Though Texas probably should have gotten into the title game ahead of its fiercest rival, the game is not diminished because Oklahoma is involved.
Oklahoma-Florida is expected to be the same kind of track meet Texas and USC played to decide the 2006 national title. Handsome quarterbacks and athletes all over the place, plus the first matchup of coaches who previously won BCS titles . . . even if Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has gone 0-4 in all BCS bowl games since winning the 2000 national title.
The other BCS games might as well be consolation contests, especially the Rose Bowl. Undefeated Utah will try to make a statement in the Sugar Bowl, and Ohio State's freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor attempts to take another developmental step in the Fiesta. Here's a look at the five BCS games. Fox29 and ESPN (950-AM) will air each game (Penn State's local affiliate, WNTP (990-AM), also will air the Rose Bowl):
Southern California (11-1) vs. Penn State (11-1)
When: 5 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
Payout: $17 million
Line: USC, minus -9
USC's best win: vs. Ohio State, 35-3
USC's only loss: at Oregon State, 27-21
Penn State's best win: at Ohio State, 13-6
Penn State's only loss: at Iowa, 24-23
Rose petals: Led by linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, USC has college football's best defense. The Trojans posted three shutouts and held opponents to just a field goal three other times . . . Maualuga, a 6-2, 260-pound senior, was named the team's MVP . . . The Trojans will be without offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who took the head-coaching position at Washington. Wide-receivers coach John Morton was promoted and will call the plays. He is not the same Johnnie Morton who was a star receiver for USC from 1990-93 . . . Penn State drilled Oregon State, 45-14, on Sept. 6. About 3 weeks later, the Beavers derailed USC's season . . . Nits coach Joe Paterno is 23-10-1 in bowls, USC has won 23 Rose Bowls. In the 1923 Rose Bowl - when these teams met for the first time - Penn State coach Hugo Bezdek and USC coach Elmer Henderson nearly got into a fistfight because the Nittany Lions got caught in traffic and showed up late for the game.
Prediction: USC 27, Penn State 24.
Cincinnati (11-2) vs. Virginia Tech (9-4)
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow
Payout: $17 million
Line: Cincinnati, minus -2
Cincinnati's best win: at West Virginia, 26-23
Cincinnati's worst loss: at Connecticut, 40-16
Virginia Tech's best win: vs. Boston College in ACC final, 30-12
Virginia Tech's worst loss: at East Carolina, 27-22
Orange peels: Though this is the least compelling of the BCS games, it is the biggest football game in Cincinnati's history . . . Trevor Canfield, Kevin Huber, Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith are representing Cincinnati in the Senior Bowl. They are the first Bearcats to make the Senior Bowl since current Eagle Trent Cole in 2004 . . . Cincy starts 10 seniors on defense. The 11th starter is junior safety Aaron Webster . . . The Bearcats lost at BCS finalist Oklahoma, 52-26, on Sept. 6 . . . Virginia Tech senior Macho Harris is one of the best cornerbacks in college football and will be a first-round pick in April. His actual first name is Victor, but he's been known as "Macho" since he was a child. His dad gave him the nickname off the popular song "Macho Man" by the Village People . . . V-Tech lost to Miami at Dolphin Stadium on Nov. 13 . . . A victory would give the Hokies 10 wins for the fifth consecutive season. Only USC and Texas can make a similar boast.
Prediction: Cincinnati 23, Virginia Tech 19.
Utah (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: New Orleans
Payout: $17 million
Line: Alabama, minus10
Utah's best win: vs. BYU, 48-24
Utah's loss: none
Alabama's best win: at Georgia, 41-30
Alabama's only loss: vs. Florida in SEC Championship, 31-20
Sugar cubes: Last year, Hawaii busted the BCS party by getting selected to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Unfortunately for the Warriors, they were drilled, 41-10, which is part of the reason Utah is such a large underdog in this game . . . The Utes have a BCS bowl win, beating Pittsburgh, 35-7, in the 2004 Fiesta. That team was coached by Urban Meyer, who left to take the Florida job . . . In addition to beating BYU for the Mountain West title, Utah's other signature win is over Oregon State, 31-28 . . . This is the final game for both of Utah's coordinators. Andy Ludwig, who runs the offense, is taking the same position at Kansas State, and defensive coordinator Gary Andersen is taking the head-coaching position at Utah State . . . Alabama will be without star left tackle Andre Smith, who was suspended, reportedly for improper contact with an agent. The speculation is that Smith, a junior, will enter the NFL draft . . . Wide receiver Julio Jones (6-4, 210) was only the 11th true freshman to start a season opener for the Tide. Though he's had a number of monster games, Jones hasn't scored a touchdown since September.
Prediction: Utah 31, Alabama 30.
Texas (11-1) vs. Ohio State (10-2)
When: 8:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Payout: $17 million
Line: Texas, minus-8 1/2
Texas' best win: vs. Oklahoma, 45-35
Texas' only loss: at Texas Tech, 39-33
Ohio State's best win: at Michigan State, 45-7
Ohio State's worst loss: at USC, 35-3
Fiesta fun: If there is one glimmer of good news to Texas' getting shut out of the BCS Championship game is that junior quarterback Colt McCoy already said he's coming back to Austin for another chase at a national title . . . The Longhorns' only other Fiesta Bowl appearance was in 1996, when they were waxed by Penn State, 38-15 . . . Longhorns coach Mack Brown already vowed his team "is not going to be flat," despite missing out on the championship game . . . In their final ballots in the coaches' poll, Brown's 1-2 was Florida-Texas and Ohio State's Jim Tressel had it Oklahoma-Texas . . . Ohio State has been drilled in its last two BCS bowls (vs. Florida, 48-14; vs. LSU, 38-24) . . . The Buckeyes have gone 8-1 since turning to freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who is still raw as a passer . . . Ohio State has a pair of first-team All-Americas in cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Prediction: Texas 35, Ohio State 21.
