27 September 2008

Who's No. 1? Roll Tide!

(From BCS Guru)

USC's shocking loss to Oregon State, as it turned out, was merely hors d'oeuvres. Saturday was the feast.

Three more teams in the top 10 in the unofficial BCS standings also went down in defeat against underdog opponents. While Wisconsin's and Florida's losses were unexpected and monumental, they did not deliver the same reverberations as Alabama's resounding 41-30 victory at Georgia did.

The Bulldogs had been ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings and were poised to assume the top ranking after USC's loss. But with the Crimson Tide's convincing victory - the final score was tempered by a couple of late Georgia touchdowns - an argument needs to be made that Alabama, not anyone else, should be No. 1.

And the possibility exists that the Crimson Tide just might be top-ranked when the new BCS standings are unveiled early next week. Two additional elements will be introduced this weekend that should make the next standings our best facsimile yet: The Harris Interactive Poll, accounting for one-third of the standings, will be released for the first time this season; and Anderson & Hester, one of the six BCS computers, will also make its 2008 debut this weekend.

Why might Alabama end up as the new No. 1?

First, the Tide's computer ratings are better than any team in front of them that didn't lose this weekend, and they will only improve with the win over Georgia. Second, Harris voters, turning in their ballots for the first time this season, have less preconceived notions with no "preseason" rankings to consider - at least that should be the case.

Third, and most important, Alabama has been flat-out better than any of the other contenders, against a much tougher schedule.

The Tide opened the season with a 34-10 rout of then-No. 9 Clemson on a neutral site (Georgia Dome in Atlanta) and now added a road win at Athens to their resume. They've scored 90 points on their two SEC opponents and the worst team they've beaten thus far - Western Kentucky - is a respectable 2-3.

Contrast that with the other pretenders to the throne - Oklahoma, LSU, Missouri and Texas. Three of these teams played at least one I-AA opponent and the other, Texas, has feasted on nobody but overmatched cupcakes - all but one at home. Alabama's strength of schedule is among the top 30, the other four teams are much closer to 100 than 50.

About the only thing that would keep Alabama out of the top BCS spot next week, frankly, is petty jealousy among the coaches. In case you weren't paying attention, many coaches are not exactly thrilled with Nick Saban's $4 million annual package that he signed when he returned to the college game after the 2006 season. This season, the Tide have ranked considerably lower in the coaches poll than the AP poll. Last week, Alabama was 8th in the AP but No. 10 in the coaches poll.

Alabama might still emerge as the new No. 1 team in the BCS standings, even taking the potential slights from the coaches into consideration. But perhaps more poignantly, isn't it time for Saban's peers to acknowledge that the guy can recruit - and coach - just a little bit?

26 September 2008

The Race Is On

(From BCS Guru)

The Thank-you notes are pouring into Corvallis right about now ... from Athens, Ga., Gainesville, Fla., Norman, Okla., Baton Rouge, La., and maybe a few other places. The 2008 BCS race has just been blown wide open.

Oregon State's unimaginable 27-21 upset victory over top-ranked USC will shake up the BCS standings. The Trojans, ranked No. 1 since the first week of the season, had been seen as unbeatable after a 35-3 dismantling of Ohio State on Sept. 13. The teams left on their schedule were only the "Nine Little Dwarfs" of the Pac-10 and mediocre Notre Dame. USC was going to have clear sailing into the BCS title game in Miami.

Well, well.

USC, too busy making future plans, obviously forgot that those games still needed to be played. But now, with a loss against a Oregon State team that had been annihilated by Penn State, the Trojans will need a lot of help - if they're lucky - to get back into the BCS championship picture. For now, the race will be in the hands of the heavyweights of the SEC and Big 12.

The unofficial BCS standings, after last week, had seven teams from the SEC and Big 12 in the top nine, besides soon-to-be former No.1 USC and No. 7 Wisconsin. These teams will begin beating up on each other to sort out the conference races, with No. 2 Georgia taking on No. 8 Alabama on Saturday.

