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Season Preview: USC vs. LSU In BCS Title Game

by Mike Mitchell
July 16, 2007

College Football's unique preseason forecast is based on the Congrove Computer Rankings which "plays" every game and projects what should happen based on a number of factors that include each teams' returning talent and toughness of schedule.

Since its inception in 1993, the CCR Top 119 preseason projections have correctly pegged the exact national title match-up three times (1993, 1998, 2005), and at least one national title contestant 10 times (1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005). Additionally, the team it picked to win the title did so three times (1993, 1998, 1999), and lost in the title game four times (2000, 2003, 2004, 2005).

The Congrove Computer Rankings have picked the winner in 74.8% of all games played since 1993 (7,240-2,441) while beating the spread in 54.4% of those games (4,857-4,071). In the 2006 season, the computer won 75.3% SU and 51.8% ATS.

Last year, The Congrove Computer Rankings' preseason projections had USC and Texas staging a rematch for the national title.

With two games left to play, Texas had climbed back up to number 5 in the BCS Standings after losing to Ohio State early in the year. The Longhorns shockingly dropped their last two contests to Kansas State and Texas A&M to eliminate them from national championship contention. Texas rebounded with a 26-24 win over Iowa in the Alamo Bowl to finish 10-3.

USC lost at Oregon State midway through the season, but had climbed back up to 2nd in the BCS Standings and merely had to beat UCLA to cement a spot in the championship game against Ohio State. USC was apparently driving for the game-winning touchdown when Eric McNeal tipped, then intercepted, John David Booty's pass at the UCLA 20-yard line with 1:10 left in the game to secure a 13-9 upset for the Bruins.

USC's loss meant that - for just the fourth time in fourteen years, and the first since 2001 - the computer did not forecast at least one of the national championship game participants.

A one-loss Florida team jumped over a one-loss Michigan team in the voter polls after the final week of the season. The Wolverines had suffered a heartbreaking 42-39 loss to Ohio State in both teams' regular season finale, and the prevailing sentiment of pollsters was that they didn't want a rematch.

Michigan's poor showing against USC in a 32-18 Rose Bowl loss, seemingly proved the voters made the right choice.

Florida took advantage of its opportunity with a 41-14 romp over Ohio State to earn a BCS title that went largely undisputed. However, Boise State's stirring 43-42 upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl left the Broncos as the nation's only undefeated team and left more than a few people wondering if they hadn't been wrongly omitted from the equation. Ironically, a Bronco entry into the title game would have omitted Florida.

In retrospect, 2006 was a wild ride. Looking forward, 2007 may require you to buckle your seatbelts even tighter.

The computer doesn't foresee a return trip for Florida to the BCS title game. However, an 11-1 record and a spot in the SEC Championship game surely doesn't eliminate the Gators from thought. It also can't go unnoticed that SEC East teams are 10-5 in conference championship games with Florida winning six of those.

Florida's only forecasted regular season loss is at LSU (+10.20). Ultimately, they are the underdog again to LSU (+7.20) in the SEC Championship rematch. The Gators will also face a crucial home test against Auburn, and a daunting road trip to South Carolina to face former Florida coach Steve Spurrier. Florida is favored by fewer than 6 points against Auburn, and by less than a point at the Gamecocks. Spurrier has played Urban Meyer tough, winning 30-22 in Columbia two years ago, and losing 17-16 in Gainesville last year.

Of the five SEC titles won by West Division teams, two have gone to LSU.

The 2003 championship propelled the Bayou Bengals to the BCS title game where they defeated Oklahoma 21-14. That was the year that a lot of people wanted to see a USC-LSU match. Oklahoma was 12-1 after suffering its first loss of the season in the Big 12 title game to Kansas State. But the Sooners maintained the number one spot in the BCS thanks to strong numbers by the participating computer rankers. LSU was also 12-1, and in second place in the BCS Standings, after a 34-13 romp over Georgia in the SEC Championship. USC was 11-1 and in 3rd place, just 0.16 points behind the Tigers. USC romped over Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl and was voted number one in the AP Poll (the AP Poll withdrew itself from the BCS prior to the start of the 2005 season and was replaced by Harris).

LSU fans have forever been incensed when the media refers to the 2003 season as a "split title" conclusion. And when USC won the BCS game over Oklahoma the following year, outrage grew stronger as the media labeled it a "repeat" championship for the Trojans. The next year, Tiger fans endured the media references to USC's "three-peat" bid against Texas. For what it's worth, USC fans (and coaches) were never happy to have been left out of the 2003 BCS title game. They are confidentthat, had they been given the opportunity, they would have defeated LSU.

Four years later, the computer believes USC and LSU will finally get to decide matters on the field with the Trojans favored by 3.56. If that game does take place, it would be difficult to deny the entertainment factor - even if it doesn't end all of the animosity stemming from past events.

The computer's preseason pointspreads give LSU an unobstructed path to the BCS title game. The Tigers' 9.93-point home edge over Virginia Tech is their smallest advantage of the regular season.

In the PAC-10 race, Southern California is a double-digit favorite in every game except the November 6 visit to California when it draws an 8.42-point nod. The Trojans are an 11.56-point pick at home in the season finale with crosstown rival UCLA.

