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Surprise: FSU to Sugar, Iowa-USC in Orange

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 9, 2002

CORAL GABLES -- Larry Coker knows the passion for Ohio State football and the pressure that comes with it. He lived and breathed it for three years as a Buckeyes assistant coach, the rabid enthusiasm coupled with the immense expectations.

"Ohio State football is revered," Coker said. "In Ohio, it's not the Bengals, it's not the Browns. It's the Buckeyes."

When the Buckeyes last won a national championship in 1968, legendary coach Woody Hayes prowled the sideline and Miami was a beautiful vacation locale, not the home of a college football power.

Coker, an assistant at Ohio State from 1993-95, is the coach of the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes, who will take on the second-ranked Buckeyes Jan. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State will be trying to win its first in 34 years, while Miami will be going for its second in a row and sixth in 19 seasons.

"It's name recognition and two undefeated teams, the only two undefeated teams left," Coker said.

For that reason, there was little suspense Sunday before the Bowl Championship Series selection show.

But there was a surprise when the Orange Bowl managed to secure a Rose Bowl-type matchup in its Jan. 2 game at Pro Player Stadium.

The Miami-based bowl invoked a BCS clause that essentially allowed it to pick its teams before the Sugar Bowl. That means a "Rose Bowl East" game between Southern California and Iowa -- and a disappointed Rose Bowl, which wanted Iowa.

"We learned a lot about the BCS this year and the way that it operates," said Mitch Dorger, CEO of the Tournament of Roses. "We did not anticipate all the subtleties of the system. Everything was conducted in accordance with the rules. The Orange Bowl has arranged for themselves an outstanding matchup, and we congratulate them on that. But we want to emphasize how happy we are with the two schools we have."

The Rose Bowl will pit Pac-10 champion Washington State against Big 12 champ Oklahoma. But it's no secret the Rose would have liked to pick Iowa to fulfill its traditional Pac-10/Big Ten matchup. The other BCS game will pit ACC champion Florida State against SEC champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. FSU coach Bobby Bowden will go against his longtime assistant, Mark Richt, who guided the Bulldogs to their first SEC crown since 1982.

The Hurricanes (12-0) wrapped up an undefeated regular season on Saturday with a 56-45 victory over Virginia Tech. That set up the matchup with Ohio State (13-0), which locked up a spot in the Fiesta Bowl with a Nov. 23 victory over Michigan.

Unlike last year, when there was controversy surrounding the No. 2 team in the BCS standings, the championship matchup was clear-cut.

But the participants in the other three BCS games were not.

Because the Orange lost its anchor Big East team, Miami, it had the right to make the first selection and chose the Big Ten's Iowa. The Rose, because it lost one of its anchors from the Big Ten, Ohio State, had the next selection and took Oklahoma to play Washington State.

The Sugar Bowl was to go next, and would have picked USC, ranked fourth in the final BCS standings and guaranteed a BCS bowl. But because the Orange Bowl pays more than the Fiesta and Sugar bowls over the duration of the four-year BCS contract, it could exercise a one-time $200,000 selection preference over the Sugar Bowl.

So the Orange picked USC, giving it the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams, along with Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterbacks Brad Banks of Iowa and Carson Palmer of USC.

"Our board labored with the decision," said Keith Tribble, executive director of the Orange Bowl. "You're talking about some very good teams, and that's what the BCS is about. The decision was made to select USC based on our goal to get the highest-ranked teams possible."

Mike Tranghese, commissioner of the Big East Conference and the BCS coordinator, said it was no surprise that the Orange Bowl invoked the clause. Nonetheless, it came as a disappointment to the Rose Bowl, which for the second straight year won't have its traditional Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup -- and will witness one being played 3,000 miles away.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned. No doubt the Rose Bowl is concerned," Tranghese said. "I think fans believe it's a great matchup no matter where it's played. But it's something we'll have to discuss. I know the Rose Bowl is disappointed. But nothing was done that is not part of the contract."

Tribble said the Orange Bowl was sensitive to the concerns of the Rose Bowl, but also pointed out that had the old arrangements been in place, Ohio State would be in the Rose and wouldn't be able to play Miami for the national title. In order to make that possible, the BCS was formed.

The process boiled down to nobody wanting Florida State. The Seminoles are the first team to qualify for a BCS bowl despite four losses.

"I'm disappointed we had those four losses," Bowden said. "It's kind of not fair to Georgia, to be 12-1 and for us to be in there with four losses. But I am excited about being there and I hope we can play the best we can."

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