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CFB '08: Lucky #11

   by Larry Ness - 08/19/2008

The number 11, like the number seven, is associated with good luck. With that in mind, let's hope for the best this college football season, as the BCS enters its 11th year. That's right, it's been that long since the entire "BCS mess" started with a confusing press conference at a Chicago hotel in July of 1998. Things haven't cleared up much since, although as I've reminded readers often, picking college football's national champion, has never been "smooth sailing."

USA Today's preseason top-25 poll (coaches' poll) was released on August 1, with the Georgia Bulldogs claiming the top spot. This past Saturday (August 9), the AP released its preseason top-25 and the Bulldogs were also the top choice of the writers. It marked the first time in school history that Georgia was the AP's preseason No. 1. Georgia's only national championship came back in 1980, which is best-remembered as Herschel Walkers' freshman year.

History is not on Georgia's side in '08, as only 10 AP preseason No. 1 teams have gone on to claim the national title, since the AP first instituted its preseason poll back in 1950. Tennessee was the first to do it (1951) and Michigan State did the very next year in 1952. Oklahoma turned the trick in 1956, 1974, and 1975. Alabama did it in 1978 and Oklahoma did for a fourth time in 1985. Since then, only Florida State in 1993 and 1999 plus USC (in 2004), have won national titles after opening the year as the AP's No. 1 team.

A quick history reminder of what I mean when I say picking college football's national champion, has never been "smooth sailing." When Tennessee won its AP title in 1951, the Vols lost in the Sugar Bowl that year to No. 3 Maryland (28-13) to finish 10-1, while the Terps wound up 10-0. However, national champions were voted on prior to the bowls back then. In 1952, Michigan State finished its regular season 9-0 but wouldn't join the Big 10 until 1953 and didn't compete in any of the seven bowls that year (there are 34 bowls on this year's schedule). You still think the BCS is CFB's biggest problem?

Anyway, back to the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia finished 11-2 lat season, after its 41-10 thumping of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs finished No. 2 in the final AP poll last year and No. 3 in the coaches' poll. The team returns 16 starters in '08 and head coach Mark Richt owns a 72-19 (.791) seven-year mark at the school, which includes an amazing 25-4 mark (.862) in opponents' stadiums. However, the Bulldogs will face an extremely tough schedule in '08.

The SEC placed five other schools along with Georgia in the AP's preseason top-25 and all five are on Georgia's schedule this year, plus the Bulldogs must visit No.15 Arizona State on September 20. In all, the Bulldogs will face eight teams which feature head coaches who have won national titles on some level. Don't believe it? Below is a list in order of appearance on Georgia's 2008 schedule.

Georgia Southern's Hatcher won a Division II title at Valdosta State, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier won a national title at Florida in '96, ASU's Dennis Erickson won two titles at Miami-Florida in '89 and '91, Alabama's Nick Saban won at LSU in '03, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer won the first-ever BCS title in 1998 with the Vols, LSU's Les Miles won last year, Florida's Urban Meyer won with the Gators in '06 and Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson won multiple titles at Division I-AA Georgia Southern.

If Georgia can survive the regular season and win the SEC-East (something it wasn't able to do last year), it would then have to win the SEC championship game and the BCS title game, played this year in Dolphin Stadium on January 8. Will Georgia be one of the two teams playing for this year's national title in Miami? It would be a school-first and that's nothing to be ashamed of. This may come as a surprise to many but in the BCS' 10-year history, just 11 schools have played in a BCS title game (20 spots).

Florida State played in the game's first three years (won only in 1999) but hasn't been back since losing to Oklahoma in 2000. The Sooners have also played in three BCS title games but after beating FSU 13-2 in '00, lost to LSU in '03 and USC in '04. Ohio State upset (or should I say 'robbed') Miami 31-24 to win the '02 title in the game's lone overtime contest (double-OT, to be exact) but as everyone knows, has been manhandled the last two years, losing 41-14 to Florida in '06 and 38-24 to LSU last year.

LSU is the only two-time winner in BCS title-history ('03 and '07), while Miami and USC join the Tigers as schools with two appearances. Miami crushed Nebraska 37-14 in '01 and then 'lost' to Ohio State in '02. The Trojans buried the Sooners 55-19 in '04 but lost that classic 41-38 game to the Longhorns in '05. Texas joins Florida ('06) and Tennessee in '98 (beat FSU 23-16), as schools which have won in their only BCS title-game appearances. Nebraska ('01) and Va Tech (lost to FSU 46-29 in '99) are both 0-1 in title-game appearances and complete the list of 11 BCS participants.

All told, there have been 42 BCS bowl games in 10 years. Only 13 of the 42 games (31.0 percent) have been decided by a TD or less (including four title games), while 24 of the games (that's 57.1 percent) have been decided by 10 or more points, including the other six championship games. The best BCS game-ever has to be Boise State's 43-42 overtime win in the '07 Fiesta Bowl ('06 season) but the best title game was undoubtedly Texas beating USC 41-38 in '06 ('05 season).

If the Bulldogs or for that matter, any of the NCCA's other 118 bowl division schools don't make the BCS title game, they'll be plenty of other opportunities. As I already mentioned, there are 34 bowls on this year's schedule, two more than last year. New this year are the Congressional Bowl (Washington, DC) and the St Petersburg Bowl (guess which city this one is in). That means that 68 of the 119 schools (57.1 percent) will go 'bowling' in 2008 (or early 2009).

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