NEW YORK (REUTERS) — A season of good work was worth more than one bad day for Nebraska.
Nebraska, which suffered a lopsided loss to Colorado two weeks ago, finished second in the final Bowl Championship Series standings released Sunday and earned a date in the Rose Bowl against unbeaten Miami on Jan. 3.
Top-ranked Miami (11-0), which completed its regular season last week with a win over Virginia Tech, already was assured of finishing first in the BCS poll and playing for college football’s national title in Pasadena.
The selection of Nebraska, however, is guaranteed to generate howls of protests from the bypassed schools and increase the cry for a playoff system. But Nebraska coach Frank Solich did not seem to mind one bit, and made no apologies for his team’s selection.
“Certainly when you don’t have two clear-cut teams you’re going to have controversy,” Solich said. “We won 11 games with no one within 10 points of us. There were no failed extra points, no lucky bounces.”
But it is hard to overlook a 62-36 loss to Colorado on Thanksgiving weekend. Nebraska (11-1) finished second in the BCS poll with 7.23 points despite finishing fourth in both the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll and the Associated Press media poll.
BCS officials were left to explain how a team that did not even play in the Big 12 Conference title game could play for the national championship.
“We want to look at how the entire season appears,” said John Swofford, coordinator of the BCS. “Sometimes when you get to the end of the season you want to take a look back.”
Third-ranked Colorado (10-2) was third in the final BCS rankings, a mere 0.05 points behind the Cornhuskers, and will settle for a date in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 2 Oregon (10-1).
Miami topped the BCS poll with 2.62 points.
The last meeting between Nebraska and Miami was in the Orange Bowl following the 1994 season, when the Cornhuskers claimed the national title with a 24-17 victory.
Nebraska becomes the first at-large team to advance to a BCS title game.
Both the Buffaloes and Ducks had aspirations of playing in the Rose Bowl, but settled for third and fourth, respectively, in the BCS rankings.
With the BCS system under heavy criticism, the winner of the Fiesta Bowl could claim a share of the national title should Miami lose. While the winner of the Rose Bowl is guaranteed the top spot in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, the Associated Press media poll has no such restriction.
“I’m always the eternal optimist looking for a way to sneak in the back door (and win a national title),” Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington said.
Oregon claimed it should have been chosen for the Rose Bowl since it plays in the competitive Pac-10 Conference and suffered its only loss to Stanford, currently 11th in the coaches’ poll.
Colorado feels it earned a trip to Pasadena by routing Nebraska and then defeating Texas, 39-37, in the Big 12 Conference title game. But under the current BCS format, a two-loss team has yet to play for the title.
Colorado coach Gary Barnett was critical of the BCS system because it did not take the head-to-head meeting into consideration.
“Coach Barnett is right. Their quality wins were factored in,” countered Swofford. “That’s what made the vote so close. To overcome two losses, that gave them a more significant bump in the end and made it close.”
It is the second straight season that the BCS system resulted in controversy. In 2000, Miami was bypassed for the Orange Bowl in favor of Florida State, which lost to Oklahoma.
“I have a certain amount of empathy [for Colorado and Nebraska],” Miami coach Larry Coker said. “[But] we lost a game last season and that put us where we were. That was the system we were under.”
The pairings for the other two BCS polls — Orange and Sugar — also were announced Sunday.
Sixth-ranked Maryland (10-1), which won its first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1985 and reached 10 wins for only the fifth time in school history, will play No. 5 Florida (9-2) in the Orange Bowl. The Gators were fifth in the BCS poll and received an at-large BCS berth.
No. 7 Illinois (10-1), the Big Ten Conference champion, is headed to the Sugar Bowl against No. 12 LSU (9-3). LSU clinched the automatic BCS berth by upsetting Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference title game Saturday night.