And the Mountain West Conference is definitely staking its ground in the BCS standings as well. Brigham Young, at No. 10, and No. 11 Utah, are already in range required for non-BCS members to claim a BCS bowl berth. Both 4-0, these bitter rivals will face off on Nov. 22 for perhaps the MWC title and a BCS berth - but both still must also get by No. 23 Texas Christian, which is also 4-0.

But back to USC. The loss to Oregon State, while shocking, was hardly unprecedented. The Trojans' recent history is littered with losses to unranked and/or overmatched Pac-10 foes. Since USC began its dominating run in the Pac-10 in 2003, the Trojans have lost just once to a non-conference opponent - the 2005 BCS title game to Texas - but have dropped a whopping six games against Pac-10 teams.

In 2003, a triple-overtime loss at California ultimately cost USC a shot at the BCS title game. In 2006, the Trojans lost at Oregon State and at UCLA - another costly loss that kept them out of the BCS title game. In 2007, they stumbled against Stanford (a 41-point underdog) at home and lost at Oregon.

So what are USC's chances to get back in the BCS race after another loss to a double-digit underdog? Actually, fairly decent - if recent history is any indication, and assuming the Trojans don't stumble again. USC likely will still stay in the top 10 in next week's BCS standings, and will get a chance to creep back up every time a team loses in the endless internecine warfare in the SEC and Big 12.

Destiny, however, has left the Trojans. They're now at the mercy of their fellow competitors and the whims of the BCS.

For the rest, the party is just getting started.

25 September 2008

BCS Era No. 1 -- USC

(From BCS Guru)

Overall Record: 95-32 (.748), 8th
BCS Bowl Record: 5-1 (6, 1st)
National Titles (Game Record): 2 (1-1* - split title with LSU in 2003)
Final AP Rankings: U-U-U-U-4-1-1-2-4-3 (Top 5: 6/Top 10: 6)

What, you were expecting Duke?

USC spotted everyone four years and yet still emerged as the top program in the BCS Era on the sheer dominance of its latter six seasons. After beginning his tenure at Troy with a 6-6 record in 2001, Pete Carroll has led the Trojans to six consecutive BCS bowl berths and Pac-10 championships, at least 11 victories each season and no worse than 4th in the final AP poll.

After starting 2-5 in 2001, the Trojans have gone 74-9 under Carroll and won 34 consecutive games between 2003-2005. USC won two national championships and lost its bid for an unprecedented third in a heartbreaking loss to Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl – USC’s only BCS bowl loss. The Men of Troy also hauled home three more Heisman Trophies (Carson Palmer 2002, Matt Leinart 2004, Reggie Bush 2005), matching Notre Dame and Ohio State with seven winners all-time.

About the only thing that might stop this college football hegemon is the NCAA. With the Bush investigation wrapping up, there are indications that stiff penalties including forfeiture of games, recruiting losses and postseason sanctions may be imposed. Short of that, there is no end of this Trojan Dynasty in sight.

23 September 2008

BCS Era No. 2 -- Ohio State

(From BCS Guru)

Overall Record: 98-27 (.784), 4th
BCS Bowl Record: 4-2 (6, 2nd)
National Titles (Game Record): 1 (1-2)
Final AP Rankings: 2-U-U-U-1-4-20-4-2-5 (Top 5: 6/Top 10: 6)

OK, so the Buckeyes haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory, having been walloped by their SEC foes in the last two BCS title games. But there’s no denying that Jim Tressel has made Ohio State an elite program that’s played in four BCS bowl games in the past five years.

Ohio State has won three consecutive Big Ten championships and will be the prohibitive favorite to win it again this year. The Buckeyes have owned their archrival Michigan in the Tressel era, winning six of seven, including the last four. But Ohio State has to figure out how to beat SEC teams, against whom it has a dreadful 0-9 record, including 0-3 under Tressel.

