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CFB Notes

   by Larry Ness - 09/25/2009

The 2009 CFB season began its final weekend of September on Thursday night with No. 4 Ole Miss falling 16-10 at South Carolina. The Rebels' ranking in the AP poll was the school's highest since it was also No. 4 back in October of 1970 and the win by South Carolina was the biggest win of coach Steve Spurrier's five seasons in Columbia. South Carolina had been 1-31 all-time against top-five foes prior to Thursday's night's victory with its only other win over a top-five opponent coming back in 1981 at North Carolina, 31-13.

With Ole Miss' loss, ranked teams are now 51-7 (.879) against unranked opponents to open 2009 but just 23-24-1 ATS or 48.9 percent (there have been 10 non-lined games). There is just one game featuring ranked opponents on Saturday, as No. 9 Miami-Florida visits No.11 Va Tech (more on this later).

Already this season, the AP's No. 3 team has lost twice in first three weekends. Oklahoma was ranked No. 3 in the preseason but lost to then-No. 20 BYU 14-13 at Cowboys Stadium on September 5 with last year's Heisman-winner (Sam Bradford) missing the entire second half with an injury. BYU’s win marked the school’s third-ever win over a top-3 team. There were no major upsets in CFB '09's second weekend but another No. 3 team lost last weekend.

USC lost 16-13 up in Seattle last Saturday to Washington (Trojans were favored by three TDs), now coached by former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian. Pete Carroll came to USC in 2001, inheriting a team which had topped six wins just once (in 1998) in the five years prior to his arrival. His first team went just 6-6 after losing 10-6 to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl but over the last seven seasons, Carroll's Trojans are the only team in the country which has finished in the top-five each year.

USC won the AP national title in 2003, the BCS title in 2004 and came oh-so-close to winning a third straight national title in 2005, losing 41-38 to Texas in that classic Rose Bowl showdown. As great as Carroll's record has been, last Saturday's loss marks the fourth straight year he's lost a game as a double-digit favorite when ranked No. 3 or higher. His 2006 team lost two such games. No. 3 USC lost 33-31 at Oregon State as a 10-point favorite mid-season and then after climbing back to a ranking of No. 2, lost 13-9 at UCLA (as 11-point favorites), when a win would have gotten the Trojans into the BCS title game for a third straight season.

The Trojans were 41-point favorites and ranked No. 2 in the country in 2007 when they lost 24-23 at home to Stanford. The loss ended USC's 35-game home win streak plus snapped its 24-game Pac-10 home win streak as well. No. 1 USC was favored by 25 points last season when it lost 27-21 at Oregon State on a Thursday night in its third game of the year. So what's going on?

USC's loss this past Saturday dropped them to No. 12 in the AP poll, the first time the Trojans have been out of the top-10 since the second half of the 2007 season (the year they lost as 41-point favorites at home to Stanford). USC fell to No. 10 in the Coaches' poll, which unlike the AP poll, is part of the BCS formula. The first BCS standings don't come out until October 18 and we should remember that back in 2003 LSU was ranked just No. 12 in the initial BCS standings, yet went on to beat Oklahoma in the BCS title game that year (same season the Trojans finished No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' polls, yet just No. 3 in the final BCS standings).

USC's loss was Washington's gain, as the upset win allowed the Huskies to enter the top-25 (at No. 24) for the first time since September 28, 2003. Washington hadn't had a home win over a team ranked in the AP top-three since November 14, 1981, when it beat another 3rd-ranked USC team 13-3. What's happened at Washington is truly remarkable. The Huskies lost 21 of their last 23 games under coach Tyrone Willingham, including all 12 in 2008 to become the first winless team in school history and the first Pac-10 school to go 0-12.

