USC, Texas rose to occasion

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Oh, the fun we could have had. And the drama that would have played out over the next seven weeks.

Instead, you can probably pencil in USC and Texas as Rose Bowl rivals on Jan. 4.

With a pen close by your side, we might add.

The folks at Virginia Tech, Georgia and Alabama might not want to hear it, but the national championship matchup is about as close to set in stone as it could get.

Top-ranked USC survived what will likely be its biggest test of the regular season last Saturday at Notre Dame. Sure, the Trojans still have to go to California and take on cross-city rival UCLA. But the Bears are fading fast, and the Bruins seem a little too soft against the run to deal with Reggie Bush and LenDale White.

The road is even easier for Texas. While Texas Tech's space-age offence will provide a true test on Saturday, the game is in the Longhorns' backyard in Austin. And the Red Raiders haven't yet seen a defence anywhere in Texas' class.

After that, there's nary a ranked team in sight on the Steers' schedule. In other words, it's clear sailing to Pasadena.

But say Matt Leinart doesn't fumble a yard from the goal-line in South Bend, and the green-clad Irish had walked out of Notre Dame Stadium with a colossal win. The national title chase would have been thrown wide open, with a bunch of one-loss teams also in the hunt.

Alas, it didn't happen. And there went the air out of this gridiron drama.

On with this week's picks:

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 10 Texas Tech (+151/2) at No. 2 Texas (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC regional) -- It's put up or shut up time for the Red Raiders, who've spent most of the season running up monster stats against lacklustre opposition. The Longhorns offer a major step up in a class, with a defence capable of frustrating Cody Hodges and Co. Oh, and that Vince Young fellow and the Steers can score a few, too. Pick: TEXAS.

NEXT BEST THINGS

No. 17 Tennessee (+31/2) at No. 5 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS) -- The Volunteers, who have just about run out of lives in the nasty SEC, are on a 9-1 run against the Crimson Tide. Alabama seemed less explosive last week without injured wideout Tommy Prothro, and barely got past Mississippi. Still, the Tide is in the driver's seat in the SEC West with all its toughest tests in Tuscaloosa. Another tight one here. Pick: TENNESSEE.

No. 16 Auburn (+6) at No. 7 LSU (Saturday, 7:45 p.m., Rogers NCAA) -- After an opening upset loss to Georgia Tech, Auburn fell off the radar screen. Now the Tigers come to Baton Rouge riding a five-game winning streak and a rugged defence. Both teams need this one to stay in the hunt in the SEC West race. Bayou Bengals will get it, but only by a field goal. Pick: AUBURN.

UPSET SPECIAL

Northwestern (+12) at No. 22 Michigan State (Saturday noon, Rogers NCAA) -- You've heard plenty about the Spartans' high-octane offence. But the Wildcats, who've racked up more than 600 yards in each of two straight Big Ten wins, are no slouches either. Northwestern QB Brett Basanez and freshman RB Tyrell Sutton will keep it rolling in East Lansing. Pick: NORTHWESTERN.

BLOWOUT OF THE WEEK

No. 11 Florida State (-30) at Duke (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Rogers NCAA) -- Seminoles are steamed after upset loss at Virginia last week and should take it out big time against lowly Blue Devils. FSU is 13-0 against Duke since 1992. Average winning margin -- 36 points. Pick: FLORIDA STATE.


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