A national championship game at the Fiesta Bowl?
Get out of here.
The punch line to the TV spots starring David Letterman refugee Chris Elliott could come back to haunt the hucksters for Tostitos, the Frito-Lay snack that attached $26 million to the promise that the Fiesta Bowl will match the nation's top two teams.
Under the terms of the Bowl Alliance, formed by seven major conferences and Notre Dame after the dissolution of the Bowl Coalition, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will get the first turn at the top-ranked teams. The Sugar Bowl will take precedence next season and the Orange the season after that.
Frito-Lay will not get the bang out of its bucks if No. 4 Ohio State or No. 5 Southern Cal shows up unbeaten for the Rose Bowl, which remains the focus for the Big Ten and Pac-10. That possibility, along with big road challenges awaiting its top teams, worries the Alliance backers.
No. 1 Florida State is clearly the class of the Atlantic Coast Conference -- its 27 straight ACC wins are the longest conference streak in the nation since the 1950s -- but the Seminoles finish the regular season at Florida. No. 2 Nebraska is home next week against No. 8 Kansas State, and still has to go to No. 9 Colorado and No. 10 Kansas. No. 3 Florida has to deal with tomorrow's trip to No. 7 Auburn.
Ohio State and Southern Cal don't exactly have easy paths to perfection either. The Buckeyes have to go to Wisconsin tomorrow and then to Minnesota and Michigan. The Trojans have consecutive games at Notre Dame and Washington.
Frito-Lay, by the way, won't spend as much if the Fiesta Bowl doesn't get a No. 1 team. If it gets a No. 1, the payout per team is $8.58 million. If it doesn't, the payout is $8.25 million.
Northwestern knows parity
When Gary Barnett became the Northwestern coach in 1992, he talked of "taking the Purple to Pasadena" for the Rose Bowl. It could become a reality, thanks to a veteran team, a high turnover ratio, and one factor that wasn't mentioned after the Wildcats beat Notre Dame and Michigan.
Would either of those upsets have occurred without scholarship limits? It's hard to imagine Northwestern, which hasn't had a winning season since 1971, beating Michigan without a limit of 85 scholarships per school.
No. 14 Northwestern has seen parity from both sides, as it blew a 28-7 lead against Miami of Ohio, a loss that could keep it out of the Rose Bowl. Northwestern and Ohio State don't play this year, and if both win their remaining games, the Buckeyes would go on the basis of a better overall winning percentage.
"Our dreams and goals are no different than every other player in the Big Ten. We want to go to the Rose Bowl," said kicker Sam Valenzisi, who was asked to name the low point of his stay at Northwestern. "That would be the days immediately following the Miami game. That's the biggest disappointment of my athletic career.
"I don't think I touched the ground after we beat Notre Dame and Michigan. A euphoric feeling like that is almost impossible to describe. Nobody in the country, aside from the people in our
locker room, thought we could win."
* More from the parity department: Northwestern was picked to finish last in the Big Ten, and Stanford was supposed to bring up the rear in the Pac-10. Stanford was 17-17-1 in three seasons under the genius of Bill Walsh, but it's 4-0-1 (it tied Wisconsin) and ranked No. 16 for first-year coach Tyrone Willingham. It's the best start for the Cardinal since 1951.
* Georgia Tech sophomore tailback C. J. Williams, the leading rusher in the ACC, is apparently done playing basketball. He started three games for the Yellow Jackets last winter, but basketball coach Bobby Cremins has agreed with football coach George O'Leary that Williams should play football only.
* Texas A&M; junior Leeland McElroy had better hustle if he wants to figure in the Heisman Trophy balloting. McElroy was held to 80 yards on 27 carries in a 14-7 loss to Texas Tech.
Game to watch
No. 3 Florida (5-0, 4-0) vs.
No. 7 Auburn (4-1, 3-1)
When: Tomorrow, noon
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
TV: Chs. 2, 7
Last time: Florida was ranked No. 1 when it fell, 36-33, to Auburn on an 8-yard pass from Patrick Nix to Frank Sanders with 30 seconds left last season. That game saw Terry Dean go from Heisman Trophy hopeful to third-teamer, as Danny Wuerffel has been the Gators' quarterback since.
Those darned Bowdens: Florida's losses last year were to Auburn and Florida State, who are coached, respectively, by Terry Bowden and his father, Bobby. Steve Spurrier is 54-12-1 in five-plus seasons at Florida, but 1-6-1 against the Bowdens.
By the numbers: Wuerffel (95-for-147 for 64.6 completion percentage, 1,322 yards) is supposed to be the Heisman candidate, but are his numbers any better than Nix's? The Tigers' unheralded senior has a higher completion percentage at 69.8 (97-for-139) and nearly as many yards (1,228). Quarterback production will be critical in this matchup.
Bottom line: "Being from Florida, you just want to go out there and rip 'em," said Auburn wide receiver Tyrone Goodson, who's from Brooksville, Fla. "You want to beat them 100 to zip."