Surprise Of Year

Going into the final month of college football's regular season, attention is growing on what appears to be an inevitable national championship match-up of Southern Cal and Texas. Those two remain one-two in virtually every ranking, including the Bowl Championship Series compilations that will determine the Rose Bowl combatants for number one.

One of the major components of the BCS is the Harris Interactive Poll, made up of 113 voters. One of the voters is Steve Townsend, a college football consultant who is former media relations director for both the Southeastern Conference and Alabama.

Townsend finds it difficult to believe that either USC or Texas will fail to win out and thus finish the season ranked first and second in the BCS compilation (which is based on the Harris and USA Today polls and the average of six computer-based rankings).

"It wasn't realistic to believe that Oklahoma State could hang on and beat Texas, but they made it interesting," Townsend said of Saturday night's win by the Longhorns. Texas had trailed for much of the game, but won going away.

Townsend considers Texas to be an excellent team, but thinks the Longhorns have it way too easy this year. "The schedule Texas plays just doesn't compare to what Virginia Tech or Alabama would play if they all go undefeated," Townsend said. "I'm not taking anything away from Texas. It's really about the Big 12. It is just so weak this year. Some of them, like Nebraska and Oklahoma and Texas A&M, have done very well in past years, but this year they are not very good.

"Maybe the SEC is not as strong as it has been some years, but there is no doubt that both the SEC and ACC are much stronger than the Big 12 this year. Of course, other than perhaps in the minds of the voters, strength of schedule has been dropped as one of the BCS criteria."

Townsend said, "I don't see Texas losing. I think their schedule puts them in the national championship game."

He also thinks it is unlikely that Southern Cal can lose, even though the Trojans have what in most years would be considered to be tough games. USC still has to play a tough California team and undefeated UCLA (fifth in this week's BCS).

Townsend said, "I have watched UCLA a lot this year and they are explosive offensively, but not very good on defense. I watched them come from 21 points down midway through the fourth quarter to beat Stanford Saturday night. I remember people being critical of Mike Shula for having the starters in the game midway through the fourth quarter against Florida, but that is what can happen in football today. Teams can come back in a hurry."

But when you talk explosive, you talk Southern Cal. "It is mind-boggling," Townsend said. "It is incomprehensible that a team can have that much offense. Any time they have to score, they can score. And however they want. I have never seen anything like it. They are averaging 602 yards per game. When you try to think how a team might beat them, the only thing you can think is that maybe they could score a lot and get some turnovers. Or maybe a good ball-control team could do it. Notre Dame's problem was scoring too quickly."

Townsend said he will be watching Alabama very closely this weekend. "Alabama is on one of those situations where the players have a difficult time being up for the game," he said. "In 1996 Alabama was 8-1 and coming off a 26-0 win over LSU. There has never been a coach who was more focused on ‘one game at a time' than Gene Stallings. And Alabama was at least as much better than Mississippi State as is the case this year. But Mississippi State won the game.

"This will be one of those Armageddon games for Mississippi State," Townsend said. "Unlike the fans who are looking ahead to LSU and Auburn, the players cannot look ahead this week, even though Alabama is certainly much better than Mississippi State."

Townsend ranks Alabama as the biggest surprise of the season. "When you consider where Alabama was at the first of the season with scholarship cuts still hurting so badly, so little depth, a rebuilt offensive line, I think Alabama has to be considered the year's biggest surprise. But a case could be made for Penn State. I think everyone had written Joe Paterno off from ever being competitive again, and here he is. Probably the third biggest surprise is Notre Dame, although I think they are very weak defensively.." >p> Townsend said, "From a negative standpoint, Tennessee is the obvious flop of the year."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Steve Townsend, an independent consultant for college football, is one of 113 voters in the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, which is part of the equation for choosing teams for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games at the end of the season. The BCS formula also consists of the USA Today Coaches Poll, and an average of six computer rankings (Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey, Jeff Sagarin and Peter Wolfe).

Steve Townsend previously served as media relations director at Alabama (1988-98) and for the Southeastern Conference, co-publisher of Tiger Rag (the LSU equivalent of ‘BAMA Magazine), and as a graduate assistant under famed LSU Sports Information Director Paul Manasseh.

He shares his thoughts on the national scene with on a regular basis.

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