Finally, BCS games kick in

January 01, 2002 2:25 AM
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It’s been another wild bowl season, capping an eventful college football regular season. Now, as the New Year begins, our focus turns to the final four games of the college season, the BCS Bowls.

The BCS has been deciding the participants in the National Championship Game and the other major bowls for the last few seasons, and this year has been as unpredictable as any year in recent memory.

While this year’s Rose Bowl will decide the title, there is a lot of debate as to whether or not Nebraska even deserves to be there, after the way they lost to Colorado. Meanwhile, the Buffaloes may be the hottest team in the country, but they have two losses on their resume while their opponent in the Fiesta Bowl, Oregon, might have a claim, if Nebraska wins their game.

Even the games that seem to have nothing to do with the national title are compelling, because of the stories of the squads in the games. There weren’t many people before the season that thought Illinois, LSU and Maryland would win the Big 10, SEC and ACC respectively, but it happened. All three of those teams will be playing in spotlights that they may not be accustomed to, especially Maryland, which opposes Florida in the Orange Bowl.

FIESTA BOWL

The BCS begins Tuesday with red-hot Colorado facing Pac 10 champion Oregon. Colorado is making a return to bowl play after one year’s absence. Gary Barnett’s troops are much improved from last year’s 3-8 edition and are better than they were early in the season.

The Buffaloes opened with a tough loss to Fresno State at home, 24-22, then won five straight. Colorado ended its first five-game winning streak on October 20th, falling at Texas, 41-7. The Buffaloes responded with their second five-game winning streak, including a big win over Texas in the Big 12 championship game and, of course, the 62-36 demolition of Nebraska.

Oregon, riding a four-game winning streak, sustained its only loss at home to Stanford, 49-42. The Ducks have plenty of offensive firepower, led by quarterback Joey Harrington, wideout Keenan Howry and the solid, two-headed running tandem of Onterrio Smith and Maurice Morris.

Colorado is also a terrific offensive team, averaging more than 220 yards rushing this season. This should be a fun game to watch, but it also could be the deciding factor in the National Championship hunt. Oregon certainly has a claim to the title if Nebraska can defeat Miami, further muddling the BCS picture.

ROSE BOWL

The Rose Bowl this Thursday matches the only undefeated team in the nation, Miami (Fla.), and the squad the BCS considers the second best in the country, Nebraska. The Hurricanes have clearly been the best team in the country this season, averaging more than 43 points per game, while allowing their opponents less than 10 points per contest. Miami is proficient in every phase of the game. They have incredible speed almost everywhere on the field, the best offensive line in college football in recent memory and don’t seem to have a weakness anywhere.

Nebraska is led by Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, and will need to dominate the line of scrimmage to have any hope against the ’Canes. These schools have met with the National Championship on the line before, and this is the third time these programs have met in a bowl game since that famous 1983 Orange Bowl meeting that was won by the Bernie Kosar-led Hurricanes, 31-30.

Miami has won two of those three games, beating Nebraska in 1988 and 1991, while the Cornhuskers beat the ’Canes in the 1994 Orange Bowl.

ORANGE BOWL

The biggest surprise among the eight BCS teams has to be the Maryland Terrapins. The Terps were picked for the middle of the road in the ACC at the beginning of the season, but they won the league crown.

Head coach Ralph Friedgen is an offensive genius, who made due with less than top talent this year. Maryland scored a school-record 390 points led by sophomore running back Bruce Perry, the ACC rushing leader. However, Perry is not 100 percent entering the game.

Maryland will need a very strong performance from its opportunistic defense, which forced 34 turnovers. The Terps will need to force a few against an explosive Florida attack.

The Gators averaged 43 points per game led by quarterback Rex Grossman and wideouts Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell. This game has all the makings of a serious shootout.

SUGAR BOWL

The least important of the BCS games pits LSU and Illinois. The contest has the potential to be entertaining, but is meaningless except to the two teams involved thanks to the computer system.

Illinois can make a claim to the National Title with a win and a Miami loss. The Fighting Illini have a point, considering their only loss came at Michigan. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Kurt Kittner and a great wide receiver in Brandon Lloyd.

The Illinois defense has been better than expected this season, but hasn’t played a team with the overall speed of LSU. The Tigers have a number of fine offensive options, including Biletnikoff winner Josh Reed, the top receiver in the nation. Both teams can score points. LSU has great speed on defense, but a suspect secondary.

As these games finish, so does another college football season, at least on the field. But that is the great thing about the sport. Without a tournament to decide the national champion, there is always room for debate.

The college football season can last long into the year, especially if Miami losses.