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It's that time again!

   by Larry Ness - 06/30/2005

Go to your local bookstore or newsstand and the magazine racks are filled with all the latest college football annuals. Was it really almost six months ago that USC trounced Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl? Anyway, for sports bettors and handicappers everywhere, it's time to get to work.

I will be entering my 22nd year in the handicapping business with the beginning of the 2005 football season and while I'd like to claim that time has 'flown', I'd be lying! No matter what anyone tells you, this is a tough business and it's a lot of work. It's basically a 365 day-a-year job. One season overlaps another and except for a three-day break during MLB's All Star game, there are games every day.

Anyone feel sorry for me yet? I wouldn't think so. Over the next two months as I prepare for the upcoming college football season, I'll be previewing many aspects of the upcoming year. My first college football preview will be available on the site Monday, July 18. Here's some notes to whet your appetite.

The BCS is more confusing than ever. Two years ago, USC was ranked No. 1 in both so-called "human" polls, yet was left out of the national title game. LSU went on to beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, claiming the BCS title but USC was awarded a share of the national championship when the AP voted USC its top team.

Last year, although few could argue convincingly that USC was NOT the nation's best team after it trounced Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl, the fact remained that an undefeated Auburn team found itself on the outside looking in on a system that provides room for just two teams in its national title game.

What's up for this year? Who knows? The AP has refused to participate in this year's BCS formula and after the coaches voted to only reveal their final poll, ESPN pulled out of its co-sponsorship of the coaches' poll with USA Today. While the debate over how to determine college football's national champion grows hotter each year, the powers that be seem no closer to finding a solution. Of course, a playoff is out of the question!

THE LANDSCAPE

College football's Division I-A membership grows from 117 to 119 schools this year with the addition of Florida Atlantic and Florida International. There are still six BCS affiliated conferences with automatic bids, although the Big East hardly looks the same. Miami and Virginia Tech left for the ACC last year and Boston College joins the ACC for 2005. Temple is out in the Big East (a plus), which left this once powerhouse conference with just FIVE football-playing members before they were joined by Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida from C-USA.

Speaking of the ACC, it will no longer be known as just a basketball conference. Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech have things covered at the top of the league's standings while schools like Boston College (six straight bowls appearances with five straight wins and covers) and Georgia Tech (eight straight bowl seasons / won last two bowls by the combined score of 103-24!) lead a very deep middle-of-the-pack. The ACC will join the championship game fray this year, as Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium will host the league's title game on December 3.

As for the other four "BCS conferences", the Big-10, Big-12, Pac-10 and the SEC remain unchanged. As for the mid-majors, C-USA and the WAC have made major changes (too many to list), while the MAC and MWC have changed slightly.

There are still 28 bowls on the schedule, meaning 56 of the nation's 119 teams (that's 47 percent!) will go 'bowling' at the end of the year. Last year, only one "bowl eligible" school that was not on probation (Akron) did not get an invite. When almost half the nation's schools participate in a bowl game, do you think that maybe we have too many bowl games?

USC will open as the consensus No. 1 team again this year and will be attempting what's been dubbed a "Three-Pete." Pete Carroll has led the Trojans to the AP title in 2003 and an undisputed title in 2004. Since losing at Cal back on 10/12/2003 in triple overtime (34-31), USC has gone 33-1, including winning its last 22 games! Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart returns, as does Reggie Bush. Plus, I'm told the rest of the team ain't bad either.

If USC can pull it off again this year, it will be just the third time in college football history (since 1900) that a school has won three consecutive national championships but it will be the first time it's happened since 1936 (advent of the media polls). California won an undisputed national title in 1920 and shared titles in 1921 (with Cornell) and 1922 (with Cornell and Princeton), going 27-0-1 in the process.

In the mid-30's, Minnesota's legendary head coach Bernie Bierman led the Golden Gophers to a 23-1 three-year record and three straight national championship seasons. In both 1934 and 1935 Minnesota (went 8-0 both years) was voted No. 1 by the Helms Athletic Foundation (began selecting a national champion in 1883!) but shared the title with SMU in 1935, as voted on by the Dickinson System (Frank Dickinson was an Illinois economics professor!). In 1936, the first year of the AP poll, Minnesota finished 7-1 and won its third straight national title, as voted on by the sportswriters.

Since 1936, many schools have won or shared two straight titles, the most recent being Nebraska in 1994 and 1995, but no school has been able to make it three straight. USC is 'loaded' and will make a strong run at the title in 2005! The Trojans open the year with nation's longest winning streak at 22 games. Utah owns the second-longest streak at 16 and Auburn starts the new year having won 15 in a row.

Boise State has won 25 consecutive home games, the nation's longest such streak. USC's 21 straight home wins is second-best, followed Oklahoma's 19 straight home wins, which by the way, have all come by double-digits! Boise State also owns the nation's longest road winning streak with 10 straight wins, with Utah and USC at nine, followed by Oklahoma's eight straight road wins.

Central Florida was the only Division I-A school to go winless in 2004 (0-11) and will open the 2005 season with the nation's longest current losing streak with 15 straight losses! Baylor's 24 consecutive road losses leads the way with Vanderbilt six games behind the Bears with 18 straight losses. It should come as no surprise then, that Baylor and Vanderbilt join Duke, Indiana and Rutgers, as the only BCS-affiliated schools to have not played in a bowl game of any kind since the formation of the BCS in 1998. Temple would have been a part of this list also, but is no longer a member of the Big East, playing the 2005 season as an independent.

The 2005 season also opens with more than a few changes on the sidelines. No, Joe Paterno is STILL in Happy Valley, but 23 Division I-A schools have new head coaches this year. That includes five schools, BYU, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame and Washington, that have won a national title in the last 21 years!

I'll 'tease' the upcoming NFL season with a new column on July 5 and after a mid-season update of MLB on Thursday, July 14, will begin my college previews on July 18.





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