MOBILE, Ala. - Southern California's John David Booty and Georgia's Brandon Coutu are too busy preparing for the Senior Bowl and NFL careers to bemoan national championship games that never happened.
When asked, though, they'll gladly state cases for their teams. They can cite impressive finishes capped by dominant bowl wins and even the fact that another two-loss team, LSU, wound up winning the Bowl Championship Series title after beating Ohio State.
'After the Rose Bowl we knew, and I think a lot of people around the country knew, that we should have been in that game,' said Booty, the Trojans' quarterback. 'And we would have been if we hadn't hit a little rough patch there during the middle of the season.'
That rough patch included a loss to 41-point underdog Stanford in October, when Booty broke the middle finger on his throwing hand.
He and Coutu, a Collins Hill grad, are among a group of players from teams that were nursing title hopes until the very end who are preparing for Saturday's Senior Bowl. Not surprisingly, it's a sizable contingent led by nine players from USC and four from LSU.
Booty and Coutu wish college football had a playoff system after finishing their college careers having to perpetually wonder 'what if?' Then, they would be rewarded for peaking at the right time like, say, the Super Bowl-bound New York Giants.
Like USC, Georgia had two losses and a too-little-too-late surge that ended with a 41-10 win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.
Coutu, a kicker, doesn't claim the Bulldogs were more deserving of a title shot than LSU or Ohio State. But for the sake of argument ....
'We definitely had an argument for being the two-loss team that should have had the opportunity to move forward and play for the national championship,' Coutu said. 'If we had played any of the other teams, I think we definitely would have given them a game, if not won.'
Count LSU running back Jacob Hester and Ohio State offensive lineman Kirk Barton among those who aren't sure the system needs fixing.
'There kind of was a playoff,' said Barton, the Buckeyes' lone Senior Bowl representative. 'It wasn't a real format, but we lost to Illinois and I thought we were out of the playoff. Arkansas beats LSU, and you think they're out of the playoff. Teams kind of eliminated themselves so we didn't really need a playoff.'
Georgia president Michael Adams proposed an eight-team playoff to the NCAA Division I board of directors. Coutu likes the idea.
'Settle it on the field, instead of just talk about it,' Coutu said. 'Then we would have had a true national champion.'
Hester doesn't feel the need to engage in any such debate.
'There's a BCS game, and we won the BCS game,' he said. 'Not too many people can say anything to us.'
He's not above a little good-natured ribbing for Senior Bowl players who fell short, though. 'It's kind of fun to mess with them throughout the day,' Hester said.
One major argument in LSU's favor: The Tigers won the Southeastern Conference championship game. Georgia didn't even make it that far, and when then-No. 1 Missouri fell to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, the Bulldogs were shut out of the BCS bowls.
There are plenty of arguments for and against the 2007 contenders.
'We beat Kansas and they were the only undefeated team left in the nation,' Missouri tight end Martin Rucker said. 'If we didn't play that championship game, and we didn't lose that game, then we would have been in the national championship.
'So it was kind of unfair. At the same time, we should have taken care of business, so it was all our fault.'
Missouri rebounded with a 38-7 win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Does that mean Missouri was better than LSU, which lost to the Razorbacks?
Fullback Owen Schmitt and West Virginia were bumped from title contention with a regular season-ending loss to Pitt. A Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma - which beat Missouri - helped soothe the wounds.
'A lot of people think West Virginia was horrible,' Schmitt said. 'It's kind of funny that people would think that because we were a game away from the national title game. Obviously we played a bad game, and we lost to a team we shouldn't have lost to. We bounced back.'
Georgia - which lost to Tennessee, which lost to LSU in the SEC title game - and Ohio State are represented by only one player apiece at the Senior Bowl, a showcase for senior NFL prospects. That's because most of their stars are returning for potential title runs.
Let the lobbying begin.
'We weren't really a year away from the championship, because we still were competitive, but we were more looking toward this year,' the Buckeyes' Barton said. 'This is our year. We'll have 35 seniors on our team, and some tremendous players. They really want to win a championship.'
SideBar: SENIOR BOWL
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Mobile, Ala.
TV: NFL Network