When Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn engineered a last-minute, game-winning drive against Stanford late Saturday night, it guaranteed two things: a million paycheck of $14 million to $17 million for Notre Dame and a seemingly anticlimactic final regular season weekend for the nation's college football fans.
With Notre Dame becoming Bowl Championship Series eligible at 9-2, almost all of the BCS pieces now are in place. Not too long ago this Saturday looked as if it would be the season's judgment day, featuring as many as three games -- the ACC title game, the Southeastern Conference title game and UCLA at USC -- that would include all undefeated teams. But the regular season's loss is the BCS's gain.
On Saturday, top-ranked Southern California (11-0) will look to run against a UCLA rushing defense that ranks 115th nationally. Can you see Reggie Bush already salivating after amassing a Pacific-10 record 513 all-purpose yards against a relatively strong Fresno State defense on Nov. 19?
Second-ranked Texas (11-0) faces a less-than-imposing obstacle in the Big 12 title game: Colorado, a 7-4 team that was pasted by Nebraska, 30-3, on Friday. Colorado still won the Big 12 North Division because Iowa State lost to Kansas in overtime on Saturday. Colorado Coach Gary Barnett is not exactly excited as he prepares to play a Texas team that already has beaten his Buffaloes, 42-17, this year.
"I haven't gotten to the eager stage yet," Barnett said. "I'm still in the thankful stage at this point in time. . . . Whoever plays Texas has got their hands full -- and it's us this week."
Barring an upset in either game, Texas and USC will meet in a highly anticipated Rose Bowl matchup on Jan. 4. The four other conference champions that will officially garner BCS berths on Sunday will include the Big East's West Virginia (Sugar Bowl), the ACC champion (Orange), the SEC champion (Sugar) and the Big Ten's Penn State (likely, Orange).
The Fiesta Bowl is expected to select Notre Dame with the first pick after Texas and USC are paired in the Rose Bowl. The other at-large bid also will likely wind up in the Fiesta Bowl and will probably be Ohio State. A Buckeyes-Fighting Irish matchup is too ratings-friendly for the Fiesta Bowl to turn its back on, even though another at-large candidate, Oregon (10-1), has a better record than Ohio State (9-2).
The ACC title game in Jacksonville, Fla., now holds little intrigue after the bottom fell out of Florida State's season. The Seminoles, the Atlantic Division champion, have lost three straight games, including blowouts in the past two against Clemson and Florida, respectively. Yesterday, Florida State fell out of the AP top 25 for the first time since late November 2001.
Saturday's best game could be the SEC championship game in Atlanta between LSU (10-1) and Georgia (9-2). Unfortunately, the winner is guaranteed only a return trip to Atlanta for the Sugar Bowl to face a champion from what is considered an inferior Big East conference.
Speaking of the Big East, South Florida spoiled a chance to be in one of Saturday's marquee matchups, a prime-time Big East showdown in Tampa. Had the Bulls not lost to Connecticut on Saturday, they would have hosted West Virginia on Saturday night in what would have amounted to a conference championship game.
Conference championship weekend has had its share of unforeseen outcomes in the recent past. In 2003, top-ranked Oklahoma lost to 13th-ranked Kansas State, 35-7, in the Big 12 title game, but the Sooners still received a controversial berth in the BCS title game against LSU.
If USC loses to UCLA, it is unlikely that the Trojans would still earn a berth in the Rose Bowl because, as BCS analyst Jerry Palm points out, the human polls count more now than they did in 2003.
But no such upset is expected this weekend. And with Notre Dame acquiring its requisite ninth victory, almost all the BCS questions seem to have been answered.
"I'm not politicking," Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis said after his team's 38-31 victory against Stanford.
"We're 9-2 and one of the best teams in the country, and we're going to be in one of the BCS games. I'm not worried about all those other teams because we're going to go somewhere, we're going to make one of those games proud, and we're going to be a great representative."