Oklahoma, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh
Claim Automatic BCS Bowl Berths
by Mike Mitchell
It wasn't a smack-down by any stretch of the imagination but USC ended the season with a perfect 12-0 record, 8-0 in the PAC-10, after a tougher-than-expected 29-24 win over rival UCLA in Pasadena. The Trojans will likely be playing for the BCS national championship this year after winning a split national championship last year.
Unbeaten Oklahoma is the probable opponent in that BCS title game in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners dismantled Colorado 42-3 in the Big 12 championship in Kansas City.
Auburn also finished the year undefeated after pulling away from Tennessee in the fourth quarter for a 38-28 win in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. It is the Tigers' first SEC title since they shared it with Alabama and Tennessee in 1989.
Auburn beat Tennessee in Knoxville 34-10 in the regular season.
Despite their 12-0 record, it appears Auburn will not get to play for any kind of a national title. Ironically, they did not get to play for the title the last time they went unbeaten. In 1993 they went 11-0 but were on NCAA probation. This year, it just happens to be their misfortune that four other teams had perfect seasons and two of them are ranked above the Tigers. They are expected to receive a bid to the Sugar Bowl.
Virginia Tech is Auburn's likely opponent in that game.
The Hokies claimed the outright ACC championship Saturday in its first season as a member with a 16-10 win over Miami (Fla.), its old Big East rival. The Hokies were stellar on defense with all 10 points coming on Hurricane "drives" of 24 yards or less after a fumble and blocked punt. And when Miami got the ball back with just over a minute remaining deep in their own territory, the Tech defense batted away three attempted passes in-a-row to close the deal.
Frank Beamer's team ended the regular season on an 8-game winning streak and will advance to its first BCS bowl, likely the Sugar Bowl, since they played Florida State in the 1999 national championship game at the Sugar Bowl.
Virginia Tech reversed the curse of their late-season collapses in recent years by going 4-0 in the months of November and December. Miami, which lost three of its last five games, is headed to the Peach Bowl where they will face state rival Florida.
The Hokies and Tigers have met just four times previously with Auburn holding a slight 2-1-1 edge. They last played each other in 1978 with Auburn winning 18-7 in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech's only win came in 1975 at Auburn, 23-16. The other two meetings were in 1924 and 1925 when both schools were in the Southern Conference.
Also on Saturday, Pittsburgh secured the Big East's BCS bowl, likely the Fiesta Bowl against unbeaten Utah, with a 43-14 rout of South Florida. The Panthers have won six of their last seven games under embattled head coach Walt Harris.
The only real question mark in Sunday's bowl announcements is who will play Michigan in the Rose Bowl - California or Texas?
California (10-1) had to travel to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for their last game of the season. The game was originally scheduled to be played in early September but Hurricane Ivan forced its postponement. Never an easy place to play, the Golden Bears managed to escape with what many pollsters may consider an unimpressive 26-16 score.
In fact, the Golden Eagles pulled within 17-16 in the fourth quarter but failed to tie it when the extra point attempt was blocked and returned for two points for Cal. The Bears scored quickly on their next possession and had a chance to pad their margin late in the game after USM turned the ball over on downs deep in their own territory. But California coach Jeff Tedford showed a lot of class. After a touchdown was called back by penalty, Tedford had his team take a knee to run out the clock.
Texas, which had already finished its regular season 10-1, could pass over California for fourth place in the final BCS Standings and knock the Bears from their first Rose Bowl appearance since the end of the 1958 season.
Louisville, which had already clinched the CUSA title, rolled over Tulane 55-7 in a hurricane-postponed make-up game. Louisville finished the season 10-1 and will meet unbeaten Boise State in the Liberty Bowl. The Green Wave would have become bowl eligible with an upset win. Instead, Tulane will stay home after a 5-6 campaign.
The Cardinals and Broncos are the two highest-scoring teams in the country this year. In fact, Louisville is now the only team in history to score at least 55 points in five straight games. Boise State has done it for four straight games. The only other teams to accomplish that feat in four consecutive games did so many years ago and none of them did it against all major colleges as the Cards and Broncos have done. Navy's run in 1917 included two games against non-major colleges, California's streak in 1920 included three non-major colleges, and Alabama's string in 1945 included one non-major college.
One of the seasons biggest surprises has been Navy. The Midshipmen concluded their regular season with a record of 9-2 after a 42-13 thumping of Army. Navy is headed to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco to play New Mexico.
President George W. Bush spoke to each team in the locker room prior to the game, then flipped the pre-game commemorative coin that was sent from Fallujah, Iraq.
Hawaii beat Michigan State 41-38 after trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter. The victory earned the Warriors a spot in the Hawai'i Bowl opposite UAB. It also made Akron (6-5), Troy State (7-4) or, least likely, Syracuse (6-5) expendable from the bowl mix as there is now one more eligible team than available bowl slots.
Toledo overcame an early 14-7 deficit and took the MAC championship from Miami (Ohio), 35-27, on Thursday night at Ford Field in Detroit. Miami had beaten Toledo in the regular season, 23-16, exactly one month earlier.
The victory sends the Rockets (9-3) back to Detroit and the same venue to play in the Motor City Bowl against UConn (7-4). The RedHawks (8-4) could be headed to the Independence Bowl as the MAC appears to be poised to land as many as six postseason games this year. Bowling Green and Marshall have already accepted bids. Northern Illinois and Akron would be the others.
Computer Streak: The computer picks on this site, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings, have a streak of their own involving Boise State. It has correctly picked the winner of 39 consecutive regular season Bronco games dating to November 10, 2001. It is 18-20 ATS on those games.
More Computer Success: The computer was 12-0 this season in picking the winner of regular season games for USC. It was 11-0 with Arkansas, Boise State, California, Louisville, Oklahoma, Oregon State and Utah.
The computer's preseason forecast picked Boise State, Oklahoma, USC and Utah to go undefeated and they did.
Out of 117 teams, the computer's 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 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 won't make the title game but the Sooners did. The computer's preseason forecast has now correctly picked at least one of the title game contestants nine times in its twelve-year history.
Computer's BCS Teams: If it were up to the Congrove Computer Rankings, the BCS eligible teams would be the six conference winners - Oklahoma, USC, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Pittsburgh - with Louisville and Utah earning the at-large bids. IF that scenario were true, you would still get a Oklahoma-USC Orange Bowl, Auburn-Virginia Tech Sugar Bowl and Utah-Pittsburgh Fiesta Bowl. The only difference would be the Rose Bowl where Michigan would play Louisville instead of California or Texas.
No Blemishes: Auburn, Oklahoma and USC all finished the regular season 12-0. Boise State and Utah went 11-0. It's the most undefeated teams in the top 25 in one 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.
Streaking: Boise State has won 22 straight games over-all, 25 straight at home, and 26 straight over WAC foes. The Broncos beat Nevada 58-21 Saturday night.
USC has the nation's second-longest winning streak at 21 games. The Trojans have won 21 straight at home and 15 consecutive PAC-10 games. They beat UCLA in their season finale 29-24.
Utah has won 15 straight games after a season-ending 52-21 win over BYU. The Utes have won 11 straight Mountain West games and 18 of their last 19 against league foes.
Auburn has 14 consecutive wins after a 38-28 victory over Tennessee in the SEC Championship.
Iowa has won 18 straight home games after ending the year with a 30-7 win over Wisconsin.
North Texas has won 25 straight over Sun Belt conference foes after the Mean Green concluded their season with a 31-7 win over Arkansas State 31-7. 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 with the nation's longest losing streak at 15 games. The Golden Knights lost 41-24 at home to Kent State on Tuesday.