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Here’s seven that can give BCS headaches

Jul 6, 2004 4:00 AM

The college football season is just one month away, so this is a good time to get in some early shopping for national champion bargains.

Oh, it’s easy to pick all the usual suspects (Miami, Florida State, Oklahoma) but there’s no challenge. Risk-taking is much more interesting, especially when there exists value buys at outrageous prices with legitimate chances to contend for at least a BCS bowl.

Last year we were fortunate enough to ride Southern Cal from the preseason to a share of the national title with LSU. If wide receiver Mike Williams is ruled eligible, we’ll back the Trojans again. For now, we see seven heavenly selections that should pay off over the course of the 2005 campaign.

Akron (40-1 field): Remember Ben Roethlisberger, the Miami of Ohio quarterback and top draft pick of the San Diego Chargers? Well, the Zips have Ben’s clone in QB Charlie Frye. If Frye puts up the numbers Ben did last year, Akron could be this year’s Northern Illinois in the Mighty Mac. Akron was 7-5 last year and opens at Penn State. Holy, Toledo!

Utah (300-1): The underrated Utes have 17 returning starters back from a 10-2 squad and one of the bright new coaching faces in Urban Meyer. Utah has proven in bowl wins over Southern Cal and Southern Miss that they can win in the trenches playing physical, in your face football. If the Utes can post an impressive victory in the home opener with Texas A&M, they can be the BCS nightmare all year.

California (75-1): The Golden Bears impressed us in an opening game loss at Kansas State and later handed USC its only loss in overtime at Berkeley. Aaron Rodgers to Geoff McArthur may be the best pass combo in the Pac 10, including the Trojans. Cal does have a murderous start to the season (four of first five games on the road). If the Bears survive, they should thrive come October.

Minnesota (75-1): The heck with Ohio State-Michigan. We see the Big Ten championship taking place Nov. 13 when the Gophers host Iowa at the Metrodome. Minnesota should have beaten Michigan last year, but blew a double-digit lead in the final minutes. A great offensive line to support athletic backs Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney assure that Minny won’t be a phony.

Maryland (50-1): The Terps had the guts to open the new yard at Northern Illinois last year and got burned in overtime. Maryland only lost one other game all year and outscored West Virginia 75-14 in two wins. Coach Ralph Friedgen is 31-8 at Maryland. If he can just get past Florida State, the Terps could be in the national title picture in December.

Clemson (40-1): Last year, the Tigers were ready to send Tommy Bowden back to Tallahassee until he slapped daddy Bobby up side the head, 26-10. After stunning Florida State, Clemson rolled to three more wins including a smashing 27-14 victory over Tennessee in the Peach Bowl. Junior QB Charlie Whitehurst may be the best in the ACC, and that includes FSU and new member Miami. Clemson can also play some D.

Iowa (40-1): Everyone in the college football world wanted Kirk Ferentz to coach their team, and some in the NFL expressed interest. The fact Kirk stayed shows that Iowa has the foundation in place for a big run at the Big Ten title and more. Word is this is the best Hawkeyes team ever. So good that the NFL’s No. 2 overall pick, 330-pound OT Robert Gallery, may be replaced. Pete McMahon is as big and good. Iowa should be 5-0 heading to a showdown in Iowa City against Michigan.