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March 13

  Hoops and Helmets for 2004/2005  
  Which schools have the best combination of football and hoops? 

By Richard Cirminiello | 2002 Hoops & Helmets | 2003 Hoops & Helmets | 2004 Hoops & Helmets
All-Time Greatest Hoops &  Helmets

If you’re an alum or an ardent backer of a particular school’s football program, it’s a safe bet that you closely monitor the hoops team as well.  Especially when the calendar page turns to March.  If that program happens to be Utah or Louisville, the odds are even better that you’ll be needing cosmetic surgery to remove the smile from your face.  As a fan, you’ve had plenty of reasons to feel the local pride these past six months.

Some campuses like USC, Georgia and Michigan have had little to crow about since the bowl season ended.  Countless others, like Washington, Duke and Illinois, couldn’t wait until the football season was over and Midnight Madness commenced.  Only the truly fortunate have feasted their eyes and their emotions on quality products in both major sports.

As in the past, the focus of this unconventional Sweet 16 is on those fans who’ve had their cake and dunked it too.  They bowled in the winter and now they’re preparing to dance on into the postseason. 

1. Utah – Urban Meyer’s departure aside, not much went wrong in Utah this past winter.  The football team capped a perfect season with a blowout Fiesta Bowl win, becoming the first non-BCS team to ever earn a BCS bowl berth.  And behind Aussie import Andrew Bogut, the Utes swept through the Mountain West with a 13-1 regular season mark on the hardwood.  The Top 15 squads have combined to go an irrational 39-5 over the past six months to give Salt Lake City its most highlights since the Winter Olympics set up shop for three weeks in 2002.          
Winter co-MVPs – QB Alex Smith and C Andrew Bogut

2. LouisvilleIf not for a heartbreaking three-point loss to Miami last Oct. 14, Louisville plays in a BCS bowl game, and likely supplants Utah as this year’s head honcho in hoops and helmets.  The 11-1 Cards combined a point-a-minute offense with an underrated defense to form the best team in school history.  Rick Pitino’s kids have been on cruise control for the past two months, losing just once over that time to sew up the C-USA regular season and tournament titles.  They enter the NCAA Tournament with a 29-4 mark and a No. 4 seed in the Albuquerque regional.     
Winter co-MVPs – QB Stefan LeFors and G Francisco Garcia 

3. OklahomaFor the second straight year, the Sooners dispatched all comers in the regular season, only to take it on the chin in the BCS Championship game.  The Orange Bowl loss to USC, however, can’t erase a memorable season, which featured 12 wins, a Big XII title, a shutout of Texas and the debut of freshman sensation Adrian Peterson.  Kelvin Sampson has engineered quite a turnaround in basketball.  One year after being a rare no-show in the NCAA Tournament, the Sooners were the top seed in the Big XII tournament, and head to the Austin bracket as the No. 3 seed.             
Winter co-MVPs – RB Adrian Peterson and QB Jason White

4. TexasFor the third year in-a-row, the ‘Horns are Top 5 timber in this space, but it sure hasn’t been easy.  The losses of P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge to academics and a hip injury, respectively, helped keep the basketball team on the bubble for the past month, and clawing for their seventh consecutive tournament bid.  In the fall, on the other hand, Texas experienced a breakthrough.  No, they didn’t beat Oklahoma, but they did play in a school-first BCS bowl game, a thrilling, last-second Rose Bowl defeat of Michigan to finish 11-1.   
Winter MVP –
RB Cedric Benson

5. Connecticut – If the wide expanse between Randy Edsall and Jim Calhoun continues to gradually narrow, UConn will be a fixture here for the foreseeable future.  Edsall and the football program achieved new milestones in 2004, winning nine games in their Big East maiden voyage, and earning the school’s first bowl invite, a 39-10 spanking of Toledo.  After taking half the season to locate their mojo, the reigning national champs are beginning to percolate as they prepare to defend their basketball crown.  The 22-7 Big East co-champs in the regular season are seeded second in the Syracuse bracket.
Winter MVP – C Josh Boone

6. Boston CollegeOnce a candidate for a No. 1 seed, the 24-4 Eagles limp into March, losers of four of their last eight games, and owners of a still-respectable No. 4 seed in the Chicago regional.  BC rode the broad shoulders of Craig Smith to a 20-0 start, rising as high as No. 4 in the polls.  In football, it was a pretty typical fall under Tom O’Brien; nine wins and a December bowl victory for the fifth straight year.  They earned a share of the Big East title, but would have won it outright, and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, if not for an incomprehensible gag to Syracuse in the regular season finale.       
Winter MVP – F Craig Smith

7. Wisconsin Defense, defense, defense.  Both Badger teams had plenty of it this winter, and while it hasn’t produced any titles yet, it has been the catalyst for an aggregate winning percentage of .750.  On Nov. 13, Wisconsin was 9-0, and had dreams of a Rose Bowl or maybe more.  However, they were humbled that afternoon by Michigan State, which began a three-game, season-ending slide.  Bo Ryan’s cagers have been typically stingy, en route to their third straight twenty-win season, and a No. 6 seed in the Syracuse regional.
Winter co-MVPs –
DE Erasmus James and F Mike Wilkinson 

