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A not-so-rosy picture Gators-Buckeyes title game, Rose Bowl top BCS schedule

Michigan was robbed. Southern California, winner of the Pacific-10, would prefer not to play in the Granddaddy of Them All. Boise State-Oklahoma doesn't invoke much excitement. Neither does Louisville-Wake Forest.

'Tis the season to be jolly, unless we're discussing the disorder that is the Bowl Championship Series. After so much good will was fostered by last season's classic championship matchup, the BCS is as awkward as ever. The public is clamoring for a playoff, and a true plus-one matchup between the Florida-Ohio State and USC-Michigan winners wouldn't leave much room for debate.

But there's not a whole lot of ho-ho-ho-ing going on these days:

>Rose Bowl

USC (10-2) vs. Michigan (11-1): 5 p.m., Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif., Ch. 7.

Line: USC by 1.

Payout: $17 million.

Outlook: There aren't national title implications, but the Rose is the Rose is the Rose, which means we'll have an entertaining matchup. Pete Carroll lost seven starters to the NFL yet USC was in the national title hunt until the final week of the regular season. No one -- including Ohio State -- has a better collection of receivers than the Trojans' Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith and Patrick Turner, and they are complemented by tailbacks C.J. Gable and Chauncey Washington. The defense, which shifts between a 4-3 and 3-4, is greatly improved from a year ago. Michigan's offense revolves around tailback Mike Hart and wide receiver Mario Manningham, but it's the defense that makes the Wolverines special. The unit was dominant until it was stripped down by Ohio State but if it can look past the Buckeyes' nightmare, and the fact the Wolverines aren't playing for the national title, the Wolverines should win.

Prediction: Michigan 28, USC 24.

***

>Fiesta Bowl

Boise State (12-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-2): 8:50 p.m., Jan. 1, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Ch. 29.

Line: Oklahoma by 7.

Payout: $17 million.

Outlook: The nation will finally learn more about Boise State's Ian Johnson, who rushed for 1,613 yards and 24 touchdowns. Johnson is a big, strong, physical tailback who makes people miss in the open field. The defense is solid all-around. Middle linebacker Korey Hall is the leader of the Broncos' front seven, although defensive tackle Andrew Browning is considered the unit's best player. That the Sooners are even playing in a BCS bowl is a testament to the coaching of Bob Stoops, and he could receive a huge boost if tailback Adrian Peterson is cleared to play. As always, Oklahoma will rely heavily on its defense, which has superior speed and athleticism. Boise State is a nice feel-good story, but playing the likes of Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and Utah State doesn't prepare you for teams like Oklahoma.

Prediction: Oklahoma 44, Boise State 17.

***

>Orange Bowl

Louisville (11-1) vs. Wake Forest (11-2): 8 p.m., Jan. 2, Dolphin Stadium, Miami. Ch. 29.

Line: Louisville by 10.

Payout: $17 million.

Outlook: After missing two games with a thumb injury, Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm is healthy and played well near the end of the season. The Cardinals are fun to watch offensively with Brohm and wide receivers Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia leading the way and the defense, which has been gashed a time or two, is full of athletic playmakers like linebacker Malik Jackson and corner William Gay. Wake Forest surprised everyone by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title and shutting out Florida State on the road, 30-0, added legitimacy to the Demon Deacons' run. Quarterback Riley Skinner is not going to wow anyone with his arm, but he deftly runs the Wake Forest misdirection offense. Wide receiver Kenneth Moore, who caught nine passes the two previous seasons, has 30 this season and is also a threat in the run game. The defense has some decent speed and quickness, led by middle linebacker Jon Abbate and corners Alphonso Smith and Riley Swanson. Wake Forest has good athletes, just not enough of them to keep up with Louisville.

Prediction: Louisville 30, Wake Forest 13.

***

>Sugar Bowl

Notre Dame (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2): 8 p.m., Jan. 3, Superdome, New Orleans. Ch. 29.

Line: LSU by 9.

Payout: $17 million.

Outlook: LSU, despite losing two games, has as much talent as any team in the nation. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell seemed to improve with each week, and he has plenty of options at wide receiver with Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet. The Tigers' run game, however, is not performing at an elite level. The defense ranks No. 2 in the country, led by ends Chase Pittman and Tyson Jackson and the secondary rarely gives up big plays. Brady Quinn's comprehension of the Notre Dame offense is exceptional, and wideouts Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight are the benefactors. The Irish's defensive line is solid with end Victor Abiamiri and tackle Derek Landri, but the reason Notre Dame had trouble against Michigan and Southern Cal is it doesn't have enough speed in the secondary to lock down good, quick receivers. And LSU has good, quick receivers.

Prediction: LSU 42, Notre Dame 24.

***

>BCS Championship

Florida (12-1) vs. Ohio State (12-0): 8 p.m., Jan. 8, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Ch. 29.

Line: Ohio State by 7 1/2 .

Payout: $17 million.

Outlook: Ohio State, long considered a wide-open, go-for-broke offensive juggernaut, prides itself on a defense that is No. 2 in the nation in points allowed (10.4). But the Ohio State offense remains potent, ranking No. 7 in the land with an average of 36.3 points a game. Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith is by far the best player in college football and he has weapons at his disposal in wideouts Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Robiskie and Roy Hall. Florida has the best spread offense in the country and when quarterback Chris Leak is on his game, the Gators are close to unbeatable as Tennessee and Florida State found out. But the Gators have trouble running the ball and the only way to beat the Buckeyes is with a strong running game.

Prediction: Ohio State 35, Florida 21.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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