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Bowl Bound?

   by Larry Ness - 08/18/2004

The question asked was "When did you become so paranoid?" and the response came back "When everyone began plotting against me." When USC, ranked No.1 in both traditional polls last year, finished third in the final BCS standings behind Oklahoma and LSU, one couldn’t blame either USC or the Pac-10 for feeling a tad paranoid.

The BCS began its reign back in 1998, when its final standings became the basis for the NCAA in choosing its two national title game participants. Since that first BCS title game, featuring Tennessee and Florida State (won by Tennessee 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl), the only BCS affiliated conference that has not had one of its members win a national championship is the Pac-10! In fact, the Pac-10 Conference has never had one of its members make the title game.

The ACC, the Big East and the Big-12 have all had three of its teams play in the national title game. Each conference owns one win. Florida State of the ACC won it all in 1999, Miami-Florida of the Big East in 2001 and Oklahoma of the Big-12 in 2000. The Big Ten’s only title-game appearance came in 2002, when the Buckeyes out-lasted the Hurricanes in double-overtime! The SEC is a perfect 2-0 in BCS title games, after LSU’s 21-14 win in the Sugar Bowl last year.

Is this the year for the Pac-10 and USC? It could be, as the Trojans are loaded once again in 2004. If they get by Virginia Tech in Washington, DC on August 28, USC’s toughest remaining games will be at home vs. California on October 9th and a visit to Corvallis against Oregon State on November 6th. USC enters the 2004 season on a nine-game winning streak (9-0 ATS), as well as a 15-game home-winning streak (11-4 ATS).

While USC and the Pac-10 may bemoan the lost opportunities of the last six years, they should look no further than these six schools for some perspective. Since the BCS was formed in 1998, there are only six schools playing in BCS-affiliated conferences that have failed to make a bowl appearance of any kind.

They are Baylor, Duke, Indiana, Rutgers, Temple and Vanderbilt. Duke holds the worst six-year record by any of these schools, at 13-55. Indiana holds the best record, at 21-47. Rutgers, just 17-51, is the only one of the schools to own a winning ATS mark during that span at 33-31-1.

Last year this list included California and Kansas, but they both went bowling in 2003. Does anyone of the remaining six have a chance to get to a bowl game in 2004? If there is one team, it’s Rutgers.

Despite the fact that they are the only Division 1-A school in New Jersey (and for that matter in the NYC area), Rutgers has had just four winning seasons in the last 23 years! The school’s last (and only) bowl appearance came in the 1978 Garden State Bowl, where they of course lost to Arizona State (34-18).

Things are looking up for the Scarlet Knights in 2004, though. Last year they finished 5-7 with an incredible ATS mark of 10-1-1! Head coach Greg Schiano (former Miami-Florida assistant) is well respected and enters just his fourth year in New Brunswick. The 2004 team features 16 returning starters from last year, including nine on the offensive side of the ball. QB Ryan Hart is back with a deep set of RBs, playing behind a veteran offensive line! Last year, Rutgers averaged 27.4 ppg, the team’s best average since 1993. Defensively they’ll set no records, but they will be improved.

The best news for Rutgers in 2004 however, is that football-powers Miami and Virginia Tech are now playing in the ACC, not the Big East! Of the team’s six home games, New Hampshire, Kent State, Temple and Connecticut will have to be won if they plan on ending their bowl drought. Rutgers’ other two home games are its season-opener vs. Michigan State and West Virginia on October 30th. To get to at least six wins, the team will need road wins at Vanderbilt (10/9) and Navy (11/20).

As far as Baylor, Duke, Indiana, Temple and Vanderbilt go, the prospects of them being a part of this year’s 28-game bowl schedule are rated as slim-to-none.

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