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Ness Notes

   by Larry Ness - 11/20/2008

The CFB weekend began on Tuesday, as it so often does these days, and the first important game of the weekend was played Wednesday night in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. If Ball State's 31-24 win over Central Michigan was a preview of things to come, we're in for a fun weekend. The Cardinals moved to 11-0, setting a school record for wins in a season (BSU's 1978 team went 10-1). Ball State is one of five remaining unbeaten teams, joining Alabama and Utah (both 11-0) plus Texas Tech and Boise State (both 10-0).

Those five teams are a collective 53-0 SU and 32-14-2 ATS (69.6 percent), belying the notion that the pointspread is "the great equalizer." Alabama, No. 1 in the BCS standings (all rankings from here on out will be that of the BCS, as it's the only one that counts) is idle this weekend, with only its "Iron Bowl" game with Auburn looming on November 29 in Tuscaloosa prior to the Tide's showdown with No. 3 Florida in the SEC championship game (December 6 in Atlanta).

The most important game of the weekend is No. 2 Texas Tech (No. 2) at No. 5 Oklahoma. The Red Raiders have never played a more important game, as a win would put them in the Big 12 championship game (in Kansas City on December 6) and assuming Tech didn't lose at home to Baylor on December 29 (the Bears are 2-49 all-time in Big 12 road games), a win in that game would put the Red Raiders in the BCS title game.

That's pretty heady stuff for a program which has played in 31 bowls but never in one of the four current BCS bowls (Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar). Tech's been to the Cotton Bowl (closest in importance to the current Big-Four) just twice, losing 55-14 to USC after the 1994 season and losing 13-10 to Alabama following the 2005 season. Tech's overall bowl record is a sad 10-20-1.

Meanwhile, the Sooners have been to 41 bowls, including six BCS bowls since 1998 (first year of the BCS). They've won seven national titles with Stoops claiming one of those in 2000 (he lost BCS title games in '03 to LSU and '04 to USC). A win here by the Sooners will likely mean a three-way tie in the Big 12's South division, meaning the school with the highest BCS ranking on November 30, will get to play in the Big 12 title game on December 6.

Tech is tied with Alabama and Utah for the nation's longest active winning streak with 12 straight wins. The Red Raiders are averaging 47.9 PPG (3rd in the nation) and have now scored at least 30 points in 26 of their last 28 games, including 14 in a row, a streak which also leads the nation. Oklahoma is No. 1 in the nation in scoring, averaging 51.4 PPG. The Sooners have won 23 straight home games (14-7-1 ATS), which is the longest active home winning streak in CFB. The Sooners have also won 43 of their last 44 home games and are 59-2 SU at home under Bob Stoops. The Sooners are favored by seven points as of Friday morning.

No. 7 Utah enters the 84th meeting of the "Holy War" with No. 14 BYU, having reached 11-0 for just the second time in school history. The first time was in 2004, when the Utes became the first school from a non-BCS conference to crash the BCS bowl 'party.' That team (coached by Urban Meyer and led by QB Alex Smith, remember him?), finished 12-0, after beating Pitt 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl. As for BYU, the Cougars know a little bit about winning and winning streaks themselves. BYU enters this game 10-1, with that lone loss coming 32-7 at TCU on October 16. That loss ended a 16-game winning streak and since the beginning of the 2006 season, the Cougars are 32-5 SU overall and 22-1 in the MWC. The Utes are favored by seven points.

Boise State is 10-0 and ranked 9th in the BCS standings and the Broncos will be "pulling for" the Cougars on Saturday. There is no way that Boise State could leapfrog the Utes, if they were to beat BYU. Remember, there is just one 'opening' for a non-BCS conference schools in the four BCS bowl games. The Broncos are at Nevada on Saturday, a team they've beaten eight straight times (7-1 ATS), although the non-cover came last year in Boise, when the Broncos (26-point favorites) escaped with a 69-67 win in four overtimes. The Broncos are favored by 6 1/2 points.

Winners of the ACC, Big East, Big 10 and Pac 10 all get a BCS bowl bid. The ACC title is still up for grabs. Thursday night, Miami-Florida (back in the AP top-25 for the first time since September of 2006), got crushed at Georgia Tech, 41-23. The five-time national champs could have clinched at least a tie for first in the Coastal Division with a win. Instead, Georgia Tech (8-3/5-3) takes over first in the convoluted Coastal Division but the Yellow Jackets will need some help because three other contenders could win on a tiebreaker.

