Having struck a rare 10, UM waits patiently to bowl

Pinning down BCS site rests with competition

ollege Football

November 19, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The men who wear patches on the fronts of their blazers seemed to be in abundance Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., where Maryland's 10th-ranked football team closed out its first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1985 by beating North Carolina State, 23-19.

Orange blazers belonged to representatives from Miami's Orange Bowl, who were seen chatting up Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, athletic director Debbie Yow and others after the team completed the school's fourth 10-win season.

The Jan. 2 bowl, one of four January games that make up the Bowl Championship Series, is seen as the probable destination for the Terps (10-1) - who moved up to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and held at No. 9 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll - as it has a tie-in with the ACC under the informal arrangement among the major bowls and six major conferences.

Were Maryland to make it to Miami for its first January bowl since the 1976 season, the Southeastern Conference's second-best team (presumably Tennessee) would make a good fit because of the ease of travel.

But for the Terrapins, it could be a wait before they know where they're going or who their opponent will be.

Asked whether there is a team he would like to face, Friedgen said: "When you get to the BCS, it doesn't look like there are many easy choices. There's probably a lot of them hoping they get us."

Games during the next two weeks, some of them postponed from the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, will determine which teams go where. The Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences are still up in the air. Whether Michigan or Illinois represents the Big Ten will be determined by the Michigan-Ohio State game this weekend, but the Big 12 and SEC won't be decided until championship games on Dec. 1 and Dec. 8, respectively.

The Orange Bowl has the first shot at the ACC champion, but it also has the first shot at the Big East champion. That factor may be moot, with Miami in position to play in the national title game in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., but a Hurricanes loss this weekend to Washington or at Virginia Tech on Dec. 1 could move Maryland elsewhere.

In a nod to proximity and viewer interest, the Orange Bowl could choose to take Miami if it doesn't get into the Rose Bowl, making Maryland an at-large team akin to the Big Ten champion, which does not have a bowl tie-in.

The Orange Bowl could end up with Maryland and an available Miami team, but the Terps could end up elsewhere even if Miami goes to Pasadena.

Florida is the likely favorite to represent the SEC, which has its tie-in with the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. However, after getting the Gators five times in the past 10 years, Sugar Bowl officials may be ready to see someone else.

In that case, the three BCS bowls that aren't the Rose Bowl - the only option seemingly closed to Maryland - can swap teams, regardless of the tie-ins. Though there's nothing that stops the Orange Bowl from staging a Florida-Maryland matchup, a Florida-Texas game would be more attractive.

The Orange and Sugar bowls have sent representatives to College Park for games this season and have been satisfied the Terps can bring 20,000 fans with them to Miami or New Orleans.

Orange Bowl director Keith Tribble said there were some early questions about Maryland when it came to his attention there hadn't been any sellouts at Byrd Stadium, but he was there Nov. 10, when more than 52,000 showed up for the Clemson game.

"It answered a lot of questions," said Tribble, who left the game with a feeling that "there was a renewed support for football and that fans would support the teams."

The possibility exists, albeit faintly, that Maryland could end up in the Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. The hope in College Park is that this does not come to pass, because the Orange and Sugar are far easier travel propositions.

Right now, it appears Oregon would end up in the Fiesta - which has a one-year tie-in with the Pacific-10 - and face the Big Ten champion, because the bowl's normal partner, the Big 12, will likely have its representative in the national title game.

But if Oregon somehow ends up in the national title game - particularly against a team from the Big 12 - that could open things up for a Terps appearance in Tempe.

For Terps players, it apparently doesn't matter, particularly in the context of the 11-year bowl drought at Maryland that they just ended.

"Any BCS game would be a great honor - it would be amazing to go," center Melvin Fowler said.

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