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SOUTH FLORIDA MAY BEGIN LOSING NOW

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And Boston College and Missouri. Fun while it lasted. Mid-October, though, time to get real. Kansas and Cincinnati, we just assume you'll be going down, anyway, but for the record, hurry up with that, would ya? Actually, no. Scratch that: forget you were acknowleged at all.

The first BCS rankings drop Sunday on FOX, and USA Today deserves some credit for devoting the bulk of a roundup column this morning to the pre-emptive dissing of USF...on FOX:

The criticism of No. 5 South Florida began even before Sunday's release of the first Bowl Championship Series rankings. On Fox's NFL pregame show last weekend, former Miami Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson said USF doesn't belong in the Top 5. He also said there are several two-loss teams that could wear the Bulls out.
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Grothe, hmmm? Needs to be catchier...how about, 'Boeckman?' And maybe get him in some red...
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One of those teams, I'm guessing: Auburn, which, courtesy of its wins over Kansas State and Florida, has been the most impressive two-loss team of the first half of the season. The Tigers also lost to South Florida. Theoretically, yes, Auburn could wear the Bulls out, if Johnson is bent on institutionalizing a hypothetical reality because Bo Jackson was a man, I'll tell ya. Craig James and Doug Flutie were less outright dismissive during Wake Forest's win over Florida State Thursday night, but they did circle the Bulls in the top five, make comments to the effect of "WTF?" and "this is crazy!" and maintain a general air of incredulity.

And as USA Today makes clear in a separate article this morning by the same writer, Kelly Whiteside, devoted exclusively to the early BCS projections, there is no room for the Bulls or anyone else who was standing outside the club in August: in a scant analysis (a blistering 412 words) on the national picture as it's likely to appear Sunday afternoon, USF isn't mentioned once. Neither is any team, in fact, outside of the presumed top three, and since LSU is hermetically sealed at the top unless/until something drastic happens, we have our early narrative: it's Cal versus Ohio State.

After last week's games, analyst Jerry Palm of CollegeBCS.com had the Buckeyes No. 2 in his projected standings. However, Palm says it's too difficult to predict who will be No. 2 Sunday assuming LSU, Cal and Ohio State win.

"Since Cal and Ohio State are so close, it won't take a lot to flip them," Palm says. "For example, if Cal struggles against Oregon State and Ohio State blows up Kent State, Ohio State would be No. 2 in the polls (USA TODAY Coaches and Harris). Or turn it around and say Cal wins big and Ohio State struggles, and all of a sudden Cal's thin margin over Ohio State is huge."

Ohio State is No. 4 to Cal's No. 5 in the projected computer average, though Palm cautions, "There's a lot of variance in the computers this time of year."
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"Variance" = "Malfunctioning," such as ranking some combination of South Florida, Boston College, Arizona State or Missouri second and third, respectively - the exact order is uncertain, since Palm's projections are behind a pay wall and the article doesn't once mention which teams they currently forecast in those not-at-all crucial positions. Don't worry, though, because "this isn't the one that counts," and those lovable underdogs will be out of the picture by the time it does. Until then, CAAALIFORNIA! High-flying princes of the Pacific!...OHIOOOO STATE! Omnipotent overlords of the Oooolentangy!...(And don't forget about USC!)

I'm not foolish enough to think there's any chance that any undefeated member of the LSU-OSU-Cal triumverate would be denied a championship slot unless it was by the other two, and really, it's way too early to be thinking about this. Which is, maybe...yes, okay, this is the point: it's too early to begin separating the "real" championship contenders from the chaffe when, in a month, when it's LSU and eight one-loss teams gnashing their teeth in the rearview, it will all look like chaffe. The narrative has changed on a weekly basis - lord, we're setting up Ohio State or Cal as a frontrunner - and will continue to change on a weekly basis, as is its nature. So of course Palm is right that these rankings do not matter.

The discussion about them will always matter, though, because the human element is responsible for two-thirds of the BCS championship formula and humans are swayed by these opinions. Mostly old humans who have never seen South Florida play a full game, some of whom, I guarantee, have never seen USF play a down, can't name the coach and don't know the mascot. It has to be demonstrated to them somehow that USF and Cincinnati and Boston College are what their records and subsequent rankings say they are, which is "good." If they keep winning - USF and Boston College should be favorites throughout, Cincinnati in every game but USF and probably West Virginia -  we'll be back to the same argument we had well into November last year, until Cincy knocked off Rutgers: Is the Big East/ACC good enough to send a champion to the mythical title game?

My tentative answers is "yes," depending on the specific resumé of that champion (undfeated USF would have an edge right now on undefeated Cincinnati, for example, by virtue of its win over Auburn), but it's too early to tell that story. Which is why the book should be still open to everyone.

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I should remind readers no blog wants South Florida to fail quite like this one. But facts is facts.