Perhaps the only uncertainty going into this year's college bowl selection announcement was not in the matchups but in how the national rankings might affect the New Year's Day lineup.
As things turned out, Miami's 17-16 victory at Florida State on Saturday was impressive enough to give the previously second-ranked Hurricanes a solid grip on the No. 1 spot and put them in control for their third national championship in the past five seasons.
Miami (9-0) yesterday accepted its bid to the Federal Express Orange Bowl to play either Nebraska or Colorado. It marks the ninth straight season in which the Hurricanes will play in a Jan. 1 game and the fourth time since 1983 that they will play one on their home field.
"I've been here three years, and I was wondering if I ever was going to get to the Orange Bowl," said Miami coach Dennis Erickson, whose team received 46 of 60 first-place votes in The Associated Press poll. "[Saturday] with 14 minutes left, I wasn't sure we would. It's a real honor for us to have that opportunity."
It's also a real advantage, considering that Miami hasn't lost a regular-season game there since 1984 and has won 44 straight, including victories over Oklahoma and Nebraska in the 1988 and 1989 Orange Bowl games. The Hurricanes have two regular-season games left, at Boston College on Saturday and at home against San Diego State.
"If they don't stumble, they should win the national championship," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
The Seminoles, who slipped to third in the polls behind Miami and Washington, accepted a bid to the Mobil Cotton Bowl. Florida State (10-1) will meet Southwest Conference champion Texas A&M; (8-1), with little chance to win a national championship.
Bowden was resigned that a title again would remain elusive and tried to be optimistic about his team's first appearance in the Cotton Bowl. But he didn't mask the disappointment that came when kicker Gerry Thomas' 34-yard field-goal try barely missed in the closing seconds against the Hurricanes.
"It's the one major bowl we haven't played," Bowden said at his weekly post-game breakfast in Tallahassee, Fla. "I personally wanted us to play in the Cotton Bowl had we lost. I think it will be a very popular choice with the players."
Asked to assess his team's chances of winning a national championship, Bowden said: "If we keep winning, a lot of things could happen. I'll try to get them to cling to that thread of hope that somebody will beat somebody will beat somebody. It's going to be tough."
Unless Miami stumbles, it might be tougher for Washington to win a national championship. After one point separated the two teams in the poll last week when they were ranked second and third, respectively, the Hurricanes were 40 points ahead of the Huskies yesterday.
It means that Washington (10-0) the Pacific-10 champion, will have to beat Big Ten champion and fourth-ranked Michigan (9-1) impressively in the Rose Bowl and hope that either Nebraska (8-1-1) or Colorado (7-2-1) gives Miami a more difficult time than expected.
"If we win all our games, we'll get what we deserve," Washington receiver Mario Bailey said. "We have a chance if we can impress the poll people."
In the other major Jan. 1 bowl games, Southeastern Conference champion Florida (9-1), which plays host to Florida State on Nov. 30, plays slumping Notre Dame (7-3) in the USF&G; Sugar Bowl. Penn State (9-2) will meet Tennessee (7-2) in the Fiesta Bowl. Those deals were reportedly put together before the Nittany Lions' 35-13 win at home Saturday over the Irish.
Penn State decided to accept the Fiesta Bowl bid despite Arizona voters' rejection of a paid state holiday for Martin Luther King.
"I didn't talk to the whole squad," Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno said. "I spoke to some of the leading Afro-Americans on the team. I told them we might go to the Fiesta Bowl, but I wouldn't encourage it if there would be sentiment among our black kids that they did not want to go."
There was some question whether the Sugar Bowl, because of the controversy surrounding Louisiana gubernatorial candidate David Duke, would be able to attract a high-profile team such as the Irish, but Duke's defeat Saturday to Democrat Edwin Edwards ended any possibility of the Sugar Bowl having similar problems to the Fiesta Bowl's last season.
"Hell, we're the big winners because of what came in the election Saturday night," Sugar Bowl executive director Mickey Holmes said yesterday. "This is kind of anticlimactic."
The same could be said about the entire selection process. Once the Sugar Bowl unofficially took Notre Dame early last week, regardless of the outcome against Penn State, the rest of the schedule fell into place. Holmes called a report that ABC had forced the Sugar Bowl to pick the Irish "erroneous."
"We haven't had Notre Dame in 11 years," said Holmes. "Certainly we had input from ABC. But Notre Dame is a great fit for this city."
After Saturday's victory over Notre Dame, several Penn State players said they were bitter that bowl invitations had been made before yesterday.
"We thought that we should have gone to the Sugar Bowl," wide receiver O. J. McDuffie said. "But if it's the Fiesta, we're happy. We wanted a New Year's Day bowl game and got one. We're satisfied."
NOTES: Four ACC teams accepted bids to bowls yesterday. Champion Clemson (7-1-1) will meet California (9-1) in the Florida Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, Virginia will play the Big Eight's third-place team in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 29, Georgia Tech (7-4) goes to the Aloha Bowl against Stanford (7-3) on Dec. 25, and North Carolina State (8-2) meets East Carolina (9-1) on Jan. 1 in the Peach Bowl. North Carolina (6-4) is under consideration with Arkansas (5-5) to play Georgia (7-3) in the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl on Dec. 29.
New Year's Day bowl lineup
Peach (11:30 a.m., ESPN) East Carolina vs. N.C. State
Citrus (1:30 p.m., ABC) California vs. Clemson
Cotton (1:30 p.m., CBS) Florida State vs. Texas A&M; (if it beats SMU) or Texas
Fiesta (4:30 p.m., NBC) Penn State vs. Tennessee
Rose (5 p.m., ABC) Washington vs. Michigan
Orange (8 p.m., NBC) Miami vs. Big Eight winner (Colorado, Nebraska or Oklahoma)
Sugar (8:20 p.m., ABC) Notre Dame vs. Florida
Complete bowl lineup, 2C