BCS glad to see crowded field reach finish line Top teams try to prevent poll from being distraction


ATLANTA -- The folks in the Southeastern Conference office running the Bowl Championship Series poll never figured on this.

They never figured on the outcome of today's Army-Navy and Brigham Young-Air Force games having any impact on this year's national college football championship. They never figured the three top-ranked teams playing on the same day -- today -- with two of them likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl next month.

Wasn't the BCS supposed to quell the end-of-season controversy and quiet the debate about a Division I-A playoff system, not trigger an even greater dispute about who will be No. 1?

"It will be a big relief come Sunday afternoon," BCS spokesman Charles Bloom said yesterday. "Ever since the first poll was released, it's been like World War III."

The announcement of the final BCS poll, as well as the pairings for the Jan. 4 Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., will be announced tomorrow on national television.

By the time top-ranked Tennessee takes the field at the Georgia Dome against No. 23 Mississippi State in the SEC championship game tonight at 8, the Volunteers will know the outcome of both second-ranked UCLA's meeting with Miami at the Orange Bowl and third-ranked Kansas State's Big 12 championship game against No. 8 Texas A&M; at the TWA Dome in St. Louis.

Asked whether the BCS poll and its seeming myriad of possible outcomes has been a distraction in his team's preparation, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said, "As old hat as it might sound, we've tried not to be concerned with anything we can't control. The BCS has not been a distraction period."

But UCLA coach Bob Toledo said earlier this week, "It's hard not to pay attention to it."

It was certainly difficult in Knoxville the past few days, since the local paper ran a story quoting BCS pollster Jeff Sagarin saying that Tennessee's chance of falling from the top spot to third was only a little less than "50-50," regardless of what happens here tonight. Yesterday, Sagarin admitted that he had miscalculated.

"I may have used the wrong version of a program, and I might have missed a keystroke," Sagarin told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "I'm not sure how it happened. For two years, I've had zero data mistakes. This really irks me. I'm correcting an error. I believe in mathematical honesty. Davy Crockett said, 'Be sure you're right, then go ahead,' and Davy was a Tennessee boy."

While the locals might blow their Rocky Top should their beloved Vols wind up playing fourth-ranked Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, it doesn't appear to matter to some Tennessee players as long as they go there as a 12-0 team.

"I don't care who we play," senior wide-out Peerless Price said after practice Wednesday in Knoxville. "Just as long as we play a good opponent with some credibility. If we get a piece of the championship, that's better than getting nothing at all."

Because of its strength of schedule, UCLA appears to have the edge over either Tennessee or Kansas State. According to Sagarin's numbers, the Bruins have played the sixth-toughest schedule, with the Volunteers 22nd and the Wildcats 47th. Since Texas A&M; is ranked higher than Mississippi State, Kansas State has more to gain.

Why do the Army-Navy and Brigham Young-Air Force games, as well as the outcome of last night's Mid-American Conference championship game between Marshall and Toledo, a 23-17 Marshall victory, matter in weighing bowl contenders' opponents? Army played Houston, BYU played Alabama, and Marshall played South Carolina. Alabama, South Carolina and Houston all played Tennessee.

Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill is hoping that the Volunteers are too busy trying to figure out how to make the Fiesta Bowl rather than how to stop tailback James Johnson, who appears recovered from a badly pulled groin. "It's hard to focus on two games at one time no matter what anybody says," said Sherrill.

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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