, the Big East commissioner. "I don't think we have a choice but to take a hard look at this."
The BCS has two years left with its current format, which means there will be no major changes to the system until after the 2005 season. Tranghese and his counterparts from the five other BCS conferences are expected to discuss ways to improve the system when they meet in April.
Among the possible changes that could be made for next season would be to ensure that a team would have to win its conference championship in order to be eligible for a BCS invitation.
Tranghese also said several issues will be discussed in the coming months, including eliminating computers from the selection process - perhaps replaced by a committee composed of members from the BCS conferences - and adding a BCS game.
"It's just not a single issue," Tranghese said. "Every time you add a twist, there's an unintended consequence."
Tranghese said in an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday that he has received strong signals from university presidents that they are not interested in a playoff, no matter what the payoff.
"The university presidents in charge of the system have told us not to go down that road," he said.
There's been a lot of reminiscing here this week among older LSU fans about their team's last national title going into last night's BCS championship game between the second-ranked Tigers and No. 3 Oklahoma.
The architect of that undefeated 1958 season - Tigers coach Paul Dietzel - probably has more memories than anyone.
It was Dietzel who had given his team's suffocating defense its lasting nickname - "The Chinese Bandits" - that was based on characters in a popular cartoon of the time, Terry and The Pirates. There have been a lot of references made to that defense this season.
"We believed in defense. We only had 44 points scored on us the entire year," Dietzel said yesterday. "I'd forgotten how many teams we shut out, but if we scored a touchdown and a field goal, the game was over."
The final shutout came in the 1959 Sugar Bowl, when the Tigers sealed their championship with a 7-0 win over Clemson.
Dietzel, now 79 and living again in Baton Rouge after spending many years in North Carolina, sees a lot of similarities between his approach and that of current LSU coach Nick Saban. It took Dietzel four seasons to rebuild LSU; Saban is currently in his fifth year.
"He believes in recruiting good people, which I believed in, and he believes in making them go to school and focus on what they're here for, and that is to get an education," said Dietzel. "He believes in hard work."
Dietzel left LSU after leading the Tigers to a 10-1 record and an Orange Bowl victory over Colorado in 1961, returning to his coaching roots at Army. A former assistant at West Point under the legendary Red Blaik, Dietzel was the academy's first non-graduate to be head coach.
As a first-year assistant in 1948, Dietzel's job was to scout Navy and, as a result, spent much of that season in Baltimore and Annapolis.
"I saw Navy play every game," said Dietzel. "I'd get there and meet the team. They didn't know I was meeting them, but I was. I'd stand there as they were getting off the bus. They did not win a single game, but they never gave up. They were a tough bunch."
Army, then undefeated and one of the nation's college football powers, found out first-hand when the teams met in Philadelphia.
"It got so where I felt sorry for Navy because they played so hard and never won a game," said Dietzel. "Our team got some sort of stomach flu and we weren't in really good shape. The first play of the game they flipped the ball to Pistol Pete Williams and he must have run 220 yards for a touchdown. We were lucky to tie them, 20-20."
The young assistant fresh out of college learned something that day.
"That was the last time I felt sorry for my opponent," said Dietzel.
Dietzel's departure from LSU to Army caused a stir at the time. Dietzel was criticized for breaking his contract and the Army brass was vilified in New York for going after a coach under contract.
But Dietzel said yesterday that he left when LSU president Troy Middleton, a retired Army general, told him that if the U.S. Military Academy offered him a contract, Dietzel couldn't turn it down.
Three LSU players have ties to the Baltimore-Washington area: second-year freshman tailback and special teams player Barrington Edwards (Bowie), sophomore tight end David Jones (Silver Spring) and freshman punter Patrick Fisher (Hyattsville).