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Can a 'little' go long way in rigged game?

September 08, 2008|Chris Dufresne

The race for important bowl berths involving ragtag independents out of South Bend and lesser-known conference schools with cool nicknames, such as Red Wolves and Horned Frogs, could be the second-most exciting campaign this fall.

All the little guys ever asked for was a fair shake in a rigged system.

Now look:

East Carolina, Rice, Tulsa, Utah, Fresno State, Brigham Young, Ball State, Air Force, Texas Christian, Arkansas State, Troy and mighty-mite Notre Dame are a combined 22-0 out of the tunnel.

The champions of the six major conferences get automatic bids to the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar or Orange bowls and it doesn't matter if the Atlantic Coast Conference champion this year is 7-6 Duke.

Like we said, it's a rigged game.

(Warning: high-cholesterol sentence approaching.)

Champions of the five "other" conferences earn an automatic bid only if they finish in the top 12 of the final Bowl Championship Series standings, or if said champions finish in the top 16 ahead of a major conference champion.

There is no margin for error for these schools -- one loss and you're out.

Remember, too, only one at-large berth per non-BCS customer, so if BYU finishes No. 9 to East Carolina's No. 10, the Pirates walk the plank.

The Mountain West and Western Athletic are the only "non-BCS" conferences to have advanced schools to BCS bowls -- Utah made the Fiesta in 2004, and Boise State (Fiesta) and Hawaii (Sugar) went back-to-back for the WAC.

This year, Conference USA has a soapbox derby entry in East Carolina, which rose to No. 14 in Sunday's Associated Press poll after consecutive wins against Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

The problem is the AP isn't involved in the BCS anymore, and the dunderhead coaches saw fit to rank East Carolina only No. 20, five spots behind No. 15 BYU.

This could lead to poll acrimony should both schools keep winning.

Even the Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences have longshot hopefuls.

And as hide-the-kids horrible as Notre Dame looked in victory against San Diego State, the Irish can get to a BCS bowl if they go 9-3.

Did we say the game is rigged?

Notre Dame actually must go to a major bowl it finishes in the BCS top eight and is a likely at-large pick if it wins nine games.

Gentlemen, start your at-large engines:

Conference USA (East Carolina, Rice, Tulsa). The 2-0 Pirates, coached by Skip Holtz, son of Lou, have defeated three straight ranked opponents dating to last year's Hawaii Bowl win over Boise State. Lou Holtz was famous for silly sayings -- "The only difference between champ and chump is "u" -- and exaggerating the strengths of opponents, and his son didn't fall far from the tree.

Look for Skip Holtz to compare Tulane to Tom Osborne's better Nebraska teams.

Rice and Tulsa are probably only short-term BCS players.

Mountain West (BYU, Utah, Air Force, TCU). The shame is only one team will emerge from this scrum. It might come down to BYU at Utah on Nov. 22.

Western Athletic (Fresno State, Boise State). No. 21 Fresno State, if it can beat Wisconsin at home Saturday after already winning at Rutgers, might leapfrog both East Carolina and BYU in the coaches' poll.

Boise State enters the fray if it beats No. 16 Oregon in Eugene on Sept. 20.

Mid-American (Ball State). Don't laugh! The Muncie (Ind.) munchkins are 2-0 after Friday's win over Navy and have the easiest route to 12-0. The Cardinals don't have much schedule strength, though, so they're going to need help.

Sun Belt (Arkansas State, Troy). Don't laugh II. Arkansas State has already defeated Texas A&M and plays at Alabama on Nov. 1. Troy got an elimination deferment when its game against Louisiana State was postponed, because of Hurricane Gustav, until Nov. 15.

Independents (Notre Dame). The Irish own, perhaps, the worst three-game winning streak in history.

Notre Dame won its last two games last year against Duke and Stanford and opened Saturday with an act-of-God comeback against San Diego State.

"I'll take an ugly win any day of the week," fourth-year Coach Charlie Weis said.

Eight more "uglies" and Notre Dame might be in the Orange Bowl.

How bad is it?

San Diego State lost its season opener to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, prompting this postgame question to Aztecs Coach Chuck Long.

You've played two games now. Who is better, Cal Poly or Notre Dame?

"That's a tough question," Long said.


Weekend wrap

Weis on the court-of-public-opinion case against Notre Dame: "The jury's still out because, you know, obviously utopia would be you come in here, go up and down the field, you win 100 to nothing. Guess what, it didn't play out that way."

It wasn't much to celebrate, but Ohio State's close-shave 26-14 victory over Ohio was the 800th win in school history. The only other schools with more than 800 are Michigan (870), Notre Dame (825), Texas (822) and Nebraska (819).

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