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BCS Championship Projection: Alabama-Oklahoma

by Dave Congrove
August 31, 2011

I am more than ready to watch some college football and not be flooded with news of sanctions, suspensions and realignment. But, it appears those items are going to dominate the news right up until - and past - kickoff on Thursday night.

But for this moment in time, the real news is that my computer has projected Alabama and Oklahoma to play for the BCS' Waterford Crystal football and picks the Sooners to be national champs. An Oklahoma title would end the SEC's reign of five straight BCS titles. It would also bring a Cinderella end to the season for the Big 12, which almost became extinct in the offseason when the then PAC-10 tried to pick it apart.

Of course, the future of the Big 12 has recently come back into focus with the possibility of Texas A&M leaving for the SEC, but let's not digress into the subjects of sanctions, suspensions and realignment.

If you're not familiar with "the computer", let me provide a brief background. "The Computer" is the Congrove Computer Rankings which I developed in 1993, five years before the BCS was established. My purpose was to create a "true" ranking of teams through a mathematical formula that contained no personal opinion or preconceived bias.

The very first year, the computer correctly predicted the national championship matchup and game-winner. Furthermore, it correctly determined the exact matchup for 7 of 19 bowls that were in existence at the time. It put 27 of 38 teams in the correct bowls before a single snap of the season was taken, and it then went 14-5 in picking bowl winners.

My rankings began as a personal experiment but the first-year results were so astounding, even to me, that I continued my annual rankings as a hobby.

In 1999, collegefootballpoll.com was born and the website is now beginning its 13th season. It seems like such a short time ago that I literally put pen to paper to work on the formula, but this will be the 19th season of the Congrove Computer Rankings.

This year, the computer says Oklahoma meets Alabama in New Orleans and prevails by 0.54 points. It should be duly noted that a strong SEC Championship opponent could raise Alabama's power rating above Oklahoma's and flip the prediction. In fact, when I rerun the numbers with an Alabama-South Carolina SEC title game matchup included in the equation, Alabama comes out ahead by 1 one-hundredth of a point.

Of course, it is possible that we could have an entirely different matchup, so who else is legitimately in the mix?

That's almost a trick question following last year's Auburn act. The Tigers weren't on the radar in the preseason of 2010 when no national publication or poll had them ranked higher than 15th. Nonetheless, we'll focus on the most-likely subjects.

Boise State is there again. Even though the Broncos have left the WAC and joined the somewhat stronger Mountain West, the computer (and just about everyone else) has BSU going undefeated in the regular season. The question is whether or not they will impress the voters along the way. They'll get a chance in the season opener when they face Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the not-so-neutral venue of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Last year's opener saw the Broncos prevail over Virginia Tech against a partisan Hokies crowd at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.

Speaking of Virginia Tech, the Hokies are also picked to go unbeaten in the ACC. But its regular season schedule is rated as the 2nd weakest among schools in the "Big 6" conferences. A repeat of its 2010 victory over Florida State in the conference championship game would help its cause, but other candidates would almost certainly have to lose a game to clear the path for the Hokies' entry.

The computer also has Nebraska going unscathed through its first Big Ten schedule, downing Wisconsin in the inaugural championship game of that conference.

The final projected unbeaten team is Southern Miss in CUSA, but the Eagles are underdogs to a forecasted 9-3 Tulsa team in the conference championship - even though that game would be played at Southern Miss.

The 1-loss group features a LSU team that recently saw its outlook possibly diminish with the suspensions of QB Jordan Jefferson and WR Russell Shepard in separate incidents. It is unclear how long either suspension could last, but let's not digress into the subjects of sanctions, suspensions and realignment.

Texas A&M, Oregon and Notre Dame are three more top candidates with just 1 projected loss. Many people have Florida State in the mix and the Seminoles could climb high in the discussion if they beat Oklahoma on September 17.

