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Intrigue missing in bowl picture


What do you do when you schedule a New Year's Day bowl announcement party and nobody bothers to show up? You cancel it, before that happens.

That's what members of the Bowl Coalition did last week, when it became apparent that nearly all the intrigue was gone from the process and all but one of the major bowl games was set.

"No need to have people spending a lot of money to get there when you know what's going to happen," said Gene Corrigan, the Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner.

Barring any huge surprises in the final regular-season polls released early today, this is what will happen when the matchups are announced -- via conference call -- at noon.

* Top-ranked Nebraska (11-0) and No. 2 Florida State (11-1) will meet in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers are No. 1 in the USA Today-CNN coaches' poll second in the AP poll of writers and broadcasters, and No. 1 overall in the Bowl Coalition poll. The Seminoles are No. 1 in the AP poll, No. 3 in the coaches' poll and No. 2 overall.

* West Virginia (11-0), the only other unbeaten Division I-A eligible for a New Year's Day invitation, will play in the Sugar Bowl against Florida (10-2), which defeated Alabama, 28-13, yesterday in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The Mountaineers are second among the coaches, third among the media and No. 3 overall.

* Notre Dame (10-1), its dreams of a national championship and an undefeated season erased in a 41-39 loss to Boston College two weeks ago in South Bend, will opt for the Cotton Bowl against Southwest Conference champion Texas A&M.;

* Miami (9-2), which lost to Florida State and West Virginia, will play Pac-10 runner-up Arizona (9-2) in the Fiesta Bowl. That was the bowl Florida State and Notre Dame seemed to be heading for, and the media wanted, until Boston College kicker David Gordon's left-footed knuckleball sailed over the crossbar at Notre Dame.

What also will happen is that there will be a renewed call for a Division I-A playoff system. The fact that the once-beaten Seminoles will play for a national championship and the unbeaten Mountaineers won't has called into question the entire polling process.

"I think we have to look at a number of things," said Corrigan. "I've been on the record for many years saying that I was against a playoff. But now I'm not so sure that's such a bad idea, given the situation West Virginia is in."

Corrigan said that a one-game playoff involving the top two teams or a two-game playoff involving the top four might work if it is scheduled between the New Year's Day bowl games and the NFL's Super Bowl, with the college championship game to be played the week before the Super Bowl.

In trying to make a determination as to which teams qualify, strength of schedule should come into play as it does in putting together the NCAA tournament in basketball. If that were the case, West Virginia and Florida State likely would be playing in the Fiesta Bowl, with Nebraska in a meaningless Orange Bowl.

"It would change our business drastically," said Troy Matthieu, the Sugar Bowl's executive director.

Matthieu argues that a one- or two-game playoff system would reduce the significance of the New Year's Day bowl games, and therefore cut down on the revenue they generate from television contracts and the payouts they can make to the participants. The Sugar Bowl, for example, has a payout of $4.5 million this year.

And while there was much confusion this year over the coalition poll in regard to unbeaten Auburn -- since the Tigers are on probation and ineligible for consideration by the coaches, their Associated Press poll votes were just doubled -- Matthieu believes that the process should continue. The Bowl Coalition is set to run through next season.

"The coalition has brought a lot of order to the process," said Matthieu. "We are able to put together much better matchups. No one has shown me yet a playoff system that will work. And the one thing we haven't heard is the athletes calling for a national championship game."

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