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Ohio State clings to title hope

If it's not a team from Michigan beating them on the field, it's a team from Florida beating them in the polls. Either way, the Ohio State Buckeyes keep coming up short in their bid for a national championship.

Two years ago, the Buckeyes pulled out a late win over undefeated Arizona State in the Rose Bowl but had to settle for No. 2 when Florida beat top-ranked Florida State for the national title.

Ohio State now appears headed for a similar fate.

"We gave it our best shot," coach John Cooper said Saturday, the day after Ohio State's 24-14 victory over Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.

He won't give up hope on the third-ranked Buckeyes' first national title since 1968 until after the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night between No. 1 Tennessee (12-0) and No. 2 Florida State (11-1).

The Fiesta winner is the automatic choice for champion in the coaches poll, but Cooper has said all week an ugly win by the Seminoles would give Ohio State (11-1) a right to share the title.

"I may watch that game and say, "Hey, these teams are better than us.' But I don't think that will be the case," Cooper said.

Whether voters in the AP poll agree with him is another story.

Those who tuned in to the Sugar Bowl saw the Buckeyes roll up 432 yards against the Texas A&M defense.

"People who saw the game saw, particularly in the first half, how dominant we were," Cooper said.

Three touchdowns in a span of 6{ minutes in the first quarter almost blew the Aggies out, but the Buckeyes managed only a chip-shot field goal after that.

"We missed some opportunities to put more points on the board," said Joe Germaine, who threw an Ohio State bowl-record 38 passes.

The Buckeyes rushed for 210 yards but couldn't convert on fourth and 1 from the A&M 24 leading 21-7 in the second quarter. David Boston, who had 11 catches for 105 yards, couldn't handle a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone on the next possession.

The Seminoles don't see any scenario that leaves Ohio State on top.

"This (the Fiesta Bowl) is the national championship game; we established this whole Bowl Championship Series for this reason," FSU quarterback Marcus Outzen said.

He pointed out the Seminoles often have thought they were the best team at season's end but had lost to Miami or Florida and didn't have the chance to prove it.

NFL PROSPECTS: Mississippi TE Rufus French said he will forgo his senior season and make himself available for the April draft. Penn State LB Brandon Short will stay in school. Alabama RB Shaun Alexander said he will announce his decision Wednesday. Texas RB Ricky Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner, signed with the Woolf Associates agency one day after the Longhorns' 38-11 Cotton Bowl victory over Mississippi State.

_ Staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.