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In end, game can't be beat

Nonsense of BCS overcome on field

The college football season began last night.

Thank heavens.

Once again the pageantry and excitement of the sport will have to overcome the nonsense created by the people who run it.

The latest ongoing saga of the Bowl Championship Series selection process is a case in point.

BCS officials spent nine months and thousands of dollars in an attempt to find a replacement for the Associated Press poll, which pulled out of the BCS selection process at the end of last season.

They came up with the Harris Interactive poll. The criteria to be a voter was clear: former coaches, administrators, and players, as well as selected media members. The 11 conferences that play Division 1-A football, and Notre Dame, were asked to submit more than 300 candidates.

So what happens? 114 voters are chosen. All male. One turns out to be the son-in-law of Troy coach Larry Blakeney, who is a knowledgeable fan, but met none of the criteria. Another voter is an active NFL player. That's right, active, which leads to another question. Just how active an NFL player will he be?

Defections followed and the poll will have some adjustments before the first weekly votes are cast Sept. 25.

While there may always be questions about a poll's voters, these questions get magnified for the BCS because the public perception of the BCS is that it gets things wrong more often than it gets things right.

What happened with the Harris poll is not a major snafu. It was sloppy, and count on that sloppiness to continue.

The problem with the commissioners who run the BCS, and with the coaches who are a big part of it, is that no one wants to take responsibility.

Will someone please step forward and say, ''This is our game and here's what we are going to do. And if you don't like it, oh well."

Instead, everyone has done a great job of handing off responsibility. The coaches didn't want their ballots released and when the AP pulled out last season, they sprinted away from any suggestion that the coaches' poll and the computers be the only instruments used in selecting BCS teams.

The commissioners don't want to make a decision, such as forming a selection committee of former and active participants in college football who would meet during the final weekend of the year and select the teams. That would make the most sense, which is why it was rejected.

''Some of us wanted to go in a different way," BCS chairman and Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg said last week. ''But the majority wanted to do it this way."

The university presidents talk out of both sides of their mouths, about not wanting to extend the season into a second semester, which a playoff system would marginally do, while closing their eyes when a money-making 12th regular-season game (which almost all of the coaches opposed) is scheduled or allowing television to let games be played on every night of the week. Such a move causes hardships on the ''student-athletes," of course, in terms of missed class time. But with dollars coming in that can fund school projects, someone has to bite the bullet.

The saving grace in all of this, of course, is the game itself. And this season, there are story lines everywhere.

Just look at this weekend.

Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier made a winning return to college football last night as South Carolina defeated Central Florida, 24-15.

Tomorrow, Notre Dame kicks off a new era with Charlie Weis running the ship. Ironically, Weis's debut will begin where the Patriots won the AFC Championship last season, in Pittsburgh, against a Panther team coached by former Dolphins boss Dave Wannstedt.

Other questions will be answered: Can Southern Cal win an unprecedented third straight national title and can quarterback Matt Leinart win a second straight Heisman Trophy? The guess here is that the answers will be no and no.

Boston College has finally gained access to the league it has coveted for the past several years: the Atlantic Coast Conference.

How will the Eagles fare with their new Southern friends? The answers will start coming in two weeks when Florida State comes to Alumni Stadium for BC's first ACC game. Coach Tom O'Brien's team will unveil its 2005 squad tomorrow in Provo, Utah, against Brigham Young.

The Big East will unveil its new look as questions linger about whether the league deserves an automatic BCS slot.

Each season brings out its own story lines as games play out. This year will be no exception. And that is the saving grace for the BCS. The game is better than the individuals who control it.

And for that, we should all be grateful.

Odds-on favorites?

The oddsmakers are as confused as everyone else as to who will emerge as the challenger to USC. Oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Trojans as 2-1 favorites. But No. 2? Texas is listed at 7-1, then comes Miami (10-1), Louisiana State (12-1), Florida (12-1), and Ohio State (15-1). Sounds like a jump ball . . . QB question of the year in the ACC is a two-parter. Can Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick live up to the reputation set by older brother Michael in running the Hokies' offense and can sophomore Kyle Wright lead Miami back into the top 10? It will be strange for Miami and Florida State, which open their season Monday night, meeting now and then perhaps having to do it all over again in December in the first ACC title game . . . Hard To Believe Dept.: West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez and Rutgers's Greg Schiano are the deans of Big East coaches; both are in their fifth seasons . . . Purdue could very well be a contender in the Big Ten for one reason: scheduling. The Boilermakers do not face either Michigan or Ohio State. Purdue faces the league's other preseason favorite, Iowa, at home . . . Is it a sign of confidence or desperation that Nebraska will use a junior college transfer quarterback, Zac Taylor, to run coach Bill Callahan's West Coast offense? . . . If you look at the Southeastern Conference, you see many returning starters on most of the teams. Eleven of the 12 SEC schools have double-digit starters back. Arkansas and LSU lead the way with 18 starters returning. Mississippi State is at the bottom of the pile with only four, which might not be all that bad considering the Bulldogs are coming off a 3-8 season, which included a loss to 1-AA Maine . . . Before Hurricane Katrina, LSU was to open its season against North Texas, which looked like a rout on paper. But North Texas might have some teeth this season with running back Jamario Thomas, who led the country with 189.9 yards per game last season, and Patrick Cobbs, who led the country two years ago with a 182-yard average . . . If you are looking for close games (at least early) between major and mid-major schools, check out what happens between Boise State and Georgia and Wyoming and Florida tomorrow. Both SEC schools should win, but it might be interesting.

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