As for the Atlantic Division, we know this, if Maryland (7-3/4-2) beats Florida State (7-3/4-3) and Boston College (7-3/3-3) in its final two games, it will earn a berth in the conference title game. Maryland is the only team in the nation this season with four wins over ranked opponents and is a small underdog (1 1/2-points) against FSU this Saturday. Boston College is at Wake Forest, where the Demon Deacons are favored by two points.

Few would have predicted at the beginning of the season that Cincinnati's November 22 home game against Pittsburgh would likely decide the Big East champion. However, first place in the Big East and the inside track toward the conference's BCS berth will be on the line when No. 19 Cincinnati hosts No. 20 Pitt. Dave Wannstedt's first three years produced just a 16-19 record but the Panthers' monumental upset in their season finale over West Virginia last year, which denied West Va a spot in the BCS championship game, heightened expectations in '08.

Pitt suffered a season-opening home loss to Bowling Green but the Panthers have won seven of their past eight games (7-2/3-1). As for Cincy, this is just Brian Kelly's second year at the school but he's already led the Bearcats to two bowl wins. His first game on the sidelines for the Bearcats came in the 2007 International Bowl (a 27-24 win over Western Michigan) and he followed that with a 10-3 record last season (his first full season), including a win in the Papajohns.com Bowl (31-21 over Southern Miss).

The Bearcats have won three straight games, including 28-20 at Louisville last Friday, to move a half-game ahead of Pitt and West Virginia in the conference (8-2/4-1). Beating Pitt would all but wrap up Cincinnati's first-ever BCS bid, as the Bearcats have already beaten West Va and their final conference game is on November 29 at home vs Syracuse (2-8/1-5). Since joining the Big East, the Bearcats are 0-3 SU and ATS vs the Panthers but Saturday they are favored by six points.

Penn State (10-1/6-1) can win the Big 10 by beating Michigan State in Happy Valley on Saturday. The Nittany Lions haven't gone to the Rose Bowl since the January after their 1994 team capped a 12-0 season by beating Oregon 38-20 in Pasadena. That 1994 team was the fourth Joe Paterno team to go unbeaten but not win a national championship, joining the 1968, 1969 and 1973 teams.

The Spartans (9-2, 6-1) could earn their first trip to Pasadena since January of 1988, with a win over Penn State and a Michigan upset of Ohio State (Buckeyes are favored by 20 1/2-points ). That 1987 MSU team opened the season with a 27-13 home win over USC but then lost to Notre Dame 31-8 and Florida State, 31-3. However, they went 7-0-1 in the Big 10 and then beat USC (again), 20-17 in the Rose Bowl. Penn State is favored by 15 1/2-points.

The storyline in the Pac 10 is quite interesting. The Trojans (6th in the BCS) have won six straight Pac 10 titles and gone 5-1 in six consecutive BCS bowl appearances. They are the only team in the nation to have finished in the AP top-five in each of the last six years. The Trojans are 9-1 (7-1 in the Pac 10) this year and own the nation's stingiest defense, allowing 8.3 PPG. However, it's the Oregon State Beavers (7-3/6-1) who control their own fate in the Pac 10. That's because OSU beat then-No. 1 USC 27-21 in Corvallis back on September 25.

If the Beavers beat Arizona in Tucson this Saturday (Beavers are 2 1/2-point dogs) and the Ducks back in Corvallis on November 29th in the 112th meeting of the "Civil War," OSU would be headed to Pasadena for the first time since January of 1965. The Beavers went 8-2 during the 1964 season under head coach Tommy Prothro and then lost 34-7 to Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Prothro left for UCLA after that game and Oregon State's next bowl appearance wasn't until 1999.

In fact, Oregon State suffered 28 consecutive losing seasons (from 1971-1998) before Dennis Erickson rejuvenated the football program in 1999. Erickson led the Beavers to three bowls in his four years in Corvallis, including a 41-9 Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame (that team finished 11-1 and ranked 4th in the final AP poll). Mike Riley returned for a 'second tour' with OSU in 2003 and he's taken the Beavers to four bowls in five years but a Rose Bowl trip this year would be a major surprise and quite noteworthy.

Good luck this weekend, Larry

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