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Countdown to the Orange Bowl

   by Larry Ness - 12/28/2004

The 28-game marathon of a bowl season began back on December 14 and will end on January 4 in the Orange Bowl when No. 1 USC meets No. 2 Oklahoma. USC and Oklahoma have been the AP's No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in EVERY poll this year, for the first time in that poll's history....

However, in a recent development the AP (on December 21) sent a cease-and-desist letter to the BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg, stating that the AP no longer wants to be a part of the BCS standings. The much-criticized BCS will now be "tweaking" its process again, so stay tuned!...

I have always felt the BCS is getting a bad rap, as it has fallen victim to the old adage of "shooting the messenger"! The BCS didn't create the current mess in college football, it just happens to be the one in charge of delivering the news. The college presidents have adamantly refused to create a viable playoff structure that would create ENORMOUS interest from the public and telephone-like numbers when talking about TV-payouts to the schools and conferences. And they haven't done this because?...

Absent a playoff, there is no BEST-WAY to decide a national champion. For the first time in the BCS era, three teams from major conferences--USC, Oklahoma and Auburn--finished unbeaten in the regular season. Auburn was left out of the Orange Bowl with the same 12-0 record held by USC and Oklahoma. In an even bigger controversy, Texas leap-frogged Cal in the final standings, giving the Longhorns the final BCS at-large bid over the Golden Bears....

While many lament that it is all the fault of the BCS, remember that the BCS can not magically devise a way to get three deserving teams into ONE national title game! Prior to the BCS, USC would be headed to Pasadena to host the Rose Bowl, Oklahoma to Tempe to host the Fiesta and Auburn to New Orleans to host the Sugar. Would that really be better?...

What I've never liked about the BCS system is that in declaring a single bowl game as its national title game, all other bowl games become (almost by definition) meaningless! Last year was an exception but not one I would imagine anyone wants to see repeated....

USC was ranked No. 1 in both human polls but was left out of the BCS title game. Therefore the Trojans were able to claim their share of the national championship when they beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Auburn, this year's INJURED PARTY, will not have that opportunity, as the Tigers finished ranked No. 3 in the AP and Coaches' poll plus also wound up No. 3 in the final BCS standings....

There is no scenario this year that would enable Auburn to finish ahead of the USC-Oklahoma winner! While all the bowls leading up to the Orange Bowl are merely window dressings, here are a few of the interesting, if not national title-determining, storylines....

The Big-12 North will try to salvage some pride early this week as Iowa St meets Miami-Ohio in the Independence Bowl (Dec 28) and Colorado takes on UTEP in the Houston Bowl (Dec 29). The Big-12 North won just three games this year vs Big-12 South opponents, with ALL of the wins coming against pathetic Baylor!...

Iowa State is really quite a story though, as the Cyclones entered the 2004 season on a 10-game losing streak both SU and ATS! After opening this year 2-4 and 0-3 in the conference, the Cyclones won four straight before missing a last-second game-winning 24-yard field goal vs Missouri. The Cyclones' eventual loss in OT cost them a berth in the Big-12 title game. They meet Miami-Ohio, a school that entered the 2004 season with the nation's longest current winning streak (13) but WITHOUT QB Ben Roethlisberger (wonder how he's done in the NFL?). The Redhawks finished this year 8-4, including a loss to Toledo in the MAC title game but enter this game with head coach Terry Hoeppner off to Indiana....

Colorado had a troubled off-season but head coach Gary Barnett went from possibly losing his job, to the Big-12's Coach of the Year! Colorado will of course, be trying to erase the memory of its three-first down, 46-yard 42-3 loss to Oklahoma in the Big-12 title game. The Buffs' opponent is UTEP, a school that featured the nation's biggest turnaround, going from 2-11 in 2003 to 8-3 in 2004. UTEP's head coach Mike Price has had his fair share of off-field problems also and he will be trying to avoid the fate of last year's "turnaround darling", Tulsa. Tulsa went from 1-11 in 2002 to an 8-4 regular season in 2033, only to lose its bowl game to Georgia tech, 52-10!...

December 30 features four bowl games. Boston College gets a sneak preview of the ACC (the Eagles join the conference next year) when it meets North Carolina in the Continental Tire Bowl. Boston College QB Paul Peterson broke his hand back on November 20 but the Eagles say he's ready. The scorecard for teams featuring QBs with broken hands to-date stands at 1-1. Cincy's Gino Guidugli was just fine as the Bearcats beat Marshall 32-14 but Toledo's Bruce Gradowski didn't make it past the first half, in the Rockets' 39-10 loss to U Conn....