New head coach Steve Sarkisian claimed he expected his Huskies to compete immediately and I guess he was right. The Huskies opened the 2009 season by losing at home to then-No. 9 LSU 31-23 in Seattle but out-gained the Tigers 478 yards to 321 and led in FDs 25-17. The defeat marked Washington's 15th straight loss (tying a conference record) and its ninth straight at home. However, the Huskies ended both of those losing streaks with a 42-23 win over Idaho on September 12. Then, last Saturday in their third straight home game, shocked the Trojans.

Has any school ever lost 15 straight games and then after back-to-back wins (one coming at home against an Idaho team which had just snapped a 14-game road losing streak the weekend before), found itself in the top-25? I don't know the answer for sure but it seems unlikely. By the way, the winner of Saturday's Washington at Stanford game will move to 2-0 in Pac 10 play and be in first place (you can't make this stuff up).

Last weekend was a bad one for the MWC, as then-No. 7 BYU got crushed at home 54-28 by Florida State and then-No. 18 Utah (owners of CFB's longest active winning streak with 16 straight victories) lost 31-24 at Oregon. The MWC's last hope for a BCS bowl bid now rests with current No. 15 TCU but the Horned Frogs have a very tough test on Saturday with a date in "Death Valley" against Clemson.

TCU isn't the only ranked team playing on the road and facing a dangerous opponent this weekend. No. 6 Cal visits Oregon where the Ducks just ended Utah's 16-game winning streak last weekend, No. 22 North Carolina is at Ga Tech (Yellow Jackets are currently unranked but were No. 15 in both the AP and Coaches' preseason poll and are the small favorite in the game) and as already mentioned, No. 24 Washington is at Stanford (Cardinal are favored by about a TD).

I noted in an article over the summer that no school has begun a season unranked by the coaches and gone on to play in the BCS title game (11 years). More recently, no school not in the coaches' top-10 during the preseason has reached the title game over the last five years. However, I also noted the following in that same article.

Utah was unranked going into last year by the coaches, yet finished as college football's only unbeaten team in 2008. The Utes finished 13-0, including their impressive 31-17 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Speaking of Alabama, the Tide were also unranked at the beginning of the 2008 season, yet won their first 12 games before losing to Florida in the SEC championship game and then to Utah. That leads me back to this year's Miami-Florida team.

The 'Canes entered the 2009 season unranked and why not? They had gone just 19-19 over the previous three seasons and many were questioning whether head coach Randy Shannon was "up to the task," considering Miami would open the 2009 season with the toughest four-game stretch in the nation. Miami is 2-0 halfway through its 'gauntlet,' beating then-No. 18 Florida State 38-34 in Tallahassee and then-No. 14 Ga Tech 33-17 in Miami.

Miami's win over Ga Tech moved the 'Canes to No. 9 in the AP poll (up from 20th) but the lag-behind coaches only have them ranked 13th (what else is new?). Miami plays at No. 11 Va Tech on Saturday and then hosts Oklahoma on October 3. If Miami is 4-0 when we wake up on October 4, watch out! The again, the 'Canes could be 2-2 and Shannon will be back on the 'hot seat.'

Most feel that current No. 8 Boise State has the best chance of being this year's "BCS-buster" now that BYU has lost. After all, No. 15 TCU must play at Clemson this Saturday, at BYU on October 24 plus host Utah on November 14. Meanwhile, the Broncos will be significant favorites in each of their remaining 10 games. Life is pretty good up there on that blue turf and Chris Peterson (currently 38-4 in his fourth year at Boise) should think long and hard about leaving "the coop" as predecessors Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins did.

I won't argue against the fact that Boise is the most-likely "BCS-buster" in 2009 but C-USA's Houston will deserve a serious look if the Cougars beat Texas Tech this Saturday in Houston. The Cougars won 45-35 at Stillwater over then-No.5 Oklahoma State on September 12, giving the school its first win over a top-five opponent since 1984. The win got them back in the AP top-25 at No. 21 two weeks ago (first ranking since the David Klingler-led team of 1991) and despite a bye last week, the Cougars are up to No. 17 this week (although just 23 in the coaches' poll).

Good luck...Larry

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