LINCOLN — If Nebraska completes its goal of winning the Big Ten championship, it may find an unconventional dance partner waiting for it in Pasadena.
Although the Big Ten is assured of sending its league champ to the Rose Bowl, Pac-12 leader Oregon is still in the hunt for a berth to the BCS title game. And should the Ducks — currently No. 3 in the BCS standings — finish in the top two, the Rose Bowl may look outside the Pac-12 for an opponent.
Kevin Ash, the Rose Bowl’s chief administrative officer, said the Rose Bowl’s top choice is a Pac-12 replacement team that’s ranked in the BCS top 14 at the end of the year. Oregon State is currently No. 11 and Stanford is No. 14, but both still play Oregon and would likely lose ground with a loss.
That hasn’t stopped ESPN, Scout, CBSSports.com and Phil Steele from projecting the Beavers to Pasadena. But if neither would finish in the top 14 — and No. 18 UCLA can’t make up enough ground — Ash said the Rose Bowl could broaden its search to “try to find who’s the best fit out there.”
And that just might be Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish haven’t played in the Rose Bowl since 1925, when Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen beat Stanford.
“Notre Dame’s very attractive for the Tournament of Roses,” Ash said. “They’re playing great football. They’re relevant. They have a national following.”
The undefeated Irish are also ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings and in need of help — either from human voters or teams in front of them — to make the national title game.
Oregon, behind No. 2 Kansas State and No. 1 Alabama, may need help, too, but the Ducks are ranked ahead of KSU in the coaches and Harris polls — which make up two-thirds of the BCS formula — while their computer poll average should get a boost from a backloaded schedule that includes Oregon State, Stanford and the presumptive Pac-12 title game opponent.
BCS rules give top at-large picks to bowls that lose their conference champions to the national title game. Should Alabama stay No. 1, for example, the Sugar Bowl would get to replace the Crimson Tide before any other bowl made its first at-large pick.
The Sugar Bowl would first look for an SEC team ranked inside the BCS top 14, said John Sudsbury, director of communications for the Sugar Bowl. Since five SEC teams reside inside the top 10 — and Texas A&M sits at No. 15 — it’s likely that the Sugar Bowl would have the option of picking within its anchor league.
That could potentially leave the Rose, which may lose Oregon, or the Fiesta, which may lose Kansas State, to replace its conference champion. The top-ranked ACC team, No. 10 Florida State, is a long shot to make the BCS title game.
Ash said there are too many games left for the Rose Bowl to plot any course yet. The Beavers’ game at Stanford on Saturday could determine whether the Pac-12 has a viable No. 2 team to send to Pasadena.
Outback Bowl President Jim McVay is watching the “20 twists and turns” of November himself. The Jan. 1 bowl played in Tampa gets the Big Ten’s No. 3 pick after the Rose Bowl and Capital One Bowl, which last picked Nebraska to play South Carolina. The Outback also picks an SEC team; 12 of the past 13 years, that team has come from the SEC East.
McVay said he is “watching Nebraska closely” because of its fan base — which traditionally travels well — and because NU has never appeared in the Tampa-based bowl. Husker coach Bo Pelini played in the 1989 Hall of Fame Bowl, which later became the Outback Bowl, as a safety at Ohio State.
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