19 September 2008

BCS Era No. 3 -- Oklahoma

(From BCS Guru)

Overall Record: 102-28 (.785), 3rd
BCS Bowl Record: 2-4 (6, 3rd)
National Titles (Game Record): 1 (1-2)
Final AP Rankings: U-U-1-6-5-3-3-22-11-8 (Top 5: 4/Top 10: 6)

It took Bob Stoops just two seasons to turn the Sooners into national champions from the mess he inherited from John Blake. And his nine-year stint in Norman has been a spectacular success, with 11 or more wins in seven seasons and made six BCS bowl appearances, including three in the national title game.

But fairly or unfairly, OU’s BCS Era is mostly colored by losses in bowl games. After winning the 2000 national title, the Sooners were turned away in successive championship games in 2003 and 2004 – in the latter massacred by USC. Oklahoma’s most memorable game in the BCS Era just might be its thrilling overtime loss to Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

18 September 2008

BCS Era No. 4 -- LSU

(From BCS Guru)

Overall Record
: 89-37 (.706), 16th
BCS Bowl Record: 4-0 (4, 5th)
National Titles (Game Record): 2 (2-0* - split title with USC in 2003)
Final AP Rankings: U-U-22-7-U-2-16-6-3-1 (Top 5: 3/ Top 10: 5)

Nick Saban built it, but Les Miles took it to new heights. Saban laid the foundation, leading the Bayou Tigers to a share of the national championship in 2003. But during his tenure, LSU was an up-and-coming program. Miles has made it into a juggernaut in the last three seasons.

By beating Ohio State in the BCS title game last season, LSU became the first program to win two BCS championships. But taken its body of work in totality, the Tigers will need a couple more title-contending seasons to move up this ladder. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe not – LSU won both of its BCS titles in the friendly confines of the Louisiana Superdome.

16 September 2008

BYU In Line to Bust BCS

(From BCS Guru)

Fresno State's loss to Wisconsin eliminated one of the potential contenders fighting for a BCS bowl berth. But three weeks into the season, a handful of non-BCS conference teams still have a reasonably good chance to bust the BCS, headed by Brigham Young, fresh off a 59-0 conquest of UCLA.

USC solidified its hold on the No. 1 spot in the latest unofficial BCS standings. The Trojans, after trouncing then-No. 5 Ohio State, 35-3, dominated both the AP and coaches polls. Oklahoma ascended to the second spot in the polls, but it's Georgia now occupying the No. 2 BCS ranking.

Despite their lackluster 14-7 win over South Carolina and subsequent drop in the polls, the Bulldogs jumped back into the second spot because margin of victory cannot be considered by BCS computers. (This is an issue the Guru will deal extensively in the coming weeks.) Georgia's superior computer ratings were enough to vault it over the Sooners, who are now No. 3, followed by Florida, last week's No. 2 but idle this past weekend.

Missouri, LSU, Wisconsin, Auburn, Texas and Alabama round out the top 10.

Just outside of the top 10 sits Brigham Young, which jumped up six spots to No. 11. The Cougars are also 11th in the coaches poll and 7th in two BCS computers.

This scenario bodes well for BYU, which will try to win its first BCS bowl berth in school history. The Cougars leapfrogged East Carolina, which sits at No. 15 after a 28-24 victory over Tulane. Two other Mountain West members also cracked the top 25, with Utah at No. 18 and Texas Christian at No. 23.

As long as BYU remains undefeated, there would be almost no foreseeable circumstances that could keep it from getting a BCS berth. Because of the strength of the MWC - which just went 4-0 against the Pac-10 last Saturday - it's nearly impossible for ECU to get by BYU in either the polls or the computers. In fact, if both BYU and Utah remain unbeaten when they face each other in the season finale, the winner of that Nov. 22 game will certainly earn a BCS bowl berth, even if the Pirates go 13-0 and win the Conference USA title.

A BCS berth, meanwhile, is about all Ohio State has to play for after its drubbing by USC at the Coliseum. The Buckeyes fell to No. 16 in the BCS standings, and, with too many unbeaten teams still ahead of them and the weakness of the Big Ten, a return to a third consecutive BCS title game is just about out of the question. As it is, five SEC teams and four Big 12 teams are currently ranked ahead of Ohio State.

