*Field Goals* - Untangling the Gordian Knot

It's that time of year in the college football season when players, coaches, fans, bowl committee members and travel agents combine forces in an effort to discern who's going where for the holidays. Theories are plentiful and permutations of possibilities are endless

   PERSPECTIVE. In the deep dark recesses of the past, before every bowl title included the word dotcom, understanding the late season developing bowl game picture was relatively easy. There were four major bowls, a Gator Bowl here, a Bluebonnet Bowl there and no one had ever heard of the Omnipresent Conglomerate Incorporated presents the East Hawaii Electric Snow Shovel Bowl. The rule was hard and fast: if your team wasn't ranked in the top ten the only place it would be visiting over the holidays was Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Oscar's house.

   Now if a team finishes with a .500 record, a coaching staff with a pulse and a fan base willing to travel to and from a bowl site via Wind Shear Airlines, then by all means, you can expect your beloved alma mater's football team--the Psychotic State Basket Cases--to be bowl bound from the time Santa makes his annual deliveries to the time you incoherently mumble half a verse of Auld Lang Syne. If you're expecting pairings in a bowl game to be constructed solely on the basis of teams' on-field exploits from late August to early December, then you haven't been paying attention to college football lately. Have a look at the Air Force Falcons' plight as they await some indication where they'll head to wring out 2002 and welcome 2003.

   Déjà Vu IN VEGAS. If Air Force wins its game against San Diego State next weekend and New Mexico loses to either CSU or Wyoming in its final two games, then the Falcons would edge the Lobos for second place in the MWC on the basis of having beaten New Mexico earlier this season. Barring a collapse of epic proportion Sonny Lubick and the Rams will win the MWC title and head to the Liberty Bowl. Then the bargaining, posturing and selling of tickets begin as bowl committees gather to extend bids to MWC, bowl qualified teams.

   If BYU defeats Utah next weekend the Cougars will become bowl qualified. They will likely finish behind AFA in the final conference standings, but that may be of little consequence to Las Vegas Bowl officials. Even the fact that Air Force obliterated BYU, 52-9, on national television may not sway the folks in Vegas from selecting BYU over AFA to be the MWC representative in Sam Boyd Stadium. A perceived likelihood of visitors making the drive from Provo to Las Vegas for Christmas, the presence of a large Mormon community in the Las Vegas area and a notoriously reluctant AFA fan base when it comes to traveling to bowl games, are factors which weigh in favor of BYU's selection for the Las Vegas Bowl, should the Cougars be bowl qualified. A loss to Utah next week makes the point moot.

   In the unlikely event that New Mexico beats CSU in Fort Collins next week, and then follows that upset with a win against Wyoming on November 30th in Albuquerque, it could be the Lobos who wind up in Vegas in time to greet Kris Kringle. The bowl selection committee could turn a blind eye toward the fact that AFA downed UNM on September 7th. A second place finish in the MWC doesn't guarantee an Air Force appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl.

   GO WEST YOUNG MAN. The Falcons may find themselves heeding Horace Greeley's advice in traveling to the San Francisco Bowl or the Seattle Bowl for a game late in December. The restaurants are wonderful, the fish is fresh, but the climates of those two cities don't bring to mind the warmth of the high desert in Las Vegas. So just where are the Falcons heading and against whom will they be playing? There are plenty of rational shots in the dark. Here's one.

   The Las Vegas Bowl would find AFA facing the fourth or fifth place team from the PAC 10. This morning, Arizona State sits alone in fourth place with a season ending game against in-state rival Arizona to be played the day after Thanksgiving. Oregon, Oregon Sate, California and Washington are tied for fifth place. Oregon travels to Oregon State next Saturday. Cal plays Stanford at home. Washington will be the visitor next week against Washington State. WSU also has a game on December 7th on the road against UCLA. Sort through that mess at your own peril. The twists and turns of the football season may produce a potential rematch between Cal and AFA for the Las Vegas Bowl. Whether or not the town fathers and mothers of the selection committee think such a sequel would be salable to a ticket buying public is an open question.

   The Seattle Bowl would match Air Force against the fifth or sixth place Atlantic Coast Conference finisher. Georgia Tech and Clemson are tied for those two spots at present. Clemson owns the tiebreaker having beaten Tech 24-19 early in September. A team from Colorado facing a team from Georgia in the state of Washington on the next to last day of December doesn't sound like a marketing department's dream come true.

   All of which leads to the last scenario: The First Annual Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl, and just try getting that on anything smaller than a size XXXL commemorative tee shirt. Air Force would face the fifth place finisher from the Big East. Syracuse and Temple are tied for the spot right now, with the Boston College Eagles a game in arrears. The Eagles have games remaining with Temple and Rutgers, both of which they are likely to win. The Eagles would finish 3-4 in the conference and in sole possession of fifth place. Syracuse has a game remaining with Miami, which should be a smashing defeat for the Orangemen and a 2-5 finish in the Big East. Temple has only a game with Boston College, which the Owls will host next weekend.

   The weather in Boston in late December

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