Nebraska to play Miami for national title
PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- For the second straight year, the world of college football was informed by the computers that the results on the field are not all that important.
By a razor-thin margin, Nebraska finished ahead of the Colorado Buffaloes in the No. 2 position of the Bowl Championship Series rankings Sunday - giving the Cornhuskers a berth in the national title game against the unbeaten Miami Hurricanes.
Nebraska (10-1), which failed to gain a spot in its own conference's championship contest, will face Miami in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 3.
"Certainly when you don't have two clear-cut teams you're going to have controversy," said Nebraska coach Frank Solich. "We won 11 games with no one within 10 points of us. There were no failed extra points, no lucky bounces."
Miami finished atop the BCS rankings with a point total of 2.62. Nebraska was next at 7.23 with Colorado finishing third at 7.28. Oregon was fourth at 8.67, followed by Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Stanford and Maryland.
Nebraska finished ahead of Colorado in the BCS even though the Buffaloes smashed the Cornhuskers in their regular-season finale, 62-36. Colorado also was ranked third behind Miami and Oregon in both the media and coaches polls released Sunday while Nebraska was fourth in both.
In its final two games, Colorado beat teams that were ranked second in the country at the time of the contest - Nebraska and Texas.
Colorado lost its opening game of the season to Fresno State, a setback that came back to haunt the Buffaloes. Nevertheless, it was the Buffaloes' standing in the various computer rankings used by the BCS that made the biggest difference.
Of the 7.28 points in Colorado's final total, 4.50 came from the average of the eight computer rankings in the BCS system. Nebraska had an average computer ranking of 2.17. Four of the computer rankings had Colorado fifth while none had Nebraska lower than third. And yet when those two teams met, Colorado won by 26 points.
"We want to look at how the entire season appears," said John Swofford, coordinator of the BCS. "Sometimes when you get to the end of the season you want to take a look back."
The computers also chose Nebraska over Colorado despite the fact that another computer showed Colorado to have played a more difficult schedule than did the Cornhuskers. Oregon, meanwhile, suffered its lone loss seven weeks ago and came away with the Pac-10 title. The Ducks have just as big a complaint as Colorado.
It was a repeat of the BCS rankings from a year ago, when Florida State finished ahead of Miami in second place despite the fact Miami beat Florida State during the regular season.
After Florida State was overwhelmed by Oklahoma in the championship game, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden said that, "maybe Miami should have been here playing instead of Florida State."
Colorado and Oregon will meet in the Fiesta Bowl. The other BCS bowl matchups will find Maryland taking on Florida in the Orange and Illinois playing LSU in the Sugar.
The upcoming Nebraska-Miami meeting will be their first since they faced each other in the Orange Bowl following the 1994 season, when the Cornhuskers claimed the national title with a 24-17 victory.
Rams, Packers win showdowns
ST. LOUIS, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- St. Louis and Green Bay captured the NFL's two big showdowns Sunday while Pittsburgh, Oakland and Philadelphia all took a giant step toward the championship of their division.
In the battle for the lead in the NFC West, St. Louis dominated the San Francisco 49ers, 27-14. And in a renewal of one of the pro football's classic rivalries, the Green Bay Packers prevailed over the Chicago Bears, 17-7.
St. Louis beat San Francisco for the sixth straight time and advanced to 10-2, claiming a one-game lead over the 49ers.
Marshall Faulk ran for 88 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown, and caught a three-yard scoring pass. Kurt Warner completed 26 of 42 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns to boost the Rams to the best record in the NFC.
"They're a heckuva football team," said San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci. "If this is a battle for first place, then they proved they're the first-place team and we're the second-place team."
In Green Bay, Ahman Green rushed for 125 yards, including a tiebreaking 12-yard touchdown run with three minutes left in the third quarter. Green Bay advanced to 9-3 and tied Chicago for the lead in the NFC Central. But the Packers own the tiebreak because they have beaten the Bears in both their meetings this year.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, opened a two-game lead over idle Baltimore in the AFC Central by downing the New York Jets, 18-7; Oakland opened a 2 1/2-game advantage in the AFC West by outlasting Kansas City, 28-26; and Philadelphia opened a two-game cushion in the NFC East thanks to a 24-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
The surprising New England Patriots also inched closer to a playoff spot by subduing Cleveland, 27-16. The Patriots advanced to 8-5 and are in second place in the AFC East. Miami, leading the division at 8-3, hosts Indianapolis tonight.
Other NFL results Sunday: Buffalo 25, Carolina 24; Tampa Bay 15, Detroit 12; Jacksonville 14, Cincinnati 10; New Orleans 28, Atlanta 10; Dallas 20, New York Giants 13; Minnesota 42, Tennessee 24; Washington 20, Arizona 10; Denver 20, Seattle 7.
O'Leary hired by Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND, Ind., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- The job of rebuilding the storied, but stagnant football program at Notre Dame was handed Sunday to George O'Leary.
O'Leary, who has led the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to five straight bowl appearances, was introduced as coach of the Fighting Irish just hours after informing his players in Atlanta of his decision to leave.
Terms of O'Leary's contract were not disclosed.
