Learning from other teams' failings

RALPH D. RUSSO -- Assoxiated Press

, Last Updated: 3:04 PM ET

(AP) - The problem with having a lot to play for is the prospect of losing it all.

As Oklahoma and Auburn relaxed Saturday, their biggest games of the season a week away, the Sooners and Tigers would have been better served watching Boston College and Iowa State let championships slip away than seeing Southern California manhandle Notre Dame.

There will be plenty of time for Oklahoma or Auburn to study up on the top-ranked Trojans, if they need to.

The immediate challenge for Oklahoma and Auburn -- and USC for that matter -- is to win games they're supposed to win against opponents playing with little pressure and not much to lose.

That didn't work out too well for Boston College and Iowa State.

All BC had to do to earn a Bowl Championship Series spot was win a home game against a .500 Syracuse team. The result: Syracuse 43, Boston College 17. It was the Eagles' worst performance of the season.

"They just came out ready to play," BC linebacker Ray Henderson said. "They got us right off the bat and we never really recovered from it."

Cancel those Fiesta Bowl plans, Eagles fans. They might still be able to use those plane tickets to Arizona, however, because the Insight Bowl is interested in having BC play on Dec. 28. The difference: At least $13 million.

"This was my last game and I didn't want to go out that way, because there was a lot more at stake," Eagles senior defensive tackle Tim Bulman said. "The time is now and we had everything going for us and we just couldn't do it, so it definitely hurts more."

Iowa State was a home win away from its first football championship since 1912. Beating Missouri -- a team on the short list of the most disappointing in the country -- would have sent the surprising Cyclones to the Big 12 title game Saturday in Kansas City, Mo., as North Division champs to face Oklahoma.

The pressure seemed to get to Iowa State.

The Cyclones had a chance to win the game with a 24-yard field goal in regulation, but Bret Culbertson, a walk-on freshman, missed just his second field-goal attempt in nine chances this season.

"There's no reason I should have missed that kick," Culbertson said.

To be fair, wind and rain made the kick more than a chip shot.

Then, trailing 17-14 in OT, freshman quarterback Bret Meyer threw behind a wide-open receiver, who dropped what probably would have been a touchdown pass. The Cyclones recovered from that miscue and had a first-and-goal at the 3. At the very least, they could have given Culbertson a shot to redeem himself and send it into another OT.

Instead, Meyer's last pass was intercepted in the end zone. Dream over. Colorado, which put the pressure on Iowa State by beating Nebraska on Friday, gets a shot at the Sooners.

"To come this far," Iowa State running back Stevie Hicks said, "we should have gone ahead and finished the deal."

Auburn, Oklahoma and USC will all try to finish the deal and stay perfect next week as big favorites. The Tigers get a rematch with Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference title game in Atlanta. Auburn beat the Vols 34-10 in Knoxville in October. The Trojans play crosstown rival UCLA (6-4). The Sooners will be the last to take the field, facing Colorado (7-4).

The Big Three can create an unprecedented BCS mess.

Since the BCS was implemented in 1998, there never have been three unbeaten major-conference teams heading into the bowls.

Several teams have let a shot at a national title get away on the first Saturday of December.

In 1998, Kansas State, UCLA and Tennessee were all unbeaten with one game to play. After the Bruins were pounded at Miami early in the day, Texas A&M upset the Wildcats. It opened the door for one-loss Florida State to play Tennessee for the national championship.

In 2001, Tennessee was in line to play Miami for the championship in the Rose Bowl when the Vols lost the SEC title game to an LSU team with three losses. Instead, Nebraska, which lost its final regular-season game 62-36 to Colorado, was served up to the eventual champion Hurricanes.

So don't be surprised if the BCS gets a break and the Big Three becomes the Big Two next week. Then again, two of the top three could lose and create a whole new mess.


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