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Stewart Mandel college.football.mailbag

Scheduling screw-ups

Bowling Green playing odd roleáin BCS; Boise St. has officials on alert

Posted: Tuesday November 23, 2004 1:37AM; Updated: Tuesday November 23, 2004 11:53AM
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  Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops and the Sooners were able to benefit from connections at Bowling Green, meaning a stronger schedule.
AP

In the ongoing USC-Oklahoma-Auburn debate, the most popular argument against the Tigers goes something like this:

I'm not a fan of either USC or Oklahoma, but placing Auburn at No. 1 is ludicrous. Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and The Citadel -- quite an impressive non-conference schedule your No. 1 team put together. Was St. Mary's School for the Blind unavailable this year?
-- Dean Fenton, Hillsdale, Ill.

I'm not going to make excuses for Auburn -- the Tigers' schedule is indeed softer than closest competitor Oklahoma's. But I wonder if people realize just how close it was to being exactly the opposite scenario.

Auburn's 2005 non-conference schedule originally included Georgia Tech and Bowling Green. Oklahoma's non-conference slate at various points included Arkansas State and Florida A&M.

According to the Mobile Register, Auburn and Georgia Tech originally scheduled a three-year deal in which they would play at the Georgia Dome last year, Georgia Tech this year and Auburn in 2005. But the Jackets wanted a big-name opponent for the first game in its newly expanded stadium last year, so the Tigers agreed to change the venue and drop the Dome game altogether. Enter one of the Louisiana schools as a replacement.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma was scheduled to open against Arkansas State, but the Indians backed out to play at Missouri instead. Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione originally replaced them with Florida A&M, but when it was learned the I-AA Rattlers were delaying their move to I-A, he began scrambling for any available last-minute replacement and wound up striking gold with nationally ranked (at the time) Oregon.

When Bowling Green backed out of a game at Auburn a year earlier, AD David Housel did go with a I-AA replacement, The Citadel, a move he must regret mightily today. Why did the Falcons back out? To play Oklahoma.

According to the Register, Bowling Green AD Paul Krebs is a former employee of the Oklahoma ticket office and was willing to pay a $25,000 buyout for the chance to bring the Falcons to Norman. As of this writing, Bowling Green is 8-2, the second-best record of any Sooner opponent; The Citadel is not only I-AA, but 3-7.

Right now, the margin between the Sooners and Tigers in the human polls is too wide for that one game to have mattered. If by the time things are said and done, though, the computer ratings wind up being the difference between Orange and Sugar, it seems to me Auburn fans have one person to blame: Bowling Green's athletic director.

What do you think the major conferences would do if is there is one more upset -- either Cal at Southern Miss, Auburn in the SEC title game, áor Texas at Texas A&M -- and Boise State climbs to No. 6 in the BCS standings behind Utah? They're No. 7 this week. To me, it looks almost inevitable. Talk about a nightmare for ABC. And forget about Cal in the Rose Bowl.
-- Mike Popovec, Fort Worth, Texas

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Stewart Mandel will answer questions from SI.com readers each week in his mailbag.
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Believe me, there will be a lot of nervous souls in Berkeley, Pasadena and on Madison Avenue watching that Texas-Texas A&M game Friday. It's safe to say the scenario you described -- specifically Boise State bumping Cal out of the Rose Bowl -- never even occurred to the powers that be until this week.

"Reached at his home Sunday," Chris Dufresne wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen pored over the BCS rule book to confirm the possibility of this peril, paused for a moment, and sighed, 'Oh boy.'"

I had to look it up myself just to be sure, but, yes, in the at-large selection process, the rule about "non-BCS" teams being guaranteed a berth if they finish in the top six gets applied before the rule regarding teams like Cal that don't win their conference but finish third or fourth. See for yourself (look on page 5).

Personally, I think most fans would be interested to see both Utah and Boise State in a BCS bowl game. The folks at the Pac-10 and Rose Bowl, however, would be angrier than Ron Artest at an ice factory. Many of them already rue the day they ever signed on to the BCS, opening up their sacred game to outsiders. To then be told they cannot host a 10-1, top-five Cal team for the first time since 1959 because of Boise State? I'd go so far as to suggest the Rose might try to pull out of the thing altogether.

Ohio State has had a roller-coaster of a season. With theáhuge upset win over Michigan, an Alamo Bowl invitation likely, the Maurice Clarett allegations still looming and the recruiting machine in full gear, how do you see the next 2-3 months looking for the entity that is Buckeye football?
-- Billy H., Dublin, Ohio

I would think it will be more of the same roller-coaster action. On the field, the Buckeyes have a chance to finish the season winning five ofátheir last six, including a fairly visible bowl game. That's got to figure to have a significant boost on recruiting, and with key players like Ted Ginn Jr., A.J. Hawk, Troy Smith and Santonio Holmes all returning, they figure to be a top-10 team headed into next season.

