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Harris Interactive's first poll spits out a few puzzlers
Seattle Times colleges reporter
For anybody puzzled over the 1-2 start of the Carolina Panthers, here's the answer: Brentson Buckner, one of their defensive linemen, is spending his Saturday nights wrestling with his Harris Interactive Poll vote rather than brushing up on the next day's offensive line opponents.
Yes, it's that season again, when the machinations of the Bowl Championship Series formula become magnified and the BCS dodges missiles. Other than maybe FEMA and Rafael Palmeiro, it's hard to recall any more convenient target for abuse.
You might recall that the BCS last year took its annual thrashing largely over the controversy in the coaches poll created by Texas' odd, 11th-hour jump in popularity over California. The Associated Press, whose poll was folded into the coaches' for BCS tabulations, begged out of the reckoning for 2005.
So a new poll was needed. Voila, the Harris Interactive Poll, a panel of 114 voters, including former college players (Buckner is one), coaches, administrators and media.
What's wrong with that, you ask.
Where do we begin?
How about the fact it's 114 guys? There's more perfume at Augusta National. Much of the panel is a classic good-old-boys network — sample the names: Terry Bradshaw, Earle Bruce, Eddie Crowder, Bill Dooley, Bump Elliott, Foge Fazio, Roy Kramer, Mike Lude, Mike McGee, George Perles, Homer Rice, Pat Richter, Harvey Schiller, Dick Schultz, Frank Windegger, Bill Yeoman.
No numbers on this, but it's also a very white group. That makes it a nice complement to the pale landscape of college football coaches.
This week, Harris unleashed its first poll, and mostly, it looked like a lot of other polls. Then you got down to the "Others receiving votes," and Idaho had five points. Imagine how the Vandals will jump up when they get their first win. They're 0-4.
Not only is there not a quality-control check, there's no accountability until the final vote. Until then, the ballots will not be revealed. Wasn't that the leading absurdity that tainted the coaches poll?
Let's be honest. There are frequent anomalies in polls, just as there is great difficulty in cleansing them of bias. But this one is more laden with potential conflict of interest than anything since Boss Tweed in 19th-century New York.
Is Lee Roy Selmon going to be able to forget the fact his brother Lucious is on the Michigan State staff? Can Rocket Ismail be more objective about Notre Dame than he has been when sugar-coating the Irish on TV? Does Terry Bradshaw know what day they play college football?
Harris organizers have said it's OK when Idaho shows up in the voting; they approach it like the normal opinion survey, where the majority of clear-thinking, conscientious people — as surely most are in this panel — outweigh the 2 percent of nut cases who can't name the last three U.S. presidents.
Incidentally, also floating around now is a non-binding poll called the Masters Coaches Survey, done by a panel of 16 ex-coaches including Don James.
A confession: I was asked in August to join the Harris panel, and gave it serious thought. Not for any high-minded reason, I declined. For one, they wouldn't tell me who else was on it, and it seemed a little screwy to pledge a fraternity without being introduced to the membership.
Nothing against Idaho, but I'm not second-guessing myself.
the piano player
In anticipation of No. 9 Louisville's matchup at South Florida, Cardinals athletic director Tom Jurich and a couple of staffers arrived early in Tampa. They got in some golf, and a couple of nights before the game, had a nice meal at a prominent steakhouse.
In the restaurant's famous dessert room, the piano player serenaded the Louisville trio with "My Old Kentucky Home," to which Jurich and Co. sang a few verses. Then the pianist called out, "Go Wildcats!"
Of course, that's the nickname of Louisville's rival, Kentucky. It might have been an omen, for South Florida — only in its ninth year of football existence — which stomped the Cardinals, 45-14.
It was an astonishing weekend all around Tampa. Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden was there to finish a piece chronicling the rise of Louisville. The Bulls trashed that.
Since going to Division I-A in 2001, South Florida has talked of joining the so-called "big three" of Florida schools. USF plays at Miami tomorrow night and has games in 2008-09 with Florida.
Tobacco road spat
There was plenty of bad blood when North Carolina upset N.C. State last week, with two different dustups between players in pregame warmups. One of them was caused when a handful of UNC players paused in front of N.C. State's tunnel as Wolfpack players were spilling out of it.
Larry Edwards, a UNC linebacker, claimed he and his teammates were "saying a prayer for the victims of hurricanes Rita and Katrina," and became infuriated when N.C. State interrupted. N.C. State coach Chuck Amato was seen gesticulating to UNC coach John Bunting, extended his hand, and Bunting refused to respond. They did shake briefly after the game.
Amato, the former Florida State coach, is losing friends in Raleigh, where the school poured millions into new facilities upon his arrival in 2000. But N.C. State is only 20-22 in Atlantic Coast Conference games on Amato's watch.
Lighting up the desert
The comparison is too obvious to go unnoticed. USC, the two-time defending national champ, visits Arizona State this week — just about the point in the season two-time titlist Nebraska went to Tempe in 1996 and left with a 19-0 shiner. The Sun Devils went on to the Rose Bowl and Nebraska became the last team to fail in a bid to win three straight crowns.
"It comes up because of the circumstances," ASU quarterback Sam Keller said this week. "But it is irrelevant. We're a different team than the '96 team, and USC is a better team than that Nebraska team."
He's right there. These two might combine for 19 points before ABC (Ch. 4) has a chance to call its first timeout.
Each team is top-five nationally in passing offense and total offense. Their combined average total offense is 1,207.5 yards, combined average points is 106.3.
"We're going to try to score every time we get the ball," Keller said. "Given that their offense is so darned good, if they score a lot of points, we're going to have to score a lot of points, too. I could see there being a shootout, but I think our defense is good, too."
And what's more ...
• For the first time in 69 years of AP polls, Iowa State plays Nebraska when the Cyclones (23rd) are ranked and the Huskers aren't. Both are 3-0.
• Baylor, which shocked Texas A&M 35-34 in Waco a year ago, still has some skeletons. It's 0-36 in Big 12 road games since the league realigned.
• Missouri (2-1), which hosts Texas, hasn't beaten a top-five team in 27 games, or since 1978.
• Pitt (1-3) is taking its lumps, but coach Dave Wannstedt has stockpiled 17 recruiting commitments and says the class will be "top 10, possibly better."
• First it was Jordan Kent, the basketball/track star, joining the Oregon football team. Now Tommy Skipper, NCAA pole vault and Pac-10 decathlon champ, has been added as a receiver.
• New world order? Michigan State (4-0) hosts Michigan (2-2) tomorrow with the Wolverines out of the AP top 25 for the first time since 1998. It comes after Wisconsin's first win over Michigan in seven tries.
• If embattled coach Rich Brooks is going down at Kentucky, he's going down swinging. Criticized for uninspired performances by his team, he paused at the end of a teleconference this week and said, "I was just wondering if anybody covering Louisville was going to go ask them why their coach had them come out flat."
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company