8. IowaSurprising late-season rallies and perseverance have been the Hawkeyes’ calling card in 2004-05.  In the fall, Iowa battled through a slew of season-ending injuries in the backfield to reel off an eight-game winning streak, punctuated by a 56-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the Capital One Bowl to stun LSU.  In basketball, Iowa overcame the February dismissal of leading scorer Pierre Pierce to gut out 21 wins and one of the final at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.        
Winter MVP – QB Drew Tate

9. LSU – In Baton Rouge, football was down a bit, and basketball was up a bit.  Put them together, and you’ve got an above average season for sports fans on the Bayou.  A couple of early-season SEC losses ended any chance of the Tigers repeating as the BCS champion.  However, they rebounded nicely late in the year, and came within a miracle on the final play of the Capital One Bowl from finishing in the Top 10.  LSU has put a saddle on sophomore Brandon Bass, and ridden him to 20 wins and a share of the SEC West title.  Bass became the first Tiger since Shaq to be named SEC Player of the Year.
Winter MVP – F Brandon Bass

10. Oklahoma StateA disappointing end to the football season was offset by yet another terrific year from Eddie Sutton’s kids.  The Cowboys got off to a 5-0, raising expectations beyond their youthful capabilities.  A 2-5 finish, however, included gut-wrenching losses to Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, and a blowout at the hands of Ohio State in the Alamo Bowl.  Adding insult to injury was the departure of popular head coach Les Miles to LSU in January.  Led by one of the best one-two punches in America in Joey Graham and John Lucas, OSU shook off a shaky close to the regular season to win the Big XII and rise to the No. 2 seed.      
Winter co-MVPs – F Joey Graham and G John Lucas

11. Texas Tech – The Masked Rider has been wearing out his pony thanks to the breakthroughs both teams have had this year.  While the Red Raiders won 20 games under Bobby Knight for the fourth straight year, they reached the Big XII tournament final for the first time since the league was formed nearly a decade ago.  In football,  Mike Leach led Tech to eight wins, none bigger than the dismantling of then-No. 4 Cal in the Holiday Bowl.  It was the type of signature victory that could benefit the program for the next few years.    Winter MVP – G Ronald Ross

12. Pittsburgh No one seemed to really want the Big East championship this year, so Pittsburgh snuck in with a huge win in the Backyard Brawl, and earned a fat paycheck to be Utah’s speed bag in the Fiesta Bowl.  The 2004 season marked the anticipated debut of quarterback Tyler Palko and the expected departure of head coach Walt Harris.  Indoors, the Panthers have been rather schizophrenic.  The same squad that lost to Bucknell and St. Johns also won road games at UConn, Syracuse and Boston College.  At 20-8, they’re the No. 9 in the Albuquerque region.
Winter MVP –
F Chevon Troutman

13. North CarolinaThe Tar Heels have risen from their four-year slumber, and are back among the nation’s elite in college basketball.  That return to glory in hoops, coupled with the school’s first bowl game in three years, made for the most exciting winter in Chapel Hill since 1997.  On the hardwood, the top-seeded Heels are 27-4 and fresh off their first outright regular season ACC title since 1993.  On the gridiron, Carolina won the required six games needed to qualify for the Continental Tire Bowl and save John Bunting’s job.  The high water mark came when Connor Barth’s last-second field stunned Miami, causing fans to storm the field and tear down the goal posts.
Winter MVP
– F Sean May

14. FloridaAfter an un-Gator like 7-5 season, the program’s worst since 1989, recognition here seemed far-fetched last fall.  However, ever since Ron Zook got the hook, things have been looking up in Gainesville.  Florida won in Tallahassee for the first time in nearly two decades, replaced Zook with Urban Meyer, the nation’s most sought after head coach, and closed strong in hoops with seven wins, including a 70-53 mauling of Kentucky to give the Gators their first tournament title in school history.  Florida has run their record to 23-7, and earned their No. 4 seeding.     
Winter co-MVPs –
QB Chris Leak and G Anthony Roberson

15. West Virginia Surprise, surprise.  The Mountaineer basketball and football teams pulled a role reversal this winter with the latter underachieving and the former picking up the slack and overachieving.  Neither team made much sense this year.  In basketball, West Virginia jumped out to an improbable 10-0 start, displayed a softer middle than Mr. Incredible and then rallied for an at-large berth by becoming the first No. 8 seed in Big East history to reach the title game.  Football, too, had a fast start, but with expectations soaring, and a league crown reportedly just a formality, the ‘eers got waxed in November, and dropped a bowl game for the 11th time in 12 tries.
Winter MVP – QB Rasheed Marshall

16. UTEP – Definitely the most improbable of this year’s H&H Sweet 16.  The Miners won 27 games and the WAC tournament, neither of which would register on the Richter Scale.  The football team’s performance, however, was jarring enough to cause a shift at the San Andreas fault line.  Mike Price inherited a UTEP program mired in a freefall, and coming off a 2-11 season, and led them to eight unlikely victories, a second-place finish in the WAC and a postseason invite to face Colorado in the Houston Bowl.       
Winter MVP – G Omar Thomas 

On the Bubble: Georgia Tech, Minnesota, Ohio State, Southern Illinois, Miami, New Mexico, Arizona State, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Miami (OH), UCLA, Cincinnati, Syracuse and Alabama

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