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Wednesday, January 2
 
Miami can bail out BCS with win in Rose Bowl

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- This much we know. The winner of tonight's BCS title game between Nebraska and Miami at the Rose Bowl will be given the Sears Trophy and crowned the 2001 national champions in college football.

Whether or not they will be unanimous champions or share the title with another school is up for debate. If No. 1 Miami wins, the case is closed. The Hurricanes are No. 1 in both polls, all the computer rankings and are the only remaining unbeaten team in the country. And if victorious tonight, they'll have a 22-game winning streak with wins over bowl teams Washington, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and the Huskers.

"We're the No. 1 team in the country. We've pretty much held up for 11 weeks," Miami coach Larry Coker said on Wednesday. "Our goal is to win by one point. And if we win by one point, we're the undisputed national champions."

Joey Harrington and Oregon eye a share of the national title.

But should underdog Nebraska win, watch out. Though the winner of the BCS title game is contractually guaranteed the No. 1 ranking and the Sears National Championship Trophy from the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches' Poll, the Associated Press Top 25 is something all together different.

The 72 writers and broadcasters that make up the AP poll, which will be released a few hours after the conclusion of the Rose Bowl, can vote whoever they want No. 1. And with Nebraska already a controversial Rose Bowl participant, having lost to Colorado 62-36 in the regular season and then slipping past the Buffaloes by just .05 in the BCS rankings, there is growing consensus that AP voters would choose Oregon over the Huskers.

"It's more than a possibility," said one voter Wednesday. "It's a probability."

That's because of Oregon's 38-16 drubbing of Colorado in Tuesday's Fiesta Bowl. Some believe the 11-1 Ducks, Pac-10 champs, Fiesta Bowl champs and the latest team to put the word "mess" back into BCS, should get at least a piece of the title.

Included in that group is coach Gary Barnett, whose Colorado team, ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings, thought it too had a shot at the national title before running into the Oregon buzzsaw.

"Oregon played very, very well, with a lot of heart and a lot of speed," Barnett said after the game. "If I could vote, I would vote for them."

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti appreciates the vote of confidence and, to no surprise, carries the same opinion.

"I certainly hope the AP people would vote with their minds," Bellotti said. "We're conference champs, (Nebraska's) not. We'll have the same number of losses, albeit theirs was more significant. We'll have beaten the team that beat them by 26 points. Plus, the Pac-10 was the toughest league."

Depending how it plays against Miami, Nebraska's argument to be unanimous champions isn't that laughable. Sure, the Husker resume is badly stained by the Colorado fiasco, but Nebraska will have beaten defending national champion Oklahoma, ending the Sooners' 21-game winning streak, as well as top-ranked Miami, ending the Hurricanes' 21-game streak.

"If we beat Miami, we beat a team that is recognized by everyone as the No. 1 team going into the bowls," said Nebraska coach Frank Solich. "The final game is yet to be played, and I think it will matter a great deal how we play in that one.

"There isn't much else we could have accomplished this year other than play just one game better. But we hope people will look at every game that has been played and that last game played, and decide from there."

And then there is this snafu, which few have yet to consider: What if Nebraska barely beats the Hurricanes? What if it happens on the last play of the game? Or because of a bad call? Yes the Huskers would top the coaches' poll, but would 12-1 Nebraska or 11-1 Oregon be more attractive than 11-1 Miami, which had just lost by a fluke?

And here we all thought that the BCS, which started in 1998, was designed to eliminate these arguments and determine the "true" national champion. Ha.

Last year, 10-1 Miami, which had defeated Florida State in the regular season, looked on as the 10-1 Seminoles got a shot at unbeaten Oklahoma in the championship Orange Bowl. Oklahoma won, rendering Miami's argument moot.

But the potential for disaster was there. This year, it's the Huskers who could throw everything into a frenzy.

"Everybody wants the perfect system. But they are still working at it," said Solich, who was an assistant in pre-BCS 1997, when Nebraska shared the title with Michigan. "Personally, I don't think you need to be a conference champion in order to be the best team in the country.

"If you really want the best two teams, you take how they did all season, not just how they were playing at the end. The formula is to try and win every football game, and I think that's how it should be."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com.







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