BYU, in its first year as an Independent, is also picked to go 11-1. The Cougars have an odd mix of quality opponents on their schedule (Ole Miss, Texas, Utah, TCU, Oregon State, UCF, Hawaii), along with several historically weak teams (San Jose State, New Mexico State, Idaho State, Utah State).

If anyone thought the Miami Hurricanes were on the rise, they are probably having second thoughts after 8 'Canes players were suspended for varying lengths of time, just days before their season opener at Maryland in an ACC contest. Stronger sanctions against the school could be forthcoming from an NCAA investigation into the association of multiple players with convicted Ponzi scheme felon Nevin Shapiro, but let's not digress into the subjects of sanctions, suspensions and realignment.

Ohio State would have almost certainly been in the discussion of national champion contention if Terrelle Pryor were still the QB, Jim Tressell were still the coach, and other players hadn't been suspended in the wake of "TattooGate", but let's not digress into the subjects of sanctions, suspensions and realignment.

Let's instead look at the interesting games on an opening week docket of 78 games, 38 of which feature FBS schools playing FCS member institutions.

THIS WEEK'S TOP GAMES
The season kicks off on Thursday night without a single game worth watching. 8 of the 14 games are FBS vs. FCS matchups. Those that aren't include the likes of Bowling Green-Idaho, Western Kentucky-Kentucky (at Nashville) and Wake Forest-Syracuse.

Friday brings the first "wanna-see" game when TCU visits Baylor. The Horned Frogs lost 2/3rds of their starting lineup from a year ago while the Bears return starting QB Robert Griffin III. The computer picks Baylor by a scant 0.28 points.

Saturday's slate has mostly snooze fests, but a few games are sprinkled among the snores.

LSU-Oregon (at Arlington) is the biggest with Boise State-Georgia (at Atlanta) coming in a close second. We also get BYU-Mississippi, Fresno State-Cal (at Candlestick Park in San Francisco), UCLA-Houston (QB Case Keenum returns for the Cougars), USF-Notre Dame (I expect an Irish rout) and Tulsa-Oklahoma (I expect an Oklahoma rout).

Sunday has a pair of mildly interesting rivalry matchups with Marshall-West Virginia and SMU-Texas A&M.

The opening weekend comes to a not-so-dramatic close on Monday night when Al Golden and Randy Edsall debut as the head coaches of Miami and Maryland, respectively, when they clash at College Park.

RESCHEDULED:
The Connecticut opener against FCS member Fordham has been moved from Thursday night to Saturday at Noon at Rentschler Stadium in East Hartford. The game will serve as the debut for Paul Pasqualoni, the former Syracuse head coach who takes over for Randy Edsall (now at Maryland). The stadium is being used as a supply distribution center for nearby areas that were affected by Hurricane Irene.

PRESEASON ACCURACY:
Last season, the computer's preseason rankings correctly tabbed the winners of five conferences - the Big Ten (Ohio State, co-champ), Big East (UConn, co-champ), Mountain West (TCU), PAC-10 (Oregon) and WAC (Boise State, co-champ). It correctly picked Navy as the top Independent.

The computer nailed three other division winners - Nebraska (Big 12 North); UCF and SMU (CUSA East and West).

My computer rankings pegged the exact final record of 20 teams before a single snap was taken, and missed by just one win or loss on 35 other teams.

FBS vs. FCS:
FBS teams went 83-7 (.922) vs. FCS schools last season and are 547-49 (.918) in such games since 2003.

This year, 93 FBS teams play a total of 97 games against FCS foes. Four schools play two such games - Air Force, Eastern Michigan, N.C. State and Wyoming.

Possible FCS upset specials this week include:
Appalachian State at Virginia Tech - The Hokies lost at home to James Madison last year and VT will be breaking in a new QB.

James Madison at North Carolina - The Dukes won at Virginia Tech last year and UNC is debuting interim head coach Everett Withers.

Villanova at Temple - The Wildcats won the Mayor's Cup in 2009 and Temple won last year's game.

New Hampshire at Toledo - The Wildcats defeated Ball State in 2009 (23-16), Army in 2008 (28-10), Marshall in 2007 (48-35), and Northwestern in 2006 (34-17).

