December 16, 2001 11:00 pm

Its time to put the Bowl Championship Series of college football through the scratch and sniff test. Ooh, something smells bad. Very bad.

The BCS weighs such factors as poll average, computer average, strength of schedule, rank, losses, quality wins and so on. Sounds great, right? Wrong.

The BCS needs to be dumped in favor of a 16-team playoff. And thats not just because the University of Oregon, the Associated Press polls No. 2 team in the nation, is left sitting on the sidelines when the Jan. 3 Rose Bowl decides the national championship. The Ducks are the second team to get the BCS shaft in two years; Miami finished No. 2 in the AP poll last year and missed out on the title game.

We express respectful disagreement with sending the University of Nebraska to play Miami in the Rose Bowl. Not with Miami. The Hurricanes finished the season unbeaten and blowing opponents like wrecked ships onto the beaches of humiliation. But Nebraska? The Cornhuskers had only one loss, but it was a doozie, a 62-36 defeat to the University of Colorado. A pure thrashing. Sure, the Cornhuskers have a strong program and are a perennial college powerhouse. But this year Nebraska did not even win its own division of the Big 12, much less the Big 12 title.

Its time to step back and look at the big picture. Sure, this may not mean Oregon should be in the title game. After all, the Ducks played only the 36th toughest schedule in the nation, thanks in part to many of its opponents collapsing after the Ducks dispatched them.

A common sense solution would be to go with the playoff system and settle the championship on the field. Some say this would force the season into late January and compromise the educational aspect of the college experience. Balderdash. The bowls could still be played as part of the 16-team, eight-team, four-team and two-team field and start just as soon as finals week is over. The college Christmas break lasts several weeks, making playoffs even more possible. Corporations could still be found to sponsor these games and get the advertising benefits of having their names in front of millions of TV viewers.

Its time to look for results, not more rhetoric and face-saving by the people who invented the BCS. The system is broken. Going back to the traditional bowls is not the answer, as that resulted for many years in mythical national titles, often not ones won on the field. This year the best bowl game will be the Fiesta, matching Colorado, which ended the season the strongest team in America, against the Ducks, having their best season ever.

When you scratch and sniff it, the BCS smells awful. Its time to settle the college title on the field with a 16-team playoff.