One team that currently sits in the BCS netherworld but worth keeping an eye on is No. 41 Notre Dame. After their 35-17 win over Michigan last week, the Irish are 2-0 and probably seven or eight wins away from a BCS bowl berth. The schedule is quite favorable for Notre Dame this year, with only the season finale at USC a no-win situation. The Irish are guaranteed a BCS bowl berth if they finish in the top 8 of the final BCS standings, and a top-14 finish makes them eligible - and nearly impossible to pass up - for a BCS bowl.

13 September 2008

USC and Nine Little Dwarfs

(From BCS Guru)

Much has been made about the weakness of the ACC and Big East this season. Fair enough, neither conference has covered itself with much glory after three weeks in 2008.

But have you checked out what the Pac-10 did this week?

OK, we must start at the top. The very top, in fact. USC is No. 1 in every poll in the land and will be even more entrenched there after its devastating 35-3 rout of Ohio State. But in every conversation involving the Pac-10, you should just leave the Trojans out of it.

They play in a different league - unfortunately not literally.

In the last six years, USC has won the Pac-10 title every year. Went to a BCS bowl every year. Dominated the conference with a 44-6 record. And while USC finished no worse than 4th in either poll over those six seasons, no other Pac-10 team has been in the top 8 in the same span. No other Pac-10 team has been to a BCS bowl since 2002.

While USC was busy pummeling the Buckeyes on Saturday night, the rest of the Pac-10 just laid a giant egg. The Nine Little Dwarfs went 2-7 on the weekend, going 1-4 against non-BCS teams and 1-3 against BCS conference opponents, snatching a single victory when Oregon survived at Purdue.

UCLA made the biggest splash by getting mauled by Brigham Young, 59-0. The last time the Bruins lost that badly - in 1929 - the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began shortly thereafter.

But at least BYU was ranked and has BCS bowl aspirations. California lost to a Maryland team that had already succumbed to Middle Tennessee State and was nearly beaten by I-AA Delaware. The Golden Bears took the "Fear the Turtle" mantra perhaps a bit too seriously.

Arizona State, though, saved the Pac-10's worst for last. Playing at home against a double-digit underdog, the Sun Devils blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to UNLV, 23-20, in overtime.

Other ignominious losses by the conference included Oklahoma's wipeout of Washington and two other collapses against Mountain West foes. In fact, of the four games staged between these two conferences on Saturday, the non-BCS MWC won all four.

The Mountain West is certainly making a strong statement about its place in the college football landscape. Four teams remain undefeated, with a combined 4-0 record against BCS conference foes (3-0 vs. Pac-10 plus Utah's win at Michigan).

BYU's rout of UCLA was the second-most important BCS-related development of the week. The Cougars are now the front-runner among non-BCS members vying for a BCS bowl bid. After East Carolina's lackluster victory over Tulane, BYU most likely will jump ECU in the polls - and more importantly, in the unofficial BCS standings. With the MWC a considerably tougher conference than Conference USA, should both BYU and ECU remain undefeated, the Cougars will maintain their advantage in the BCS standings.

The most significant BCS item of the night, of course, was USC-Ohio State. Now the burning question is, are the Buckeyes finally put out of their misery so they wouldn't bother us again in the BCS championship game?

The answer is: Most definitely possibly yes.

There are a couple of reasons why you can't write off the Buckeyes completely just yet. First, Ohio State will suffer a drop in the polls, but not a freefall because it played the top-ranked team, on the road, without its star running back. It's as if the excuses were pre-arranged just for this outcome.

But more important, it's still just way too early in the season to write anybody off. Sure, the Trojans look like world beaters now and probably it wouldn't be too presumptuous of them to make travel arrangements to Miami for the BCS title game - but they still have 10 games to play. And the elite teams in the SEC and Big 12 still have the whole season ahead of them to kill each other off.