Richmond at Duke - The Spiders won the last two meetings in 2006 (13-0) and 2009 (24-16).

Northern Iowa at Iowa State - The Panthers beat the Cyclones in '07 and lost by a point in '06. Northern Iowa also only lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes by a point in '09.

Delaware at Navy - Navy won the last meeting 35-18 in '09, but the Blue Hens won a 59-52 shootout in 2007 with Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) at QB.

STREAKS:
Boise State - 32 home wins, 62 regular season home wins, and 46 straight conference home victories. BSU joins the Mountain West this season and leaves the WAC having never lost at home to a fellow WAC member (40-0). The Broncos' last home loss to a conference foe occurred in 1998 when they were a member of the Big West and fell to Idaho in the final regular season game. The Broncos are 6-1 in their last seven matches against BCS conference schools. (Next: vs. Georgia on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta).

Auburn - 15 straight wins overall. (Next: vs. Utah State on Saturday)

TCU - 13 straight wins overall, 25 straight regular season wins, 20 straight home wins and 17 straight conference wins. (Next: visits Baylor on Friday).

Oregon saw its 12-game winning streak end with a 22-19 loss to Auburn in the BCS Championship Game. Still owns a 12-game regular season winning streak. (Next: LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on Saturday)

Virginia Tech saw its 11-game winning streak come to an end with a 40-12 loss to Stanford in the Orange Bowl. Still owns a 10-game regular season winning streak (Excludes ACC Championship game win). (Next: hosts FCS member Appalachian State on Saturday).

Oklahoma - 36 straight home victories. (Next: hosts Tulsa on Saturday).

San Jose State - 10 straight losses overall. (Next: visits Stanford on Saturday).

Memphis - 9 straight losses overall. (Next: hosts Mississippi State on Thursday)

New Mexico - 16 straight road losses. (Next: hosts Colorado State on Saturday).

NEW COACHES:
24 teams have a new college football coach in the FBS ranks this season. Last season saw 23 new head coaches, only 8 of whom matched or exceeded the W-L record of their predecessors' final season.

Two new coaches are guaranteed to come out a winner in their opening game as they face another new head coach - Ball State's Pete Lembo and Indiana's Kevin Wilson open against each other at Indianapolis on Saturday; Maryland's Randy Edsall debuts at home against Al Golden and the troubled Miami Hurricanes.

Here are the opening games for each new head coach:

Team Coach Game
Arkansas State Hugh Freeze Saturday at Illinois
Ball State Pete Lembo Saturday vs. Indiana at Indianapolis
Colorado Jon Embree Saturday at Hawaii
Connecticut Paul Pasqualoni Saturday vs. Fordham
Florida Will Muschamp Saturday vs. FAU
Indiana Kevin Wilson Saturday vs. Ball State at Indianapolis
Kent State Darrell Hazell Saturday at Alabama
Louisiana-Lafayette Mark Hudspeth Saturday at Oklahoma State
Maryland Randy Edsall Monday vs. Miami, Fla.
Miami (Fla.) Al Golden Monday at Maryland
Miami (O.) Don Treadwell Saturday at Missouri
Michigan Brady Hoke Saturday vs. Western Michigan
Minnesota Jerry Kill Saturday at USC
North Carolina Everett Withers (Interim) Saturday vs. James Madison
North Texas Dan McCarney Thursday at FIU
Northern Illinois Dave Doeren Saturday vs. Army
Ohio State Luke Fickell (Interim) Saturday vs. Akron
Pittsburgh Todd Graham Saturday vs. Buffalo
San Diego St. Rocky Long Saturday vs. Cal Poly
Stanford David Shaw Saturday vs. San Jose State
Temple Steve Addazio Thursday vs. Villanova
Tulsa Bill Blankenship Saturday at Oklahoma
Vanderbilt James Franklin Saturday vs. Elon
West Virginia Dana Holgorsen Sunday vs. Marshall