I admire the restraint of TCU coach Gary Patterson, who grinned and said all the right things for Fox's cameras and an enthusiastic home crowd while accepting what should be the Frogs' biggest bowl bid in half a century. He even made sure to get in a plug for his team's national championship credentials, even though the Fiesta Bowl draw with last year's Poinsettia Bowl foil, Boise State, almost seems designed to cut off any kind of argument for either team.
One of the main points of the BCS expanding to include a fifth game in 2006 was to offer upstarts, mid-majors and small fries a chance to prove their cases against established national powers, and that's one mission it's met pretty well: Boise State, Hawaii and Utah the last three years have all had their shots against elite programs, and Utah's Sugar Bowl upset over Alabama to finish a perfect season last January ignited a controversy over the Utes' inability to play for the BCS championship.
The title game was always basically out of reach for Boise and TCU (if Nebraska had held on to beat Texas on Saturday night, Cincinnati would have gone on to Pasadena instead, not the Frogs), but pitting them head-to-head means they don't even get their requisite shot at an Oklahoma or Alabama to make their case. They get the Poinsettia Bowl Deluxe, where the only possible statement either can make to the nation is to inflict an unwatchable blowout on the other.
If we didn't know any better, we might get a little conspiratorial and suggest the Series was deliberately cutting off the chances of another Utah undermining its preferred No. 1 in Pasadena -- and thereby heaping even more political scorn on the system. It's not really that sinister: The Fiesta Bowl made the picks itself, one undefeated upstart (Cincinnati) still has its chance to make good against a powerhouse (Florida) and the only options beyond the championship game and the Gators would have been matching the Frogs and Broncos up with almost equally surprising outfits from Georgia Tech and Iowa. It's not a conspiracy; as with so often in the BCS, the setup ensures that somebody is always getting screwed.
Some quick initial thoughts on the big-money matchups:
BCS championship: Alabama vs. Texas.
Their divergent performances Saturday guarantees 'Bama will be a relatively big favorite over the Longhorns in Pasadena, but the Tide have had their share of exceedingly close shaves -- Tennessee, Auburn -- and Texas blew out the highest-ranked team on its schedule (Oklahoma State) on the road, so one game does not the story tell. The most revealing thing about either of these teams may be that the 'Horns haven't played anyone better than Oklahoma State.
Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Cincinnati.
If any team's really going to have a chance to say "What about us?" when the smoke clears, it's the computer-backed Bearcats, who may get overshadowed by Tim Tebow's finale and coach Brian Kelly's possible exit to Notre Dame immediately before or after the game, but are perfectly positioned to reprise last year's Utah role on the deflated Gators.
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Ohio State.
The delicious culture clash will only make it sweeter when either a) The Buckeye defense snuffs out Oregon's new-agey read option game with hearty Midwestern grit, or b) The Ducks will leave OSU's legs tied like pretzels with little Swooshes circling the Buckeyes' heads, like they've done to the entire Pac-10. Tebow vs. Pike in New Orleans may be the best quarterback matchup, technically speaking, but Jeremiah Masoli vs. Terrelle Pryor is by far the most interesting.
Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Iowa.
I also feel for the orange-blazered, orange-skinned folks in the keys, stuck again with the matchup pitting the two lowest-ranked teams in the proceedings for the second year in a row, and the least attractive overall matchup going in for probably the fourth year in a row -- Jackets-Hawkeyes comes on the heels of Louisville-Wake Forest (2006-07), Kansas-Virginia Tech (2007-08) and Cincinnati-Virginia Tech (2008-09), all of which rank among the lowest-rated television games in BCS history. GT-Iowa's an intriguing matchup for football nuts for the same "funky offense meets traditionally solid defense" ticket as Oregon-Ohio State, but it's probably not going to fare much better than its predecessors here in engaging America at large. ACC, give this game something to work with, please.
Fiesta Bowl: TCU vs. Boise State.
Aw, way to go, you guys! I bet you're going to fly out here all by yourselves!