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Computer Matches USC and Texas For Title Game

by Mike Mitchell

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 preseason forecast has correctly projected the exact national title match-up twice (1993 and 1998), at least one contestant nine times (1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004), and the national title winner three times (1993, 1998, 1999). Additionally, its preseason pick for national champs lost in the title game three times (2000, 2003, 2004).

The Congrove Computer Rankings has picked the winner in 74.9% (6,117-2,054) of all games played from 1993 through 2004. It won 54.6% (4,123-3,427) against the spread in that same span. In the 2004 season, the computer won 74.4% SU and 52.5% ATS.

The 2005 forecast calls for a national title match-up of USC and Texas. The Trojans have won two straight national titles, each wrapped in a bit of controversy. USC walloped Oklahoma in last year's "national championship" but Auburn and Utah also finished the year undefeated and were left without a chance to play for the grand prize. In 2003, USC was only given the AP national title while the BCS matched LSU with Oklahoma and bestowed the victorious Tigers with the number one spot in the Coaches Poll.

If the Congrove Computer Rankings prove to be anywhere near correct, 2005 will not be without controversy. Last year, the computer projected that seven teams would make it through the regular season without a loss. Five did so - Auburn, Oklahoma, USC, Boise State and Utah. Three of those teams - USC, Auburn and Utah - were still unbeaten after the bowl games were played.

This year, seven teams are again forecasted to escape the regular season without a blemish.

The computer's forecast is bound to stir even more controversy beyond the national title match-up. Here's a good dozen to begin with:

Controversy #1: Texas picked to win the Big 12. The Longhorns have lost five straight to Oklahoma and won't get to its own conference title game if it can't halt their losing skid against the Sooners.

Controversy #2: Notre Dame projected to finish 4-7. But isn't Charlie Weis supposed to be the Irish' savior? The computer has them losing to Washington and former coach Ty Willingham - Blasphemy!

Controversy #3: Purdue AND Michigan unbeaten in the Big 10. It could happen as they obviously don't face each other. Ohio State isn't on Purdue's schedule either.

Controversy #4: Former Big East foes Virginia Tech and Boston College meeting in the first ACC Championship game - not Miami and Florida State. Of course, the other lofty forecasts for FSU were issued way before the losses for the season of QB Wyatt Sexton (lyme disease), interior defensive lineman Clifton Dickson (academics) and All-ACC first-team cornerback Adrian Cromartie (knee).

Controversy #5: Nebraska picked to win just 3 games while losing at home to Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Iowa State. Far more ridiculous, in my opinion, is Blue Ribbon picking the 'Huskers to finish first in their division.

Controversy #6: Urban Meyer and Florida picked to lose 4 games (just like Zook?). Lindy's has the Gators ranked 4th, Blue Ribbon ranks them 12th and Athlon's 13th. I can understand the faith in Meyer but the team still has to perform under a new system in a conference with several heavyweights. Truly, the fun game comes November 12th at South Carolina when UF plays against Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks.

Controversy #7: Steve Spurrier and South Carolina picked to win just 4 games. That's not giving much credit to the ol' ball coach but he's been having to clean up a major mess in Columbia.

Controversy #8: West Virginia picked to finish last in Big East. WVU returns just four starters on offense and three are linemen. The top returning receiver had 138 yards last year while the leading returning ball-carrier had 706 yards. The defense lost six starters including PacMan Jones, who was also the Big East's special teams player of the year.

Controversy #9: Navy picked to relapse to 1-10 but still beat Army. First of all, only six starters return. Second, the Midshipmen's schedule is void of any 1-AA teams for the first time since 2002. Third, a lot of their seemingly-weak opponents are expected to be vastly improved this year.

Controversy #10: Fresno State - not Boise State - picked to win the WAC. Boise State hasn't lost a conference game since November 3, 2001.

Controversy #11: Middle Tennessee - not North Texas - picked to win the Sun Belt. The Mean Green has NEVER failed to win a Sun Belt football title. MTSU tied them atop the conference standings in 2001.

Controversy #12: Colorado State - not Utah - picked to win the MWC. Even without Urban Meyer, practically everyone has put up the Utes as the conference front-runner. The computer wasn't far off from doing the same, but projects a 1-point home win for the Rams over Utah. Only 6 power points separate first-place from sixth-place in the computer's preseason Mountain West forecast.

I certainly wouldn't bet the house that ALL of those events will materialize - and I'm sure Congrove would hold tight to his money, too. But if past history is a true indicator, more than half of those projections could become reality. At the very least, it's fun and refreshing, and gives reason to believe that 2005 will be another highly entertaining year for college football fans.

Instant Replay: Every Division 1-A conference except the WAC and Sun Belt will employ the use of instant replay to prevent an incorrect officiating call from potentially changing the outcome of a game. Most of the conferences will be employing the method the Big 10 introduced in the 2004 season with great success, which means one or two in-booth officials will determine which plays warrant a second look using multiple monitors. In general, replay use is limited to plays that directly affect scoring or possession.

Last year, the Big 10 used instant replay in 28 of its conference games and overturned 21 calls out of the 46 plays that were reviewed.

The Mountain West will be letting the coaches decide when to issue a challenge, similar to the NFL system.

Computer Success: Out of 117 teams, the computer's 2004 preseason forecast correctly projected the exact records of 18 teams. It missed by just one win on 31 teams and missed by only two wins on 33 teams. That's a total of 82 out of 117 teams whose records it forecasted within two wins. It hit 101-of-117 within three wins.

The computer's preseason forecast picked Boise State, Oklahoma, USC and Utah to go undefeated and they did.