But it's the Bruins, not Cal, that the computer favors for second in the PAC-10 race. Aside from USC, the toughest conference tasks for UCLA are its road trips to Oregon State and Arizona. Six of UCLA's last seven regular season losses have come on the road.

Besides the Trojans and Tigers, the computer gives undefeated records to four other teams - Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio State and Boise State. Typically, of course, that many teams do not manage to escape a season unscathed. But if the computer sees a team as being plainly better than the other schools in its conference - and that team doesn't face an out-of-conference opponent that is expected to defeat it - it's going to project a perfect record. There is no basis on which the computer would suggest or expect an upset.

In addition to those already mentioned, here are some key determining games this season that could reorganize the entire Top 20:

  • Louisville at West Virginia (-2.49)
  • Wisconsin at Ohio State (-0.44)
  • Texas vs. Oklahoma (-0.18)
  • Ohio State (-0.06) at Michigan
  • Michigan at Wisconsin (-8.61)
  • Wake Forest at Boston College (-4.41)
  • TCU at Texas (-8.32)
  • Hawaii at Boise State (-1.18)
  • Houston at Oregon (-3.74)

UNBEATEN TEAMS: Boise State was the only undefeated team in the country after Ohio State lost 41-14 to Florida in the BCS title game. The Broncos beat Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl.

WINLESS TEAMS: Duke finished the year at 0-12, including a loss to 1-AA Richmond.
FIU also went 0-12.

1-A vs. 1-AA: 1-AA teams finished 7-71 for the season against their higher-classified brethren. Since the start of the 2003 campaign, 1-A teams hold the upper hand by a huge margin, 235-25 (.904).

77 schools took the opportunity of a 12th game to schedule a cupcake opponent and New Mexico State double-dipped for two of its' four wins.

This year, 78 bowl division teams face schools from the championship division.

New Mexico State double-dips again with SE Louisiana and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Fellow WAC member Hawaii also has two of the lower division schools on its schedule as the Warriors host Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern.

STREAKS: Ohio State saw its 19-game winning streak come to an end with the 41-14 loss to Florida in the BCS Championship Game. The Buckeyes are still riding an 18-game regular season winning streak.

Boise State has won 13 straight games over-all after beating Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos have won 14 straight regular season games, and 36 consecutive regular season home games. The Broncos have never lost a home game to a WAC opponent (24-0).

BYU has won 10 straight games after a 38-8 Las Vegas Bowl win over Oregon.

USC has won a nation's-best 33 consecutive home games.

Duke has lost 20 games over-all, and 22 straight to 1-A teams.

FIU has lost 12 straight games after a 26-13 defeat to Troy.

NEW COACHES: The 2006 season featured 11 new head coaches. Five led their team to a bowl game.

This year, there are 24 coaching changes for the highest number since 2001 when there were 25. We'll track their progress throughout the season.

At least one new coach is guaranteed a victory on opening weekend when UAB's Neil Callaway and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio match wits in East Lansing. Eight coaches will debut against 1-AA opponents.

Air Force, 0-0 under Troy Calhoun, hosts 1-AA So. Carolina St. 9/1.
Alabama, 0-0 under Nick Saban, hosts 1-AA Western Carolina 9/1.
Arizona State, 0-0 under Dennis Erickson, hosts San Jose State 9/1.
Army, 0-0 under Stan Brock, plays Akron in Cleveland 9/1.
Boston College, 0-0 under Jeff Jagodzinski, hosts Wake Forest 9/1.
Central Michigan, 0-0 under Butch Jones, visits Kansas 9/1.
Cincinnati, 0-0 under Brian Kelly, hosts 1-AA SE Missouri St. 8/31.
FIU, 0-0 under Mario Cristobal, visits Penn State 9/1.
Idaho, 0-0 under Robb Akey, visits USC 9/1.
Indiana, 0-0 under Bill Lynch, hosts 1-AA Indiana State 9/1.
Iowa State, 0-0 under Gene Chizik, hosts Kent State 8/30.
Louisiana Tech, 0-0 under Derek Dooley, hosts 1-AA Central Arkansas 9/1.
Louisville, 0-0 under Steve Kragthorpe, hosts 1-AA Murray State 8/30.
Miami (Fla.), 0-0 under Randy Shannon, hosts Marshall 9/1.
Michigan State, 0-0 under Mark Dantonio, hosts UAB 9/1.
Minnesota, 0-0 under Tim Brewster, hosts Bowling Green 9/1.
North Carolina, 0-0 under Butch Davis, hosts 1-AA James Madison 9/1.
N.C. State, 0-0 under Tom O'Brien, hosts Central Florida 9/1.
North Texas, 0-0 under Todd Dodge, visits Oklahoma 9/1.
Rice, 0-0 under David Bailiff, hosts 1-AA Nicholls State 9/1.
Stanford, 0-0 under Jim Harbaugh, hosts UCLA 9/1.
Tulane, 0-0 under Bob Toledo, idle opening week. Hosts Mississippi St. 9/8.
Tulsa, 0-0 under Todd Graham, visits Louisiana-Monroe 8/30.
UAB, 0-0 under Neil Callaway, visits Michigan State 9/1.


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