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It's a case of terminal madness

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


MIAMI -- At first glance, what it looked like was something glorious.

There on a field turned magical again, a football team danced as it did in days of old, and your eyes would swear the University of Miami had done something special.

There were oranges on the field, and the smell of citrus. A quarterback was being interviewed at midfield, and there was the winning scoreboard of a big game over his shoulder. The Hurricanes had beaten Virginia Tech, the team that had reminded them of their mortality for so many years, with ridiculous ease. It was 41-21, but even that sounds kind.

This, of course, is what your senses told you.

Whether it really happened or not, we wait for the mighty computer to speak.

It will happen Monday. We will gather around, like Dorothy and her street gang waiting for Oz, and we will see if the Hurricanes were really good, and if they really had fun, and if, maybe, that smell will turn out to be bananas. What are you going to trust? The computer, or your eyes?

This is the state of college football. You play on Saturday, then you wait 48 hours to find out what it all means.

"By the time the computer gets done with this," Miami running back Najeh Davenport said, "it'll be like we won by a point in double overtime."

Forgive the Hurricanes if they sound as if they have a computer chip on their shoulders. Not since Dave quibbled with Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey has there been such a grudge against a computer.

Frankly, it's hard to blame them after last week, when the Hurricanes woke up and saw the latest poll had them trailing Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, FSU, Ralph Nader, Magnus Norman and, for best new artist, Milli Vanilli. The one that stung was FSU, a team with the same record, a team Miami had beaten in their head-to-head meeting.

"FSU is America's favorite," Davenport said. "FSU is apple pie. We're the stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoes."

And so it was that on a day the conversation should have been about whether the 'Canes really were back to their old form (answer: No, but they're close) and how mortal Michael Vick looked and what kind of flash Santana Moss has, they gathered into their tight little locker room and talked about ... computer class.

"Here's what (the people who operate the BCS computer) will do," Davenport said. "They'll put the victory into the computer, then they'll put all the stats in, and then they'll say, "Miami won, but Virginia Tech didn't have Michael Vick.' So it'll all cancel each other out, and we'll still be fifth."

By now, we all agree on two things. The BCS is flawed, and in its history, it has been lucky. Eventually, someone is going to get jobbed by it. With 11 teams entering November with one loss or no loss, this could be the year.

But perhaps the worst thing about the BCS is this: No one has a clue as to how it works. Not a bit. The guess is that you take a team's number of wins, the margin of victory and the total yardage, then you add the combined wealth of the three biggest alumni, the lyrics of the school fight song and the IQ of the drum major, and there you have it: The BCS ranking. Also, a recipe for Texas chili.

"How many people in the country understand it?" quarterback Ken Dorsey said. "About two. If you understand it, you're a smarter man than I am."

Ask Davenport, who stood in the corner of the locker room, shaking his shock of dreadlocks repeatedly when he was asked about the BCS.

So, Najeh. What would be easier for you to do? Learn to speak Chinese or explain how the BCS works? "Speak Chinese," he said.

What would be easier? To turn tin into gold, or to explain the BSC? "Tin into gold," he said.

What would be easier? To jump off the Empire State Building and fly? Or explain the BCS? He hesitated. "The BCS," he said. "Maybe."

It's a shame, because the Hurricanes played an exclamation point of a game, and then it ended with a question. Was what they had done good enough? Did it impress the system enough to restore the Hurricanes as the best once-beaten team in America? And will it keep them there? Who knows?

Where should Miami be? "How about second?" linebacker Dan Morgan said.

For now, that sounds about right. The Hurricanes have beaten a No. 1 and a No. 2 this year. What's the old saying? To be somebody, you have to beat somebody.

But, yes, Miami is going to have trouble holding off the Florida-FSU winner. You can understand why Miami's schedule, which includes McNeese State and Louisiana Tech, might bother voters. That's one of the main charges of the system: to try to encourage teams to play top teams.

So who's to say how good Miami is? Well, the computer. The rest of us can only argue about what bytes. "We're prepared for the worst," Davenport said. "But maybe if Gore is elected, he'll do something about the BCS."

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