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Ness Notes

   by Larry Ness - 09/18/2008

The CFB weekend got an early kickoff as Louisville beat Kansas State 38-29 on Wednesday night. The Cardinals, who did not score an offensive point and totaled just 205 yards in losing their season-opener at home to Kentucky 27-2 on August 31, had 577 total yards Wednesday night. Freshman RB Victor Anderson had 176 yards rushing, including TD runs of 29, 56 and 27 yards. It just goes to show how quickly things can turn around in the world of sports.


Wednesday night's game was the opening of CFB '08's fourth weekend of action and we've already seen enough volatility and "head-scratching" decisions in the polls early on, to realize that come December, some schools will be "left screaming." Georgia opened the year as the nation's No. 1 team in both the AP and Coaches' polls but despite a 3-0 start to the season, the Bulldogs enter this weekend ranked No. 3. The last time the AP's preseason No. 1 one fell to No. 3 despite a 3-0 start, was back in 1985, when it happened to Oklahoma.


However, here's a little bone for all Bulldogs fans (pardon the pun). In that 1985 season, the Sooners wound up winning the national title, ending their season with a 25-10 win over then-No. 1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl. If Georgia were to win this year's national title, the Bulldogs will have earned it. They have a brutal schedule the rest of the way, beginning with a Saturday visit to Tempe to take on Arizona State. Also remaining on Georgia's 2008 schedule are Alabama (9), Tennessee, Vandy (off to a 3-0 start), LSU (6), Florida (4), Kentucky, Auburn (10), Georgia Tech and then possibly, the SEC title game. Good luck.


It's hard to argue with USC being ranked No. 1 after a 52-7 win at Virginia to open the year and then last Saturday's destruction of then-No. 5 Ohio State, 35-3. However, there were more than a few "head-scratching" decisions by pollsters (writers or coaches) this past week. The coaches' poll actually left Arizona State in the top-25 (at No. 24), after it got beat 23-20 (in OT) at home (as a 25-point favorite!) to a UNLV team which had lost 23 of its previous 25 road games.


The same coaches dropped Fresno State from its top-25, after the Bulldogs lost 13-10 at home to a Wisconsin team it moved up to No.8 in its most recent poll. The AP writers dropped ASU (Sun Devils were 15) from its poll but of course, the AP poll is no longer a component of the BCS, which features the Coaches' poll, the Harris poll and a computer ranking.


One also must wonder why neither the AP nor coaches' poll didn't feel as if Auburn's 3-2 win at Mississippi State (Tigers went off as 10-point favorites) was worthy of a demotion? The AP dropped Auburn only one spot (from nine to 10), while the coaches left Auburn at No. 9 (go figure?). How about Illinois, a 25-point home favorite against Louisiana-Lafayette winning only 20-17? In the AP poll, that result was good enough to move the Illini from 24th to 22nd, while in the coaches' poll, the previously unranked Illini moved into the top-25 at No. 23. Are you kidding me?


Bobby Bowden (remember him?) has led Florida State to back-to-back 7-6 seasons in '06 and '07 and his Seminoles were unranked in either of the two preseason polls. However, you can't trick either the AP voters or those astute coaches. After beating national powerhouses Western Carolina (69-0) and Chattanooga (46-7), the Seminoles proudly appear in both polls, at No. 24 in the AP and No. 25 in the Coaches'. FYI, Western Carolina lost to Liberty (that's Jerry Falwell's school!) 19-16 on September 13, while Chattanooga lost at Norman 57-2 on August 30 but did of course beat Cumberland University (no easy task!) 47-6 on September 6.


Since USC finished No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' poll back in '03 but got left out of that year's BCS title game (LSU beat Oklahoma), almost every year one or more schools have felt 'screwed' by CFB's current system of choosing its national champion. Most fans (and pundits) blame the BCS, as if its some "computer gone awry" like HAL in the movie 2001, a Space Odyssey.


However, as I like to remind everyone (year after year), it's rarely the computer component which has the biggest impact on the final BCS standings. Rather, it's the votes of the coaches and Harris poll members, which comprise two-thirds of the BCS rankings, which have the most effect.


The Mountain West Conference is celebrating its 10th birthday this year. I bring this to light because this past weekend, BYU crushed UCLA (59-0), New Mexico (plus-10) beat Arizona 36-28, TCU beat Stanford (31-17) and UNLV (plus-25) won at ASU, 23-20 (OT). However, as MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson was quoted as saying, "One week out of 10 years doesn't make you a BCS conference."


The conference came into being one year after the BCS was created (in 1998) and the higher-ups had already established the parameters. The Mountain West got in, Thompson went on to say, "after the train left the station." He's probably right. Throughout the year, I'll revisit the qualification 'hoops' that non-BCS conference schools (C-USA, MAC, MWC, Sun Belt and WAC) have to go through to get a BCS bowl bid, if any of those schools are close to 'crashing the BCS party.'


We all remember that Utah was the first non-BCS conference school to earn a BCS bowl bid in 2004 (beat Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl), then Boise State did it in '06 (beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta, one of the greatest CFB bowl games of all time) and Hawaii made it to the Sugar Bowl last year, only to be embarrassed by Georgia, 41-10 (game wasn't that close).


There's at least an outside chance that both BYU (No. 14 in the current AP poll) and East Carolina (No. 15) could finish in the BCS top-12, which is the 'magic' number. However, finishing in the top-12 only guarantees one spot. BYU and East Carolina could both finish in the final top-12, with one of those schools getting edged out by the Big East or ACC champions. One more FYI, before moving on. ACC teams are 1-9 all-time in BCS bowls, while non-BCS conference schools have gone 2-1. To be continued....


There are two games this weekend featuring top-25 opponents, as No. 6 LSU is at No. 10 Auburn and No. 18 Wake Forest is at No. 24 Florida State (also note that No. 3 Georgia is at Arizona State, which is unranked in the AP poll but is ranked 24th in the coaches' poll). There have been seven ranked teams to lose to unranked opponents in the season's first three weekends and more than a few ranked teams face tough tests this weekend, against unranked opponents.


The list includes No. 21 West Virginia at Colorado (Thursday) and Saturday games involving No. 4 Florida at Tennessee, No. 9 Alabama at Arkansas, No. 17 Oregon hosting Boise State and No. 20 Utah at Air Force. BYU puts the nation's longest active winning streak on the line in a home game vs Wyoming. The Cougars have won 13 straight (6-5 ATS), as well as 14 straight at home (9-3-1 ATS). Georgia owns the nation's second-longest winning streak (10 straight / 6-2-1 ATS) and plays at ASU. Note that Georgia head coach Mark Richt is an amazing 26-5 SU in true road games since taking over at Georgia in 2001.


UAB owns the nation's longest active losing streak with nine straight losses (2-6-1 ATS) but hosts Alabama State this week and should win. Kent State had lost nine straight games going into its home game last Saturday gainst Delaware State and the team's 24-3 win ended the Golden Flashes' losing streak. However, it was a non-lined game, so KSU's 0-9 ATS streak is still alive as they travel to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. Assuming UAB will win, Army, which has lost eight straight (1-6 ATS), will own the nation's longest active losing streak if the Cadets can't beat Akron this Saturday at West Point.


Good luck, Larry.

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