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by Larry Ness - 09/22/2005
(FIVE is the loneliest number):
The group Three Dog Night claimed that "One is the Loneliest Number" but when it comes to current bowl droughts of schools which are members of BCS-affiliated conferences, the number FIVE is truly the loneliest number.
Entering the 2005 college football season, Baylor, Duke, Indiana, Rutgers and Vanderbilt were the only schools from BCS-affiliated conferences that have not made a bowl appearance of any kind, since the BCS came into being in 1998. However, 3-0 starts by Baylor, Indiana and Vanderbilt have threatened to change these schools' typical holiday plans. Here's a closer look.
Baylor entered the season as the Big 12's worst member, sporting a conference mark of 6-66 since the league's inception (or conception, as it were). The Bears snapped a 29-game conference losing streak in 2002 (35-32 over Kansas) but in head coach Guy Morriss' first two years in Waco, have gone just 6-17 overall and 2-14 in conference play. However, the team's 13-7-1 ATS record the last two seasons should have given us some indication that things were on the upswing.
Baylor won its season-opener at SMU 28-23, snapping a 24-game road losing streak! The win did make Baylor a perfect 15-0 over former SWC schools that were not asked to join the Big-12, proving that Baylor has done someone right this last decade! After beating I-AA Samford 48-14 on 9/10, Baylor made it three straight wins to open 2005 with a 20-10 win at Army last Saturday. While wins over SMU and Army are hardly earth-shattering, the 3-0 start is Baylor's first since opening 3-0 in 1995.
After going 3-44 SU on the road since 1996, including entering this year on a 24-game road losing streak, a 3-0 start with two consecutive road wins is nothing to sneeze at. The bad news is Baylor opens its Big-12 schedule on October 1 (the Bears are off this weekend) and if you can find a win in ANY of its eight conference games, let me know! Baylor's last bowl game was the 1994 Alamo Bowl (lost 10-3 to Wash St) and the Bears' drought won't end this year.
Indiana entered the 2005 season with 10 consecutive losing seasons (45-65 ATS) and last played in a bowl game in the 1993 Independence Bowl (lost 45-20 to Va Tech). After 19 years at Miami-Ohio including six years as its head coach, Terry Hoeppner took the Indiana job. Many wondered if this was really a 'step up', as Hoeppner had led Miami to a 48-25 six-year mark, including two straight bowl appearances the last two seasons, the school's first since 1986.
However, maybe Hoeppner knows what he's doing? Hoeppner's 3-0 start (wins are over Central Michigan, I-AA Nicholls State and Kentucky) is the first by an Indiana head coach since James Sheldon did it in 1905! Then again, maybe he doesn't? Indiana, like Baylor, is off this week and will start league play October 1 at Wisconsin. Similar to Baylor, other than its Homecoming game versus Illinois on October 8, there are few, if any, winning opportunities for these Hoosiers.
That brings us to Vanderbilt. Head coach Bobby Johnson went just 6-29 (2-22 in the SEC) in his first three seasons at Nashville but the 'Dores have opened 3-0 for just the second time since 1956. Remember, Vanderbilt's last winning season came in 1982, the last time the school made it to a bowl game (lost the Hall of Fame Bowl 36-28 to Air Force). The team's 2-0 start in the SEC, is its first since that 1956 season.
So we are talking PRECEDENT here! Also, like Baylor, Vanderbilt entered this season on a long road losing streak (18 straight) but has won not once but TWICE on the road. The Commodores have won a Wake Forest 24-20 and at Arkansas, 28-24. Vandy beat Ole Miss 31-23 in Nashville last Saturday, totaling 523 yards. QB Jay Cutler leads the SEC in passing yards and total offense and with home games this Saturday versus I-AA Richmond and against the SBC's Middle Tenn St on October 1, the 'Dores should get to 5-0!
Vanderbilt should beat Kentucky at home on November 12 and if the 'Dores were able to win at Wake and Arkansas, why can't they win at South Carolina on October 22? Any other wins would be major upsets but a winning season does seem likely. A bowl bid? Now that's more of a stretch.
As for Duke and Rutgers, the Blue Devils are 1-2 with their only win coming over Division I-AA VMI, a school that went 0-11 in 2004 and Rutgers is 2-1. While the Duke student body is already pointing towards the opening of the basketball season, Rutgers just may have a chance at ending its bowl drought.
First of all, Rutgers should be 3-0 but incredibly blew a 27-7 third quarter lead at Illinois in its season-opener, eventually losing 33-30 in overtime. However, in the watered-down Big East, the only game that Rutgers 'CAN'T' win, is at Louisville on November 11. The Scarlet Knights have home games September 30 (Friday night) with 0-3 Pittsburgh, West Va, Navy (Homecoming), South Florida and Cincinnati. They have a legitimate chance in ALL of those games.
The team's only remaining road games, excluding Louisville, are at Syracuse (10/15) and at U Conn (10/22). I'm going out on a limb here and calling for Rutgers to make just its SECOND bowl appearance in school history. Rutgers only previous bowl appearance was a 34-18 loss to Arizona State in the 1978 Garden State Bowl. If I'm right, the Scarlet Knights will get to enjoy a much better bowl experience this year!