Orange and Fiesta bowl officials paced the press box like expectant fathers as Texas Christian mounted a furious rally.
"My mixed emotions are all mixed up," Fiesta Bowl chairman Leon Levitt said.
As it turned out, though, the big bowl boys won't have to make the tough decision on whether to take Texas Christian.
Southern Mississippi made it for them Thursday night, holding off a furious rally to defeat TCU, 40-28, before 30,141 spectators at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
Southern Mississippi probably will advance to the Liberty Bowl while TCU could end up in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Instead of a possible $15-million paycheck, TCU could play for $750,000.
"All of us know that life is not fair," Coach Gary Patterson said. "You've got to understand that other teams have dreams too."
TCU -- which fell to 10-1, leaving Oklahoma as the only unbeaten team in Division I-A -- was more than just a team trying to make it to the big show.
The Horned Frogs had become a political football in a sport where the non-BCS schools claim they don't stand a chance against the six power conferences, plus Notre Dame, that control the postseason purse strings.
TCU, No. 8 in the BCS standings before Thursday's game, needed to finish in the top six to earn an automatic BCS bid and in the top 12 to be considered for a major bowl.
The big question, the one that won't have to be answered now, is whether either the Orange or Fiesta bowl would have taken TCU as an at-large school.
Levitt of the Fiesta Bowl said his organization was "dead serious" about the possibility of taking TCU.
"I told TCU before the game that if they won out our decision is going to be very hard," Levitt said.
Orange Bowl Executive Director Keith Tribble also said his bowl was serious about TCU.
"They were a legitimate prospect," Tribble said. "We wouldn't be here if we didn't think they were legitimate."
It will never be known whether either bowl was really serious about TCU or playing a game of sophisticated bluff, knowing there was mounting political pressure for a BCS bowl to take a non-BCS team.
The pressure might have been insurmountable had TCU pulled off what was nearly an amazing comeback, scoring 22 unanswered points in 4 1/2 minutes to cut a 31-6 deficit to 31-28 with 6:55 left.
After Southern Mississippi added a field goal to make it 34-28 with 3:57 left, TCU got the ball at its own 22 with a chance to mount a possible game-winning touchdown drive.
But on first down, cornerback Greg Brooks blitzed and forced a fumble by TCU quarterback Brandon Hassell, Rod Davis recovering for Southern Mississippi at the 11.
The Golden Eagles punched in a final touchdown and punched a hole in TCU's season.
There's no telling what might have happened had TCU won Thursday and wrapped up a 12-0 season next week with a win against hapless Southern Methodist.
The Fiesta and Orange bowls were resigned to the fact they would have had to take TCU if it finished in the top six, but less willing to commit to the school as an at-large consideration.
With the non-BCS side claiming the BCS is a monopoly, and both houses of Congress starting to examine the BCS' legality, many BCS officials were privately hoping TCU would qualify if only to quiet the political noise.
The major bowls, however, have to consider what a team brings to its event in terms of economic impact and television ratings.
Now, its moment having passed, TCU fades into a larger landscape.
With the nation's No. 90 schedule rank, Patterson knew his team had no margin for error.
Once again, no scrub team from a non-BCS conference will get to the BCS big house.
"But someday," Patterson said, "we will knock down that door."