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Ness Notes

   by Larry Ness - 10/24/2008

Texas, No. 1 in all three polls (AP, Harris and Coaches'), was a clear-cut number No.1 in the season's first BCS standings, which were released last Sunday (note: AP poll is not used in the BCS formula). The 7-0 Longhorns were No. 1 in all six computer rankings as well, giving Texas an average of .9979, well ahead of Alabama (.9487), No. 2 in all human polls, as well as No. 2 in all six computer rankings. Penn State was No. 3 (.8666) but anyone familiar with the rankings knows that Texas and Alabama are both too far ahead to catch, if both schools were able to "win-out!"


However, BCS history tells us that's not something which is likely to happen. In fact, just the opposite is true. Only Florida State (1999) and USC (2004) have debuted as the BCS' initial No. 1 team and gone one to win the national championship. It should be noted though, that the last five initial No. 1s have reached the BCS title game, although only USC (in '04) claimed a title.


Oklahoma ('03), USC ('05) plus Ohio State in both '06 and '07, each opened at No. 1 in the first BCS standings those years, but all four lost in the championship game. Oddly, three of the four were blowout losses, as Oklahoma lost 55-19 to USC in '04, while Ohio State lost to Florida (41-14) in '06 and to LSU (38-24) in '07. USC's '05 team, looking for its second straight BCS title and third straight national title (had captured the AP title in '03), lost that classic Rose Bowl encounter with Texas, 41-38.


Speaking of multiple title winners, LSU's win in '07, makes the Tigers the only school to have captured two BCS national titles (first won in '03), which means one may find the following factoid rather odd. While Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC have spent a combined 46 weeks at the top of the BCS standings (each school has won a single BCS title), LSU has spent a grand total of just two weeks at the No. 1 spot.


Opening at No. 1 is not necessarily at good omen, just ask UCLA. The Bruins became the first-ever No. 1 team back in 1998, the initial year of the BCS. UCLA spent one week as the No. 1 ranked team but has never returned. However, being ranked in the top-six of the initial BCS standings does seem to be significant. Nineteen of the 20 teams to have played in the 10 BCS title games, have all been ranked no lower than sixth in that year's initial standings.


The lone exception came in '03, when LSU opened at No. 12. That year, USC finished No. 1 in both the AP and the Coaches' poll, but finished just No. 3 in the final regular season BCS standings (Oklahoma finished No. 1 and LSU at No. 2). The "fall out" from that fiasco caused the AP to drop out of the BCS process (replaced by the Harris poll) and for the aggregate computer ratings to lose some of their influence. Is it better or worse now? Who knows?


The last two years we've seen Florida leapfrog idle Michigan in the final 2006 BCS standings and LSU go from No. 7 in the second-to-last standings, to No. 2 and a berth in the national championship game, last year.


Some random thoughts on this year's initial standings. First off, over the last 10 years, at least one of the top-three teams in a given year's initial standings, had also been one of the AP's top-three preseason teams. That's not the case this year. Texas was the AP's No. 11 team in its preseason poll, while Alabama was ranked just 24th and Penn State, 22nd.


Georgia was the AP's preseason No. 1 (coaches' poll as well) but opened at No. 7 in the BCS standings. Oklahoma State, unranked in anyone's preseason poll and just 18-19 in Mike Gundy's first three seasons, is 7-0 to start '08 and ranked No. 6, the school's highest-ever BCS ranking (previous high was 14th).


Fellow SEC school Florida got no 'love' from the computers, as the Gators, ranked 6th in the Harris poll and 7th by the coaches, opened No. 10 in the BCS standings due to their ranking of 12 by the computers. USC opened at No. 5 in the BCS standings and Ohio State at No. 9, but Trojans' fans must be wondering how the BCS computers have their team ranked 10th and the Gators rankled 5th.


There are five schools from non-BCS conferences ranked in the initial standings, with the Sun Belt being the only conference not represented. Utah (MWC) is the highest-ranked non-BCS school at 11, followed by Boise State (WAC) at No. 12, TCU (giving the MWC two schools) at 14, Tulsa (C-USA) at 19 and Ball State (MAC) at No. 20. Only one non-BCS school can quality for a BCS bowl bid (if ranked at least in the top-12 or ranked in the top-16 ahead of a BCS conference champ), but not more than one.


Weekend highlights: Nine schools remain unbeaten heading into this week's action, having gone a collective 64-0 SU and 42-14 ATS (that's 75.0 percent). Boise State (13th in the AP and 12th in the BCS) is the first team to play, visiting Fresno State on Friday night (Broncos are favored by seven points). Another non-BCS school, Utah (8-0 SU and 3-4 ATS), is the lone one of the nine unbeatens to be off this weekend.


The Utes have won nine straight games going back to the end of last year (just 3-5 ATS), a streak that's matched by No. 3 Penn State (8-0 SU and 6-1 ATS) and No. 8 Texas Tech (7-0 SU and 2-3 ATS) for the longest active winning streaks in CFB. The Nittany Lions are 7-1 ATS in their nine straight wins and visit Columbus on Saturday to face No. 10 Ohio State (9th in the BCS). PSU is favored by two points but the Nittany Lions are 0-7 SU in Columbus since joining the Big 10.


Texas Tech (a one-point underdog) takes its nine-game winning streak (just 3-4 ATS) to Lawrence, Kansas where the No. 19 Jayhawks (23 in the BCS) have won 13 straight games (10-1 ATS). However, KU hasn't beaten a ranked team during that span plus Tech has won nine of its last 10 against Kansas, including going 5-0 in Lawrence. The Red Raiders have scored at least 30 points in 23 of their last 25 games, including 11 in a row, a streak which leads the nation.


There are two other important games matching top-25 opponents, besides PSU/OSU and Texas Tech/Kansas. They are No.1 Texas hosting No. 7 Oklahoma State (6th in the BCS) and No. 11 LSU (13th in the BCS) hosting No. 9 Georgia (7th in the BCS). The Big 12 and SEC dominated the first BCS standings with the Big 12 featuring four of the nations' top-eight teams plus two more schools among the top-25, 15th-ranked Missouri and 23rd-ranked Kansas. The SEC, which has won the last two BCS titles (Florida in '06 and LSU in '07), placed four schools in the BCS standings' top-13.


Saturday's meeting between 7-0 Oklahoma State and 7-0 Texas is also unique because both schools are also undefeated ATS, as well. OSU is 6-0 ATS and Texas 7-0. Something has to give here and the Longhorns are favored by 12 points. How often have you seen a 7-0 team (also 6-0 ATS) getting 12 points?


Ball State (7-0 SU and 6-0 ATS) joins Oklahoma State and Texas as the only three schools to be both perfect SU and ATS in '08. The Cardinals, who entered the AP poll for the first time in school history on October 5, will host Eastern Michigan and are favored by 25 points. Georgia Tech (6-1) continues to 'fly under the radar,' as the Yellow Jackets are also undefeated ATS with a 5-0 pointspread mark, despite having suffered one loss. Georgia Tech will host Virginia on Saturday, laying 14 points.


My closing kudos go to the state of Oklahoma. When the latest AP poll came out last Sunday, Oklahoma (4), Oklahoma State (7) and Tulsa (22) were all ranked at the same week for the first time since November 12, 1945. The three schools are a combined 20-1 SU and 15-3 ATS. By the way, it's Oklahoma which owns the SU loss and is just 4-2 ATS, compared to OSU and Tulsa's combined 11-1 ATS mark. Who'da thunk it?

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