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ND FOOTBALL: Shaking down the BCS

Joe Meixell | Friday, December 2, 2005

Can Notre Dame root for a Texas victory? Perhaps for one afternoon.

If Texas beats Colorado in the Big 12 championship game this Saturday (1 p.m., ABC), the Longhorns will advance to the national championship game in the Rose Bowl. That would open a slot for an at-large team, possibly Notre Dame, to slip into the Jan. 2 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) selection committee – comprised of all 11 Division I-A conference commissioners and Notre Dame commissioner/athletic director Kevin White – will announce its pairings for the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls in a conference call on Sunday at 6 p.m.

But the BCS matchups cannot be finalized until teams complete their schedules on Saturday.

When the selection committee slots teams for the BCS bowls on Sunday, the committee first will assign conference champions to the bowls with an affiliation to their respective conferences – these are referred to as “host teams” for the bowl games.

So, under the current BCS arrangement, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) champion – the winner of the Virginia Tech-Florida State game (8 p.m., ABC) – will automatically host the FedEx Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla.

The Southeastern Conference champion – the winner of the LSU-Georgia game (6 p.m., CBS) – will receive an automatic bid to the Nokia Sugar Bowl in Atlanta, Ga.

And normally, the Big 12 champion would host the Fiesta Bowl. But if Texas wins Saturday, the Longhorns go to the national championship game and leave the Fiesta without a host team.

“We then go into the process of replacing the host teams that have moved on to play in the championship game,” said BCS coordinator and Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg in a teleconference Wednesday.

This means that with four BCS bowl slots remaining – two taken by the Rose Bowl and three by conference champions – the Fiesta Bowl would receive first pick among the remaining bowls, even though the prearranged pecking order is Orange, Fiesta then Sugar.

Three Fiesta Bowl representatives were present at the Notre Dame-Stanford game on Saturday, and the Fiesta has made no secret that the Irish are a prime candidate for an early BCS selection.

But Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said he will not be rooting for any team Saturday despite the Fiesta hype.

“I only cheer for us,” Weis said in a teleconference Thursday, “because I don’t think it’s really good to be cheering against anyone or for somebody. I feel pretty good about our chances of getting a bid to the BCS, and we’ll just let it play out. Whatever it is, it is.”

Decisions, decisions

Texas beat Colorado soundly, 42-17, on Oct. 15, but a Longhorn victory on Saturday is not guaranteed. If Texas loses, the Orange Bowl gets the first pick as prearranged.

But whichever bowl picks first will have the option of taking Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State, Oregon, Auburn or West Virginia with its first selection – or, as Weiberg said, “any available team that is eligible.”

The category of “eligible” teams includes conference champions not automatically slotted into a bowl game (this year, the Big 10 and Big East) and any at-large team that has met the BCS’ criteria of nine wins and a top 12 final BCS rank (also includes Miami and UCLA, at present). Only two at-large teams will be selected for BCS bowls since Penn State (Big 10 champion) and West Virginia (Big East champion) are guaranteed berths.

To select, each BCS bowl gives the committee a list of preferences that must include any conference champion with automatic qualification that hasn’t been slotted. If there are no conflicts, the teams are slotted to their respective bowls accordingly.

If there are conflicts, the prearranged order of Orange, Fiesta, Sugar goes into effect. But a Texas win also would give the Fiesta first pick, as well, rearranging the order to Fiesta, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar.

Notre Dame did its part Saturday in a 38-31 win at Stanford. The Irish (9-2) earned their ninth win and finished at No. 8, pending Saturday’s games, in the BCS standings.

“There’s no other team that I think should represent their own school and college football in general than this team right here,” Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija said after the win at Stanford.

Critics have been debating that point for weeks.

Why Notre Dame?

Penn State (10-1; No. 3 BCS) and Ohio State (9-2; No. 6 BCS), considered at-large teams in years when the Rose Bowl hosts the national championship game, have similar or better records than the Irish. The Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State, and their only loss came on a last-second touchdown on the road to Michigan (No. 19).

Ohio State’s only losses were to Penn State and Texas, two top-three BCS opponents, and the Buckeyes are ranked higher than No. 8 Notre Dame in the BCS standings. So is Oregon (10-1), ranked No. 7 in the BCS.

But Weiberg said teams with better records sometimes fall beneath others simply in accordance with the BCS system and selection process.

“I understand that there’s still intense competition for those positions and that teams with very good records don’t always get selected,” he said. “I’ve had them from my own conference [the Big 12] over the years, but I think it’s really part and parcel of the bowl process. And I think the BCS has been of assistance in bringing some order to that selection process.”

Bowls evaluate a team’s performance when they make their selections, but the committees also take into account a team’s marketability, specifically to its local fan base, to sell tickets.

The Fiesta Bowl is certainly not looking for a repeat of last year’s 35-7 rout of Utah against Pittsburgh. And even if the bowl selections do not turn out to suit everyone’s needs, Weiberg pointed out that there is a review process.

“At that point there is a review of the pairings to see if there is a need to make an adjustment in the pairings,” Weiberg said. “Normally that is not the case. But we do have a procedure where we allow ABC television, our current television partner, to also commet on the pairings and bring forward any issues it might have. That very rarely happens, but there is a procedure that allows it to happen.”

Quite simply, regardless of whether or not conferences cry foul at the notion that Notre Dame could be selected above teams ranked higher in the BCS, the Irish are qualified under the current BCS arrangement, and bowls have the ultimate say concerning teams’ destinations.

What about USC?

USC is the Pac-10 champion, though it still has to play UCLA on Saturday (4:30 p.m., ABC). With a win, Southern California advances to the national championship. With a loss, the Trojans could fall out and leave room for Penn State to slide into the Rose Bowl.

Unlike the Big 10 – which lost affiliation to a specific bowl this season – the Pac-10 champion is slated to appear in the Fiesta Bowl this year, unless that team goes to the national championship game.

A USC loss, then, forces the Trojans into the Fiesta Bowl. But as long as Texas wins, Notre Dame still has a chance at playing in Tempe, because Texas is the host team. A USC Rose Bowl bid does not affect the Fiesta Bowl’s selection order. It only opens a slot for a conference champion or at-large team to slide in.

Will it be Notre Dame?

“I know who has all the picks,” Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis said in a Thursday press conference. “I just don’t know who’s picking us.”