O'Leary replaces Bob Davie, who was fired Dec. 2, one day after the Fighting Irish concluded a disappointing 5-6 season with a 24-18 victory over Purdue. Davie posted a five-year record of 35-25, mediocre by Notre Dame's lofty standards.
O'Leary, 55, was considered a candidate for the Notre Dame job in 1996, before the school chose Davie to succeed Lou Holtz.
"Notre Dame is the only job I would ever leave Georgia Tech for," said O'Leary, a New York native. "It's the pinnacle of all coaching jobs. In fact, I believe there are two great coaching jobs in all of sports, one being the manager of the New York Yankees and the other being the head football coach at Notre Dame."
O'Leary left Georgia Tech immediately, leaving assistant Mac McWhorter to coach the Yellow Jackets in the Seattle Bowl against Stanford.
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Oregon's Mike Bellotti and NFL coaches Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders and Steve Mariucci of the San Francisco 49ers had been mentioned as candidates to replace Davie. But all four said they were not interested in the high-pressure position.
Notre Dame has won eight national titles but none since 1988 under Holtz. Notre Dame will not be competing in a bowl for the second time in five seasons under Davie. The Irish also missed the postseason in 1999.
Rockets lose 10th straight
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- The Detroit Pistons trounced Houston Sunday night, 105-77, handing the Rockets their 10th straight loss. The Rockets losing skid equals their longest in 19 years.
Houston had not lost 10 consecutive games since dropping the first 10 of the 1982-83 season. That was its first season after NBA Most Valuable Player Moses Malone departed via free agency.
Without their best player that season, the Rockets did not win back-to-back games and finished 14-68, the worst record in franchise history.
Houston is in a similar situation this year. Star guard Steve Francis is sidelined with a plantar fascia injury and the team cannot generate any offense without him. The Rockets have scored more than 86 points just once during their slide.
Other NBA results: Phoenix 91, Toronto 90; Los Angeles Clippers 89, Charlotte 78; Sacramento 95, Miami 88.
Kings storm past Blackhawks
CHICAGO, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Defenseman Andreas Lilja scored his first career goal and set up another Sunday night as the Los Angeles Kings rebounded from a lackluster performance to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-2.
Los Angeles scored four consecutive goals over the first two periods, capped by Lilja's tally, which made it 4-1 with 1:59 left in the second.
The Kings had only 18 shots -- one more than their total on Saturday, when they suffered a 2-0 loss in St. Louis to open a three-game road trip.
Los Angeles finishes its trip Tuesday in Nashville.
The Kings-Blackhawks matchup was the only NHL game scheduled Sunday.
Maryland coasts to seventh win
COLLEGE PARK, Md., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Lonny Baxter scored 17 points and three others reached double figures Sunday night as second-ranked Maryland extended the nation's longest non-conference home winning streak to 81 games with a 79-54 victory over Detroit.
The Terrapins (7-1) have not lost a non-league game at Cole Field House since falling to Coppin State on Dec. 12, 1989.
Baxter, who collected 43 points and 22 rebounds in Maryland's victories in the BB&T Classic last week, scored the first six points as Maryland grabbed an 11-2 lead and never looked back.
Detroit misfired on 17 of its first 21 shots while Maryland connected on 11 of its first 15 to take a 23-10 lead midway through the opening half.
American wins World Cup giant slalom
VAL D'ISERE, France, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Bode Miller posted his first career World Cup win in a men's giant slalom Sunday, giving the United States its first victory in almost two years.
Miller gave his team a badly-needed boost, prevailing with a scorching two-run aggregate time of 2 minutes, 36.02 seconds for the squad's first World Cup win since Daron Rahlves took back-to-back downhills in February 2000.
"To finally do this and know I have a World Cup victory is very important," said Miller, of Franconia, New Hampshire. "I've wanted it a long time. It's a big step. To see an American on the podium after such a long time is also important. It's more a relief than anything else."
Miller, whose previous best result was a third place here last season, was sitting third after the opening leg behind World Cup leader Stephan Eberharter of Austria and France's Frederic Covili, the winner of the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.
But he vaulted into first place after an aggressive, high-risk second trip, while Eberharter battled fatigue and Covili struggled with nerves.
Miller is the first American man to win a giant slalom since Phil Mahre claimed victory in Bormio, Italy, in 1983.
Santa Clara wins NCAA soccer crown
DALLAS, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Aly Wagner scored in the 41st minute Sunday to give Santa Clara a 1-0 upset victory over North Carolina in the championship game of the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament.
North Carolina was trying for its third straight national title and sixth in seven years. The Tar Heels had a 33-game winning streak come to an end.
Santa Clara hung on for the victory when North Carolina's apparent game-tying goal in the 60th minute was nullified on an offside call. Santa Clara finished its season at 23-2.
Sara Randolph put the ball in the net for North Carolina in the second half on a soft shot from just outside the box that sailed through traffic into the left corner of the net. But a North Carolina player standing just in front of the goal was judged to have been offside.
In the men's tournament, Indiana completed the Final Four by downing Clemson, 2-0.
Indiana will join Stanford, St. John's and North Carolina in the national semifinals next weekend in Columbus, Ohio.