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Title talk a plus for network

If Miami wins the Sugar Bowl and Florida State the Orange Bowl, ABC's Bob Griese predicts the teams will share the college football national title. With the current system that's how it should be, he said.

"Head-to-head competition does mean something, (even though) it was early in the year," Griese said this week. "They went head to head. Miami beat 'em."

The network is anticipating _ scratch that, salivating about _ such a scenario, and plans to invite Miami coach Butch Davis to Pro Player Stadium for Wednesday's Orange Bowl if the Hurricanes beat Florida on Tuesday. Davis probably won't say much to studio hosts John Saunders and Terry Bowden, considering he has been gracious and low-key so far.

But his presence would make ABC happy, if not Florida State fans. As complaints about the flaws in the Bowl Championship Series increase, so might the ratings.

"Controversy isn't necessarily bad," Griese said. "It calls attention to what we're doing. We are happily participating in it, but we are basically going with what the BCS commissioners drew up."

Which, acknowledged play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler, probably isn't the best plan.

"The BCS needs some tweaking probably," said Nessler, who will be calling his first national title game. "We may not see it in our broadcast careers. It's probably an easier way to pick a national champion than it was to pick our president. That's probably one thing it's better than."

M-M-MEMORIES: Much of the wild-card talk is centering around the Bucs' failure, in 19 tries, to win a game when the temperature is below 40 degrees at kickoff. Fox analysts Howie Long and Matt Millen, former Raiders teammates, can relate.

"There has to be something about the cold weather," Millen said. "I think at some point it does mean something, even though if I'm on the team I think it doesn't matter. (At Buffalo) Howie and I both went out with short sleeve shirts on, that tough guy thing. In the middle of the first quarter, (defensive end) Greg Townsend says to me, "It's really cold out here.' I thought to myself, "We're dead.' "

Long added that while the Bucs showed their mettle at Green Bay, handling the cold at least until Martin Gramatica's missed field goal, it's not easy for those who are used to practicing in 70-plus-degree weather through December.

"The hotel we stayed in in Buffalo didn't have double-paned glass on the sliding doors, and the wind just howled through it," Long said. "And of course the operator takes great pleasure in saying, "Good morning, this is your wake-up call, the temperature is 20-below, dress warm, have a great day!' Matt mentioned Greg, but there were a number of guys where we went in (the locker room) at halftime, you could see it on their faces."

BUCS RATINGS: The Bucs-Packers game on Sunday was the most-watched regular-season Bucs game in Tampa Bay since Nielsen began providing overnight ratings in the market. The game averaged a 37.0 rating, meaning it was watched in nearly 560,000 area homes, with a viewership of more than 800,000 people during an average quarter-hour. The high was the Nov. 12 Bucs-Packers game in Tampa (36.4 rating).

FINE TUNING: ESPN2 will mark Mario Lemieux's comeback by airing Pittsburgh's next four games: Saturday at 7:30 vs. Ottawa; Wednesday at 7:30 vs. Washington; Jan. 5 at 7:30 vs. Montreal; and Jan. 8 at 7 vs. Washington. The American Sportscasters Association gives Sportscaster of the Year awards in four categories. This year's went to: ABC's Al Michaels (play-by-play), NBC's Joe Morgan (color analyst), Fox's James Brown (studio host) and NBC's Jim Gray (reporter). The Mutiny's Mamadou "Big Mama" Diallo, Scott Garlick and Steve Trittschuh will appear on the Fox Kids Cup 2000 broadcast at 11 a.m. Saturday on Ch. 38. The event, an international youth soccer competition, was held at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando earlier this month. ESPN's 90-minute College GameDay bowl edition will air at 9:30 a.m. Monday from Loomis Park on Miami's South Beach.

QUOTABLE: Just before Gramatica missed the field goal at Green Bay, HBO's Inside the NFL caught Bucs safety Dexter Jackson on camera telling his teammates: "Lambeau, the frozen tundra, it's our time. The frozen tundra, that's old stuff. That's old school. It's our time." (Maybe Jackson was talking about this week at Philadelphia.) The show replays at 7 tonight.