BCS National Championship
Florida (12-1) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8
Payout: $17 million
Line: Florida, minus -3
Florida's best win: vs. Alabama, 31-20
Florida's only loss: vs. Mississippi, 31-30
Oklahoma's best win: vs. Texas Tech, 65-21
Oklahoma's only loss: vs. Texas, 45-35
Champion chips: While Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is on all the magazine covers, running back Percy Harvin concerns the Sooners most. He loves bowl season. He caught nine passes and ran for a touchdown as a freshman in the Gators' BCS championship win over Ohio State 2 years ago and had 165 yards rushing in last year's Capital One Bowl against Michigan. A high-ankle sprain limited him down the stretch of the regular season, but he will play . . . Harvin's counterpart, DeMarco Murray, isn't so lucky. Murray tore his left hamstring and is out . . . Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is the sixth Heisman winner to play in the BCS Championship since the current system began in 1998. Matt Leinart (2004 winner) was the only one to follow up with a title. Florida State's Chris Weinke (2000), Nebraska's Eric Crouch (2001), Oklahoma's Jason White (2003), USC's Reggie Bush (2005) and Ohio State's Troy Smith (2007) all lost.
Prediction: Oklahoma 43, Florida 42.
THE NON-BCS GAMES
SUN - EL PASO, TEXAS
2 p.m. (CBS). Payout: $1.9 million.
Oregon State (8-4) vs. Pittsburgh (9-3)
Did you know: This will be the first Sun Bowl to feature two teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since 1989. Pittsburgh is 18th, Oregon State is 24th.
MUSIC CITY - NASHVILLE
3:30 p.m. (ESPN). Payout: $1.7 million.
Vanderbilt (6-6) vs. Boston College (9-4)
Did you know: Boston College has a nation's best eight-game bowl winning streak, last losing to Colorado in the 1999 Insight.com Bowl.
INSIGHT - TEMPE, ARIZ.
5:30 p.m. (NFLN). Payout: $1.2 million.
Kansas (7-5) vs. Minnesota (7-5)
Did you know: Minnesota has lost its last four, including a 55-0 drubbing AT HOME to Iowa in the season finale.
CHICK-FIL-A - ATLANTA
7:30 p.m. (ESPN). Payout: $3 million.
LSU (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (9-3)
Did you know: Fifteen of Tech's 22 expected starters are either freshmen or sophomores.
OUTBACK - TAMPA
11 a.m. (ESPN). Payout: $3.2 million.
Iowa (8-4) vs. South Carolina (7-5)
Did you know: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is 7-7 in bowl games, including 1-1 at South Carolina.
CAPITAL ONE - ORLANDO
1 p.m. (ABC). Payout: $4.25 million.
Georgia (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3)
Did you know: Michigan State running back Javon Ringer led the nation with 370 carries, an average of 31 per game. Twice the 5-9, 200-pound ringer had more than 40 in a game this year.
GATOR - JACKSONVILLE
1 p.m. (CBS). Payout: $2.5 million.
Nebraska (8-4) vs. Clemson (7-5)
Did you know? The only other bowl meeting between these two was the 1982 Orange Bowl, when Clemson beat the Cornhuskers, 22-15, to claim the school's only national title.
COTTON - DALLAS
2 p.m. (Fox). Payout: $3 million.
Texas Tech (11-1) vs. Mississippi (8-4)
Did you know: This is the 73rd Cotton Bowl and the last to be played at the Cotton Bowl stadium. The game will move into the Cowboys' new, billion-dollar monstrosity next year.
LIBERTY - MEMPHIS
5 p.m. (ESPN). Payout: $1.8 million.
Kentucky (6-6) vs. East Carolina (9-4)
Did you know: East Carolina enters the game on a three-game winning streak, while Kentucky has lost its last three.
INTERNATIONAL - TORONTO
Noon (ESPN2). Payout: $750,000.
Connecticut (7-5) vs. Buffalo (8-5)
Did you know: UConn's Donald Brown led the nation with 1,822 rushing yards and had at least 100 yards in every game except one. He had 99 against West Virginia.
GMAC - MOBILE, ALA.
8 p.m. (ESPN). Payout: $750,000.
Tulsa (10-3) vs. Ball State (12-1)
Did you know: The fellas in Vegas project this as the highest-scoring remaining bowl game on the slate, with an over/under of 77.
Best game (non-BCS title): Rose Bowl. Penn State vs. Southern Cal.
Most at stake (non-BCS title): Texas. Can't complain about being excluded from the title game and then lose to Ohio State in the Fiesta.
Troublesome trend: The ACC is 1-9 in BCS games. Virginia Tech takes on Cincinnati in the Orange.
Best quarterback matchup: BCS Title game. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy. Florida's Tim Tebow, last year's Heisman winner, finished third.
Best running-back matchup: Sun Bowl. Pittsburgh sophomore LeSean McCoy is 10th in the nation in rushing. Oregon State freshman Jacquizz Rodgers is 13th.
Most likely to burn out scoreboard: Cotton Bowl. Texas Tech vs. Mississippi.
Wake me when it's over: Insight Bowl. Kansas vs. Minnesota. Nothing like a pair of 7-5 teams to start New Year's Eve night.
Parting shot: Bowl season included Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Michigan State, but, for the first time in 33 years, not the University of Michigan.