Close, but Fiesta out of reach for Pac-10

Stanford couldn't beat Irish to pave way for Oregon



If you thought Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis looked a little nervous on the sideline at Stanford Stadium late Saturday night, consider how John Junker and Tom Hansen felt watching the game from the press box.

Junker, president of the Fiesta Bowl, and Hansen, commissioner of the Pacific-10, had nearly as much at stake as Weis in those final frantic minutes of Notre Dame's 38-31 victory over Stanford.

The win helped the 9-2 Fighting Irish to a likely invitation to play in the Fiesta Bowl and probably cost eighth-ranked Oregon (10-1) and the rest of the Pac-10 a percentage of the expected eight-figure payday.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Sports section incorrectly reported that Notre Dame played Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2000 season. Notre Dame played Oregon State.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Though Junker couldn't say anything more about Notre Dame than "they are clearly a national team," Hansen was a little more forthright in his post-game pontificating about the Ducks.

"You ought to go for the best football teams," said Hansen, conceding that Oregon's chances for a trip to Tempe were all but erased by the Fighting Irish's comeback win. "You ought to be fair to all teams and players."

Notre Dame brought much of the late-game angst on itself with shaky kicking by D.J. Fitzpatrick, who missed two field goals and an extra point, as well as poor pass coverage on the drive that put Stanford ahead 31-30.

Only an 80-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard run by Darius Walker prevented the Irish from suffering an embarrassing defeat to a team that Oregon crushed, 44-20, in Palo Alto.

It put the Fighting Irish into a Bowl Championship Series game for the first time since the 2000 season, when Notre Dame lost to Oregon, 41-9, in the Fiesta Bowl. While a rematch with the Ducks would certainly be interesting, it's unlikely to happen.

The second at-large team in Tempe will probably be Ohio State.

Everything could change if No. 1 Southern California loses at home to No. 11 UCLA on Saturday, or if No. 2 Texas loses in the Big 12 championship game to Colorado later that day.

Weis will take the BCS invitation no matter who the other team is.

"Sign me up," he said.

Here's a look at how the rest of the weekend's games affected the bowl picture:

Best game by BCS team

With a 30-3 win over North Carolina, No. 5 Virginia Tech clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division and a spot in the league's first championship game.

The Hokies should have little problem getting past Florida State in Jacksonville on Saturday now that the Seminoles have lost three straight for the first time in 22 years and dropped out of the Top 25.

If form holds Saturday across the country, a win for the Hokies should put them into the Orange Bowl against Big Ten champion Penn State.

Worst game by BCS team

Texas showed some vulnerability for the first time this season in Friday's 40-29 win at Texas A&M.

Although his mediocre performance probably cost Longhorns quarterback Vince Young any chance of overtaking Southern California's Reggie Bush in the Heisman Trophy voting, it was a good wakeup call for Mack Brown's team heading into the Big 12 title game.

Given how the Buffaloes backed into the game, you can all but put Texas into the Rose Bowl.

Hurting their bowl hopes

Aside from the list of five-win teams that failed to gain bowl eligibility, including Maryland, Iowa State played its way out of the Big 12 championship game by blowing an 11-point lead and missing a field goal in overtime before losing to Kansas, 24-21; South Florida lost its chance at the Big East's undeserved BCS bid with an embarrassing 15-10 loss at Connecticut.

The 6-4 Bulls are bowl-eligible, but you know the league is rooting for them to lose to West Virginia on Saturday to ensure the Mountaineers go to the Sugar Bowl with their reputation intact.

Helping their bowl hopes

Aside from the list of five-win teams that became bowl-eligible, including North Carolina State, Nevada certainly enhanced its chance for its first postseason appearance since 1996 with its dramatic 38-35 win at home over then-No. 16 Fresno State.

The Wolf Pack earned a share of the Western Athletic Conference championship with Fresno State and likely earned a spot in the Hawaii Bowl.

The Los Angeles Times and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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