Dec. 15, 2000
TEMPE, Ariz. - Year after year, loss after loss, coach after coach,Oregon State was college football's most laughable loser.
It was said that nobody could succeed there, and the beleaguered Beaverswould be better off bailing out of the Pac-10 to the Division I-AA Big Sky.
Well, look where they are now.
The program that just two years ago endured its NCAA-record 28th consecutivelosing season, earned a bid to the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame on Jan. 1.
'It's unbelievable,' coach Dennis Erickson said. 'These fans havesuffered for so long. This year the impact that it's had, the tears from peoplewho are 60, 65, 80, 75 years old. You'd have to be here to really describe.It's such an exciting time for our community right now.'
The Beavers, whose 10-1 record is their best ever, were the Fiesta's topchoice, bowl organizers said. It was Notre Dame that had to sweat outSaturday's Oklahoma-Kansas State game.
If Kansas State had won and automatically qualified for the Fiesta, theBeavers would have been the opponent, and the Irish would have been left out.
'Oregon State indeed was our first choice,' Fiesta Bowl president JohnJunker said, 'because they were a conference co-champion, a 10-win team and anincredible turnaround story that somewhat mirrors what Kansas State has done.'
As a possible opponent for Oregon State, Virginia Tech had a higher rankingand better record, but the Fiesta could not resist the Irish (9-2) and theirhuge nationwide following, even though Notre Dame was ranked only 11th in thefinal Bowl Championship Series standings. Oregon State is sixth.
It will be a game between teams that weren't even in the preseason top 25.
'I don't think any of us in our wildest imagination would have thought thiswould have been the matchup,' Junker said.
The Fiesta considered Miami but decided the Notre Dame-Oregon State matchupwas more intriguing, and that the Hurricanes were a better fit against Floridain the Sugar Bowl.
Fiesta Bowl officials maintained that comments last week by Pac-10commissioner Tom Hansen had no impact on their decision. He suggested theconference should pull out of the BCS if Oregon State was left out of theFiesta Bowl.
'We selected Oregon State because they deserved it and won it on the fieldof battle,' Junker said.
Erickson has been in this situation before. He won a national championshipat Miami before going to the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. When the Seahawks firedhim, Oregon State offered him a job.
He took the Beavers to a 7-5 record last season, ending that long skid. Hefigured his team would be better this year, but not this much better.
Erickson said his players will not be in awe of Notre Dame.
'Our guys are young enough to know that legends are gone,' Erickson said.'We're playing Notre Dame's football team. We're not playing Knute Rockne oranybody like that.'
Oregon State officials have promised 30,000 or more fans will come to Tempefor the Beavers' first big-time bowl appearance since the 1965 Rose Bowl. Theonly bowl they've played in since was the Oahu Bowl last year, where they lostto Hawaii.
Each team will receive $12-13 million. Oregon State will split the moneywith the rest of the Pac-10, but Notre Dame, as an independent, keeps it all.
Notre Dame, of course, will bring fans and attention like no other school inthe country. And these Irish have their own story of resurgence.
Coach Bob Davie began the season in trouble, and after a 2-2 start, his daysin South Bend seemed numbered.
Then came a switch at quarterback, and seven consecutive victories.
'This game is big for us,' Davie said. 'Usually, at the end of the seasonwhen you play in a bowl game, you feel like it's a reward for your footballteam. I have a little bit of a different feeling about this game. I think thisis an opportunity for us to continue to improve.
'We're certainly not a dominating football team right now, but I think bythe time we get to Phoenix, we're going to be a pretty darned good footballteam.'
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer