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December 6, 2009

BCS title game not the only battle of unbeatens

Alabama and Texas face off for the national title next month, but that clash of the titans won't be the only BCS game to pit undefeated teams.

A Fiesta Bowl matchup between upstart programs TCU and Boise State will serve as an intriguing undercard to the Alabama-Texas battle.

TCU and Boise State will square off Jan. 4 in Glendale, Ariz. Alabama and Texas meet three days later in the BCS championship game in Pasadena, Calif.

"Great moments are created by great opportunities," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "This is a great opportunity for any team."

TV talk
While there is sure to be a buzz surrounding the Boise State-TCU pairing in the Fiesta Bowl, will anyone actually tune in? History has shown that when a non-Big Six team is involved in a BCS game, the ratings have been low. Here's a look at the 10 lowest-rated BCS bowls ever; all four appearances by non-Big Six teams made the list.
Matchup Rating
2009 Orange: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech 5.4
2008 Sugar: Georgia vs. Hawaii 7.0
2007 Orange: Louisville vs. Wake Forest 7.0
2005 Fiesta: Pittsburgh vs. Utah 7.4
2008 Orange: Kansas vs. Virginia Tech 7.4
2008 Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. West Virginia 7.7
2009 Sugar: Alabama vs. Utah 7.8
2007 Fiesta: Boise State vs. Oklahoma 8.4
1999 Orange: Florida vs. Syracuse 8.4
2004 Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Ohio State 8.5
The other BCS pairings announced Sunday are Pac-10 champion Oregon (10-2) vs. Big Ten champion Ohio State (10-2) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1; Big East champion Cincinnati (12-0) vs. SEC at-large selection Florida (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1; and ACC champion Georgia Tech (11-2) vs. Big Ten at-large selection Iowa (10-2) in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 5.

That two BCS games feature a pair of undefeated teams illustrates the unique nature of the 2009 season. This marks the first time two undefeated teams have squared off in the BCS championship game since Texas upset USC 41-38 in the Rose Bowl to win the 2005 national title.

In each of the past two seasons, neither participant in the BCS championship game has been unbeaten. This season, notable for its lack of big upsets, five teams head into their bowls with perfect records. This also marks the first time that each of the top 10 teams in the final BCS standings ended up in BCS games.

Alabama (13-0) earned its shot at the BCS title by whipping defending national champion Florida 32-13 in the SEC championship game. Texas (13-0) edged Nebraska 13-12 in the Big 12 championship game when Hunter Lawrence kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired.

"Great teams find a way to win," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I heard Coach Saban say after the Auburn game [a 26-21 Alabama victory last week] the strong survive this time of year. When you look at Alabama at 13-0 and look at Texas at 13-0, these kids deserve so much credit because through 13 games they've found a way to win. That's a difficult thing to do."

If Lawrence's kick hadn't sailed through the uprights, Alabama would be facing Cincinnati instead. After rallying from a 21-point deficit to beat Pittsburgh 45-44 in its regular-season finale, Cincinnati leapfrogged TCU to move into the No. 3 position in the final BCS standings.

Nebraska came stunningly close to delivering the kind of upset that would have put Cincinnati in the championship game. Alex Henery kicked a 42-yard field goal to put Nebraska ahead 12-10 with 1:44 left, but the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds to give Texas outstanding field position. A 19-yard pass completion and a 15-yard penalty on Nebraska helped move the Longhorns into scoring position.

"The kickoff specialist from Nebraska isn't getting a Christmas card from us," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly quipped.

Cincinnati is the first unbeaten team from one of the six major conferences to be left out of the title game since Auburn had to settle for a Sugar Bowl berth in 2004, when USC and Oklahoma played for the championship.

Although the Bearcats won't have a shot at the national title, they will get a chance to prove they rank among the nation's elite when they face Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

"Florida Gator football is synonymous with success and is really the benchmark for college football over the past half-dozen years," Kelly said. "Our guys, their eyes are wide open when they hear the Florida Gators are the matchup."

Boise State and TCU won't have a similar opportunity to beat an established power. Much of the intrigue surrounding so-called "BCS-busters" focuses on how they could fare against more established programs from the power conferences. But instead of facing a big-name program, TCU and Boise State face each other in a rematch of last season's Poinsettia Bowl, which TCU won 17-16.

TCU coach Gary Patterson and Boise State coach Chris Petersen dismissed the notion that their teams would have been better served facing better-known programs.

"Anybody that gets into one of these games is a really good football team. [Skeptics] don't understand how good the players are on Boise State and TCU," Patterson said.

"Our players wanted to play against the best. Our guys consider TCU the best," Petersen said.

TCU and Boise State certainly won't lack incentive. Patterson believes his team can stake a claim to a share of the national title if it wins the Fiesta Bowl. The winner of the Alabama-Texas game automatically wins the BCS national championship, but voters in The Associated Press poll theoretically could cast their ballots in favor of someone else.

"That's what I told my football team," Patterson said. "I'd probably say that's what Coach Petersen is saying to his team."

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