On the flip side, I expect more allegations to keep coming to light. The Columbus Dispatch last weekend reported some disturbing details about OSU's summer-job program, which included players being paid $18 an hour to visit nursing-home residents (isn't that volunteer work for most people?), and ESPN The Magazine is continuing its reporting. I have no idea how much of what's out there the NCAA will wind up verifying, but if and when it does levy sanctions, it probably won't be for at least a year.

You are not as na´ve asáUtah fans, are you? Even Alabama can beat the Utes. Texas A&M or Oklahoma State can beat the Utes. They can't handle 90 percent of the top 25 teams in the country. So let's be realistic. I'm not taking away their glory of going undefeated, but please!
-- Arun Gore, Seattle

You cite as an example a team Utah beat by 20, and I'm the one being na´ve? As I've said before, I have no idea whether the Utes are really one of the top six teams in the country, but to dismiss them out of hand just because they play in the Mountain West is flat-out ignorant. Have you actually watched them play? They've got as much speed on offense as any team this side of USC, and if I were starting a team from scratch, I'd take Alex Smith at quarterback over all but a handful of peers nationwide. Now, I'm guessing their defense would get absolutely shredded by a USC, Oklahoma, Cal or Auburn. Other than that, though, I can say without hesitation that, on any given day, Utah could probably outscore your so-called 90 percent of the top 25.

What's the deal with "sexy" as an adjective? I've noticed it with other SI writers, but with you (who I believe covers the sport with more objectivity and dignity than most), I'm surprised to see the term. Please explain.
-- Christopher Moock, Dallas

What, are you saying I'm not sexy? Take a close look at that mug shot, pal. A lot of treadmill time went into achieving that svelte figure. And, hey, what's not sexy about a sport that features 350-pound linemen, pudgy coaches and even pudgier writers?

Actually, the line you're referring to was in a column about best and worst possible BCS scenariosá(from Nov. 14), and much of that has to do with what's "sexiest" in the eyes of the people trying to sell tickets and advertising. You and I may look at a possible Utah-Virginia Tech matchup and say, "Wow, the Utes' explosive offense going against the Hokies' tenacious defense," but the ABC execs say, "Wow, the Salt Lake City and Blacksburg TV markets. I'm going to shoot myself."

Given the rest of what they have accomplished this year, if Texas had beaten Oklahoma 12-0 in Dallas instead of the other way around, would the Longhorns be No. 2 behind USC or No. 3 behind Auburn? And where would Cedric Benson be in the Heisman race?
-- Scott Butcher, Norman, Okla.

They'd probably be No. 2, just like Oklahoma, since they started the season behind USC but significantly ahead of Auburn. And I think it's safe to say Benson would be running away with the Heisman, considering his season-low rushing game was 92 yards -- against Oklahoma. You've got to be pretty sadistic, though, to play the "what-if" game if you're a Texas fan. After all, if they'd beaten the Sooners each of the past five years instead of losing to them, by now they might have won at least one national title and three conference crowns. Pretty depressing, huh? Just try to enjoy the Cotton Bowl.

Which of the following coaches will have a head-coaching job next year --áRon Zook, Rick Neuheisel, or Frank Solich?
-- Terrence Smith, Sugar Loaf, N.Y.

I'd say the one with the best chance is Neuheisel -- he got a clean bill from the NCAA, he's taken a team to the Rose Bowl and he's actively pursuing jobs. The one with the worst chance is Zook, unless he goes back to the NFL. I'm sure most athletic directors realize he was put in a no-win situation at Florida, but I find it hard to believe they'd see him as the right guy to come in and reenergize a program. The wild-card in that group is Solich. Publicly, he's been conspicuously quiet in the year since his dismissal from Nebraska, but he's remained very active behind the scenes, visiting with coaches at schools across the country and observing games and practices. He had a chance to go to Army last year but declined. If the right opportunity arises -- Syracuse comes to mind -- I think he'd jump at it.

Does your job as a nationally published sportswriter help you pick up chicks or does it only impress guys?
-- Troy, Los Angeles

Let's put it this way: If I'm at a party and a woman asks me what I do, her reply is usually something to the effect of, "Oh, how interesting." If I'm at a party and a guy asks me the same question, my answer immediately sets off a chain of events that begins with, "Hey, Billy, you've got to come over and meet this guy" and ends an hour later with every guy in the room having come by at some point to say, "Dude, make sure you write something good about [insert alma mater here]."

Really, it all boils down to a colossal error of judgment my sophomore year of college. In my younger years, I played a mean lead guitar, and upon arriving at Northwestern I helped form an alt-rock band, Stem, that would take the dorm social scene by storm. Screaming women throwing bras, the whole nine yards. But once I got the basketball beat at the school paper, I didn't have enough time for the band and, faced with a choice of continuing my fledgling rock-star path or embarking on the sportswriting career I'd always dreamed of, I chose the latter.

Nine years later, I've yet to meet my first sportswriter groupie.

Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.

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