With Orange as prize, three feeling squeeze

USC, Okla. have leg up

Auburn could be left out

College Football

December 04, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Is this "Last Chance Saturday" or simply no chance?

All three teams that still have an opportunity to wind up in Miami on Jan. 4 for the FedEx Orange Bowl - this season's designated BCS national championship game - play today.

Several others whose Bowl Championship Series invitations are still being written will also see if that coveted envelope can be officially stamped.

Top-ranked Southern California (11-0) visits rival UCLA (6-4) in Pasadena, No. 2 Oklahoma (11-0) meets Colorado (7-4) in the Big 12 championship game in Kansas City, Mo., and third-ranked Auburn (11-0) faces No. 15 Tennessee (9-2) in the Southeastern Conference title game in Atlanta.

"I don't think there's any doubt there's a lot of people out looking at the weekend, saying, `I might change my mind,' " said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, hoping that a few voters might be listening. "We can give an argument for why we should be there [in the championship game]."

And what might that be?

"If we win this week, we will have beaten four teams that have won nine games [each]," said Tuberville. "The other two teams combined have not done that."

But if all three favorites win, it seems likely, if not guaranteed, that the Trojans will play the Sooners for the national championship, while the Tigers will get the consolation prize of the Sugar Bowl and have little chance of finishing any higher than second in the final rankings.

"I feel like if we win and go undefeated in the SEC and not play for the big show, it would be very disappointing," said Tuberville. "I really do feel like we more than deserve to play for the national championship. I think anything is possible."

Today's games will have significant impact on the rest of the BCS guest list.

Fourth-ranked California (9-1) needs to win at Southern Mississippi (6-4) to lock up a Rose Bowl berth against Big Ten champion Michigan (9-2).

The winner of No. 10 Miami (8-2) and No. 12 Virginia Tech (9-2) will be the Atlantic Coast Conference's representative in the BCS, likely to play in the Sugar Bowl.

Pittsburgh (7-3), which made it into the national rankings this week at No. 19, needs to beat South Florida (4-6) to secure the Big East's bid, in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 5 Utah (11-0).

If all the favorites win today, it will leave five Division I-A teams with unbeaten records. The fifth, No. 11 Boise State (11-0), will play in the Liberty Bowl.

Unable to resolve the issue of a playoff because of long-standing opposition from university presidents and second-tier bowls, those running the BCS don't see this logjam at the top as a problem, but admit it presents a bit of a quandary.

"I think it's great for college football when you have high-quality teams that have had outstanding seasons," said Big 12 commissioner and BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg. "[But] clearly it makes it difficult for a system like this to sort that out at the top."

Weiberg points out that this kind of parity among the game's upper-tier teams has not occurred since the BCS was established in 1999, but the old system would not have worked any better and might have been worse given the affiliations certain conferences had with certain bowls.

"In the previous bowl system prior to the BCS, had we had this scenario like we do this year, it's very possible that these top three teams would have all been separated into bowl games, so at least this system does provide us the opportunity to get two of these teams together," said Weiberg.

Oklahoma would like to be one of those teams - again. The Sooners lost as the heavy favorite in last year's Big 12 title game (35-7 to Kansas State) but got to the national championship game in the Sugar Bowl, where they lost to LSU. With Auburn ready to claim a spot in the Orange Bowl if one of the top two teams falters today, Oklahoma has no wish to repeat last year's disastrous finish.

"A lot of people are doubting us. That's good for us," said Sooners quarterback Jason White. "We've got something to prove. Last year, a lot of people didn't think we had anything to prove."

Nobody seems to be doubting Auburn, but the Tigers need a little help to get to the Orange Bowl rather than the Sugar.

"I do think it's a little unfair because we've come so far and achieved so much as a team," said Auburn tailback Ronnie Brown. "I do wish there was a playoff system because then we would know who the true No. 1 team was."

There isn't, so today is the last chance for the Tigers.

Or, perhaps, no chance.

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