2 losses, bowlful of clarity

BCS picture taking shape, with Va. Tech, UCLA dropping off



BLACKSBURG, VA. - A nation was in mourning yesterday - a Hokie nation.

As the caravan of cars, vans and SUVs with Virginia Tech flags and colors slowly made its way up to Interstate 81 in the aftermath of the team's 27-7 demolition at the hands of then-No. 5 Miami late Saturday night, there was none of the cacophony of horns and hollers that usually accompanies this maroon-and-orange processional.

The previously third-ranked Hokies were not the only team to see their unbeaten season and dreams of a BCS championship opportunity all but obliterated. Then-No. 7 UCLA, this season's comeback team in many ways, also was exposed as a pretender in an embarrassing, 52-14 defeat at unranked Arizona.

"There are still some great things to be accomplished by this football team," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer had said earlier in the night, long after the sellout crowd had departed nearly silent Lane Stadium. "If you can get through the season with one loss, you've still had a pretty good season."

There are nine one-loss teams left among the major conferences, as well as Texas Christian and Fresno State, but only three unbeatens remaining.

Top-ranked Southern California stretched its winning streak to 31 straight with a routine, 51-21 rout of Stanford. Second-ranked Texas made as many statements as touchdowns in a 62-0 blowout of Baylor. Alabama's sloppy, 17-0 win at Mississippi State kept the Crimson Tide's record unblemished, but cost it the No. 3 spot that was taken over by the Hurricanes.

The losses by the Hokies and Bruins, as well as Florida State's 20-15 defeat at home to North Carolina State, helped clarify the once-cloudy BCS picture. Not only did it solidify the positions of the top two teams for a showdown in the Rose Bowl, but it also made clearer the direction in which the other three BCS games seem to be headed.

Here's a look at The Other Three:

Fiesta Bowl: If the Longhorns win out in the Big 12 and head to Pasadena to play the Trojans, the Fiesta's first at-large pick will likely go to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 6-2 heading into Saturday's game against Navy, with only Syracuse and a road trip to Stanford to follow after Saturday's 41-21 win over unranked and fading Tennessee.

The choice of Notre Dame, over Alabama or Penn State, is simple: It has to do with television ratings, ticket sales and Charlie Weis, the hottest coach in college football right now. As for an opponent, look for the folks in Tempe, Ariz., to try to attract a team that, in bowl lingo, travels well.

The likelihood would be Big East front-runner West Virginia if it wins the watered-down league. The Mountaineers have among the most rabid fan base in the country, especially when it means going to a nicer climate for winter vacation. Virginia Tech, which gets 15,000 of its fans to regular-season road games, could also be headed there to play the Irish.

Sugar Bowl: Though it would be nice for the Fiesta Bowl to give up its first pick (Notre Dame) to help out its bowl brethren who lost their host city (New Orleans) and stadium (the Louisiana Superdome) in Hurricane Katrina, that's not the way it works. Alabama would likely be the first pick to go to Atlanta and the Georgia Dome if the Crimson Tide run the table and win out in the Southeastern Conference.

That's not going to be easy, starting with Saturday's home game against LSU and finishing with a regular-season finale at hated in-state rival Auburn. If Alabama stays unbeaten, its road to the Georgia Dome goes through the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship game Dec. 3, probably against Georgia. If that happens, the Sugar Bowl must get an interesting intersectional rivalry game, and could if it somehow can entice Penn State there.

Given the troubles of relocating an entire bowl game hundreds of miles away, it's no lock that the Georgia Dome would sell out a month after the SEC championship game. For that reason, the Hokies could also be attractive if they finish the regular season with just the loss to Miami. In that case, not making it to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game might help them.

Orange Bowl: As the host of last season's championship game, the Orange Bowl will get the short straw of ranked teams. But there will still be an intriguing matchup looming, with likely Big Ten champion Penn State and its suddenly endearing septuagenarian coach, Joe Paterno, a big draw.

In terms of story lines, not to mention filling seats, the folks in Miami should hope Florida State beats the Hurricanes in the ACC championship game in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 3. The Seminoles would bring a larger contingent to contribute to the local revenue than the Hurricanes, who only travel decently to other towns, and they would also bring their own endearing septuagenarian legend, Bobby Bowden.

The matchup of college football's Sunshine Boys, the sport's two winningest coaches, would bring an inordinate amount of pre-game media hype for what is essentially a runner-up game. It's fitting it will be played in Miami, where Paterno and Bowden will certainly be in the majority given their age. No truth to the rumor that AARP is looking to sponsor.


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