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Miami is No. 1 on Cotton Bowl list

College football bowl scenarios are endless, and predicting who will be where come New Year's Day is nearly impossible. This weekend should help bowl followers sift through the debris, with key matchups such as No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Georgia Tech, No. 3 Nebraska vs. No. 9 Colorado, and No. 4 Auburn vs. No. 15 Florida. But one thing is clear: The Miami Hurricanes, despite two losses and being out of the national championship race earlier than at any time since 1984, are coveted by several marquee bowls. The Cotton and Fiesta would love to have them. The Orange isn't out of the question. And the Florida State Seminoles could choose the bowl Miami doesn't take.

"It's a little premature, but I've been with Miami the last two weeks and they've certainly shown what a great football team they are," said Jim Brock, executive director of the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. "They're one of the best in the country and certainly playing very well right now. They're No. 1 on our list. They've never been to our bowl before, and neither has Florida State. They've both been high on our list for several years and they're two outstanding institutions."

Miami (5-2) has three consecutive home games starting Saturday with Pittsburgh. After a week off, the eighth-ranked Hurricanes play Syracuse. Wins over those two schools would almost assure a Cotton Bowl bid to play the winner of the Southwest Conference, most likely Texas. (Sixth-ranked Houston is on probation and can't go to a bowl.)

Furthering speculation that Miami would go to the Cotton Bowl is athletic director Sam Jankovich's desire to involve the Hurricanes in a football alliance with Southwest Con

ference schools. Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College and new member Miami _ the Big East football schools _ are working on an arrangement to play two SWC teams per year. Going to the Cotton Bowl couldn't hurt that arrangement. The Cotton Bowl pays about $3-million per team.

The Fiesta Bowl _ which also pays about $3-million _ would like to have Miami play Colorado (if the Buffaloes lose to Nebraska) or possibly Penn State. If the Fiesta gets Miami, Florida State (5-2) _ which plays South Carolina, Cincinnati and Memphis State before bowl bids officially can be extended _ could then go to the Cotton Bowl.

"In all candor, I think Miami has the inside track to the Cotton Bowl," said Don Meyers, selection committee chairman of the Fiesta Bowl. "The only thing that could change that is if Nebraska went undefeated and goes to the Orange Bowl and Virginia and Notre Dame lost." In that case, Miami would be the next highest-ranked team available to play Nebraska.

Either way, that would leave a slot open for 12th-ranked FSU in the Fiesta Bowl. The big drawback there is the bowl has had the Seminoles two of the last three years against Nebraska. But there is a game the Fiesta Bowl feels is very appealing.

"An ideal matchup would be Florida State and Notre Dame," Meyers said. "Florida State should be in the top seven or eight by the end of the season."

For that matchup to occur, second-ranked Notre Dame (6-1) would need to lose again. And it could happen. The Irish take on 11th-ranked Tennessee (4-1-2) in Knoxville on Nov. 10. They also must play Penn State and USC.

An Irish loss would also ruin Citrus Bowl plans. Because of its agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Orlando bowl has a chance to secure a national championship game with No. 1 ranked Virginia (if the Cavaliers get by Georgia Tech on Saturday). But the bowl needs Notre Dame.

Virginia can go to either the Orange, Cotton or Sugar bowls to play a national championship game _ if the Citrus can't come up with a competitive payout. The Orange pays $4.2-million per team and the Cotton and Sugar about $3-million, amounts the Citrus would be expected to pay. Right now, the Citrus pays about $1.3-million per team.

Efforts are being made to come up with the money through corporate sponsors, but the only national championship game possible in Orlando is Virginia-Notre Dame. No. 3 Nebraska, as Big Eight champion, would have to go to the Orange. No. 4 Auburn, as SEC champ, would have to go to the Sugar. No. 5 Illinois, as Big Ten champ, would have to go to the Rose. And losses would knock them all out of the national championship race anyway.

Confused? Think of how the people with Tampa's Hall of Fame Bowl must feel. The New Year's Day bowl, with a $1-million payout, must wait for things to fall into place. It would love to match Florida State with a Big Ten runner-up or Eastern independent.

But it looks as if the Seminoles might need to lose one more time for that to happen. And then, the Hall of Fame could get some competition from the rival Citrus and Gator bowls and the new kid on the block, the Blockbuster Bowl at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium.

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