The suspense had faded days before yesterday's Bowl Championship Series selection show revealed this season's college football bowl pairings, but that did not make the news less significant for Virginia Tech. The second-ranked Hokies, to the delight of thousands of fans who gathered in Blacksburg, Va., to watch the announcement, will play No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4 for a shot at their first national championship.
"This is probably the greatest day in Virginia Tech athletic history, being invited to play for the national championship and against a team that has been so good for so long," said Hokies Coach Frank Beamer, whose team completed its first 11-0 season with a 38-14 win over No. 25 Boston College on Nov. 29. Virginia Tech will receive $4 million for playing in the Sugar Bowl.
"I know people are used to seeing Florida State for sure, and they're not used to seeing Virginia Tech, but hopefully people will get to see what we're all about," Beamer said. "We're the new kids on the block, but we're going to try and uphold our end of the ballgame."
There was much praise for the two-year-old BCS system that, in lieu of a playoff, decides college football's national champion. The BCS rankings are determined by a complicated formula based on the Associated Press media and USA Today/ESPN coaches' polls, eight computer rankings, the BCS's strength-of-schedule rankings and teams' records.
Florida State (11-0) finished atop the BCS standings with a rating of 2.24, receiving one point for average poll ranking, one point for average computer ranking, .24 points for strength of schedule and zero points for losses. Virginia Tech finished with a rating of 6.12, receiving two points for average poll ranking, two points for average computer ranking, 2.12 points for strength of schedule and zero points for losses. The No. 3 Cornhuskers (11-1) finished a close third with 7.42 points, receiving three points for average poll ranking, 2.86 points for average computer ranking, .56 points for strength of schedule and one point for its loss.
A few weeks ago it appeared that once-beaten Nebraska might surpass the Hokies by playing a tougher schedule. But the Cornhuskers had to go into overtime to defeat Colorado on Nov. 29.
"I think you had a lot of people concerned that somebody with one loss would forge ahead of somebody who was undefeated and that would not have been right," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "If two teams are undefeated like we are and Virginia Tech is, no one can say we're not the best in the country.
"I think it's beautiful that it has matched up a Cinderella team like Virginia Tech and kind of an old-timer like Florida State."
Beamer said all season that he had faith in the system and implored his team not to worry about anything but its next opponent, which it referred to all season by number, not by name. "Let's just worry about number nine or number 10," Beamer would say.
Yesterday, the Hokies sat behind their coach to watch the selection show wearing white jerseys with an orange and maroon "12" emblazoned on the front. No. 12 is Florida State, their next opponent.
"I just had to believe in the system," Beamer said. "We put so much into this. I know there are some great teams, like Nebraska, out there and they are deserving, too, but with what Virginia Tech and Florida State did . . . it had to work out this way."
Said Virginia Tech junior cornerback Ike Charlton: "I can't speak for the whole team, but I didn't have any worries. We did everything that was asked of us all season, and I knew we'd be given the opportunity to go out there and play in this great game."
In the other BCS matchups, Nebraska will play sixth-ranked Tennessee (9-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 and fifth-ranked Alabama (10-2) will play eighth-ranked Michigan (9-2) in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1. The Cornhuskers and Crimson Tide received automatic berths by virtue of winning their conference titles; Nebraska beat Texas, 22-6, in the Big 12 championship and Alabama defeated Florida, 34-7, in the Southeastern Conference title game. Tennessee and Michigan received the two at-large BCS berths.
The participants for the Rose Bowl--fourth-ranked Wisconsin (9-2) and No. 22 Stanford (8-3)--solidified their berths weeks ago by winning the Big Ten and Pacific-10 titles, respectively.
For the second consecutive year, No. 7 Kansas State was left without a bid to a BCS game. The Wildcats did not receive an at-large bid despite their 10-1 record and being ranked sixth--two spots ahead of Michigan--in the final BCS ratings. Instead, Kansas State will face Washington (7-4) in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Diego.
"I can tell you that when we look at teams, obviously we look at a lot of factors," said Orange Bowl Executive Director Keith Tribble. "Those factors range from records to rankings to TV exposure to fans. There's not one single factor. There's no one thing that you can pinpoint. Our committee votes on it and there are 14 people on that committee. We felt the best matchup would be with Michigan. We have never received any pressure from television [to pick Michigan]."
The Wildcats finished 11-1 last season, but a loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game relegated them to the Alamo Bowl, in which they lost to Purdue.
"You're going to have some teams that do not get into the mix," Tribble said. "It's unfortunate that it's happened the past two years."
Special correspondent Matt Bonesteel contributed to this report.