That leaves the door just slightly ajar for Ohio State. After that beating in the Coliseum, the slower, gentler Big Ten slate will seem quite appetizing. After all, the Buckeyes were merely 22-2 in conference games the past three seasons. They have their own dwarfs to beat up on.

(Please understand all references to dwarfs are metaphorical. We certainly don't endorse doing any such thing literally.)

11 September 2008

BCS Preseason Over; Game On

(From BCS Guru)

College football does have a preseason, for better or for worse. Over the years, most of the elite teams have learned not to front-load their schedules so that their entire season could be destroyed in the first week. Teams with national championship aspirations nowadays typically warm up with a cupcake or two before going for the main course.

Well, the 2008 preseason is over.

The USC-Ohio State showdown Saturday night has already been billed as the biggest game of this regular season. But the truth is that it's merely the main event of a loaded card that includes several games that will make a lasting impact on this season's BCS races - whether it's for the national championship or a spot in the other four lucrative bowl games. Some teams will move up, a few will hold their ground and certainly, a couple will crash out.

These, in order of magnitude, constitute this Saturday's must-see TV: (Unofficial BCS rankings denoted)

No. 5 Ohio State at No. 1 USC (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET) - Two weeks ago, this game had a chance of being a 1-vs.-2 matchup. On the eve of the contest, it's looking more and more like a potential Trojans blowout. While top-ranked USC was impressive in throttling Virginia in its opener and had a week to get ready for the game, Ohio State lost its hold on No. 2 with a lackluster home win over Ohio, and now it appears that it's also lost running back Beanie Wells.

History isn't really on the Buckeyes' side - and neither are the gamblers, who have seen fit to move the spread into double-digit territory in favor of USC. In the Jim Tressel era, they have only ventured outside of Columbus twice to play a formidable non-conference foe. Ohio State lost to UCLA in 2002 and beat a post-Vince Young Texas team in 2006. USC, meanwhile, lost just once in the Coliseum to a non-conference opponent in the Pete Carroll era - on Sept. 8, 2001, a 10-6 loss to Kansas State in Carroll's second game as USC coach.

No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 23 Fresno State (Saturday, 10:30 p.m.) - Pat Hill calls this the biggest home game in Fresno State history. He gets no argument here, or anywhere. Win, the Bulldogs instantly become a serious BCS bowl contender. Lose, Fresno State goes back to being a baseball school again.

Kudos to Wisconsin for even scheduling this game in Fresno. The Badgers will get a return home game in 2009, but the business at hand could be quite daunting. These two teams actually met twice in the early 2000s, splitting a pair in Madison. This time, the Badgers will have to find a way to get it done away from Camp Randall.

No. 11 Kansas at No. 19 South Florida
(Friday, 8 p.m.) - Much is riding on the game for the woebegone Big East. A loss by the Bulls it could be requiem for the conference, its legitimacy obliterated. South Florida is also fighting for its own legitimacy, after a free-fall that followed the team's ascension to No. 2 in the BCS standings a year ago.

The Jayhawks, having won 14 of their last 15 games, have designs on making a basketball-football double in 2008. But there's no need to do too much looking ahead. Kansas last played a BCS conference foe on the road in 2004 - and it lost to Northwestern, 20-17. That's the kind of history the Jayhawks want to leave behind.

No. 29 UCLA at No. 17 BYU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.) - If familiarity breeds contempt, then these two teams should be at each other's throats from the coin flip, meeting for the third time in 372 days. The Bruins won at the Rose Bowl during the 2007 regular season but lost in the Las Vegas Bowl when a last-second field goal attempt was blocked.

The UCLA teams of the Karl Dorrell era were noted for their inability to stand prosperity. Rick Neuheisel will be seeking to reverse that, coming off a huge opener win over Tennessee. BYU, with an eye on a BCS bowl berth, escaped with a win over Washington on a controversial penalty at the end of the game. The Cougars will need a little more than luck against the Bruins.

No. 34 Michigan at No. 45 Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.) - OK, when you're done laughing, you need to read the rest of this. The Irish could make it to a BCS bowl, it's no joke. Notre Dame has an extremely favorable schedule this season, with only probably one game it has no chance of winning - the season finale at USC.

