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Networks give college football early lift

Aug 3, 2004 6:13 AM

College football gets the NFL treatment from the networks the first weekend of September. And you still think these are student/athletes?

"The excitement surrounding college football is greater than ever, despite the fact we have to deal with coaches polls, writers polls and the BCS," said Scott Ramsey, one of several football oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants. "I think the computer is unbiased and fair. I’d rather have it the old way using strength of schedule."

If that were the case last year, perhaps Southern Cal would have faced LSU in the championship game. Instead, it was LSU-Oklahoma and split titles for the SEC champ Tigers and the Pac-10 king Trojans.

Southern Cal kicks off the college season Saturday, Aug. 28 against Virginia Tech at Landover, Md. USC is ranked first in the preseason coaches poll. The Hokies, which join Miami, FL in the ACC this year, are not rated among the nation’s top 25.

There are a handful of games the following Thursday, one on Friday and a decent slate Saturday, Sept. 4 before ABC opens its Monday Night Football slate with the annual Florida State-Miami showdown.

"The Big East is definitely watered down without Miami and Virginia Tech," Ramsey said. "I like West Virginia to win that conference, but it wouldn’t shock me if Connecticut won it in its first season of eligibility."

That would be quite a feat for the Huskies, rated 600-1 at the Caesars Palace book to win the national championship. The Big East is part of the BCS bowl package even without VT and Miami.

As for the ACC, Ramsey believes the league won’t just hand over the championship to either FSU or the Canes.

"Virginia can compete against the ACC’s best," he said. "They are strong everywhere except at QB. Maryland is rebuilding and probably takes a step back. Virginia Tech did fine with Brian Randall so losing Marcus Vick for a short time shouldn’t be that much of a factor."

Here are Ramsey’s takes on the other conferences and which teams may good to bet with or against this year.

SEC: "Ole Miss and Arkansas suffered massive losses on both sides of the ball. In the case of Mississippi, it’s hard to replace Eli Manning. LSU and Georgia are the best in the league. South Carolina is worth watching."

Big 10: "I like Michigan and Ohio State with the Wolverines winning the conference title. Wisconsin doesn’t play Michigan and could steal the conference. Anthony Davis returns at RB and should have a big year. Purdue and Minnesota are good, but each lost key players."

Big 12: "There will be no return to glory for Nebraska. In fact, I see the Huskers struggling in going from the option to a passing game under new coach Bill Callahan. Plus, they lost plenty in graduation. Oklahoma is my pick to win it all. The Sooners are carrying a chip on their shoulder from last year. Colorado will be improved."

Pac 10: USC is clearly the best. Cal will be the toughest challenger for the Trojans. I like the Golden Bears. They may lose just one or two games all year. Both Washington schools will be down this year."

Mountain West: "Utah is clearly the best in a league that is not very strong. I rate the Utes at least 10 to 11 points higher in my power ratings compared to anyone else in the league. New Mexico lost a lot of players. Colorado State will have an off year. UNLV has a good defense, but a very tough schedule and not much offense."

MAC: "Marshall wins the league. Stan Hill will have a big year at QB. Miami of Ohio loses Ben Roethlisberger. Watch for UCF with new coach George O’Leary. Akron can surprise."

Also: Fresno State will beat Boise State in the WAC, though Tulsa is much improved. I like Memphis and Louisville in C-USA with Southern Miss falling back. Navy and Army will be good "spread" teams. The Cadets hired former Chargers coach Bobby Ross and will go back to the option on offense.

If that whets your appetite, we’ve done our job.