NEW ORLEANS -- College football fans of a certain age recognized what they saw on New Year's Day as a re-enactment of the sport's pre-BCS days. The two best teams playing on the sport's national holiday looked like national champions. But with one playing in Pasadena and the other in New Orleans, the identity of the top team in the country remained open to debate.
The BCS is supposed to have done away with such debates, but in a season in which the identity of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams changed as often as the weather, USC and Georgia may be excused for believing that they have a claim to the national championship.
Pretend it's an SAT question: USC and Georgia are lesser than, equal to, or greater than Ohio State and LSU? The fans may not agree with the way the BCS grades that answer, and after Tuesday night, it may be difficult to find anyone in Hawaii or Georgia who agrees, either.
There's also this SAT question: USC is to Illinois as Georgia is to Hawaii. As the Trojans mopped up the Illini 49-17 in the Rose Bowl presented by Citi, the Bulldogs rudely ended the Warriors' undefeated dream season 41-10 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Think the Rose Bowl would like a mulligan on its selection of the Illini over the Bulldogs now?
None of the 74,383 fans at the Louisiana Superdome would dispute Georgia's case for No. 1. The Bulldogs (11-2) dominated the Warriors (12-1) from the opening snap with a defensive performance that will live for years, or until Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan heals, whichever comes first.
Georgia set a school record for most points in a bowl game. From the Bulldogs' opening drive, which freshman tailback Knowshon Moreno completed with a bullish 17-yard run for the first of his two touchdowns, there would be no mystery to this Sugar Bowl, save why Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford ever left the sideline in the fourth quarter with the Bulldogs leading 38-3.
Hawaii came into New Orleans with the only undefeated record in Division I-A. In a season of weekly turmoil, the poll voters chose to ignore the relative weakness of Hawaii's schedule and recognize the sheer difficulty of keeping a spotless record.
Hawaii utilized star power in Brennan, the bronze medalist in the Heisman, and the Warriors basked in the goodwill generated by their fellow Western Athletic Conference member, Boise State, after its BCS victory of a year ago. If nothing else, Hawaii's egg-laying put the final ribbon on Boise State's upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl a year ago. Now we know how well the Broncos played that night.
The result Tuesday night is what the BCS and its bowls feared when they opened their doors to college football's wretched refuse. Hawaii looked like a huddled mass unable to let its quarterback breathe free. Georgia suffocated Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense, limiting the Warriors to 306 yards, 223 below their average.
"I took one right in the mouth today," Brennan said after the game. He spoke figuratively, because the fact is, Brennan took more than one in the mouth. Georgia sacked Brennan eight times and knocked him down at least that many times more. Brennan completed 22 of 38 passes for 169 yards, the lowest total of his career, save for the Nevada game this season, when an injury limited him to one drive.