With appetizers nearly out of way, it's time to serve up bigger bowls


SURE, MAYBE you've watched the (insurance company) Holiday Bowl, (financial services company) Fort Worth Bowl or (credit card) Alamo Bowl. But now it's BCS time.

ABC (Channel 2) has the four Bowl Championship Series games, beginning tomorrow with the Rose Bowl (presented by another financial services company) at 4:30 p.m. and the (tortilla chip) Fiesta Bowl at 8:30 p.m. On Monday, it's the (wireless phone company) Sugar Bowl at 8 p.m. And then it's the "national championship game" Tuesday at 8 p.m., in the (overnight delivery service) Orange Bowl.

The matchups in these games may not be pleasing to every college football fan, but Loren Matthews, ABC's senior vice president of programming, said - on the whole - the BCS has given the network compelling matchups.

"There has been controversy," Matthews said in a conference call this week. " ... Were all of the problems anticipated? Of course not."

One of those matchups that could be considered a problem exists in the Rose Bowl, where Michigan takes on Texas. Support existed for pitting the Wolverines against California, a team many considered deserving and one that would preserve the traditional Big Ten-Pac 10 pairing.

"This is the matchup we have," said Dan Fouts, who will call the game with Keith Jackson, "and this is the game we're going to do."

(Note to those who recall last week's column: Didn't that sound a lot like "It is what it is"?)

Brad Nessler, play-by-play man for the Orange Bowl, had no quibble with the Southern Cal-Oklahoma game.

"These would be the two teams that I would have in there," said Nessler, who'll work with Bob Griese.

Also calling play-by-play, Mike Tirico will be watching another team that feels it should be in the title game, Auburn, which takes on Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Does he think Auburn will try to impress poll voters who might vault the No. 3 Tigers over No. 1 USC or No. 2 Oklahoma?

"Auburn will go out and play its game," said Tirico, joined by Terry Bowden and saddled with Tim Brant on the telecast. "I think style points ... is the furthest thing from Auburn's mind."

Same goes for the Orange Bowl, Nessler said.

"If you went to [Oklahoma coach] Bob Stoops or [USC's] Pete Carroll right now and said you'd win 10-7, they'd take it," Nessler said.

Tirico said he doesn't expect a split national champ in any case.

"There are not enough votes [in the Associated Press poll] for Auburn to jump up," he said.

And what of losing that AP poll from the BCS formula next year?

"It's a blow to the respectability right from the top," said Brent Musburger, paired with Gary Danielson at the Fiesta Bowl. "Whether or not this is a step to a playoff, I don't know."

We can't have that, can we? What would happen to all those (sponsors who want their names publicized) bowl games?

Tomorrow at 4 p.m., CBS (Channel 13) airs an hourlong piece called A Tee Time Like No Other, about a round that the PGA Tour's David Duval and his father played with two Special Olympics golfers. Duval called it "without question, the No. 1 round of the year. As frustrating and maddening as my struggles have been, this makes you realize how small they are." ...

ESPN2 unveils BassCenter tomorrow at 7 a.m., then Loudmouth Bass at 7:30. The former covers the week's news in the world of bass fishing, and the latter is a fishing version of Pardon the Interruption. They will air each Saturday. Insert your own fishing joke here. Ordering lox at the deli is the extent of my fishing experience. ...

ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) will feature the Ravens' Ray Lewis "wired" off the field in Kenny Mayne's "Mayne Event" piece.

Contact Ray Frager at ray.frager@baltsun.com.

Top-rated sports

Highest-rated sports programming for Baltimore for Dec. 22-28 (ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program):

Program Date Ch. Rtg.

Ravens-Pit 12/26 13 25.5

SD-Indy 12/26 13 19.5

Wash-Dallas 12/26 45 10.5

GB-Min 12/24 45 9.1

Oak-KC 12/25 13 8.0

Phila-StL 12/27 2 7.5

NFL Today 12/26 13 6.6

Den-Tenn 12/25 ESPN 5.9

Mia-Lakers 12/25 2 5.3

Cle-Miami 12/26 ESPN 4.1

Nielsen ratings courtesy of WBAL-TV.

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