If the Irish win nine games and are ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings, they most likely will earn a BCS bowl berth. Beat Michigan, then that path will be wide open for Notre Dame. After losing the last two meetings by a combined score of 85-21, the Irish shouldn't need much motivation, especially against the undermanned and offensively-challenged Wolverines.

BCS Era No. 5 -- Miami (Fla.)

(From BCS Guru)

Overall Record: 94-30 (.758), 7th
BCS Bowl Record: 3-1 (4, 6th)
National Titles (Game Record): 1 (1-1)
Final AP Rankings: 20-15-2-1-2-5-11-17-U-U (Top 5: 4/Top 10: 4)

The Hurricanes ruled the BCS roost in the beginning of the 2000s, losing just four games in a four-year span. Miami played in consecutive BCS title games and won 34 straight games before losing to Ohio State in double overtime in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. The 2001 edition is considered among the best college football teams of all time.

But just like Florida State, the ‘Canes have fallen on hard times of late and coach Larry Coker was ousted after the 2006 season. The Randy Shannon era also didn’t get off to an auspicious beginning as Miami finished with a losing record (5-7) and missed a bowl game for the first time since 1997. The ‘Canes, who were also supposed to dominate the ACC, haven’t won a single title since joining the conference in 2004.

08 September 2008

Gators Lurking At No. 2

(From BCS Guru)

Who's No. 1? Who cares. All we need to know is who's No. 2.

In the world of BCS, it's all important being No. 2. At the end of the season, being No. 2 gets you a ticket to the big shindig. And five out of the last six years, the No. 2 team walked away with the BCS crystal ball trophy.

Two weeks into the season, that coveted No. 2 spot is now occupied by Florida, the BCS champion of 2006. USC, idle last weekend, continues to enjoy a comfortable lead at No. 1 in this week's unofficial BCS standings. Georgia, No. 2 in both AP and coaches polls, follows at No. 3 while Oklahoma moves up to No. 4.

The team that suffered almost irreparable harm despite winning last week was Ohio State. The Buckeyes dropped to No. 5 in the BCS standings after needing a muffed punt and a punt return for a touchdown late in the game to put away Ohio, 26-14. The non-loss became damaging because it's turned Ohio State's Saturday showdown at USC into a must-win game.

If the Buckeyes, No. 1 in the preseason, win that game, then all is well - they might move back up to No. 1, even. But if they lose the game, then they can forget about a third consecutive trip to the BCS title game. The pollsters are already extremely suspicious of the Buckeyes after back-to-back thrashing losses the last two years. A loss to USC, especially a lopsided one as the fifth-ranked team, makes it virtually impossible for Ohio State to climb its way back up the BCS ladder.

Two more SEC teams are in the top 10 of the standings, with defending BCS champion LSU coming in at No. 6 and Auburn at No. 9. Two other Big 12 teams - No. 7 Missouri and No. 8 Texas - join Oklahoma in the top 10, with Kansas just outside at No. 11. Wisconsin checks in at No. 10.

The story of the season so far is the performance of non-BCS teams. In this week's standings, four teams from three different non-BCS conferences made the top 25. Conference USA's East Carolina, the leading BCS Buster candidate at the moment, is the highest ranked at No. 16. The Pirates' ranking is in fact hurt by their ridiculously low placement in the coaches poll (No. 20) even after their thumping of then-No. 8 West Virginia.

The Mountain West's Brigham Young and Utah, each already with a victory over BCS conference teams, are at No. 17 and No. 20, respectively. Fresno State, seeking the WAC's third consecutive BCS invitation, is at No. 23, with a Saturday home date against Wisconsin coming up.

While all the non-BCS conference teams are vying for just a single BCS invitation, the ACC and Big East are sitting pretty with automatic bids, despite dreadful performances in the season's first two weeks. Wake Forest is the ACC's lone representative in the top 25, and the Demon Deacons needed a Sam Swank 41-yard field goal with three seconds left to thwart SEC also-ran Ole Miss.

