Third in BCS, Louisville joins jumbled title-game picture

Rutgers could spoil Louisville's party

National Analysis

November 06, 2006|By Teddy Greenstein | Teddy Greenstein,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Louisville impressed the Bowl Championship Series computers with last week's 44-34 victory over West Virginia. But the pollsters? Not so much.

Louisville came in one spot behind third-ranked Texas in the latest USA Today coaches poll. And the Harris poll gave the unbeaten Cardinals just a six-point edge over the 9-1 Longhorns.

But Louisville climbed from ninth to third in the BCS computers, vaulting to a solid No. 3 in the latest BCS standings.

That means, in theory, that Louisville is poised to play the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game for the national title.

In theory.

In reality, two scenarios could make for a wild, perhaps messy, BCS ride in November:

Rutgers beats Louisville.

Remember when your Thursday nights were devoted to watching Friends and ER? Now football widows have an extra night to mourn.

For the second straight week, ESPN gets a late-season matchup between undefeated teams. This one features third-ranked Louisville at No. 15 Rutgers.

For those new to the scene, Rutgers has a tradition of losing that is even more shameful than the Chicago Cubs'. Before last season, the Scarlet Knights had gone 27 consecutive years without a bowl bid. That's hard to do in the era of the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl.

Coach Greg Schiano is viewed as a deity now in New Jersey, but he went 12-34 in his first four seasons in Piscataway.

And now? The school is putting up temporary bleachers to allow about 50,000 people to attend Thursday night's game at Rutgers Stadium, which technically holds 41,500.

"The last home game of the season in my freshman year [against Temple], it was raining and cold," fullback Brian Leonard told Gannett New Jersey. "And there was absolutely nobody in the stands. The only people were tucked underneath the upper decks trying to avoid the rain. It couldn't have been more than 5,000 people."

So what happens if Tony Soprano's favorite school buries Louisville to improve to 9-0?

BCS analyst Jerry Palm doubts it will be enough to vault Rutgers into national-title contention.

"For a lot of people involved in college football for a long time, putting Rutgers on a line next to No. 2 would make them sweat," he said.

A convincing victory Thursday would certainly help, but considering that Rutgers ranks 13th in the Harris and 14th in the USA Today polls, it's hard to envision a jump into the Top 5. The Big East bashers could get their way, with Rutgers finishing below Texas or the Southeastern Conference champion.

Louisville's final three games are against 6-3 South Florida, at 6-3 Pittsburgh and against 3-5 Connecticut. A 12-0 finish would almost surely put the Cardinals in the national title game. Unless ...

Michigan beats Ohio State in a classic.

The Wolverines got a wake-up call against Northwestern. But they must have hit the snooze bar before they edged Ball State, 34-26.

With the pollsters taking notes, it's clear Michigan will have to beat Ohio State on Nov. 18 to reach the BCS title game. But Ohio State is such a strong No. 1, you wonder if the pollsters would drop the Buckeyes below Louisville if they lose to Michigan.

And how could the voters drop Ohio State below Texas, considering the Buckeyes' 24-7 whipping of the Longhorns on Sept. 9 in Austin?

On that front, Palm isn't convinced: "Voters don't have long-term memory."

If that's true, that could work against the Big Ten in another way.

With the Big Ten schedule ending Nov. 18, Florida could get two extra chances to impress the pollsters: a Nov. 25 date at Florida State and the Dec. 2 SEC championship game.

Because you can't get enough of the BCS ...

Notre Dame remained ninth in the BCS standings, but it's a solid ninth. The Irish are actually closer to No. 4 Florida than to No. 10 West Virginia.

Notre Dame, which has a relatively high (No. 6) computer rating, takes on Air Force and Army before finishing its regular season at No. 7 Southern California.

The Irish merely need to finish in the BCS' top 14 to be eligible for a BCS game. How badly would Notre Dame have to lose to the Trojans to fall out of the top 14?

"103-6," Palm replied.

That one Harris poll voter who doesn't like Ohio State is really digging in. Two weeks ago Ohio State got 112 of the 114 first-place votes. The others went to Michigan and USC.

Last week the one vote that didn't go to Ohio State went to West Virginia. Now Louisville has a (1) next to its name.

Like the coaches who vote, the Harris poll participants have to reveal only their final ballot, which will be released in four weeks.

Teddy Greenstein writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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