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Friday, January 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Wrapping up an amazing Rose Bowl

Seattle Times colleges reporter

PASADENA, Calif. — Six points in the wake of the college-football title game, with a disclaimer — none of them can be as compelling as Vince Young's repeated touchdowns for Texas:

1. For the combination of anticipation fulfilled, high stakes, star power and a sensational finish, we might have just witnessed — gulp — the best college-football game yet.

In the age of Web sites, all-sports television networks and blogs gone bonkers, it's almost unfair to compare this game with those of decades before. Let's try, anyway.

The Bowl Championship Series title game of three years ago — Ohio State's double-overtime victory over Miami — has to rate high on the thrill meter. But the winning quarterback in that game was Craig Krenzel, not Vince Young or Matt Leinart.

Some other notables:

• Miami's 31-30 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska in 1984, when Huskers coach Tom Osborne gamely tried, and failed, on a late two-point conversion.

• Notre Dame's 24-23 victory against top-ranked Alabama in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, squeezed out after the Irish extricated themselves from a late predicament on their own 1-yard line before going on to win a share of the national title.

• And in the regular season, there was USC's October stunner at Notre Dame; the Thanksgiving Day 1971 classic in which Nebraska and Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers had the last say over Oklahoma, 35-31; and the December 1969 titanic in which Nos. 1-2 Texas and Arkansas collided, the Longhorns scoring all their points in the fourth quarter to win, 15-14.

That last one became more memorable when President Nixon, in attendance, ventured to the locker rooms and summarily anointed the Longhorns national champs, forever upsetting faithful from Penn State, which also went undefeated.

No sign of the sitting president Wednesday night, but then, he's got bigger problems.

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2. If Heisman voters were polled today rather than six weeks ago, Vince Young would win it, not Reggie Bush.

The take here (and the vote) was that Bush was deserving, simply for the wow factor. In a different category — most valuable player — Young is clearly unparalleled, and not bad on the slack-jaw scale, either.

3. Instant replay had a generally good debut across college football in 2005, but it must be refined.

Young's knee was down before he completed a pitch for another 12 yards and a Texas touchdown in the first half, but the replay official in the press box didn't review it, apparently because of a malfunction. It can't reasonably be left to a head coach standing 50 yards away to know whether he should call timeout — or to the whim of a video-board operator showing the play on a big screen.

4. It simply wasn't USC's best night, and not only because it was facing the fastest team it had seen in 35 games.

If the most telling play wasn't Texas safety Michael Griffin's fast-closing interception of Leinart at the goal line, it might have been linebacker Drew Kelson running stride for stride with Bush and making a near-interception.

USC failed to pounce on Texas fumbles. It took Bush and LenDale White out of the play and ran an empty backfield on Leinart's failed fourth-and-one sneak in the first quarter. There was Bush's perplexing fumbled lateral attempt that likely kept Texas from being down two scores early. And finally, at the Texas 42 with eight seconds left, needing a quick "out" route for 12 yards to set up a tying field goal, Leinart ate up clock scrambling and ended it throwing the ball out of bounds.

USC's glorious three-year campaign had given rise to best-team-ever comparisons. With a victory, it might have had the best three-year run. But this never was going to be the best team.

5. The guy squirming most over Young's heroics might not have been USC coach Pete Carroll, but David Carr.

Carr quarterbacks the Houston Texans, and his future was already in question there before they wrapped up the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. You can debate whether Young's talents translate to the big league, but he's from Houston, and there will no doubt be major sentiment to draft him if he leaves a year early.

Thursday, draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. wrote on ESPN.com that Young is "flying as high as any prospect I can remember at this stage, outside of maybe John Elway."

Another player whose stock shot up is USC junior right guard Fred Matua, who mashed touted Texas tackle Rodrique Wright out of White's way all night. Wright's name didn't even show up in the defensive stats.

6. Best thing about the night, other than Young, four lead changes in the second half and 93,000 people enthralled at the spectacle?

It happened at the Rose Bowl, with college bands performing at halftime, not Janet Jackson, and without tortilla-chip banners hung between uprights of the goal posts. Tradition and Texas proved a formidable combination.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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