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Postseason Huddle Is a Muddle

College football's screwball year and flawed system may lead to inconclusive finale

BEWARE of hoopla: There are no four-star attractions on the postseason college football schedule this time, and all bowl watching is strictly optional - unless, of course, your alma mater's in action. Missing from this year's postseason college football schedule is any sense of definitive climax. For years there's been an expectation that the bowls can crown a national champion, or at least help congeal the various Top 20-type rankings.

Two factors conspire against the satisfactory accomplishment of either objective: First, no teams have clearly distinguished themselves as national title contenders this year. At various times, 15 different teams received first-place votes in the Associated Press poll.

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Second, long-term conference tie-ins and a flawed bowl-invitation system often preclude logical matchups and the chance to see the best teams head-to-head.

Bowl officials often jump the gun, informally cutting deals before the official signing date, which was Nov. 24 this season. This sort of thing can backfire, as may have occurred in the Sugar Bowl, which pits Virginia against Tennessee. Virginia, formerly No. 1, lost its last two games to unranked Maryland and Virginia Tech.

The bloom's definitely off the Rose Bowl, too, where a longstanding commitment to taking the winners of the Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences has its drawbacks: The Big Ten simply didn't have a superior team this year; the championship was an unprecedented four-way tie. (A tiebreaking formula gave Iowa the nod.)

Based strictly on record, Georgia Tech (10-0-1) is the best team. But many observers are suspicious of the Yellowjackets' Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.

Colorado enters the postseason ranked No. 1 in several major polls. But by all rights, the Buffalos are 9-2-1 and not, as publicized, 10-1-1. The school isn't interested in righting the wrongs of officials who mistakenly gave Colorado an extra down to score the ``winning'' touchdown against Missouri.

That doesn't make Colorado a sentimental favorite in its Orange Bowl date with 9-2 Notre Dame, whose coach, Lou Holtz, figures a stunning upset by Stanford and a defeat to Penn State just about eliminates the Fighting Irish from national title contention. In almost any other year, he might be right, but this has been a screwball season.

One of the more surprising early games was Brigham Young's 28-21 triumph over Miami, the defending national champion. Miami lost only once more, though (to Notre Dame), and should provide the Cotton Bowl with a worthy opponent for Texas, which stands to move up to No. 1 if everything breaks correctly.

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The bowl results won't be easy to untangle, and there is sure to be a loose-ends feeling even when all is said and done.

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