With no playoff in place, college football almost always comes up with a wacky way to end the season. It came up with a doozy on Sunday.
Nebraska will play undefeated Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national championship on Jan. 3, thanks to an amazing series of upsets during the last two weeks that lifted the Huskers (11-1) in the final Bowl Championship Series standings.
Not even a last-game 62-36 loss to Colorado could keep Nebraska out of the BCS' title game.
Miami (11-0) finished first in the final standings, and the Huskers beat out the Buffaloes for second place by a scant five hundredths of a point. Oregon was fourth.
''We think the formula is fair,'' BCS chairman John Swofford said. ''Controversy doesn't affect credibility.''
Don't tell that to Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, whose Ducks (10-1) will play the Buffaloes (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1
''I liken the BCS to a bad disease, like cancer,'' the usually mild-mannered Bellotti said. ''Not to take anything away from Nebraska or Colorado -- they're great football teams -- but one has two losses and the other didn't win its conference championship. We're No. 2 in both polls, but those things don't have a lot of merit, obviously.''
Colorado coach Gary Barnett thought the BCS system worked: ''It just didn't work in our favor.''
''This sort of takes a little luster off my support for the BCS. ... How you're playing at this point -- seems to me that should be thought of,'' he said.
Added Florida coach Steve Spurrier: ''As we all know, college football is not the most fair thing without a playoff system.''
Thanks to LSU's 31-20 upset of Tennessee in Saturday night's Southeastern Conference title game, Nebraska found itself packing for Pasadena in what turned into a glorious weekend for the HuskerNation. On Saturday night, quarterback Eric Crouch won the Heisman Trophy.
In the final BCS standings, Miami had 2.62 points, Nebraska 7.23 points, Colorado 7.28 and Oregon was fourth with 8.67 points.
Nebraska was No. 4 in the AP media poll and the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll on Sunday, but held a sizable edge over No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Colorado in the computer portion of the BCS formula.
''Colorado and Oregon are great teams,'' Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. ''Anytime you don't have two clear-cut, undefeated teams, you're going to have controversy.''
The final margin was so close that if the Buffaloes were one spot higher in any of the computer ratings they would have been off to the Rose Bowl instead of the Huskers.
In the Rothman ratings, for example, Colorado would have moved up one place and into the Rose Bowl if it had beaten Oklahoma State by 17 points instead of 22-19 on Oct. 27.
''It's been an extraordinary year, with upsets and unexpected turns,'' Swofford said. ''A great thing for college football. It's brought added interest to the BCS bowl games. Five teams had opportunities to win a game to put themselves into the national championship game. None were able to do so.''
After Nebraska lost to Colorado on Nov. 23, Oklahoma blew its title chance with a 16-13 loss to Oklahoma State the next day. On Dec. 1, Tennessee knocked Florida out of contention, 34-32, and later that night Texas was eliminated by Colorado, 39-27. On Saturday, it was LSU's turn to throw the BCS into chaos.
Even though the Vols (10-2) were knocked down to the Citrus Bowl against Michigan, coach Phillip Fulmer is OK with the current setup.
''If you're not going to have a playoff, this is a real good system,'' Fulmer said. They'll continue to tweak it to be as good as it can be. We've been benefactors of the system, winning it in 1998, and putting ourselves back in the picture in 1999. I see it as a plus -- if you're not going to have a playoff.''
The BCS standings were devised by SEC commissioner Roy Kramer in 1998 in hopes of ensuring that the top two teams play for a national title. The rankings use a formula that incorporates the AP media and the coaches polls, eight computers, strength of schedule, won-lost record and bonus points for big wins.
Nebraska will go to the Rose Bowl as an at-large team, the first time that's happened in the BCS's four-year history. The winner of that game is automatically crowned the coaches' champion.
But there's also a possibility of split national champions with the Fiesta Bowl winner claiming the No. 1 ranking in the final AP poll.
AP voters will turn in their ballots immediately after the Rose Bowl, and all teams are eligible for the title.
''I think controversy comes into play when the final BCS standing differs from the AP poll and the coaches' poll,'' Swofford said.
The Ducks and Buffaloes seem to have legitimate gripes about being left out of the Rose.
--Oregon won the Pac-10 Conference title and finished No. 2 in the polls, part of the BCS' complex method for determining its top teams.
--Colorado took the Big 12 with a 39-37 upset of Texas on Dec. 1, a week after beating Nebraska, and finished No. 3 in the polls.
The Orange Bowl chose Florida (9-2) -- 34-32 losers to the Vols on Dec. 1 -- to play Atlantic Coast Conference champion Maryland (10-1) on Jan. 2.
The Sugar Bowl will match SEC champion LSU (9-3) against Big Ten champion Illinois (10-1).
Problems arise in the BCS when only one team finishes with a perfect record. Oklahoma was the only unbeaten team last year, and the BCS computer picked a one-loss Florida State team to play the Sooners over Miami, which also had one loss, even though the Hurricanes beat the Seminoles during the season.
The BCS then tweaked the formula to give a team a bonus points-deduction for a quality wins. The Buffs, despite their big wins over Nebraska and Texas, could not overcome two losses and an unfriendly computer or two.
''The one thing the BCS does, even if you are not in love with it, is it pushes you to go undefeated,'' Miami wide receiver Daryl Jones said.
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