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As darkness fell across Florida's east coast, Andre Caldwell's smile lit up the night. Standing on the field at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville last Saturday moments after Florida had closed out a sloppy but stubborn Georgia squad 21--14, Caldwell was happy to recount the first of his two touchdowns, a 12-yard reverse. His teammates executed their blocks, the junior wide receiver explained, leaving him just one man to beat. "One-on-one," said Caldwell, who does not want for self-confidence. "I ain't gonna lose too many of those." � He had to raise his voice to be heard over the roar of the Gators fans reacting to news from the public address announcer: "In a game just ending, USC 31 ... Oregon State ... 33." � While a door was closing on the previously undefeated Trojans, who fell from third to eighth in the BCS standings, a door was opening for the 7--1 Gators. Having climbed from sixth to fourth in the BCS, Florida remains very much alive in the hunt for the national title in spite of its sole defeat, incurred at Auburn a fortnight earlier. How about that, Urban Meyer? Doesn't that make your heart soar?
"You saw the offense I saw," replied the Gators' gimlet-eyed coach, whose concern over his erratic offense cut into his enjoyment of the victory.
This sober assessment was in keeping with the theme of the 84th meeting between these ancient rivals. Concerned administrators had asked media outlets to cease referring to the game by its nickname, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, which had long been a misnomer, anyway. The carousing attending this game bears as much resemblance to a cocktail party as a burlesque show does to the Bolshoi Ballet.
Nobody's willing to say just yet how high Florida can go, but this much we know: It won't get to No. 1. Ohio State, at 9--0, appears to be on a different plane from everyone else. Still, the Buckeyes will need an opponent in the national championship game, and last Saturday served as a kind of kickoff party for the sport's de facto postseason. November features a series of epic matchups, so basically the next five weeks will be a single-elimination tournament for the right to play in the title game. Depending on what day your SI arrives in the mail, the first of the mondo games may already be over.
Aside from Oregon State--and possibly the undefeated, BCS-busting Boise State Broncos, who beat the tar out of the Beavers 42--14 on Sept. 7--no one was more delighted by Southern Cal's loss than Mike Tranghese. He is the commissioner of the Big East, which until this season had been perceived as the weak sister of the six BCS conferences. Yet of the half-dozen undefeated teams left in Division I-A, three of them ( Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia) play in a conference better known for its hoops. It is a league that two years ago was fighting for its life, having been abandoned by Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, which bolted for the ACC.
Before a national TV audience this Thursday night, the third-ranked Mountaineers hit the road for a collision with No. 5 Louisville. It is the first of three consecutive Thursday night Big East games that could be fraught with national title implications ( Louisville- Rutgers, then West Virginia--Pitt). For now it is being described as the biggest game in the history of the conference.
How monstrous is it? It has overshadowed the $20 million Breeders' Cup--which will be run down the street at Churchill Downs two days later--and is being hyped as the biggest game ever played in Kentucky.
Only one clash of undefeateds looms larger this season. It is one of the lamentable quirks of the BCS that the matchup that has cast its shadow over the college football landscape since September may not decide anything. When the No. 1 Buckeyes host No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18, it's possible that the loser would fall no further than ... No. 2. This could yield a Buckeyes-Wolverines rematch in the title game, in which case it would also yield a vast army of extremely ticked-off players, coaches and fans.
But until an adequate number of university presidents lift their heads from the trough of BCS cash long enough to find the spine to adopt a playoff system (funny how those same guardians of education can endorse their student-athletes' playing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in the fall), the sport will be subjected to such absurdities. Indeed, the question may not be whether West Virginia will be leapfrogged by a one-loss team, but which once-beaten squad will do the vaulting.
Sorry, Golden Domers. It won't be you at No. 2. After escaping with a 20--17 victory over UCLA on Oct. 21, Irish coach Charlie Weis professed his displeasure at seeing his team drop two notches in the coaches poll, to No. 10. The Fighting Irish were jumped by Florida, which had a bye, and Tennessee, which beat Alabama on a late touchdown.