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Orange Bowl will decide champs. Or will it?

TUES 1/4

The University of Southern California Trojans will play the University of Oklahoma Sooners in this year's Orange Bowl -- sorry, the FedEx Orange Bowl -- which takes its turn to decide the nation's college football champions. And get this. The top four Heisman Trophy candidates were the quarterbacks and running backs for USC and Oklahoma. USC's Matt Leinart won the trophy, beating out Oklahoma's Jason White, who won the Heisman last year. Does this signal good luck for USC?

Both USC and Oklahoma are 12-0 for the season. But so is Auburn University. What gives? The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) combines the Associated Press poll, the coaches' poll, and computer rankings and bowl decisions. It's complex and well-criticized. But hey, do you want to see a playoff system? Yeah, you do, don't you? At least, playoffs among the top eight ranked teams?

But on to more important matters, like getting the skinny on the mascots. According to the Orange Bowl's website, until the early 20th Century, USC students were called Methodists or Wesleyans. Not exactly awe-inspiring. So the name was changed to Trojans, a move that would later bite back in the form of endless condom jokes. But what the hell is a Sooner? It has to do with Oklahoma's Land Run of 1889, during which settlers raced to stake claims on plots of land. Sooners, it seems, were people who started the race before the cannon went off. They went off too soon. Get it? Sooners. By the way, the Orange Bowl mascot is Obie, a walking piece of citrus, who is sure to be on hand at some of the ancillary events, like Monday's Beach Bash from noon to 8 p.m. Gwen Stefani and Ashlee Simpson will perform at the bash as well as at the game's halftime show. Game day Tuesday starts at noon with the Miller Lite Orange Bowl Tailgate Party. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. at Pro Player Stadium (2269 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami). Ticket prices start at... hmm, got a television? But the Beach Bash is only $15. Visit, or call 305-341-4702. -- Dave Amber

Swim, Resolution makers and breakers

SAT 1/1

Say what? A one-mile swim... early in the morning... in the ocean... in winter? If nothing else, the 35th Annual Ocean Mile Swim is a certain way to jump-start the healthy resolution you promised last night in the time between draining your fifth martini and the French-kissing marathon with strangers. Wake up, already.

Think of the swim this way. It starts at 9:30 a.m. sharp on the beach in front of the Waterfront Inns (521 Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale). The awards ceremony is at 11 a.m. one mile south at the swim's sponsor's place, the International Swimming Hall of Fame (One Hall of Fame Dr., Fort Lauderdale). Considering that the flow of Florida's longshore current is generally north to south, even in a worst-case scenario, that means you've got a full 90 minutes to float and doggy-paddle that mile.

And if you're one of those people who can actually be competitive early on a New Year's Day morning, you might even care about placing well in one of the 20 or so age brackets from "10 & under" to "85-over." On-site registration begins at 7:45 a.m. The entry fee is $20. Visit, or call 954-462-6536. -- Dave Amber

Out with the Old

In with the new

SAT 1/1

The New Year will usher out Calder Race Course's (21001 NW 27th Ave., Miami) racing season this weekend, as Sunday is the final afternoon to see the ponies. But New Year's Day will be when the real action hits. On Saturday, Calder will mark the closing of the 2004-05 racing meet with the third and final grand slam of the fall. The All-Stakes Pick 4 consists of the grade-three $100K Tropical Park Derby Handicap, the $100K Tropical Park Oaks, the $100K Stage Door Betty Stakes, and the $50K Happy New Year. Along with placing down a few bets on the thoroughbreds, you can check out Calder's new card room, open at noon every day. Admission is $2, gates open at 11 a.m., and post time for the first race is 12:25 p.m. Call 305-625-1311. As is the case every January in South Florida, Calder's closing signals the start of the winter meet at Gulfstream Park (901 S. Federal Hwy., Hallandale Beach). The gates open Monday for Gulfstream's 86-day session, consisting of 47 stakes races totaling more than $8 million. Call 954-454-7000. -- Russ Evans

Da Bears vs. the Packers

SUN 1/2

The oldest standing rivalry in the NFL will renew itself for the 169th time this Sunday at venerable Soldier Field. Packers versus Bears. Chicago broke through for a win earlier this season in Green Bay, snapping a string of seven straight Packer wins, and the Bears still hold the all-time lead in the series: 85-77-6. Chicago stands at a mere 5-11 going into the final week. But Green Bay does have the division crown on the line, and it's still the two original members of the Black and Blue division battling in the trenches. If you can't be in Chi-town this Sunday, where temperatures could reach the teens, sunny South Florida sounds like a next best option. Hot Dogs Sports Pub (4528 N. University Dr., Lauderhill) is home to Cheeseheads, but they promise not to be too hard on Da Bears fans, and the game will be on every screen in the house. Call 954-741-1424. -- Russ Evans

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