The computer also correctly picked Michigan to win the Big 10, Oklahoma to take the Big 12, Pittsburgh to capture the Big East, Miami (Ohio) to win the MAC east, Utah to take the Mountain West, USC to claim the PAC-10, North Texas to win the Sun Belt and Boise State to capture the WAC.

It forecasted Oklahoma and Michigan as the BCS Championship pairing. The Wolverines didn't make the title game but the Sooners did. The computer's preseason forecast has correctly picked at least one of the title game contestants nine times in its twelve-year history.

No Blemishes: Auburn, Oklahoma and USC all finished the 2004 regular season 12-0. Boise State and Utah went 11-0. It's the most undefeated teams in the top 25 in one regular season since 1973 when the Dec. 4 UPI (coaches) poll listed seven undefeated teams. Alabama (11-0), Oklahoma (10-0-1), Ohio State (9-0-1), Notre Dame (10-0), Penn State (11-0) and Michigan (10-0-1) were ranked first through sixth. Miami of Ohio (10-0-0) was ranked 17th.

Streaks: USC has the nation's longest winning streak with 22. They have won 33 of their last 34 games. The Trojans also have streaks of 21 straight home wins and 15 consecutive PAC-10 victories.

Boise State has won 35 of their last 37 games. The Broncos also own nation-leading streaks of 25 straight home wins, 26 straight conference victories and 21 regular season wins.

Utah has won 16 straight games and 11 straight MWC games.

Auburn has won 15 straight games.

Iowa has won 18 straight home games.

North Texas has won 25 straight over Sun Belt conference opponents. UNT has also won four consecutive Sun Belt titles as they have topped the conference in every year of its existence.

Central Florida ended the season on a 15-game losing streak, worst in the nation.

New Coaches: The 2005 season begins with 23 coaching changes. 2004 began with just 13 changes. Eight of those new coaches led their teams to equal or better records than the coaches they replaced.

At Arizona, Mike Stoops finished with a 3-8 record in his inaugural season. John Mackovic and Mike Hankwitz combined for two victories in 2003. Stoops earned his biggest win of the year in the final game of the season, a 34-27 upset of Arizona State.

Army's Bobby Ross was 2-9 after Todd Berry and John Mumford went winless in 2003.

Central Michigan finished 4-7 under Brian Kelly after Mike Debord was 3-9 in 2003.

Mark Dantonio was 7-5, including a victory at the Fort Worth Bowl with Cincinnati after Rick Minter ended 2003 with a 5-7 mark.

Eastern Michigan finished 4-7 under Jeff Genyk after going 3-9 with Jeff Woodruff and Al Lavan in 2003.

Nick Holt turned in the same 3-9 record at Idaho as his predecessor, Tom Cable.

Sylvester Croom was 3-8 at Mississippi State, one win better than Jackie Sherrill's 2003 failure. Their first SEC win under Croom was a shocking 38-31 upset of Florida on October 23 that resulted in Gator head coach Ron Zook's firing.

UTEP had the best turnaround. Mike Price and the Miners were 8-4, including a close loss to Colorado in the Houston Bowl. Gary Nord was just 2-11 a year earlier.

On the downside:

Akron concluded its first season under J. D. Brookhart at 6-5 (6-2 in the MAC east) after going 7-5 in 2003 under Lee Owens. The Zips were in the running for their first east division title until a season-ending loss to Miami (Ohio). They were the only team with a winning record to be left out of a bowl game (not counting South Carolina and Clemson which took themselves out of consideration after a bench-clearing brawl in their season finale).

Central Florida ended 0-11 under George O'Leary and owns the nation's longest losing streak at 15. UCF went 3-7 under Mike Kruzcek in 2003 before he was replaced in the interim with Alan Gooch who went 0-2.

Ted Roof concluded his first season as official head coach at Duke with a 2-9 record. Duke was 4-8 in 2003 in a season that began with Carl Franks as head coach and concluded with Roof serving as interim head coach for the last five games.

Bill Callahan ended his first season at Nebraska 5-6 over-all and 3-5 in the Big 12. It marked the first time since 1968 that Nebraska failed to earn a bowl bid and was their first losing season since 1961. Frank Solich was 9-3 when he was fired at the end of the 2003 season.

Chris Ault was 5-7 at Nevada after a 58-21 loss to Boise State. Dick Tormey was 6-6 in 2003.

12/04: (Updated) Bowl Eligible: Who's In? Who's Alive?
11/29: (Updated) BCS Selection Pool Update
11/28: Conference Championship Week
11/21: Still A lot To Play For
11/17: Georgia Tech Penalized for Allowing Academically....
11/17: University of South Carolina Case Resolved....
11/15: It's "Crunch Time" In College Football
11/11: (Updated) Hurricane Wilma Schedule Alerts
11/08: Are We That Close To The End?
11/01: November Stretch Run Begins
10/25: Thanks To Wilma, Light Schedule Now Has 27 Idle Teams
10/18: How Can You Top That?
10/10: Trojans At Irish Has Center Stage
10/02: Red River Rivalry Headlines 54 Games
09/29: Master Coaches Survey Debuts
09/26: Top Teams Aware Of This Week's "Traps"
09/26: Ranking Stupidity
09/21: Light Week Starts Wednesday
09/20: Harris Poll Debuts Sunday
09/20: BCS Blows It Again
09/15: Weekend Features Old, And New, Rivalries
09/07: Week 2 Offers Much More Than Seen At First Glance
08/30: Three 1-A Games Moved Or Canceled Due To Katrina
08/27: Hurricane Katrina Could Postpone Some Games
08/26: Opening Weekend Starts Slowly, Reaches Crescendo
07/26: Computer Matches USC and Texas For Title Game


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