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Tonight's game will settle several scores

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© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- Make room, vote vultures!

For short, our capital is called "Tally," which is also an electoral term that we Floridians are prone to fumble.

Don't count on us.

But, even as the big Bush-Gore game muddles, tonight in Tallahassee will be dedicated to a more expedient, definitive, but nonetheless vital score-settling among football parties known as Seminoles and Gators.

This is Modern America's greatest college football rivalry, having long since superseded Ohio State-Michigan as the late-season collision most likely to impact the national championship.

Florida-FSU will prodigiously affect BCS rankings in the search for Jan. 3 opponents in an Orange Bowl smackoff that is to anoint No. 1.

A murky, malfunctioning, demeaning political week of Florida's counts, recounts, posturing, scheming and threatening will be delightfully replaced by the exotic sporting passions of Doak Campbell Stadium as screaming, team-colorized, heavily fueled zealots get to full rev.

So, cool your chads.

Please, for the next few hours, can there be no hand counts except for Tomahawk Chops and Gator Chomps?

Well before kickoff, scrimmaging got nasty as 'Noles and Gators showed up in Tallahassee to find a new kind of lobbying, battling a herd of politicos and ballot-box media who were not eager to relinquish hotel rooms to a football multitude with long-standing reservations.

As for the pure football, I think Florida State is better. Being favored by 10 is apropos. The 'Noles are unquestionably more experienced. Playing at home where FSU has a 50-0-1 run. Led by Chris Weinke, perhaps the best of a long stream of extraordinary FSU quarterbacks, including 1993 Heisman Trophy recipient Charlie Ward.

Do the Gators have a reasonable shot? Absolutely. With the seething fire of this traditional combat, startling things can occur. So easily we forget these are 20-year-old kids, I mean, except for Weinke, a unique elder at 28.

Defense would be the most likely UF key. The Gators should score 21 to 24 points, but holding the 'Noles to a lower number is a mighty challenge.

Many unpredictable things are almost certain to appear, but recent FSU history is a bellowing factor: Steve Spurrier having never coached a Tallahassee win, and FSU has lost to no Gators at Doak since the George H.W. Bush administration.

Let's just play.

Enough political football.

Sadly, along with all the botched ballots and Florida poll-lution, we are saddled with the BCS, which to me means Bad Collegiate System for deciding which universities play for the national championship.

After all the computers, geeks and other christened BCS decisionmakers complete their juggling, the Final Two will be nominated to decide the Sears Trophy, won last season by Florida State.

In the convoluted, controversial elimination process, the prime players are Oklahoma, FSU, Miami and Florida.

Waiting just offstage are understudies, hoping there is a collapse among the stars; those include Washington, Virginia Tech and Oregon.

Oh, the BCS theater . . .

I see six possible scenarios. Let's take them one by one. Read slowly. Digest. Assess the mixture of occurences.

My goal was to not further complicate the stew by mixing in such side action as UM's match with Syracuse. Taking a couple of things for granted, in the interest of clarity.

Even then, the BCS is loaded with almost as many cracks, pitfalls and propensities for disenchantment than the Gore-Bush deal.

SCENARIO ONE: Top-ranked Oklahoma beats Kansas State in the Big 12 playoff, FSU beats Florida tonight, which is likely to leapfrog Florida State over Miami and create a Sooners-'Noles pairing for No. 1, something that will make the Hurricanes madder than a roomful of Democrats.

SCENARIO TWO: Oklahoma outscores K-State, Gators upset 'Noles and then Florida goes on to win the SEC championship Dec. 2 at Atlanta -- a surge of UF momentum in the BCS mechanism that probably would put the Gators in the big one against Steve Spurrier's former defensive coordinator, Bob Stoops of OU. Again, understandable anger for UM, which as of this hour is No. 2 in the BCS, figuring to be hurt by strength-of-schedule ramifications coming from the UF-FSU pairing.

SCENARIO THREE: K-State overturns OU. Florida beats FSU, then the Gators win the SEC. That would almost certainly deliver a sizzling rekindling of a dormant old rivalry, the Hurricanes against UF for No. 1.

SCENARIO FOUR: K-State beats Oklahoma. FSU whips Florida. If this happens, look for a 'Canes-'Noles rematch for the BCS gold.

SCENARIO FIVE: Oklahoma takes K-State. UF nudges FSU but then the Gators lose the SEC showdown. That should make it Sooners against Hurricanes on Jan. 3.

SCENARIO SIX: This one, obviously a long shot, brings in other principals. Let's say K-State wipes away Oklahoma. Florida stings FSU, but the Gators lose in Atlanta. That would absolutely put Miami in the national championship game, most likely against (are you listening, Great Northwest?) Washington or Oregon.

Virginia Tech? Don't think so.

Now, appropriately, may I unleash my annual whine in pursuit of a true national championship playoff? Eight teams would be fine. Put the matches in seven different bowls. It would be of phenomenal interest. Wonderful television.

All the reasons for not having a major-college football tournament are bogus, including the addition of a 12th, 13th and 14th game for finalists; or the effect on long-running bowls; or academic repercussions. Ever hear of basketball and March Madness, which causes athletes to miss more classes in a month than a football fellow blows in a season?

Five self-serving, ego-heavy conference commissioners forced the Bowl Championship Series upon us. Dang them! It is not incurable, but the only way a playoff will occur is if TV networks wise up, accept that they're being fleeced by BCS methods, then demand -- while sweetening the pot with even more money -- that a tournament be created.

How is your chad?

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