In the Emerald Bowl, Navy meets New Mexico. Navy is everyone's favorite team these days but despite a 9-2 mark, the Midshipmen did not beat a winning Division 1-A team in 2004 and have beaten just ONE (Air Force in 2003) in the last EIGHT years! Speaking of droughts, New Mexico last won a bowl game in 1961! The Lobos beat Western Michigan 28-12 that year in the one-year-and-out, Aviation Bowl!...

The Holiday Bowl has a history of being one the bowl season's most exciting games year-in and year-out and could be again as the year's edition features Texas Tech vs California. Of course the 'key' to the game's outcome will be Cal's frame of mind, after missing out on its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1959, due to some late MIND-CHANGING by voters in the AP and Coaches' poll....

The Silicon Valley Classic features Troy State and Northern Illinois. Troy is one of three first-time bowl teams this year (UAB and U Conn were the others) and Northern Illinois makes its first bowl appearance since 1983. Troy represents the weak Sun Belt Conference and has only been a Division 1-A member since 2001, while Northern Illinois was probably more deserving of a bowl bid last year!...

December 31 features four more games and probably the most interesting bowl contest outside of the Orange Bowl, as Boise State meets Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. Louisville went 10-1 SU and ATS this year losing only to Miami-Florida (41-38) and failing to cover against only Memphis (won 56-49 as a two-TD favorite). Boise State enters with the nation's longest current winning streak at 22 straight. Louisville has scored 55 points or more in FIVE straight games (an NCAA record!) while Boise enters having scored 55 points or more in FOUR straight. Of note, neither oddsmakers (opened Louisville as a 9 1/2-point favorite) nor the betting public (Louisville is now nearly a two--TD favorite), think this will be a close game....

Neither the Music City Bowl (Minnesota vs Alabama) nor the Sun Bowl (Arizona State vs Purdue) hold much interest. The Sun Bowl could have been a showdown between Arizona State QB Andrew Walter (30 TDs / 9 INTs) and Purdue QB Kyle Orton (28 TDs / 5 INTs) but Walter's shoulder injury forces the Sun Devils to go with a backup QB....

The Peach Bowl will have plenty of interest though, as in-state rivals Florida and Miami-Florida hook up! Miami has never forgiven Florida for discontinuing the annual rivalry (began in 1938) in the late-1980's. Miami has won the last five meetings between the two schools, including the 2003 regular season meeting when Miami overcame a 33-10 third-quarter deficit to win, 38-33. Miami also won the last time these two schools met in a bowl game, when it beat Florida 37-20 in the Sugar Bowl (following the 2000 season)....

Remember the days when January 1 was a college football fan's definition of HEAVEN? If you remember those days fondly, then you may want to watch this year's New Year's Day games?...

The day begins with Wisconsin and Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Wisconsin was 9-0 allowing just 9 PPG (and headed for the Rose Bowl, at least!) but then lost at Michigan State and Iowa, allowing a combined 79 points! Georgia got upset by Tennessee at home the week after beating LSU 45-16 and then with a chance at REDEMPTION, lost at Auburn, 24-6....

The day ends with the "BCS Bowl That Shouldn't Be", Pittsburgh vs Utah in the Fiesta Bowl! Pittsburgh represents the embarrassing Big East and Utah deserves a much better opponent after its record-setting 11-0 season. To add insult to injury, both coaches will be leaving their respective schools, as soon as the final gun sounds!...

In between there's Tennessee and Texas A & M in the Cotton Bowl. West Virginia vs Florida State in the Gator Bowl, a game that features two of the nation's biggest disappointment's in 2004. Iowa and LSU might have provided some drama in the Capital One Bowl but then came the announcement that Nick Saban was leaving LSU (after one year of his SEVEN-YEAR contract extension!) for the Miami Dolphins....

As for the "Granddaddy of them All" the Rose Bowl, this year's game features Texas vs Michigan. It's a contest that provides little interest to college football purists who have been weaned on a traditional Big-10 and Pac-10 (or Pac-8) matchup. As for the non-traditionalists, few if any weren't either somewhat embarrassed or offended by Texas head coach Mack Brown's shameless plea for votes for his team from the writers' and the coaches' poll. That fact that it apparently 'worked', should make us question the process EVEN MORE!...

On January 3, Virginia Tech will play Auburn in the Sugar Bowl and BCS officials can only hope that the Hokies can upset the Tigers, thereby leaving the winner of the January 4 Orange Bowl, as the UNDISPUTED national champion....

Happy New Year!...

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