This was an appropriate day for the Rose Bowl to have its first earthquake. Everything about Southern California's 17-10 victory over Michigan had football folks all shook up.

This 65th Rose Bowl, an old-fashioned defensive slugathon, left the winner claiming a national championship and the loser crying that it had lost the game on a controversial goalline referee's decision.

First, there was a literal earthquake only 25 miles away near Malibu -- a 4.6 tremor on the Richter scale. It sent a distinct shudder through this old bowl stadium and its 105,629 fans during the second quarter.

That tremor just before intermission coincided with USC's taking a 17-3 lead -- a bizarre occurrence since the Trojans were essentially without an offense all day.

Then, the aftermath of victory was full of complex repercussions. What would the USC win, coupled with Alabama's upset of Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, do to the final college rankings?

USC finished its day's work almost certain that it would edge Alabama for the mythical, but no less coveted, national championship.

"I'm gonna vote for USC for No. 1," grinned USC Coach John Robinson. "We've beaten five bowl teams this year, and six that are ranked in the top 20."

In addition, and most important, USC beat Alabama during the regular season, convincingly in Birmingham.

If USC was trembling with joy -- wondering how -- won on a day when the Trojans were outgained, 236-157, in total offense, Michigan was shaking with rage.

It was bad enough that Coach Bo Schembechler's Wolverines were losing their fifth straight Rose Bowl in a decade, but the way they lost was doubly indigestible.

Ten USC points were the result of two interceptions of Rick Leach passes. Nothing could be more ironic, since Leach, Michigan's All-America, threw the fewest interceptions in the country this regular season -- four.

The last USC touchdown, however, was the one that will hurt for years. The most prolific runner in USC, or Pac-10, history, Charles White -- the demon Michigan held to 99 brutal yards in 32 carries -- leaped three yards toward the goal line in the second quarter to score for a 14-3 USC lead.

That's what the record books will say. Michigan, and several TV replay angles, say otherwise -- that White fumbled at the one-yard line and Michigan recovered.

"You talk about a big play," Schembechler said. "I'll sure say something that'll get me in trouble if I don't keep my comments private, but it's just a shame that a call like that has to detract from the game.

"USC's the best in the country... they beat us 17-10 today didn't they... or was it, 10-10... I forget," Schembechler said bitterly, but with a partial smile.

"I'm getting tired of coming out here and losing, I liked our preparation, or practice... it's just the results of the damn games I don't like."

"I saw an official signal touchdown out of the corner of my eye and let go of the ball," said White, who added that he then realized he'd let the ball go too soon.

Once again, Michigan showed a conclusive knack for beating itself.

USC's first touchdown was a paltry 3-yard drive after Ron Lott intercepted Leach and returned 34 yards. Trojan quarterback Paul McDonald flipped a nine-yard TD pass to Hoby Brenner.

Another galling irony is that this was the Rose Bowl in which Michigan was finally badgered into opening up its passing game, throwing 21 times. And this was the game that Michigan probably would have won had it never passed at all.

In fact, in the first half USC had more yardage on returns of Leach interceptions than in total offense, 65-63.

If Michigan's snake-bitten status needed further proof, the closing seconds of the first half provided it. USC's Dennis Smith intercepted and returned a Leach pass 31 yards to the Michigan 30-yard line with eight seconds to play.

USC managed a 12-yard down-and-out pass completion two seconds before intermission, allowing Frank Jordan to kick a 35-yard field goal.

In defeat, Schembechler, who is 0-9-1 in season finales, bowl games or regular-season closers at Michigan, insisted, "We lost because we couldn't block 'em. Block... block... block... heard that word? Block and tackle, that's the game. We tackled, but we couldn't block 'em."

Just as important throughout, however, was USC's superior kicking game. This game might have had a thrilling final act were it not for the accurate foot of USC punter Marty King.

When Michigan cut its deficit to 17-10 with 7:03 left in the third quarter on a 44-yard touchdown bomb from Leach to Roosevelt Smith, USC was worried.

"I watched us drive Leach out of the pocket" said USC Coach Robinson. "And he scrambled around, then when he was right in front of me, and about six inches behind the line of scrimmage, he throws it 50 yards to Smith."

That Leach launched might have ignited Michigan. But the next four times he touched the ball, he was deep in a hole, starting droves from his 20, 11, 16 and 11.

"We had no field position whatsoever," Schembechler said.

"When they get you back deep, they just sit on you," Leach said. "We have a good offense, but not good enough to blast it out of there again them."

In the end, Michigan had to ponder its many mistakes. After recovering a McDonald fumble at the USC 23, Michigan settled for a 36-yard second-quarter Gregg Willner field goal after tailback Harlan Huckleby dropped a wide-open flat pass that hit him in the face mask at the 10-yard line. That was typical.

Finally, with 2:50 to play from midfield, Michigan chose not to gamble on fourth and seven. The wolverines punted as the crowd asked itself, "Don't they wanna win?" Naturally, USC killed the clock.

Actually, that should have seemed inevitable. USC setting itself up to possibly win another national title and Michigan finding a way to lose the Rose Bowl -- it was all as familiar as an earthquake in California.