A week ago, Notre Dame seemed to hold most of the cards when it came to figuring out the New Year's Day bowl lineup and those teams still in contention for this year's national championship. No longer.
The cards, not to mention the Fighting Irish, have folded.
By blowing a 24-point lead and losing to then-13th-ranked Tennessee, 35-34, at home Saturday, Notre Dame's already outside chance of a title disappeared. But a fuzzy bowl picture has not yet cleared up.
The problem? Where Notre Dame is going to wind up. While it appears that the Federal Express Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl will be the two New Year's Day games with national championship implications, the rest of the matchups depend largely on what the Fighting Irish decide to do.
Gone was the Fiesta Bowl's dream of being host to a game for No. 1 between the Irish and Miami, which plays at top-ranked Florida State Saturday. Though it might get Notre Dame and the Hurricanes, it won't be for No. 1. Gone was the USF&G; Sugar Bowl's hopes of luring the Irish against Southeastern Conference champion Florida, for a game that could have affected the national championship. That game could happen, too, but its significance has lessened dramatically.
It now comes down to four teams remaining with any legitimate stake at No. 1, two bowls with any shot at hosting a game with championship implications and two regular-season games that will help clear up the picture even more.
The games will be this week's much anticipated meeting of the No. 2 Hurricanes and the Seminoles, and Florida State's trip to Florida Nov. 30. The bowls are the Orange and the Rose. And the four teams with any serious national title aspirations left are Florida State, Miami, No. 3 Washington and No. 4 Michigan.
Here's a look at those teams, and their road to a national championship.
Florida State (10-0): Tuned up for Miami with an easy win over South Carolina. It's fairly simple now: if the Seminoles win Saturday, they will stay in the state and play the Big Eight champion (likely Nebraska) in the Orange Bowl. If they lose, they will likely go to the Fiesta Bowl to meet Notre Dame. But the hitch comes because Florida State still has to play at Florida Nov. 30. If the Seminoles beat Miami, but lose to the Gators, the Orange Bowl will have only one redeeming value: getting a suntan.
Miami (8-0): The Hurricanes have played a much easier schedule than any of the other teams in the top four, but they still are unbeaten and a victory over the Seminoles will almost guarantee the Orange Bowl as being a game with national championship implications. "If we had our druthers, we'd like to play in the Orange Bowl," Miami athletic director Dave Maggard said. Miami's last two regular-season games, certain victories over Boston College and San Diego State, mean that the Hurricanes will have, at most, one defeat.
Washington (9-0): The Huskies might be the best team in the country, and are also in the comfortable position of watching Florida State and Miami butt helmets in Tallahassee. Saturday's win at Southern Cal almost ensures Washington of finishing the regular season unbeaten, but Don James has had other teams in this position before and they always seem to trip somewhere along the line. Washington is heading for the Rose Bowl, and a showdown with Michigan, which could be a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2.
Michigan (8-1): The Wolverines were pummelled at home by Florida State, 51-31, earlier in the year, but that blemish could long be forgotten by New Year's Day. With a loss, as well as remaining games at Illinois and home against Ohio State, Michigan has the toughest road to the national championship.
NOTES: As far as the Atlantic Coast Conference stands, Clemson is a lock for the Florida Citrus Bowl, Virginia might be invited to the Mazda Gator Bowl, N.C. State is headed for the Peach Bowl and Georgia Tech is being considered for the Eagle Aloha Bowl. The invitations will be announced, beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The bowl picture
Bowl Date Site
Payment Time TV Opponents
California Dec. 14 Fresno, Calif. San Jose St. or Fresno St.
$250,000 4 p.m. SportsCh. Am. vs. Bowling Green
Aloha Dec. 25 Honolulu Georgia Tech or Oklahoma
$650,000 3:30 p.m. ABC vs. Stanford
Blockbuster Dec. 28 Miami, Fla. Alabama or Tennessee
$1.8 mil. 9 p.m. CBS vs. Syracuse
Independence Dec. 29 Shreveport, La. Arkansas or Baylor
$650,000 2:30 p.m. ABC vs. Ga. Tech or Tulsa
Liberty Dec. 29 Memphis, Tenn. Mississippi State or Arkansas
$900,000 8 p.m. ESPN vs. Air Force
Gator Dec. 29 Jacksonville, Fl. Va. or Ga.-Ga. Tech winner
$1.2 million 8 p.m. TBS vs. Big Eight No. 2 or Calif.
Holiday Dec. 30 San Diego Iowa-Ind. winner or Ohio St.
$1.3 million 8 p.m. ESPN vs. BYU-San Diego St. winner
Freedom Dec. 30 Anaheim, Calif. Pac-10 No. 3
$650,000 9 p.m. Raycom vs. Illinois, Texas or Tulsa
John Hancock Dec. 31 El Paso, Texas Ohio St. or Iowa-Indiana loser
$1 mil. 2:30 p.m. CBS vs. UCLA
Copper Dec. 31 Tucson, Ariz. BYU-San Diego State loser
$650,000 8 p.m. TBS vs. Baylor or TCU
Peach Jan. 1 Atlanta N.C. State or Virginia
$900,000 11:30 a.m. ESPN vs. E. Carolina or Illinois
Hall of Fame Jan. 1 Tampa, Fla. Big 8 No. 2 or Big Ten No. 3
Citrus Jan. 1 Orlando, Fla. Big Ten No. 3
$1.35 mil. 1:30 p.m. ABC vs. Clemson
Cotton Jan. 1 Dallas Ala. or ND-Penn St. loser
$3.1 million 1:30 p.m. CBS vs. Texas A&M;
Fiesta Jan. 1 Tempe, Ariz. Florida St. (with loss to Miami)
$2 million 4 p.m. NBC vs. Penn State or Tenn.
Rose Jan. 1 Pasadena, Calif. Washington
$6.5 million 5 p.m. ABC vs. Michigan
Orange Jan. 1 Miami Florida State-Miami winner
$4.2 million 8 p.m. NBC vs. Big Eight champion
Sugar Jan. 1 New Orleans Cal. or Penn St.-ND winner
$3.6 million 8:30 p.m. ABC vs. Florida
*Payments are per team.