Orange Bowl's buzz sour

One week hence, Dolphin Stadium will host one of college football's most anticipated postseason collisions in modern times: Oklahoma versus Florida in the Bowl Championship Series national title game.

Two point-a-minute offenses quarterbacked by Heisman Trophy winners; two recent national champs, an expected capacity crowd and rapt television audience.

It's the sports equivalent of Jennifer Aniston's GQ cover.

Tonight, by comparison, is Lee Corso in Jen's necktie-only pose.

Tonight, we have Virginia Tech and Cincinnati in the 75th annual Orange Bowl. Same stadium, though perhaps half-empty. Minimal Nielsens and no top-10 teams.

No offense to the Hokies and Bearcats, 19th and 12th, respectively, in the BCS standings. They have every reason to celebrate their conference championships.

Just don't expect Orange Bowl suits and the national college football community to revel in this pairing.

Consider: Of the 58 postseason matchups arranged by the Bowl Alliance and BCS during the past 14 years, this is the first without a top-10 team. In fact, this is the first Orange Bowl in 32 years without a top-10 squad.

Not to say that Virginia Tech and Cincinnati lack intrigue.

The Hokies (9-4) continue to excel defensively and are attempting to win at least 10 games for a fifth consecutive season, a streak matched currently by only Southern California and Texas. The Bearcats (11-2) have juggled quarterbacks like Tony Romo does starlets and are an emerging Big East power, much like Virginia Tech 13 years ago, when the Hokies upset Texas in the Sugar Bowl.

"I think it's important to understand how big the Orange Bowl is," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said Wednesday at the final pregame gabfest in Fort Lauderdale. "Representing the ACC, us trying to get to 10 wins … how big that really is."

But as much as we in Virginia and the good folks in Cincinnati appreciate those angles, they don't play in Peoria.

Joe the Fan is struck by Florida-Oklahoma and the competition between the last two Heisman winners, the Gators' Tim Tebow and Sooners' Sam Bradford. Joe may also be curious about the pedigreed Rose Bowl featuring Southern California and Penn State.

Virginia Tech-Cincinnati? Not so much.

Each school was allotted 17,500 tickets, and while the nouveau-riche Bearcats sold approximately 14,000, the been-there, done-that Hokies managed only about 5,000.

At last check Wednesday afternoon, you could get two upper-deck seats on eBay for $5. Face value for said seats is $220.

And you thought the Price Club was a bargain.

So anxious (desperate?) were officials to sell tickets that they required those purchasing title-game seats also to buy for the Orange Bowl.

So how, then, did the Hokies and Bearcats land in the BCS overall, and the Orange Bowl specifically?

The BCS part of the equation is easy. Regardless of ranking, winners of the six major conferences — Southeastern, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific 10, ACC and Big East — automatically qualify for one of the five BCS games: Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Rose and title contest.

Some support placing the top 10 teams in the BCS standings into the series' five games. But until playoff advocates stage a bloody coup, that will never happen — the major conferences run the BCS and have a death grip on their automatic bids.

Virginia Tech and Cincinnati landed in Miami for two reasons.

First, the ACC winner is contractually wedded to the Orange Bowl. Second, since Miami also is hosting the BCS title game, the Orange Bowl had the last selection among the bowls, leaving it with the Bearcats, the lowest-ranked and least-known team available.

Virginia Tech is the third-lowest-ranked team to make the 11-year-old BCS. In the 2004 season, Pittsburgh (21st) won the Big East and headed to the Fiesta Bowl; a year later, Florida State (22nd) won the ACC and played in the Orange Bowl.

But those teams drew top-shelf opponents. The Seminoles lost to No. 3 Penn State in triple overtime, the Panthers to No. 6 and undefeated Utah.

Moreover, both those games had compelling backstories: The Orange Bowl showcased coaching legends Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, while the Fiesta Bowl featured outgoing Utah coach Urban Meyer, who already had accepted his current gig at Florida.

For narrow appeal, the one BCS game approaching Virginia Tech-Cincinnati is the Orange Bowl two years ago, again between the ACC and Big East champs. Wake Forest and Louisville, 14th and sixth in that year's BCS standings, drew a 7.0 television rating, lowest in series history.

"I think this bowl is not getting the hype of some of the (others)," Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said this week.

"But I think it's got a chance to be one of the best."

Foster's right. In particular, his swarming defense against Cincinnati's spread offense could make for a wild night.

If not, there's always Turner Classic. Fay Wray versus King Kong is always a five-star contest.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or at For more from Teel, read his blog at

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