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College Football Notebook (12/5)

   by Larry Ness - 12/05/2005

The lead story in most sports section on Monday read something like this. After years of controversy, the USC-Texas Rose Bowl finally gives the much-criticized system an undisputed championship game between the two best teams. As my niece would say, "DUH!" Even Olympic boxing and figure-skating judges could have gotten this one right!

The BCS didn't 'work' it just got LUCKY! USC won 66-19 last Saturday and Texas won 70-3. Both teams finished 12-0 and were the nation's only undefeated teams. So now, a season that began on the Thursday before Labor Day, has taken us "Back to the Future." USC began the year as the nation's No. 1-ranked team and Texas as the nation's No.2-ranked team. The AP began ranking teams in 1936 and last year, for the first time since its inception, saw two schools each go wire-to-wire as No. 1 and No. 2. Now, a year later, it's deja vu all over again!

USC opened as the nation's preseason No. 1 last year and Oklahoma was second. USC remained No. 1 through every weekly poll, while Oklahoma was number two. Auburn did tie Oklahoma at the number-two spot for one week but that's "pinching pennies." USC and Oklahoma met in last year's national title game (Orange Bowl), with USC winning 55-19! It's probably safe to say that this year's game will be slightly more competitive.

USC, off consecutive national titles (winning the AP title in 2003 and the undisputed title last year), once again opened as the nation's preseason No. 1. Texas was ranked No. 2 and in each poll this year, the school's positions haven't changed. USC owns a 34-game winning streak (tied for fourth-best since 1900) while Texas has won 19 straight games (second-longest current streak). USC has been ranked atop the AP poll for a record 33 consecutive polls, long ago surpassing the previous record of 21, held by Miami-Florida (from 2001-02 ).

USC was ranked first and Texas second in this year's first BCS standings (released on October 17). Texas leapfrogged USC the following week but USC returned to the number-one spot the next week and remained there through Sunday's final standings. Of note, never before have the teams ranked one and two in the BCS' initial rankings of the year, gone on to meet in that year's title game, so USC and Texas are giving us a first.

Another bowl-first, is that both teams come into this game averaging better than 50 PPG. That's never occurred in any previous bowl matchup.The Longhorns average 50.9 PPG, while Trojans average an even 50. USC averages 580.3 YPG with Texas averaging 508.4. Texas' average margin of victory was 36.3 PPG, while USC's average win came by 28.7 PPG. That difference really comes into play when noting the teams' ATS records. While Texas is an impressive 10-2, USC stands at just 6-6

MORE BCS LUCK

Although it hardly seems right that a four-loss team should be in one of the four BCS Bowls, the BCS 'played lucky' when it was able to match Penn State against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles entered Saturday's first-ever ACC Championship Game at 7-4 and on a three-game losing streak, having been outscored 89-36. However, FSU used a 24-point third quarter to upset Va Tech (a two-TD favorite), by the score of 27-22. Despite a final BCS ranking of just 22, the Seminoles claim the ACC's automatic bid.

The Orange Bowl now gets Bobby Bowden, the NCCA's all-time winningest coach with 359 wins against Joe Paterno, who ranks second with 353 career wins. Paterno had been widely criticized in recent years and with good reason. The BCS has been in existence since 1998 but yet this is Penn State's first-ever BCS Bowl. Penn State, the 7th-winningest Division I-A school in history, had been to just one bowl game since 2000 (Citrus Bowl in 2002) and entered the 2005 season with a 26-33 five-year record.

It was great fun on Sunday to watch and hear all the "talking heads" praise the Florida State/Penn State matchup, as well as Bowden and Paterno. These are the same people who gave FSU NO CHANCE against Va Tech on Saturday and who had Penn State picked for the middle-of-the-pack in the Big-10, at the beginning of the year.

Sometimes (not often) I wish I had their jobs. It must be fun, after the fact, to tell everyone what happened and why. As a handicapper, I'm required to "show my hand" prior to the game and then 'live' or 'die' with the result. Clearly, their job is MUCH easier!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For the second straight year, a Pac-10 team finished fifth in the final BCS standings, yet failed to get a BCS bid. Last year it was Cal and this year it's Oregon. The 10-1 Ducks lost only to No. 1 USC, yet lost out to two, two-loss teams. Ohio State (No. 4) and Notre Dame (No. 6) both finished 9-2 but according to BCS bylaws, both qualified as at-large teams. Pac-10 and Oregon fans must wonder how a Notre Dame team that beat just three teams with a winning record this year plus lost to a 5-6 Michigan State team, is more deserving than the Ducks. Please don't remind them that Notre Dame is also the proud owners of a seven-game bowl losing streak (1-6 ATS), having been outscored by an average of 34.4-to-17.6 PPG!

LSU can't be happy with its Peach Bowl bid, considering the fact that Alabama, Florida and Auburn (all teams it beat) all get to play on January 2!

Arkansas State (New Orleans Bowl) and Akron (Motor City Bowl) are both playing in a Division I-A bowl game for the first time. Rutgers makes just its second-ever bowl appearance, returning to postseason play for the first time since the 1978 Garden State Bowl. Proving it has a sense of history, bowl officials sent the Scarlet Knights to the Insight Bowl, where they'll play Arizona State, the same school that beat them back in 1978 (34-18)!

Akron was the only Division I-A team last year to be bowl-eligible and not go to a bowl game (Clemson and South Carolina were on self-imposed sanctions). This year however, SEVEN schools suffered that fate. The MAC was hit hardest, as the conference has five bowl-eligible schools staying home. While Miami-Ohio, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan all won seven games, FOUR 6-5 MWC schools and THREE 6-5 C-USA schools are all going 'bowling'!

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