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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:43 a.m., Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Georgia, USC would make good championship matchup

By Ralph D. Russo
Associated Press College Football Writer

Georgia vs. Southern California, it might have been a heck of game.

Maybe even a national championship game.

We'll never know for sure, but the Bulldogs and Trojans closed their seasons with emphatic victories in the Bowl Championship Series yesterday that had to leave college football fans wondering, "What if?"

Led by elusive freshman Joe McKnight and steady senior John David Booty, No. 6 USC beat Illinois 49-17 in a record-setting Rose Bowl romp.

Healthier than they've been all season, the Trojans (11-2) may very well be playing better than any team in the country right now.

"Everything that was out there for us, we took," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "The rest of it is up for discussion. But would I love to still be playing right now? Sure would. We'd go out there any time, any place, any venue and throw our football out there and see what we could do."

No. 4 Georgia could also make a claim to the title of best team right now. The Bulldogs (11-2) closed the season with their seventh straight victory, dismantling Hawaii 41-10 in the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome, where LSU and Ohio State will play for the national championship next week.

"We're the best in the land," Georgia linebacker Marcus Washington said. "We should be playing next week."

It'd be hard to argue against either the Bulldogs or Trojans being No. 1 after the way they rang in the New Year. If nothing else they got a head start on getting to next year's national championship game. Both will be ranked in the top-five to end this season and should be in the mix for preseason No. 1 to start the 2008 campaign.

While Georgia and USC took all the drama out of the final two of the six New Year's Day bowls, the earlier games were mostly entertaining.

Michigan sent coach Lloyd Carr into retirement with a 41-35 victory over Florida and Heisman Trophy Winner Tim Tebow in the Capital One Bowl. Texas Tech scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to beat Virginia 31-28 in the Gator Bowl. Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge finished his career with a big game and the Volunteers beat Wisconsin 21-17. Missouri routed Arkansas 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl behind a record-breaking game by running back Tony Temple.

In Pasadena, Calif., the Rose Bowl got the Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup it covets, but Illinois, which sneaked into the BCS only because Ohio State made it to the national title game, wasn't up to the task.

McKnight gained 170 of USC's Rose Bowl-record 633 yards. The 49 points tied a record, too.

The game featured 1,078 total yards of offense, but only for a brief time was did Illinois look like a threat to the Trojans.

Illini star Rashard Mendenhall broke a 79-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to make it 21-10.

Minutes later, Mendenhall took a screen pass 55 yards, and Ron Zook's 13th-ranked Illini (9-4) had hope. A year after going 2-10, winning the Rose Bowl didn't seem impossible.

But two plays later, USC's Brian Cushing recovered a fumble in the end zone, one of four Illinois turnovers.

"You can't turn the ball over," Zook said. "Whether they were forced or we weren't playing with consistency and the intensity you have to have, I'm not sure."

Moments later, McKnight picked up a lateral on the bounce went 65 yards, setting up Booty's 2-yard TD pass to Fred Davis. That made it 28-10 and the rout was on.

In New Orleans, Georgia brushed aside unbeaten BCS crasher No. 10 Hawaii (12-1) every bit as easily.

Knowshon Moreno ran for a pair of touchdowns in the opening quarter and the Bulldogs' defense made life miserable for Colt Brennan, a Heisman Trophy finalist and catalyst for the nation's highest-scoring team. He was sacked eight times, threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles, one of them recovered for a Georgia touchdown by Marcus Howard.

The senior left early after taking a fierce beating, going 22-of-38 for just 169 yards.

"This is not how I wanted my career to end," the senior said.

The Bulldogs led 24-3 by halftime and never let up.

"Let the argument go out there for the people battling with the BCS process to figure this thing out," Carroll said. "I have no answer for them. I just wish we could keep going."