Oklahoma again sets pace out of BCS gate

3rd straight year Sooners start No. 1

Miami is No. 2

College Football

October 21, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The road to this year's Bowl Championship Series title game might still be bumpy for Oklahoma, but the Sooners began the race officially yesterday in a familiar position - sitting on the pole with their engines roaring.

Top-ranked and barely challenged through its first seven games, Oklahoma was placed first in the 2003 college football season's inaugural BCS ranking. It marked the third straight year that the Sooners came out on top in the first poll.

Miami is a reasonably close second, receiving first-place votes in three of the seven independent computer programs that will help produce the two teams that will play in this year's national championship game at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Virginia Tech was third, Georgia was fourth and Florida State fifth.

Mindful of what happened the previous two years, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops says this year's team can do what his 2000 team accomplished by finishing unbeaten and winning the national championship.

"There seems to be a special quality about these guys, a genuine humility to them, and a hunger to them in wanting to play hard," Stoops said. "I just felt as though the last few years we were a little bit short in some areas."

After upsetting Florida State in the Orange Bowl title game, Oklahoma won its first seven games in 2001 before losing at Nebraska. Last season, the Sooners were 8-0 and atop the BCS ratings when they lost at Texas A&M.

This year, Oklahoma has been dominant, most recently crushing Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The Sooners are ranked first in both the Associated Press media poll and the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll. They also received first-place votes in the other four independent computer polls.

If the Sooners are successful in reaching the BCS championship game for the second time in four years, there is a good chance they will play the winner of next week's showdown of Big East lame-duck powers Miami and Virginia Tech.

The No. 2 Hurricanes meet the No. 3 Hokies in Blacksburg, Va., on Nov. 1. But neither team is guaranteed to finish in the top two. Miami plays Tennessee the following week at home and closes the season at Pittsburgh, where Virginia Tech visits the week after facing the Hurricanes at Lane Stadium.

"We can't get caught up in anything other than winning our games," said Miami coach Larry Coker.

Teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big 12 that are ranked among the top six are guaranteed spots in the four BCS games - the Sugar, Orange, Rose and Fiesta bowls. Teams that have won at least nine games and are ranked in the top 12 are eligible for at-large invitations.

That will likely leave two teams from non-BCS conferences that have yet to lose on the outside looking in. Though No. 10 Northern Illinois and No. 14 Texas Christian have received tons of publicity and respect this season, neither is likely headed to a BCS bowl game.

The reason? Despite victories over Maryland, Iowa State and Alabama (on the road), Northern Illinois is 100th out of 117 Division I-A schools in terms of strength of schedule. TCU, which has beaten Vanderbilt and Arizona, is 96th.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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