The Big East has little to brag about, either. South Florida and Connecticut are the only conference teams without a loss right now and both needed overtime to stay unbeaten last week (over Central Florida and Temple, respectively). West Virginia, expected to be the standard-bearer of the conference, plummeted to No. 24 after taking a beating from East Carolina.

06 September 2008

Beware of the Pirates

(From BCS Guru)

It's only the second weekend of the season and the BCS bowl jockeying has already started. Such is the beauty (and the beauty pageant nature) of college football.

Shortly after East Carolina's resounding 24-3 triumph over West Virginia - its second victory over a BCS conference team in as many weeks - I received a nervous e-mail from a good friend asking if he should be worried about those men in purple. You see, he roots for a BCS conference team and a potential BCS buster like the Pirates just might ruin his plans by stealing a possible at-large BCS bid.

My response?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

East Carolina is the team to watch for this year's BCS buster race. In 2006, we had Boise State. Last year, it was Hawaii. Before the start of this season, the chic pick was Fresno State. And the Bulldogs certainly were quite persuasive in a 24-7 opening week win at Rutgers.

But Fresno State, No. 24 in the unofficial BCS standings, has a pretty ambitious - and therefore tough - schedule ahead of it. The Dawgs host Wisconsin next week and has a trip to the Rose Bowl against a rejuvenated UCLA team on Sept. 27. And the WAC schedule is best not to be overlooked as well, not when Fresno finishes the season with a date on the blue turf against Boise State.

A couple of Mountain West teams also have aspirations to be a BCS buster. Utah, with a conquest in the Big House already in the bag, should be the odds-on favorite to win the conference. Then there's the Utes' sworn enemy Brigham Young, which narrowly escaped Washington with a win on Saturday. The Cougars still need to get by UCLA next week and they finish the season with a pair of daunting road games at Air Force and archrival Utah.

But of all the non-BCS teams vying for a big BCS payday, no one would possess a better resume than East Carolina should it win out. The Pirates have already beaten (then-No. 17) Virginia Tech and No. 8 West Virginia. Their four non-conference games are all against BCS conference opponents (North Carolina State and Virginia still remain). If ECU runs the table, it would finish the regular season with a 13-0 record and 4-0 against teams in the Big East and ACC (with two probable conference champions). That would be good enough to lock up a BCS berth.

In fact, East Carolina's toughest remaining contest might be the Conference USA championship game, against perhaps either Rice or Tulsa. Whether the Pirates can handle that kind of pressure just might decide the BCS bowl pecking order, because the burden of having to win one last game to earn a BCS bid has proved to be enormous.

An astounding eight times (out of 23 opportunities), a higher ranked team, needing only a win to clinch either a BCS title game berth or a BCS bowl bid, lost to an underdog in the conference championship game in the BCS Era (1998-2007). Add three other choke jobs (UCLA in 1998, USC in 2006 and West Virginia in 2007) - when a team lost its final regular-season game to blow a shot at the BCS title game - the pressure of the "last big game" has manifested itself time and again.

And who better than East Carolina coach Skip Holtz should understand that? He was a 29-year-old offensive coordinator (under his father Lou) for Notre Dame in 1993 when the No. 1-ranked Irish needed only a home win over Boston College to secure a shot at the national championship. Instead, the Holtzs watched Tom Coughlin's Eagles pull out a 41-39 upset on David Gordon's 41-yard field goal as time expired.

Notre Dame has not recovered from that loss. Neither has Lou Holtz. Skip Holtz might remember that a bit more vividly later in the season should the Pirates continue their run at a BCS bid.

But we're only two weeks into the season. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

(For you Notre Dame fans - and haters - here's a trip down memory lane)

05 September 2008

BCS Era No. 6 -- Texas

(From BCS Guru)

Overall Record: 103-25 (.805), 2nd
BCS Bowl Record: 2-0 (2, 12th)
National Titles (Game Record): 1 (1-0)
Final AP Rankings: 15-21-12-5-6-12-5-1-13-10 (Top 5: 4/Top 10: 5)

Without a doubt, Texas has been the most consistent program in the BCS Era – which coincided with Mack Brown’s tenure in Austin. The Longhorns have won at least nine games in each of the 10 seasons and finished no lower than No. 13 in the final AP poll since 2000.

