Oregon odd team out in BCS

Despite lone loss to USC, Ducks see Irish, Ohio State ahead of them on at-large pond

National notebook

November 26, 2005|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

They are college football's forgotten team in 2005, overshadowed by the 500-pound gorilla that sits atop their conference, uncertain about their bowl future when it comes to the Bowl Championship Series. Truth be told, how many of us know that Oregon is 10-1 and No. 8 in the country? The feeling around Eugene these days is not as bad as it was in 2001, when the Ducks finished No. 2 in the rankings after the regular season and had to watch undeserving Nebraska get demolished by Miami in the Rose Bowl in the BCS national championship game.

But it could get even worse if Oregon, loser only to USC this season, gets overlooked for one of the two at-large spots in the four BCS games. The early line is that Notre Dame is a lock to get the first spot, likely headed for the Fiesta Bowl, with Ohio State receiving the second and going to Tempe as well.

"We can't control it," Oregon coach Mike Belotti told the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal. "Certainly at this point, to be 10-1, with our loss to an undefeated team, the defending national champions, we feel we should be in [the BCS]."

Therein lies the problem. While the Ducks' loss to the Trojans came early in the season, the final score (45-13) and the fact that the game was played at home hurts Oregon's chances.

Notre Dame, ranked sixth, has two losses going into its regular-season final today at Stanford, but its 34-31 defeat by the Trojans in South Bend outweighs an overtime loss at home to a then undefeated but now mediocre Michigan State team.

Ohio State, ranked seventh, finished the season with two losses, but the first came at home to No. 2 Texas and the second at now No. 4 Penn State, the Big Ten's BCS representative.

As much as Oregon would like to re-create Oregon State's one-sided win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl four years ago, it's unlikely to happen unless the Irish slip up today in Palo Alto. The Irish will bring the best television ratings and the Buckeyes would bring more fans.

From the frying pan ...

Fresno State coach Pat Hill knew how difficult the end of his team's regular season would be even before taking the Bulldogs to Los Angeles last week to play top-ranked USC. Now, after taking the Trojans down to the final minute in a 50-42 defeat, today's game at Nevada could prove extremely difficult.

Not only do the Bulldogs have to put the now classic game in the Coliseum behind them, they must do it against a Wolf Pack team with its own bowl aspirations. With its first winning season since 1996 secured, Nevada (7-3, 6-1 in the WAC) is tied with Boise State for second in the league behind Fresno State.

"We lost to a team that might go down in history as one of the best teams in college footballl, but it's time to move off of that game. That game is over," said Hill. "The game we're into now is the Nevada-Reno game. And I'm very excited about coming to Nevada."

Hill should be. The Bulldogs won last year, 54-17.

Excuses, excuses

This is the time of year that college football coaches try to deflect the criticism for their teams' disappointing seasons from something other than their own flawed coaching.

Michigan State's John L. Smith, whose Spartans started out 4-1 and finished 5-6, blamed a number of factors.

"We got tired and beat up a little," Smith said. "But I think another thing that wasn't in our favor was our schedule. It got a little tougher in the second half of the season. To be honest, we just weren't as mentally tough as we needed to be."

It all fell apart for the Spartans on one play, when they sent only 10 players out for a field-goal attempt against Ohio State right before halftime of their game six weeks ago. The Buckeyes blocked the kick, returned it for a touchdown and won the game.

Michigan State, which had knocked off Notre Dame on the road, won only one other game the rest of the year.

But Smith, whose future in East Lansing is in jeopardy after two losing seasons, isn't alone among coaches trying to find excuses.

Listen to Florida State's Bobby Bowden.

Bowden, whose 7-3 Seminoles finish the regular season today against Florida, blamed injuries and the 85-scholarship limit cutting into a team's depth for his team's record.

"We've got 119 [Division] 1-A schools. Out of 119 of us, I'll bet you 100 are fighting an attrition battle," Bowden said. "You've probably got 19 lucky teams. Boy, they are lucky. They've kept their offensive line healthy all year, they've kept their running backs healthy, and they probably play for Southern Cal and Texas."

Certainly the Trojans and Longhorns have limited their injuries to key personnel this season. But it also comes down to the fact that Bowden's recruiting has slipped noticeably in recent years and the Seminoles suddenly don't have the quality depth they've had in the past.

don.markus@baltsun.com

The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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