Get Ready to Be Bowled Under

We're fast approaching "silly" season in golf and even "sillier" season in college football, which has no playoff and knows no bounds when it comes to now and Dec. 5.

With roughly six weeks left before bowl bids are handed out, nothing has been settled. Eight major bowl slots are completely up for grabs.

Consider these potential absurdities:

* Florida State could finish ranked No. 3 in the country and get squeezed out of a BCS bowl by Rutgers, which lost to 1-AA New Hampshire.

* No. 24 Notre Dame has more control over its destiny than No. 9 Utah.

* The Rose Bowl might not get to choose 11-0 USC or 10-1 California to face the Big Ten champion and, for that matter, might not get to pick the Big Ten champion.

* The Orange Bowl could play host to a national title game between 11-0 USC and 11-0 Miami.

The Rose Bowl could claim it is playing host to a national title game between Cal (10-1) and Wisconsin (11-0).

The Sugar Bowl could claim it is playing host to one between Auburn (12-0) and West Virginia (10-1)

The Fiesta Bowl could claim it is playing host to one between Oklahoma (12-0) and Utah (11-0).

And your 2004 national champion is ... ?

You could make the argument everything will work out -- except that's the argument college football made last season when it said there was no way USC could finish No. 1 in both polls and not earn a bid to the bowl championships series national title game.

Then again, what you call controversy the BCS calls nirvana.

What makes a bowl representative tingle this time of year is not the idea of a playoff but the thought that, from now until the first week of December, college football is going to be a carnival ride.

"It's the greatest time of the year in college football," Fiesta Bowl Chief Executive John Junker said this week. "Right now is kind of like the start of the second season. In July and August you had all the polls and the preview magazines, but now it's got traction. Now, it's got meaning and now the real race starts. It's tremendously thrilling to be part of it and watch it play out."

Does this sound like a man who has a problem with No. 4 Miami being ranked ahead of No. 2 Oklahoma in the first BCS standings?

The best argument the BCS bigwigs have against a playoff is that nothing compares to what they have now -- sheer madness.

A playoff paradigm would provide sensible order for the sport, but what fun would that be?

Let's consider some BCS bamboozlers.

* Utah.

It's not just a football team, it's a political pawn.

The Utes are trying to become the first team from outside the power-conference structure to earn a BCS bowl bid.

Utah can earn an automatic bid if it finishes No. 6 or better in the final BCS rankings.

Naturally, Utah debuted this week in the BCS at No. 7, trailing No. 6 Wisconsin by .0004. This has already inspired conspiracy theories about whether pollsters with BCS ties will make sure Utah finishes out of the loop.

Even if Utah goes 11-0 and does not earn an automatic bid, there will be heavy pressure for the Fiesta Bowl -- it's in Tempe, Ariz., and makes the most geographic sense -- to take the Utes as an at-large selection.

Junker's staff has already seen Utah play twice, yet taking Utah over a 10-1 Texas might not be in the Fiesta Bowl's best interests.

"We've learned the hard way to make sure never to make decisions before they're supposed to be made," Junker said. "We're big on keeping options open for the integrity of the process."

There are too many variables in play for Junker, or anyone else, to tip his hand.

One variable that could mess everyone up is Notre Dame.

The Irish have privileges in the BCS contract that could have extraordinary repercussions.

BCS bylaws state that if a non-BCS school earns an automatic bowl bid (hello, Utah) the Irish are guaranteed the other at-large bid if they win nine games or finish in the BCS top 10.

Notre Dame is 5-2.

If Utah and Notre Dame take the two at-large BCS spots, what happens if Miami and Florida State finish No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS standings?

Florida State would have lost the Atlantic Coast Conference title to Miami, yet would be mandated to play in the Orange Bowl for the national title.

But doesn't that make three schools claiming two at-large bids?

Yep, and in this case, it would mean Utah is not an automatic BCS winner. A bowl would then get to choose between Notre Dame and Utah.

Gee, wonder what team would win that battle ... and how long it would take for Utah to file a lawsuit.

Again, you can say this will never happen. It would require Notre Dame to beat Tennessee and USC en route to winning its last four games, Utah snagging that No. 6 BCS spot and Oklahoma and Auburn losing.

* The Florida State factor.

How could the Seminoles finish No. 3 and not get a BCS bid?

If Utah earns the automatic berth and Notre Dame wins nine games, Florida State at No. 3 is O-U-T of a BCS game unless it wins the ACC -- and first-year member Miami has the inside track because it beat Florida State.

Wouldn't that be a hoot given that the champion of the watered-down Big East Conference gets one of the six automatic BCS bids. This year the Big East champion could be Syracuse (lost to Purdue, 51-0), Pittsburgh (needed overtime to beat 1-AA Furman) or Rutgers (as noted, lost to New Hampshire).

* Rose Bowl.

Everything could work out fine, or not.

If USC slips against Notre Dame, the Trojans jump on a bus to Pasadena, maybe to face 11-0 Wisconsin.

If USC wins out and plays for the national title, the Rose Bowl would be thrilled to welcome 10-1 California for the first time since 1959.

If Florida State and Utah lock up the at-large bids, though, the Rose Bowl can't take 10-1 California.

In this scenario, Rose Bowl Chief Executive Mitch Dorger asked, "What do you think of 11-0 Utah against 11-0 Wisconsin?"

We think the Rose Bowl would be seeing red.

Hurry-up Offense

The BCS could have avoided the first-week standings mess had it adopted the 40-40-20 plan, which called for the writers' and coaches' polls to each have 40% weight in the new formula and the computers to have 20%.

In the end, commissioners thought 40-40-20 gave too much power to the human polls and opted to weight each component at 33.3%.

"I think the primary reason we did not tip more in that direction was a feeling that even though there is great respect for the two human polls, there's also some feeling that they have weaknesses as well, such as the influence of preseason rankings on teams," BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg explained, "or that there isn't perhaps as much transparency in voting as we would like for there to be."

The BCS could have also simply stipulated that if there is unanimous agreement regarding the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the polls, as there is now with USC and Oklahoma, the computer component would be disregarded.

For hire: young, ambitious former head college coach eager to turn around foundering program. Loves to work with kids and only gave recruits boat rides to campus in previous job because, well, where else could you do that? Knows the rules manual inside and out. Recently received clean bill by the NCAA.

If he wasn't about to go on trial in a lawsuit against his old school, wouldn't Rick Neuheisel be the perfect coaching candidate at

Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden has a history of not allowing a player to lose his job because of injury, but he's breaking that rule this year at quarterback, where Wyatt Sexton has supplanted Chris Rix (healthy now after an ankle injury).

Of his decision to stick with Sexton, Bowden remarked, "if you had a pitcher that had a no-hitter going, would you take him out?" Florida State (5-1) has five more innings, um, games left this season.

Since winning his debut, Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom has lost five consecutive games, including an atrocious home loss to 1-AA Maine. No one said being the first African American head coach in Southeastern Conference history would be easy. Asked this week to describe his hate mail, Croom said, "I haven't received any with racial overtone. I have received some that have questioned my coaching ability and that's understandable."

Maybe it's a good thing the New York Times is no longer affiliated with the BCS considering this week the newspaper has Texas A&M; at No. 6, six spots ahead of Utah, which beat Texas A&M; by 20 points.

Negotiations continue between ABC and the BCS on a new contract. It is believed that at least two BCS commissioners would like to see the process taken to the open market, where other networks could bid on the package. The current BCS contract expires after next year.

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