By Brad Edwards, Special to ESPN.com
Using the average team rankings between the preseason coaches poll and the major preview magazines along with the exclusive 2003 schedule strength ratings from NationalChamps.net, ESPN.com released an unofficial version of what they called the Preseason BCS rankings. NationalChamps.net proudly presents the 2004 version.

1. Arkansas 1547
2. Georgia Tech 1483
3. Virginia Tech 1482
4. Kansas 1479
5. Texas A&M 1478
6. North Carolina State 1468
7. Notre Dame 1463
8. Oregon State 1462
9. Texas Tech 1422
10. Florida 1382
11. North Carolina 1368
12. Vanderbilt 1360
13. South Carolina 1357
14. Clemson (tie) 1350
15. Florida State (tie) 1350
16. Northwestern 1347
17. Arizona 1337
18. Wake Forest 1323
19. Georgia 1322
20. Baylor 1316
21. Kentucky 1311
22. Virginia 1307
23. Michigan State 1280
24. Arizona State 1275
25. Maryland 1264
26. Iowa 1262
27. Ohio State 1250
28. Stanford 1236
29. Miami FL 1231
30. Indiana 1228
31. Duke 1219
32. Auburn 1218
33. Tennessee 1211
34. Colorado 1210
35. Purdue (tie) 1209
36. Penn State (tie) 1209
37. Washington 1207
38. Louisiana State 1200
39. UCLA 1198
40. Houston 1196
41. Oklahoma 1172
42. Michigan (tie) 1171
43. Illinois (tie) 1171
44. Alabama 1147
45. Mississippi 1131
46. Oklahoma State 1126
47. California 1118
48. Minnesota 1114
49. Mississippi State 1108
50. Brigham Young 1093
51. Nebraska 1092
52. Wisconsin 1086
53. Louisiana Tech 1085
54. Iowa State 1081
55. Washington State 1080
56. Colorado State 1070
57. Texas 1060
58. Oregon 1053
59. Kansas State 1037
60. Syracuse 1028
61. Missouri 1010
62. Temple 984
63. Marshall 974
64. Southern Cal 944
65. UNLV 942
66. Cincinnati 939
67. Southern Miss 915
68. San Diego State 885
69. Louisville 804
70. Bowling Green 800
71. UCF 793
72. New Mexico 787
73. UAB 782
74. East Carolina 781
75. Arkansas State 773
76. Ball State 766
77. Pittsburgh 743
78. SMU 741
79. Western Michigan 725
80. Troy State 715
81. West Virginia 699
82. Miami OH 696
83. South Florida 683
84. Utah State 678
85. Ohio 673
86. Akron 668
87. Boston College 664
88. Army 658
89. Idaho (tie) 655
90. Wyoming (tie) 655
91. Rutgers 635
92. Rice 624
93. Fresno State 622
94. Toledo 617
95. Northern Illinois 612
96. Memphis 597
97. Eastern Michigan 593
98. Air Force 588
99. Kent State 577
100. Tulane 565
101. TCU 560
102. Connecticut 559
103. San Jose State 546
104. Utah 539
105. Tulsa 529
106. Buffalo 528
107. Louisiana-Monroe 527
108. Central Michigan 525
109. North Texas 507
110. New Mexico State 499
111. UTEP 493
112. Nevada 474
113. Middle Tennessee 471
114. Hawaii 467
115. Louisiana-Lafayette 428
116. Boise State 427
117. Navy 327
Geez, not only does Arkansas Head Coach Houston Nutt have to contend with the fact that 18 starters need replacing in 2004; he now has to battle the nation's top rated preseason schedule according to our calculations. The 11-game slate on the Hog plate:
  • Two Top 4 teams (Georgia, LSU)
  • Three Top 10 teams (Georgia, LSU, Texas)
  • Eight Top 50 opponents
  • A six game stretch consisting of six Top 40 teams (Sept. 25 - Nov. 13)
  • A three game stretch versus three Top 13 teams, two on the road (at Florida, at Auburn, Georgia).


For over a decade, NationalChamps.net - as well as fans - have ridiculed the Hokies' schedule for being full of cupcakes. Either Coach Frank Beamer or Athletic Director Jim Weaver heard the outcry and have put together the third toughest schedule on our list. Much of the reason has to do with joining a new ACC, which still includes nemesis Miami. However, the non-conference slate includes a preseason special versus the defending national champion USC Trojans and a continuation of their rivalry versus Big East neighbor (and highly touted) West Virginia. Could all of those one-loss Virginia Tech teams through the 1990's have managed the same record under these circumstances? Only 2004 will tell the tale. In the long run, this will only help the program, take our word for it or not.


With the ACC only one year removed from becoming a 12-team conference (Boston College joins in 2005), the current 11-team version already demonstrates why the ACC is the toughest it's ever been throughout the league's history. All but two ACC teams (nine) dot our SOS Top 25 for 2004 - the most of any conference. Of course, this only makes sense considering five ACC teams sit in the Top 20 Preview rankings. We find it quite amazing that teams such as NC State and Georgia Tech, while being ranked in the Top 40, are being predicted to finish in the bottom half of the pack. But it's more than that...the ACC has managed to keep the non-conference slates full of big time opponents such as Florida, Georgia, Ohio State and USC.


