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Ah-#One, An' Ah-#Two . . . BCS Blowoff...By Nelson Lardner

The FOX folks were crowing all football Sunday about how there would be "surprises" in the final BCS rankings and bowl assignments.

Given such an open secret, it wasn't surprising there was a breach, and the Los Angeles' Times' website had the news up well before Fox's heralded, dedicated evening broadcast.

Not that you couldn't tell what was up - with Florida Gators' graphics featured at attention-grabbing junctures in the opening minutes of Fox's presentation - plus the presence of Chris Myers among many of Florida's players, awaiting the official proclaimation.

So, there it was. Florida, rather than Michigan, headed to Glendale to play Ohio State? Not really a surprise, based on Saturday's events, and the dynamics affecting the final vote.

After UCLA got their pound of flesh from the Trojans Saturday evening, throwing the entire process into a cocked hat, the computers whirred . . . and the USA Today (coaches') Poll and the Harris (interactive) poll were conducted to tell the final tale. Taken in toto, the computers could not split Michigan and Florida. Not surprising . . . Michigan came within a field goal of taking the Buckeyes at THEIR house . . . Florida endured but a single loss in what is certainly the country's strongest conference within its top ranks, losing to Auburn on the road. There are shadings here, I know - we'll touch on them, in a bit.

But in both the coaches' and the interactives, the Gators surged ahead of the Wolverines to nail the second spot, and the shot at the big prize. The broad rationales for the dual primary thrusts of the voting were more than a little interrelated:

(1) Michigan had enjoyed its chance at the Buckeyes. Yes, it WAS at the Horseshoe, but the final score was what it was, leaving Michigan in second place in the Big 10/11.

(2) Same-season rematches are notoriously-unfair to the winner of the first game. Ask Florida State . . . they beat Steve Spurrier's Gators in the season finale in '96, then had to play them again in the Sugar Bowl, which determined the championship. The Gators reversed a three-point loss into a 32-point win which wasn't as close as the final score indicated.

"You mean, folks were largely voting their sense of fairness, rather than what they sincerely thought were the top teams in in the country?", I hear a kid in the fourth row asking.

That's just how I see it, Sonny . . . you betcha. 'Course, voters shading Florida favorably had other, very good reasons. Throughout the campaign, the Gators beat LSU (they were fortunate, there, but they did it), Tennessee, Arkansas . . . Georgia . . . and South Carolina. Michigan throttled (hem, haw) Notre Dame . . . and . . . Wisconsin . . . and . . . and. . . and . . . well . . . Schedule depth was telling; Florida played each and every bowl-bound SEC team - AND Florida State. The Wolverines' seasonal slate does not compare. Must note that after Michigan's stunning opening series, Ohio State came right back - as champions do - and maintained the upper hand the rest of the way, despite having to fight the huge wave of Wolverine emotion generated by the death of Michigan icon Bo Schembechler a few days before the final game. Must also re-emphasize that folks in this business do NOT like same-season rematches if there are ANY viable alternatives on the table.

You want a playoff? So do a lot of people, and it's fun to talk about, but you're then weighing digging virtually the whole system up by its roots. College presidents adore the bowl system. You're dealing with fixed dates, congenial associated activities, and generous media exposure of your team - and your institution. Bowls have evolved into meaningful corporate-sponsorship vehiches, which pleases almost everyone involved (except the poor sap fan who orders bowl tickets through their schools . . . remember those 40-yard-line season tickets you have at home? You'll love the corner of the end zone at the WhamBamThankYouMa'am Bowl). Coaches love bowls, too, because the games make possible considerable extra practice time for developing players - time you aren't permitted to employ if your team isn't one of the annointed.

The Buckeyes are currently a consensus -8 over the Gators. Michigan wouldn't have been that fat a dog . . . with the quick revenge working for them, and without a high risk/reward QB like Chris Leak trying to make plays he may not be able to make, given the Buckeye defense. But the voters have spoken; relax, and enjoy it. There's much more to discuss, including Rutgers' exile to the Texas Bowl . . . bowl psychology . . . and Notre Dame. Fun month.

Nelson Lardner

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