Touchdown for Pasadena

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I'm looking forward to a wonderful after-Christmas gift: The Rose Bowl.

The University of Southern California is taking on Michigan. It wasn't supposed to happen like this, and lots of people don't share my festive mood.

Many fans and media pundits think Southern Cal should be in the Sugar Bowl, which is the designated championship game for this season. The folks running the Bowl Championship Series are chagrined because the BCS selection process was designed to pick the two best teams using computers to analyze the overall performance of leading contenders. The system was supposed to be more reliable than old- fashioned ranking procedures that rely on human opinions.

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So after crunching all the numbers the machines decided that USC, which ended the season ranked first in the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls, was not Sugar-worthy. Instead, the Trojans will play in Pasadena. I just wish my mother could be here to share the excitement of a great tradition unexpectedly revived.

Juanita Wagner, USC class of 1932, knew this territory well. She was a teenager in Los Angeles when a coach named Howard Jones arrived on the SC campus. By her freshman year, Jones had built the Trojans into a football powerhouse.

It was an era when legendary gridiron personalities such as "Pop" Warner and Knute Rockne were regular visitors to the L.A. Coliseum, and their names bounced around frequently in our household as I was growing up.

There were no weekly rankings in my mom's collegiate world. Nobody checked the papers Monday morning to see who had moved up or down. The season ended in November because, for most schools, it was time to come in from the cold.

A football game on Jan. 1 was a novelty, which is exactly why the Tournament of Roses decided to make it part of their winter celebration. Local fans got a rare chance to see acclaimed teams that didn't travel west very often. And if the invited guests were defeated, it would show those East Coast sports writers that Pacific Coast football could hold its own with anybody.

When the Rose Bowl was folded into the BCS format several years ago I was horrified because of two dreadful possibilities: (a) There might not be a West Coast team involved in the game, and (b) it might not occur on New Year's Day. Mom had a saying to describe this kind of situation: "The whole thing is completely out of whack!"

Incredible as it may seem, many of us out here in everyday America don't care about crowning a national champion. We just like to see a memorable game, and this Rose Bowl has all the right ingredients. Michigan looked awesome as they finished the regular season. But Mom's alma mater has a balanced attack that would make Howard Jones proud.

Thank you, BCS computers. Your strange calculations ended up giving all true Rose Bowl fans a contest that makes us feel like we're No. 1.

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