But aside from its lone championship season of 2005, when Vince Young authored the miracle finish against two-time defending champion USC, Texas has had a frustrating time in the BCS Era. The inability to beat Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout, including a five-game losing streak from 2000-2004, relegated the Horns to just two BCS bowl appearances.

04 September 2008

BCS Era No. 7 -- Florida

(From BCS Guru)

Overall Record: 93-34 (.732), 10th
BCS Bowl Record: 3-1 (4, 7th)
National Titles (Game Record): 1 (1-0)
Final AP Rankings: 5-12-10-3-U-24-U-12-1-13 (Top 5: 3/Top 10: 4)

The Gators won the 2006 BCS championship in coach Urban Meyer’s second season in Gainesville. The program’s BCS stature is only marred by the three-year tenure of Ron Zook that sandwiched between Meyer and Steve Spurrier. The Ol’ Ball Coach guided the Gators to three BCS bowl berths in his final four seasons at the Swamp.

Florida will be facing stiffer competition in the SEC with the rise of Georgia in its own division and the emergence of LSU as a perennial powerhouse. Meyer must prove that 2006 was no fluke as the Gators managed to win the SEC just twice (2000 and 2006) in the BCS Era.

02 September 2008

The Near Real Deal: Trojans On Top

(From BCS Guru)

Kind of getting old, doesn't it?

The first weekend of the 2008 season is in the books, and surprise! we find USC ranked No. 1 in the two major polls, and now in the unofficial BCS standings.

This version of the standings is a virtual simulation of what the BCS standings would look like had it been published at this point of the season. We have four of the six BCS computer ratings available, as well as the coaches poll. The AP poll, as has been practiced, is used in place of the Harris Interactive Poll; and the median ranking of 23 non-BCS computers is used for each team as substitute for the two computer ratings currently unavailable.

It should be no surprise that USC would be No.1 in the BCS standings after the Trojans vaulted past both Georgia and Ohio State and took the top spot in the AP and Coaches polls. What's surprising is that USC has a rather robust lead over No. 2 Ohio State. The Trojans are ranked No. 1 in just about every computer rating available - BCS and non-BCS.

And since USC is off next week and won't play again until its Sept. 13 showdown against Ohio State at the L.A. Coliseum, it's apparent that the Trojans will retain the No.1 ranking entering that game.

While USC went on the road and played a BCS conference opponent - and routed Virginia, 52-7 - most of the top title contenders played either I-AA or non-BCS foes at home. In addition, Georgia's 45-21 victory over Georgia Southern and Ohio State's 43-0 win over Youngstown State both proved costly. Neither team received much credit from the pollsters and both suffered potentially devastating injuries.

The Buckeyes, ranked No. 1 in the preseason BCS standings, dropped to No. 2, with a slim lead over Florida. Georgia dropped to No. 4, followed by another SEC powerhouse and defending BCS champion LSU. Oklahoma, Missouri, West Virginia, Texas and Auburn round out the top 10.

Several teams made giant leaps into the top 25 with resounding victories. Alabama moved up from No. 26 to No. 14 after routing Clemson in the Georgia Dome. Utah and UCLA also cracked the top 25 with wins over Michigan and Tennessee, respectively.

Clemson, as expected, dropped from No. 9 all the way to No. 29. The Vols, after losing in overtime at the Rose Bowl, are now No. 34. Virginia Tech fell from No. 13 to No. 36 after losing late against East Carolina in Charlotte.

One team that made a belated and not-so-conspicuous appearance in the standings is Miami (Fla.). Once a perennial contender for the national championship and a fixture atop the BCS standings, the 'Canes received a single vote in both the AP and coaches polls. Miami crept into the 47th spot after a resounding pounding of Charleston Southern, 52-7.