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College football notebook (11/3)

   by Larry Ness - 11/03/2005

The nation's two-biggest games this weekend offer some interesting storylines. In Blacksburg, No. 3 Virginia Tech hosts No. 5 Miami-Florida (No. 6 in the BCS), while in State College, No. 10 Penn State (No. 7 in the BCS) hosts No. 14 Wisconsin (No. 12 in the BCS). Traditionally, the winner of the Big-10 gets a trip to the Rose Bowl but with the Rose Bowl hosting this year's BCS title game, Virginia Tech has a better shot at making this year's Rose Bowl, than the Wisconsin-Penn State winner!

Starting with the Big-10 game, who would have imagined back on Labor Day weekend, that Wisconsin's November 5 meeting with Penn State would have this much riding on it? Wisconsin entered the 2005 season knowing it would be Barry Alvarez's 16th and FINAL season at Madison. While Wisconsin was coming off a 9-3 season in 2004, the Badgers had consecutive seasons of 5-7, 8-6 and 7-6 the previous three years and no one expected much from Barry's "last team." As for Penn State, the "Joe must go" crowd had plenty of ammunition to work with, as leading into this year the Nittany Lions had suffered through losing seasons in FOUR of the previous five years.

However, both teams are 8-1 (5-1) entering Saturday's game. While neither can secure the Big-10 crown with a win, the loser is all but eliminated while the winner puts itself in a great position to secure a BCS bowl bid. Since beating Wisconsin in Happy Valley back in 1997, Penn State has lost FOUR of its last five meetings (1-4 ATS) with Wisconsin, including both home games. Penn State opened as a nine-point favorite and the early money has moved them to an 11-point choice.

Back to the ACC, it's former Big East rivals, Miami-Florida at Virginia Tech in a showdown that could influence much more than just the Coastal Division winner of the ACC. Virginia Tech holds down the "dreaded" No. 3 spot in the BCS standings but the latest standings brought significant news other than USC leapfrogging Texas into the No. 1 spot. The Hokies trailed the No.2 Trojans by .0592 the previous week but trail the No. 2 Longhorns by .0435 this week.

What this means is that while the margin-of-victory component was removed from the computer ratings, it CAN'T be removed from the minds of the people voting in the Harris or Coaches' polls, which make up two-thirds of a team's BCS ranking. Texas cost itself some votes in both the human polls last Saturday by falling behind Oklahoma State, 28-9 (won 47-28). If Va Tech can win impressively over Miami, the Hokies may gain more ground in those human polls.

Va Tech won at Miami last year 16-10 as seven-point underdogs, and has won FOUR of the last five meeting with the Hurricanes in Blacksburg. While Va Tech is 32-6 SU at home since 2000, Miami is 31-4 SU on the road over the same period of time. Miami leads the nation in total defense, allowing just 3.29 yards per play, and Va Tech is No. 2 at 3.92. Va Tech is No. 1 in scoring defense, allowing 9.1 PPG, and Miami is No. 3 at 10.9. Va Tech opened a 4 1/2-point favorite and has been bet up to a 6 1/2-point favorite.

MORE on the BCS

If you are rooting for a USC/Texas showdown in the Rose Bowl and assuming that USC, Texas and Va Terch all win out, here's what you are rooting for. USC is in pretty good shape, considering the Trojans have three, BCS top-25 teams still left on their schedule in Cal (23), Fresno State (24) and UCLA (5). However, Trojan fans don't want any slip-ups by those teams except in their games with USC. As for Texas, the Longhorns would love to see the Red Raiders win-out (Tex A&M, Okla St and Okla), a scenario that would likely see Texas Tech finish in, or just out, of the BCS final top-10 (helping Texas' with the computers on strength of schedule). Texas will also be rooting for Colorado this Saturday vs Missouri and in the team's subsequent games at Iowa St and home to Nebraska. Colorado is currently 22nd in the BCS standings and wins in those three games would give Texas a quality opponent in the Big-12 title game.

The biggest BCS surprises this week were Notre Dame at No. 14 (No. 9 in both the Harris and Coaches' polls) and Oklahoma at No. 25 (T-32nd in the Harris and T-30th in the Coaches'). Notre Dame will need to win its remaining four games to get to nine wins, plus have a final BCS ranking of at least 12, to guarantee itself a BCS bowl bid. Wouldn't it be something if Tennessee, arguably the nation's most disappointing team in 2005, ruined Notre Dame's chances this week? The Irish host the 3-4 Vols this Saturday in South Bend, where they are nine-point favorites.

This year's Tennessee team is the "poster-team" for why preseason polls are so ridiculous. The Vols were ranked No. 3 in both the AP and coaches' polls before the year but have won just three of seven games in 2005! However, it's not just Tennessee! SIX of the preseason top-15 have been out of this year's top-25 at one time or the other. Joining Tennessee as teams no longer in anyone's top-25 polls are Oklahoma, Iowa and Purdue.

The Boilermakers may rival the Volunteers for 2005's biggest flop! Joe Tiller's team returned 18 starters (all 11 on defense!) from a team that lost five games last year by a total of just 14 points! The Boilermakers did not have either Michigan or Ohio State on their 2005 schedule and were the pick of many (including myself), as not only a legitimate Big-10 contender but also as one of the nation's real "sleeper" teams. Instead of glory in 2005, Purdue hosts Michigan State this Saturday at 2-6 overall and on a six-game losing streak. The Boilermakers join the Blue Devils of Duke, as the nation's only winless ATS teams in 2005. Both are 0-8!

'FLYING' under the radar

Utah made history last year by becoming the first school from a non-BCS conference to get a BCS Bowl bid. The Utes of course play in the MWC and have struggled in 2005 without head coach Urban Meyer and NFL No. 1 pick, Alex Smith. However, another MWC school is on the verge of "something special" this year, in just its first year in the conference! TCU opened the year by winning at Norman back on September 3, 17-10 (as 25-point 'dogs'). Only a 21-10 loss at former SWC-rival SMU the very next week, prevents the Horned Frogs (18th in the current BCS standings) from being perfect in 2005. Gary Patterson's team is clearly not in the class of last year's Urban Meyer-led Utes but let's give him and his team their due.

TCU (8-1 / 6-0) hosts Colorado State (the Rams would be next week's story if they win!) on Saturday and a win would clinch the MWC title for the Horned Frogs. While TCU owns three 10-win seasons since 2000, the Horned Frogs have not won an outright conference title since winning the Southwest Conference in 1958! In this "new-world" order of college football, TCU is playing in its FOURTH conference since 1995 (SWC, WAC, C-USA and MWC) and doing just fine, thank you!

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