It may be the same old story, but it's a whole new ballgame.
Florida State has national championship aspirations but loses a hard-fought battle with Miami. We're all familiar with this tired, old script. Usually, it ends with the Seminoles dominating the ACC and taking a spot in a BCS game as a consolation prize for a good season. But, perhaps, not anymore.
We've all grown accustomed to seeing both Miami and FSU in major bowls at the end of the season. Florida State has been there five of six years under the BCS umbrella, while the 'Canes have played in all four BCS bowls since 2000. But now that both teams are members of the ACC, only one of them can get an automatic BCS berth as a conference champion. Miami currently has the inside track to that spot by virtue of its win Friday night.
No reason for FSU to worry, though. If it can just finish 10-1 or 9-2, even if it doesn't win the conference title, it should still get one of the two at-large spots to a BCS game, right? After all, FSU is one of the elite programs in college football, led by a coach with legendary stature. What bowl wouldn't kill to have Florida State?
Well, every bowl out there will tell you publicly that Florida State has extremely attractive credentials, but there is one deficiency that privately worries any bowl considering the Seminoles for an invitation. Even though FSU fills an 80,000-seat stadium for its home games, most of its fans seem to have an aversion to traveling. It's well known by bowl executives that Florida State doesn't sell tickets at the same rate as most other power programs. I've been to three bowls in which Florida State was playing for the national title, and it seemed as though Seminoles fans were outnumbered at least 4-to-1 at each of them. You can only imagine how excited they must get over any bowl game that's not for the national championship.
Unfortunately for FSU and other schools with smaller traveling parties, the primary goal of most bowls these days is selling seats. Sponsorships are obviously in order, but ticket sales ultimately determine how much of a profit a bowl can generate. These bowls aren't owned by the NCAA. They are independent businesses, and their business is making money.
That's why Iowa was snatched away from the Rose Bowl two years ago, even though everyone wanted to see the Hawkeyes in Pasadena. That's why the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl invited Ohio State back last year after the Buckeyes had won the national title there the previous season. What people might want to see on TV is always secondary to putting butts in seats.
And because this year's BCS Championship Game is the FedEx Orange Bowl, the at-large representatives will almost certainly be going to New Orleans, Tempe or Pasadena. That's bad news for just about any team that doesn't win the ACC, including Miami. Any team from a BCS league without a conference title can still get an automatic berth by finishing in the top four of the standings (barring certain scenarios), but sitting between fifth and 12th leaves a team vulnerable. The 'Canes have a traveling fan base that's usually a notch below FSU's, so if a team like Virginia takes the conference title this year, we could see something unprecedented in the BCS era: No Miami ... No Florida State.
Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.