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College Football Notes
by Larry Ness - 10/22/2010
Alabama entered the 2010 season as the defending national champs and the consensus No. 1 team in the country. The Tide extended its winning streak to 19 games but lost at South Carolina 35-21 back on October 9. Ohio State, winners of 12 in a row, took over the No. 1 spot when the new polls came out the following day, earning the AP's top spot for the first time since the final regular season poll of the 2007 season. That No. 1 rankling didn't last long, as the Buckeyes were manhandled 31-18 last Saturday up at Camp Randall by the Badgers. That meant a third consecutive new No. 1 team for the major polls, as the Oregon Ducks were a consensus No. 1 in the "human" polls (I LOVE that term) when they were released last Sunday afternoon.
Of course, as ESPN made sure everyone knew with its BCS Countdown special, the first BCS standings of the 2010 season were released at 8:15 ET last Sunday night. However, Oklahoma not Oregon, nabbed the No. 1 spot. Oregon was No. 2 (in these rankings, No. 2 is as good as No. 1, as the top-two reams meet for the the title). Boise State fans had been 'teased' all week with rumors that their team would get the No. 1 spot in the first BCS standings but the Broncos had to settle for the No. 3 spot which was historic, as it marked the first time a school from a non-BCS qualifying conference had been ranked that high. Auburn grabbed the No. 4 spot and TCU (another non-qualifying school) came in at No. 5. Defending champs Alabama ranked 8th and Ohio State 10th.
The Sooners claimed the top spot in the BCS standings for a record 20th time, although it should be noted that Oklahoma's BCS history is filled with much more failures than successes. The Sooners captured the BCS championship in 2000 (beat Florida State 13-2) but have since lost BCS title games in 2003 (21-14 to LSU), in 2004 (55-19 to USC) and in 2008 (24-14 to Florida). Stoops and the Sooners have also been major flops when playing in any BCS bowl game (title or non-title), having lost their last five BCS bowl appearances. Oklahoma lost in the Fiesta Bowl in back-to-back years (2006 and 2007 seasons) to Boise State (43-42 in OT) and West Va (48-28), joining those three title-game losses.
BCS history tells us that it is unlikely that Oklahoma and Oregon will meet come January 10 in Glendale, Arizona, as the top-two teams in the first BCS standings of the year have advanced to meet in the national championship game just once in BCS history (BCS began in 1998). That lone instance came in 2005, when USC and Texas (No. 1 and No. 2 in the first BCS standings that year) met in that famous Rose Bowl showdown. It should also be noted that it is likely that this year's championship game will feature two of the teams ranked in the current top-five, as 20 of the 24 championship game participants have been ranked in the initial standings' top-five over the last 12 years. LSU's 2003 team was ranked just 12th in the first BCS standings that year and still holds the record for the team with the lowest-ever first-time ranking to have fought its way into the "ultimate" game.
The latest CFB weekend opened Thursday night and the Ducks established pretty quickly that the AP's No. 1 team was not going to lose for a third straight weekend. The last time the AP No. 1 team had lost in three consecutive weekends was way back in November 1960, when Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri all fell. Oregon became the 43rd different school to hold the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll (first began in 1936) when it ascended to No. 1 last Sunday. It marked the school's first-ever No. 1 ranking, something which hadn't been done since 1990. Back on October 14, 1990, Virginia earned the No. 1 ranking for the first-time in school history and every No. 1 team since then, had been there before (until Oregon!).
Virginia was 6-0 went it earned that No. 1 ranking back in 1990 and while the Cavs moved to 7-0 the following week, they would lose FOUR of their final five games that year, to finish a disappointing 8-4 (remember WR Herman Moore and QB Shawn Moore?). This Oregon team has no intention of a suffering a similar collapse and celebrating its first-ever outing as the AP's No. 1 by routing UCLA 60-13 on Thursday night. QB Darron Thomas threw for a career-high 308 yards and three TDs (Masoli who?) and LaMichael James, the nation's top rusher at 169.6 YPG, finished with 123 yards and two TDs, even after spending part of the first quarter on the sideline with an apparent injury. For good measure, reserve RB Remene Alston ran for three scores.
Oregon stopped a run of losses for top-ranked teams and will undoubtedly maintain its top spot in the human polls but as I mentioned at the top, Oklahoma is No. 1 in the BCS standings. The Sooners get a tough test on Saturday, facing unbeaten Missouri (No. 11 in the BCS) in Columbia. It's one of four games on Saturday with major BCS consequences. The three others are No. 4 Auburn hosting No. 6 LSU, No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa and also in the Big 12, No. 14 Oklahoma State (the Big 12's third unbeaten team) hosting No. 16 Nebraska. It's these type of games which will help the computer ratings of these teams while "making nervous" both No. 3 Boise State and No. 5 TCU, which fear they could be leap-frogged by BCS conference schools in the coming standings even if they remain unbeaten.
It's a reasonable concern. Boise State owns the nation's longest active winning streak (20 in a row) but is idle this weekend. However, the Broncos start early next week with a home game vs Louisiana Tech. As for TCU, the Horned Frogs host Air force on Saturday and better remember that the Falcons lost in Norman to the Sooners earlier this year, just 27-24. Assuming TCU beats the Flyboys (the Horned Frogs won just 20-17 last year in Colorado Springs), the team's chances for an unbeaten season and a second consecutive BCS bowl invite (title game this year?), will 'live' or die' with its November 6 game at Utah (currently No. 9 in the BCS).
Michigan State is 7-0 for the first time since the school opened the 1966 season 9-0. The team's final regular season game that year was its infamous 10-10 tie with Notre Dame (Ara vs Duffy). The Spartans control their own destiny in the Big 10 and while they miss Ohio State this year, they do have three tough road games on deck. It starts this Saturday at a dangerous Northwestern team, then MSU travels to Iowa City on October 30 and visits Happy Valley on November 27 (final regular season game). Ohio State opened at No. 10 in the BCS standings and the Buckeyes' only chance at making the title-game would be to "run the table." The team's next two games are against Purdue and Minnesota but its last three are tougher. Home to Penn St, at Iowa and its season-ender vs Michigan (in Columbus).
There is a lot of football still to be played. Last Saturday was a dreadful day for top-25 teams playing unranked opponents. Top-25 teams had gone 93-7 SU (just 44-40-2 ATS) vs unranked opponents through the season's first six weekends but last Saturday, six top-25 teams fell to unranked opponents. For the week, they were 13-6 SU and 9-9-1 ATS. The Y-T-D numbers are, 106-13 SU and 53-49-3 ATS (not a winning proposition). Oregon took care of unranked UCLA easily Thursday night and a quick look at the schedule doesn't reveal many top-25 teams "in danger" vs unranked opponents on Saturday. However, you never know.
For my complimentary selection this week, I'm going to take California minus the points over Arizona St.