An academic cheating scandal could leave Florida State without as many as 25 players for its Music City Bowl game against Kentucky on New Year's Eve, coach Bobby Bowden said yesterday.

"We have some players not traveling for one reason and some for another, including those who are ineligible for the bowl because of academic issues," Bowden said in a statement released by the university.

Many of the players who will not be going to Nashville also could be ruled ineligible for games next season for their connection to a cheating scandal earlier this year.

Federal privacy laws prohibit the school from releasing names.

The Seminoles (7-5) finished the regular season unranked for a third straight year. Kentucky also is 7-5.

As a result of the academic scandal, a full-time academic adviser and a student tutor lost their jobs last summer.

A six-month investigation by the school revealed that at least 23 athletes in various sports were implicated for cheating on tests. Florida State reported its findings to the NCAA in September.

More ineligible players.

Clemson linebackers Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie will not play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl because of poor academic performance.

Watkins and Billie were declared ineligible yesterday, as was offensive tackle Christian Capote.

Clemson (9-3) will face 22d-ranked Auburn (8-4) on New Year's Eve, in Atlanta.

New Mexico running back Rodney Ferguson will not play in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday after being declared academically ineligible. Ferguson, a junior, has rushed for 1,177 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

The game matches the Lobos (8-4) against Nevada (6-6) in Albuquerque.

West Virginia moves on.

Bill Stewart, the Mountaineers' associate head coach, was named interim coach yesterday as West Virginia prepares for the Fiesta Bowl. Stewart also will take over recruiting.

Rich Rodriguez took the job as Michigan coach on Sunday after seven seasons in Morgantown, where he led West Virginia to four Big East championships and a 60-26 record.

The Mountaineers (10-2) will face third-ranked Oklahoma (11-2) in the Jan. 2 game, in Glendale, Ariz.

Angry boosters.

West Virginia defended itself against complaints from wealthy football boosters furious over the administration's failure to offer Rodriguez a deal to stay.

"WVU went to the ends of the earth to keep the coach here, and clearly, some of our major donors assisted the school in that effort," said Stephen Goodwin, chairman of the university's board of governors. "But he clearly was looking for an excuse to leave."

Several football boosters told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the university mishandled its dealings with Rodriguez and stood to lose millions in bowl revenue and donations.

"I've been in business 36 years, and it's the worst business decision I've ever seen," said Bob Reynolds, former chief operating officer of Fidelity Investments.

Player of the year.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was named the Associated Press player of the year in a vote similar to the one that made him the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.

Tebow received 31 of a possible 58 votes. Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, the Heisman runner-up, received 19 votes. Tebow accounted for 51 touchdowns, including a Southeastern Conference record of 22 rushing, and set a school record with 3,970 yards of total offense.

Ousted at Miami.

Coach Randy Shannon fired defensive coordinator Tim Walton. The Hurricanes (5-7) allowed more than 300 points this season for the first time since 1984.

Revisionist history.

The signs proclaiming Grant Town, W. Va., with a population of less than 1,000, the hometown of Rich Rodriguez have come down.

Less than 24 hours after Rodriguez announced that he was leaving West Virginia, Mayor Robert Riggs ordered two signs taken down. Riggs said he wasn't doing it out of anger, but to preempt vandalism or theft by outraged fans.

Staying at Central Florida.

All-American running back Kevin Smith says he would return to Central Florida for his senior year.

Smith has rushed for 2,448 yards this season, 180 short of the NCAA record, set by Barry Sanders in 1989.

Smith has a chance to catch Sanders on Dec. 29 in the Liberty Bowl, against Mississippi State (7-5), in Memphis. Central Florida is 10-3.