POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Is Va. Tech This Year's Auburn?

 Brian Curtis and Eric Sorenson slug it out over the most pressing football questions

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    Brian Curtis, CSTV Senior Editor Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com Analyst
    NO. The comparison between the 2004 undefeated Auburn team and this year's edition of Virginia Tech is way off-base for a variety of evidentiary and common sense reasons. The hypothesis says that even if Virginia Tech runs the table this year, it will be left out of the BCS title game in Pasadena. I say no. I say they are headed to Southern California and will not fall victim as Auburn did in '04.

    Preseason Polls
    Though the formula has been tweaked a bit this season for the BCS, it still revolves on two human elements-the USA Today's Coaches Poll and the human voters in the Harris Interactive Poll. That being said, preseason poll position matters, because as history has shown, it is a lot harder to climb to the top, starting from the middle of the pack, which is exactly what hurt Auburn last year. The Tigers were picked No. 17 in the preseason poll, and though they kept winning as teams above lost, they never could get to one of the top spots. Virginia Tech, however, started off the season ranked No. 8 and has far less room to make up.

    The Non-Conference Schedule
    Yes, Auburn plays in perhaps the best football conference in the country and it certainly took care of business last year. What hurt its chances was its paltry non-conference schedule. The Tigers' three non-league games were against Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel and Louisiana Tech - cupcakes. It diminished their achievements in the eyes of voters and brought down their strength of schedule in the eyes of the computers. The Hokies have a better, though not great, non-conference slate of games in 2005. They have already beaten a much -improved Ohio team handily (45-0). Their two remaining non-conference games were a 34-17 victory over trendy Big East conference preseason pick West Virginia in Morgantown last week and against Marshall (which, when scheduled, was good) this week. Big East. Advantage Virginia Tech.

    The Conference Schedule
    It's really unfair to look at league schedules and criticize, because teams have no control over those match-ups. However, it is fair to keep them in mind when talking about Va. Tech-Auburn. Auburn was fortunate enough to skip Florida last year, but did get to face Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama. On the flip side, Virginia Tech skips Florida State, but gets Duke. The difference? Three of the Hokies' toughest games are three of the last four against Boston College, Miami and Virginia. Wins over those teams late in the season are worth more than the Auburn wins over ranked LSU and Tennessee early in last season because those were not fresh in voters' minds. Let's just consider the conference schedules a wash.

    Strength of Schedule
    Last season, Auburn's overall strength of schedule was ranked No. 60 (USC was No. 7 and Oklahoma was No. 13). No. 60! Its non-conference strength of schedule was awful. So far this season, Virginia Tech's schedule is ranked No. 33 (USC is No. 11 and Texas is No. 69). The Virginia Tech overall SOS will improve with games against West Virginia, Boston College, Miami and Virginia, so most likely, the Hokies will have played a tougher schedule than Auburn, particularly in non-conference games, which gives them more pluses in the BCS formula.

    The Others
    At this point last year, it looked pretty good that Oklahoma and USC would run the table, leaving Auburn looking up to two unbeatens. I don't think the Trojans will lose this year but Texas probably will, leaving just one major unbeaten ahead of Tech.

    We can only guess at what lies ahead in this debate, as Virginia Tech could lose this week against Marshall (though very unlikely). What we can do is look at history and predict -- and based on what I see, Virginia Tech will not be Auburn of last year.

    YES.  Cold hard fact No. 1: Four of the last five years, a deserving team has been knocked out of the BCS title game mainly because it was ranked lower than the No. 2 team in the pre-season polls. Four out of five! That's the same ratio as the dentists who recommend Dentyne to patients who chew gum.

    So can't you just picture it? Marcus Vick carving up defenses even better than his brother. Mike Imoh bruising and dashing through defenses. Jeff King catching touchdowns and blocking kicks. And that wonderfully talented defense flying all over the field and running down track-type receivers.

    To the surprise of no one, Virginia Tech ends up triumphant in its bowl game, and there the Hokies are, with confetti fluttering around as they lift the Sears Second-Place Trophy in the air.

    Yes, get ready for it people. That's what happens when college football is run by corporate types in bad orange suits instead of sensible people promoting December Madness.

    I don't want to see it. You don't want to see it. It's going to happen.

    Last year, the college football Division I-A pool produced five (yes, 5) unbeaten teams. And with 12 remaining unbeatens, what is the likelihood of at least three again this year? Pretty good, I'd say. But most likely, we'll see a scenario where USC and Texas end up No. 1 and No. 2 and Va. Tech is left with post-game interviews that go something like, "Oh we'd love to play the winner of the Rose Bowl! Let's do it next week."

    Is there a chance that Texas and USC could lose? Well, I'll tell you this, after this weekend, I'll be able to give you a definitive answer about Texas. Barring a major collapse, Oklahoma is the last hope for any team 3-through-119 has of the Horns losing.

    USC? The Trojans made it past Oregon and Arizona State on the road. They do have Notre Dame, Cal and UCLA left, but who really thinks the Trojans are going to lose?

    So that leaves the Hokies. Is there a chance that wins over Miami and Florida State (in a possible ACC championship matchup) will allow them to leapfrog Texas? Yes, definitely.

    But you know what will happen. If Tech jumps to No. 2, that's when Mack Brown and some Texas cronies make a few phone calls.

    "Hey Coach, if you move Virginia Tech down a few places, you'll make the Big 12 look better AND you'll get more money from a Big 12 team going to the Rosey Bowly. Whaddya' say?"

    Deals are made. Promises are kept. Collusion is in place. And lookee here, Virginia Tech falls back to No. 3 in early December. How do you think Cal ended up dropping way down to No. 7 and No. 8 in some coaches' polls, despite a double-digit win at Southern Miss last season? It's tawdry man, just tawdry.

    That's the world of the BCS. USC and Texas started out high in the rankings and they're not going anywhere as long as they win, and win impressively. Which they should. Virginia Tech is this year's goat. Remember, guys, handle that second-place trophy carefully. Plaster of Paris is fragile.

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