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Streaking into 2005!

   by Larry Ness - 08/09/2005

(sixth in a nine-part series)

The coaches' poll released its preseason poll last Friday and the only surprise was that USC (going for an unprecedented third consecutive national title) was not an unanimous No. 1, getting 60 of the 62 votes. Texas received the other two first-place votes.

USC's 60 first-place votes were the most of any preseason No. 1 since USA Today began administering the poll in 1991. The previous high was 47, for Nebraska in 1996 (also entered that season as a two-time defending champ) and Florida State in 1993.

USC not only enters the 2005 season as the two-time defending champs but the Trojans are also the owners of the nation's longest current winning streak (22 straight). While USC may win that third straight title, a second consecutive 13-0 season would give USC a 35-game winning streak. As impressive as that sounds, it would still leave the school way short of Oklahoma's NCAA record of 47 straight wins, a streak that started in 1953 and didn't end until 1957.

In my previous article, "A Three-Pete for USC in 2005?" (see archives), I detailed USC's "danger games" this year. I won't recap them here, other than to remind everyone that the Trojans visit Berkeley on November 12, the site of their last loss (34-31 in triple overtime during the 2003 season). Utah owns the second-longest winning streak at 16 games but enters the 2005 season without head coach Urban Meyer, QB Alex Smith, leading rusher Marty Johnson, its two best receivers (Warren and Savoy) and six defensive starters from last year's unit. Other than that, everything is just fine in Salt Lake City.

The nation's longest current home winning streak entering the 2005 season belongs to Boise State. The Broncos have won 25 straight home games, having last lost in Bronco Stadium back in 2001, 41-20 to Washington State. The Broncos have six home games this year and if they can get by Bowling Green and its outstanding QB Omar Jacobs (66.9% / 41 TDs-4 INTs / 4002 yards in 2004) in their first home game of the year (9/21), it's clear sailing. Boise's remaining five home games are against Division I-AA Portland State (nice Homecoming scheduling!) plus four schools that were a combined 2-24 on the road in 2004 (San Jose State, Nevada, New Mexico State and Idaho).

USC has won 21 straight home games (16-5 ATS), winning by an average margin of 24.3 PPG. In third place is Oklahoma, winners of 19 consecutive home games, ALL by double-digits! However, unlike USC and its 16-5 ATS mark at home, the Sooners are just 10-9 ATS during their 19-game streak. Similarly to USC, Oklahoma does have a late-season showdown with the last team to beat the Sooners at Memorial Stadium, the Oklahoma State Cowboys (November 26).

Boise State, USC and Oklahoma are all favorites to extend their home winning streaks this year but all three are a long way from approaching the all-time NCAA record for consecutive home wins, held by the Miami Hurricanes. Miami lost its opener at home to Florida in 1985, then ran off a record 58 straight wins at the Orange Bowl. The streak came to an end when the Washington Huskies beat the Hurricanes 38-20, early in the 1994 season.

Boise State will also enter this year with the nation's longest current road winning streak. The Broncos have won 10 straight road games but will have their work cut out for them as they open the 2005 season with a visit to Athens, Georgia on September 3! The Bulldogs have lost David Greene at QB (a four-year starter) plus their two-best wideouts (Brown and Gibson) but Georgia was ranked No. 13 in the coaches' preseason poll and has won 19 of its last 20 games, "between the hedges!" If the Broncos can escape Athens with a win, they still have tough road encounters remaining at Oregon State (9/10), Hawaii (10/1) and Fresno State (11/10).

Coming in right behind Boise with nine straight wins are USC and Utah. USC's road games have been previously discussed and Utah faces stern road tests at TCU (MWC's newest member), the ACC's North Carolina, Colorado State and in-state rival BYU. Oklahoma has won eight straight on the road but plays just three true road games this year. The Sooners play Texas (as always in Dallas) but instead of visiting Manhattan this year, will play the Wildcats in Kansas City. Oklahoma visits Lincoln on October 29 and it should be noted that the Sooners haven't won there since 1987! Oklahoma has lost six straight times in Lincoln, by an average of 10.5 PPG.

The University of Central Florida was the only school to not win a single game during the 2004 season. George O'Leary's (where have I heard that name before?) first year in Orlando didn't go too well, as the Golden Knights finished 0-11 SU and 3-8 ATS. The team was outscored by an average margin of 32.9 PPG-to-15.9 PPG but did have a number of close calls. UCF lost at home to Northern Illinois just 30-28, lost in overtime at home to Ohio, 17-16 (on a missed extra-point!) and lost at Ball State, 21-17.

UCF will enter the 2005 season on a 15-game losing streak but won't have to worry about setting any all-time records, at least this year. The Northwestern Wildcats own the NCAA record of having lost 34 consecutive games (versus Division I-A competition). However, the Golden Knights get just four home games this year and they may get their best chances for a win among their road games. Possible breakthroughs could come at 4-7 South Florida, 4-7 Louisiana-Lafayette, 2-9 East Carolina or 3-8 Rice (all records are from 2004).

Baylor enters the 2005 season having lost 24 straight road games (8-16 ATS), six more than Vanderbilt's 18-game road losing streak. Baylor's last road win came in the Bears' first game of the 2000 season (20-7 at North Texas), a win that ended a 16-game road losing streak. That means that Baylor has lost 40 of its last 41 road games but the team will have a legitimate chance at ending its losing streak in each of its first two road games this year.

The Bears open on the road at SMU on September 3, a team that has gone just 6-29 the last three seasons, including 5-12 at home. After a home game versus Samford, Baylor will visit West Point to play Army on September 17. The Cadets are just 3-33 the last three seasons, including 1-16 in Michie Stadium. If Baylor can't stop its road slide in either of those two games, it's likely the Bears will extend their road losing streak to 30 games, by year's end.

As for Vanderbilt, the Commodores are likely to go 0-5 away from Nashville in 2005. They open at Wake Forest (9/1), then play at Arkansas (9/10), South Carolina (10/22), Florida (11/5) and Tennessee (11/19). Considering the sad state of affairs at these two schools, 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.

CLOSING NOTE

Nebraska saw its streak of 35 consecutive bowl appearances (an NCAA record) snapped last year, when the Cornhuskers finished 5-6. One might think, with the plethora (a tribute to Howard Cosell) of bowl games these days, that building a long bowl streak would not be that difficult. Remember, there will be 28 bowl games again this year and the only bowl-eligible school that was left out of the bowl equation last year, was 6-5 Akron (Clemson and South Carolina removed themselves).

However, that's not the case, as just FIVE schools have double-digit bowl streaks entering the 2005 season. Michigan leads the way with 30, Florida State's next at 23, Tennessee's third at 16, Florida comes in fourth with 14 and Virginia Tech is fifth with 12. Just 16 other schools have streaks of at least FOUR straight bowl appearances.

My next column will offer a bowl solution!


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