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Originally published December 5, 2010 at 9:26 PM | Page modified December 5, 2010 at 9:30 PM

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Bud Withers

No real suspense in bowl matchups, at least until kickoff

Pac-10 and SEC get a rare postseason matchup

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Tradition, it ain't.

But maybe that's not a bad thing.

Weeks of suspense and speculation about what the BCS might ultimately spit out morphed into a ho-hum Sunday with a minimum of surprise.

The teams that have occupied the top two spots in the Bowl Championship Series standings for the past six weeks, Auburn and Oregon, are still standing, ready to meet Jan. 10 in the national-title game in Glendale, Ariz.

More than just a collision of jet-fueled offenses, it's a chance for Pac-10 and SEC fans to see their trash talk played out on the field. Since the two leagues have never met in a BCS game, it's been mostly background noise — the debate about whether the SEC is uber-athletic or overrated, and whether the Pac-10 is hellishly high-tech or too finesse-oriented.

The Pac-10 has stood up well in recent years in regular-season games against the SEC, but this would be a singular claim to bragging rights, because SEC teams have won the past four national-championship games.

You know times have changed when the Pac-10 has two of the top four teams in the BCS standings, and neither is going to the Rose Bowl. The Ducks took care of that by winning out, while Stanford (No. 4) couldn't get to the Rose because of a stipulation that if that bowl lost a team to the title game, it was required to take an automatic qualifier from the pool of conferences that don't get an automatic berth.

Texas Christian, come on down.

Gary Patterson, coach of the Horned Frogs, talked of the reverence he has for the Rose Bowl and said, "Gary Patterson, the fan, is going to love this — not just as a coach, but as a fan."

So while Stanford in the Rose Bowl holds some natural West Coast allure — especially in a year when the 11-1 Cardinal just got better and better — TCU (12-0) against Wisconsin (11-1) has its own sex appeal. It's probably a more high-profile matchup than any of the previous six involving non-BCS-conference schools, and thus, another litmus test for the outsiders in the cash-grab known as the BCS.

It's also Wisconsin bulk against TCU's defensive cunning and quickness.

"It's not a matchup we haven't had to deal with," said Patterson. "We're going to have to play with great leverage and tackle well. But the best thing we can do is play well on offense."

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Entering Sunday, there were really only two kernels of suspense: Whether No. 5 Wisconsin might somehow jump ahead of Stanford, and thus deny the Cardinal an automatic berth; and once Stanford was in, where it would go.

The Orange Bowl settled that issue because it picked ahead of the Fiesta, and took the Cardinal to play Virginia Tech. There was a question about Stanford's consistently poor fan support, but the alternative for the Orange was Connecticut (8-4), and a UConn-Tech matchup seemed to have all the appeal of a Brussels sprouts sandwich.

So the Orange opted for Stanford, and no doubt hopes it can use quarterback Andrew Luck to offset the lack of Cardinal faithful in town with a boost in television ratings. The Orange has been pulling dreadful TV numbers in recent years (last among BCS bowls three of the past four years), mostly because it's been saddled with the two weakest links in this apparatus, the Big East and ACC.

At least this game will pit ACC player of the year Tyrod Taylor, the Virginia Tech quarterback, and Luck, who has been judged the likely No. 1 choice in the 2011 NFL draft if he comes out.

"I've had a chance to watch him play and I'm nervous," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said of Taylor. "And when coach Beamer (Tech's Frank) sees Andrew Luck, he'll be as nervous as I am. Andrew is the real deal."

After the title game and Rose were cemented, the Sugar Bowl got two picks and matched Ohio State with Arkansas and quarterback Ryan Mallett. Sugar executive Paul Hoolahan said the bowl picked the Buckeyes despite an "extraordinary" video presentation by Michigan State (No. 9), which ran afoul of the rule preventing more than two teams from one league.

The Fiesta Bowl got the booby prize when Connecticut, which won the Big East because nobody else did, was the only team left to pair with Oklahoma. But officials there can accentuate the positive — the Oregon-Auburn championship matchup bowl exec John Junker said promises fireworks.

They owe us some, because there weren't any Sunday.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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