NationalChamps.net still continues to use the same sliding scale formula as last year, where you receive more credit for playing higher ranked opponents. For example, the formula awards Team A more points for playing the #1 and #85 ranked opponents as opposed to Team B playing the #35 and #36 ranked opponents. However, unlike most computer versions, where they have a skewed version of a preseason poll that more resembles the season before, NationalChamps.net operates under a human notion by utilizing our current Top 50 rankings as decided on by people. All 117 teams are assigned two different point totals based on either a home or road score. For an 11-game schedule, we add the points assigned to each opponent depending on whether the game is on the road or at home. The importance is to realize the difference between the #46 team and the #62 team, which basically is not much on any given Saturday. Thus, teams falling outside the Top 50 are grouped into tiers instead of attempting to put an exact ranking label on each one. The difference in tier points on the lower end of the rankings is kept at a minimum (very small sliding scale). In other words playing UCLA at home is no different than playing Arizona State at home. Playing Louisiana-Lafayette is no different than playing Idaho.


Didn't you just know the BCS system would get tinkered with this off-season after the dual national championship debacle of 2003? It's as if tinkering with the system will fix a situation where you have multiple teams with the same record complaining. In a highly questionable move, NCAA heads have now removed SOS and "Quality Win" totals out of the formula. In other words, it doesn't matter who you play…just win, baby.

Southern California - Thumbs down for the USC Trojans and the non-championship game Pac Ten conference. As ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit was quoted as saying last fall when Oklahoma and LSU were awarded the BCS Championship Bowl slots, "Don't cry for USC...they don't play a conference championship game." Yes, the Trojans face ONE Top 25 opponent in 2004, that being 20th ranked Cal. This can be reflected in their paltry 64th schedule ranking. In defense of USC, the Pac Ten is down in terms of Top 25 competition and the non-conference slate of Virginia Tech, Colorado State, BYU and Notre Dame is nothing to scoff at during most seasons. But, it just so happens that these teams are all on the current preseason downswing.

Utah - OK, maybe not a BCS title shot, then again...just win baby (see above note). The Utes can be found in many of the current Top 25 preseason polls. In fact, Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com even has Utah as his #10 team. Hmmmm...Utah finished #21 in last year's AP Poll...Utah has a hot second-year coach in Urban Meyer...Utah has 14 starters back from a 10-2 campaign...Utah plays the nation's 104th ranked schedule! Besides our own foresightfulness (see our 2004 Utah preview), our hats are off to Ivan Maisel for having the fortitude to see this one coming. If the Utes get by the Labor Day Weekend Thursday opener on ESPN versus Texas A&M, it could be the start of something real special in Salt Lake City - not one Top 50 team would be left on the list.

West Virginia - A large buzz was created when Athlon Sports picked WVU as their #5 team. If we had 25 cents for every time the question "why" came up, arcade games could be free for the rest of our lives. So why? With 16 starters back, including practically an all-senior lineup at their offensive skill positions, and the 81st SOS rank, the Mountaineers play the weakest schedule of anyone in our Top 24. The toughest opponent is #19 Maryland in Morgantown, versus a team that has manhandled WVU the last four outings. Watch out Coach Friedgen! The entire Big East was decimated by the departure of Miami and Virginia Tech. In fact, on only three occasions since 1991 has a team other than Virginia Tech or Miami won the Big East outright (WVU 1993, Syracuse 1997 & 1998). You really cannot blame the remaining conference teams for their lack of a 2004 schedule while trying to piece one together on such short notice. But maybe, just maybe, the cause and effect of these departures could turn out to be the biggest blessing in disguise for a team like WVU in 2004. Burn those couches down in Sunnyside.

There are three teams who are making an attempt to climb out of their respective cellars. Kansas made the biggest push in 2003 under second year coach Mark Mangino, a season culminating in KU's first bowl invite since 1995. So the Jayhawks were rewarded with the Big XII's toughest schedule (#4 overall SOS). Eight bowl teams are on the slate. Starting the first week of October: Nebraska, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Missouri...Oh my! Texas A&M did not fair much better in the SOS results (#5 overall SOS) while trying to get new coach Dennis Franchione off the quickly built hot seat. Closing strong will be difficult once again (to say the least), with Oklahoma and Texas dotting the final two-out-of-three match ups...Oh my!
Notre Dame just cannot catch a break in the new millennium. According to some faithful Domers, admission requirements are too high, classes too challenging, and coaching selections have been handled poorly. We might add for the 116th time since 1887, their schedule is loaded. Roll those dollars...Oh my!

The Naval Academy finishes last in the NationalChamps.net SOS rankings. Thus is the case for any low-major independent. Well, Navy is the only low-major independent since UConn joined the Big East and Troy State joined the Sun Belt. Head coach Paul Johnson took a 2-10 Navy team in his first season to an 8-5 bowl team in his second season. Was it a product of schedule? Maybe so, but I-AA opponents surely cannot be the sole reason for the low ranking as the Delaware Blue Hens made an unfitting Homecoming opponent for Navy last fall by visiting Annapolis and marching out with a 21-17 victory. Delaware marched all the way to a I-AA championship. The Blue Hens remain on the Navy 2004 schedule and could be one of the toughest opponents on the list.