Posted: Monday November 28, 2005 12:13PM; Updated: Monday November 28, 2005 5:59PM
Kenny Irons and the Tigers might be one of the best two teams available to the Fiesta -- but that doesn't mean they'll be selected.
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Though two games remain that could alter the lineup of the 2006 Rose Bowl, it does look as if this season there is universal accord as to who belongs in the national championship game on Jan. 4 ("I do!" -- Sorry, that was just a plaintive wail from here in cyberspace). With no controversy about No. 1 and No. 2 to speak of, it was inevitable that another debate would spring up. I mean, ESPN's College Football GameDay is a 90-minute show, after all.
I'm speaking of the Tempest in Tempe. The Assault on the Salt (River). The Bloodspill off Mill (Avenue). The Fiesta Bowl. Suddenly a Fiesta Bowl invite is a more coveted spot than being on the roster for KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas show in Los Angeles on Dec. 10-11 (but, seriously, Nine Inch Nails, White Stripes, Coldplay, System of a Down, Death Cab for Cutie, Hot Hot Heat, Korn -- sweet gig). Sure, the Fiesta Bowl appearance fee ($13.5 million) would even put a smile on Trent Reznor's mug, but listening to Chris, Kirk and Lee (and Rece ... and Mark ... and Lou) debate which teams are worthy (as well as which are likely) of appearing in Sun Devil Stadium on Jan. 2, you'd almost think that something more than the cash was at stake.
Because of a convoluted system that only the BCS commissioner and our own Stewart Mandel fully understand, the Fiesta has the first and third selections of teams after the Rose Bowl gets (barring an upset by either UCLA or Colorado, respectively) USC and Texas. So whom would you take if you were Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker?
Before we address that, let's remember a few things: First, it's the Fiesta Bowl's fiesta and it can invite whomever it wants. Second, as ESPN's Mark May said on College GameDay Final early Sunday morning, the name of the game is "Ratings, ratings, ratings." Third, that Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do all their own singing in Walk the Line (Did I say that all the things you had to remember were Fiesta Bowl-related?).
Anyway, you are John Junker. You're personable, bright, and you own a yellow blazer redolent of the golden age of Monday Night Football. What are your options? You can choose:
No. 4 Penn St (10-1)
No. 6 Ohio State (9-2)
No. 7 Notre Dame (9-2)
No. 8 Oregon (10-1)
No. 9 Auburn (9-2)
No. 10 Miami (9-2)
You cannot take No. 3 LSU or No. 5 Virginia Tech (I am assuming that the Tigers and Hokies win the SEC and ACC championship games, respectively) because LSU is tied in to their conference's anchor bowl (Sugar) and Tech is tied in to theirs (Orange).
If you select Penn State, arguably the worthiest school since the Nittany Lions are only a last-second TD pass in Ann Arbor away from being unbeaten, then you can be sure that the Orange Bowl is taking the Irish with the second selection. Now you are left with either a replay of the semi-classic Oct. 8 Ohio State-Penn State game in State College or the anything-but-classic 1995 Oregon-Penn State Rose Bowl. Junker wants neither, I guess. As for Auburn and Miami? Keep reading.
Odds are, Junker passes on JoePa and picks Notre Dame. Then Miami, a city not averse to septuagenarians, invites Paterno and the Lions to play Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. And with his next pick Junker takes Ohio State, even though this would be its third snowbird migration to my backyard in the last four years.