The mess in Florida

by Thomas J. Hutchison | 11/16/00 6:00am

The scientific community was shocked this week when a team of astrophysicists from NASA announced the discovery that Florida is, in fact, the center of the known universe.

That's right. It seems everything hinges on Florida these days. In addition to deciding who will be the next leader of the free world, the Sunshine State will decide the next national champion of college football. Forget Gore and Bush, these days it's all about Miami coach Butch Davis, FSU coach Bobby Bowden, and Florida's Steve Spurrier. Ignoring the obvious fact that the national champion will be decided at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Jan. 3, right now it appears that top-ranked Oklahoma will play Miami -- which is number two in the latest BCS poll released on Monday -- to decide who is the best team in all the land.

Or maybe the Sooners will play Florida State, right on the Hurricane's heels and ranked number three. FSU's only loss also happens to be to Miami.

Maybe Oklahoma will play the Florida Gators, ranked number four and hoping to move up with a monstrous game against FSU this weekend.

That's right. Miami, Florida State and Florida are ranked two, three, and four. And there is still the distinct possibility that Oklahoma might stumble and two Florida teams could play for all the marbles. It's happened before. Remember 1996? Many people are pointing to a possible Miami-FSU rematch in the Orange Bowl.

When and how did this all happen? Why are the three Florida teams among the top in college football every single year? Since 1983, when Miami won the state's first national title, a Florida team has won or shared a piece of the title seven times. Each school has produced a Heisman Trophy winner in the last 10 years. Even more incredibly, in the 1990s, a Florida team has played in the national championship deciding game nine times.

That total would probably be higher but for the fact that FSU plays Miami and Florida every year, usually resulting in one of the teams being knocked out of the title chase. The height of all this came in 1996, when Florida beat Florida State in the Sugar Bowl to claim the top spot in the polls. This despite the fact that FSU had beaten the Gators in the final game of the season. Apparently, no other state could live up to the standard of excellence set by Florida that year.

Expect more of the same this year. All three teams have outstanding players and are led by outstanding coaches. At least one of the Florida teams will play in the Orange Bowl. Most likely the Miami Hurricanes, who leapfrogged the Seminoles in the latest BCS bowl. FSU had been ahead of Miami, despite having lost to the 'Canes.

"Good," Miami head coach Butch Davis said Monday. "The world is as it should be."

Miami had a proud tradition of football throughout the 1980s and early 1990s until probation hit them following the 1994 season. In addition, head coach Dennis Erickson left for the NFL. Davis, then an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys, took the job. After some lean seasons, he has the Hurricanes back in their rightful spot among the elite of college football. After defeating Virginia Tech, their only worthy competitors in the Big East, Miami has a clear route to the title game.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. A very complicated BCS formula, which has been about as effective as the Electoral College lately, determines who plays in the Orange Bowl. That formula (which includes poll average, strength of schedule, win-loss record, margin of victory, and some very random computer rankings) might just put FSU or Florida in the national title game instead of Miami, the consensus number two team in both major polls. Many people feel that FSU's 35-6 win over pathetic Wake Forest last weekend hurt them, and that the margin of victory factor causes teams to run up the score.

"It's gotten to be that the expectations are so high with this team, that if we don't win by 50 we didn't do a good job," FSU's Heisman contending quarterback Chris Weinke said. "Winning by 29 is still nice, but we know it's probably going to cost us."

The Seminoles' coach, the legendary Bobby Bowden, has faith that the BCS will work out for FSU in the end, particularly if it defeats Florida next week at home.

Now it starts to get real interesting. Despite what the affable Bowden says, there will likely be an outrage if (assuming Oklahoma wins out and goes to the Orange Bowl) the Seminoles play for the title and Miami gets left out. That outrage could spell the doom of the BCS system as we know it.

And what if Florida upsets FSU? If the Gators then win the SEC championship the following week, it would be hard to make a case against a one-loss Florida team playing for the BCS championship. Who is to say whether Miami or Florida is the better team? You can bet outspoken Florida coach Spurrier will be very vocal in his criticism if the Gators don't get the nod.

What if Oklahoma loses? It might happen, but a rematch with K-State in the Big XII championship won't be easy. That could mean Miami-FSU or Miami-Florida for everything. And you thought the Subway Series was bad?