NCAA Wrapping up the '07 season

NCAA Wrapping up the '07 season

Wrapping up the '07 season
January 8th, 2008

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Congratulations go out to LSU for winning the BCS championship game over Ohio State, 38-24. Excitement pervaded the Louisiana Superdome throughout the contest, as the Tigers became the first team ever to win the title with two losses.

Down 10-0 early, LSU stormed back to tie the game at 10-10, and never looked back after Matt Flynn hit Brandon LaFell in the back of the end zone for a 17-10 lead. Flynn, 2-0 in bowl games, was voted the offensive player of the game, the same honor he received in '05 when the Tigers rolled past Miami- Florida in the Peach Bowl.

For the second straight year, the Buckeyes failed when it mattered most, getting hammered by an SEC club in the BCS title game. Once again, they broke out on top, this time with a 65-yard TD scamper from Chris Wells, but with the score tied at 10-10, a blocked field goal attempt ruined what could have been another Ohio State lead. LSU took advantage by parading down the field for a 17-10 lead, and you could have turned your television sets off there.

Can the Tigers accomplish what Ohio State did and reach the championship game for a second straight season? The odds will be stacked against them as the defense loses Glenn Dorsey and three-quarters of its secondary. In addition, they must travel to Auburn and Florida, two games that were played in Baton Rouge in 2007.

BOWL RECAP

Favorites won everything in sight early this bowl season, taking 13 of the first 15 contests. However, it was a different story against the spread as the underdogs covered seven of the final 15. The SU tide began to turn once the more important bowls hit the schedule, with favorites winning only eight of the next 14. The dogs prevailed more often than not with an 8-6 mark from New Year's Eve through the Orange Bowl.

What was the main reason for the drop-off in SU victories? The proliferation of higher-profile clubs squaring off against each other. There are two discernable sections, if you will, when discussing this phenomenon: pre= and post-New Year's Eve contests, and it's easy to see the difference.

Prior to December 31, there were seven games involving two BCS clubs. The favored team won all seven, while covering five. On the other hand, from New Year's Eve forward, just over half of the favorites (six of 10) recorded straight up wins, with only half attaining the ATS victory.

It's obvious looking back that once the more important bowl games rolled around, the better the matchups became. Therefore, more underdogs were able to come out ahead. In fact, five of the six dogs that covered were SU victors as well: Oregon, Auburn, Michigan, West Virginia and Kansas.

Favorites compiled a 3-0 SU and ATS record the last three games, finishing up with an impressive 24-8 SU mark (75%) and an above .500 ATS record at 17-15 (53%). Those numbers compare very favorably to the last couple of seasons when the betting choice combined for a straight up winning percentage of 66% and an abysmal 43% winning percentage against the spread.

How did BCS teams fare when matched-up against non-BCS schools? As Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame would say, "Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good." There were eight such instances, beginning with Cincinnati vs. Southern Miss and ending with Rutgers against Ball State, and six of the eight picked up SU wins, with five ATS victories. Finally, there were six bowl games involving two non-BCS schools, and those matchups were dominated by the favorites at 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS.

CONFERENCE RECAPS

The bowl games reinforced how much better the SEC and Pac-10 were over their competition. The two leagues were the only ones from the six BCS conferences to finish in the 90s in my power numbers, and the only pair to post an above .500 ATS mark in the bowls, not to mention a combined 11 of 15 straight up victories.

For the record, the SEC ended the year with a combined power total of 91.33, while the Pac-10 finished at 90.65. The Big 12 came in third at 89.13 followed by the Big East (88.06), the Big Ten (88.05) and the ACC at a dismal 86.29.

The bowl results showed just how realistic those numbers are, as the SEC went 7-2 SU and 6-3 ATS, while the Pac-10 won four of six SU and five of six ATS. The Big 12 (5-3) and Big East (3-2) were the only other BCS league to compile winning bowl records. On the flip side, the Big Ten finished 3-5 both SU and ATS, with the ACC ranking last at 2-6 SU, 3-5 ATS.

Of the non-BCS leagues, the MWC (81.33) proved why it was about a touchdown better than Conference USA (74.67) and the WAC (74.06) with an extremely impressive 4-1 SU bowl record. The only loss came from Air Force, and if quarterback Shaun Carney hadn't gotten hurt, the Falcons could very well have defeated California.

Conference USA won only two of six matchups, while the WAC finished 1-3. The two leagues were a combined 4-6 ATS. The MAC lost all three of its bowl games, registering just one cover: Central Michigan against Purdue. Navy was the lone Independent representative, and the Midshipmen fought tooth and nail with Utah before falling by three.

Finally, I can't say enough about the Sun Belt. Much maligned over the years, the league had a remarkable season capped off with a New Orleans Bowl victory as Florida Atlantic cruised past Memphis, 44-27. The conference will never make waves in any BCS conversations but when was the last time a bottom-feeder league defeated teams from the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten in the same season?

THE FINAL TOP 10

West Virginia and USC finished tied for first with a power number of 106.5, more than a field goal ahead of Missouri.

Here is the final breakdown for 2007:

1-T) USC and West Virginia, 106.5; 3) Missouri, 103; 4) Oklahoma, 102.5; 5-T) LSU and Kansas, 101.5; 7) Ohio State, 101; 8) Virginia Tech, 100.5; 9-T) Georgia and Florida, 100

My final regular season record was a disappointing 48-50-3, but an 8-4 bowl record brought the final total above the .500 mark at 56-54-3.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2008

Next season's key game comes on September 13 when Ohio State goes out west to take on USC. If the Trojans win that game, they will have a great opportunity to run the table, since their toughest league game might actually be a road contest at Arizona.

The Pac-10 was the second-best conference in the land this past season, but could be fourth of fifth next year. Oregon will be without Dennis Dixon and if Jonathan Stewart applies for the NFL draft, the offense will be a shell of its former self. UCLA loses almost every key defensive starter, while Cal and Oregon State are certainly not of the caliber they were a couple of years back.

Arizona State should be decent, but the Trojans have beaten the Sun Devils eight straight times and 2008's matchup is a home game. By process of elimination, the Wildcats could be USC's most difficult conference tilt.

The SEC and Big 12 will both be strong once again as Georgia, Florida and LSU each have a chance to reach the BCS Championship game, while the same could be said for the Big 12 contingent of Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas. Choosing which two clubs will be in the next BCS title game is always risky, but the early lead goes to USC and Oklahoma.

A FEW SURPRISES

A couple of non-bowl teams to watch for next year are N.C. State and Pittsburgh. The Wolfpack were in trouble early this season when running back Toney Baker was lost in the opener, and then proceeded to lose five of their first six games. However, quarterback Daniel Evans hit his groove in midseason sparking a four-game winning streak, including a victory over Virginia. Look for more improvement in Tom O'Brien's second year in Raleigh.

After getting off to a 2-4 start, Pittsburgh won three of its final six with big "W's" over West Virginia and Cincinnati. The Panthers have been extremely mediocre since Dave Wannstedt hit town three years ago winning only 16 of 35 contests, but the time is now for his prized recruits to make a huge splash. Don't be shocked if they win the Big East.

Two squads that reached bowl games in 2007 that should be even better in '08 are: Fresno State and Colorado. The former dismantled Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl on its way to a 9-4 season, while the latter came up short against Alabama in the Independence Bowl.

The Bulldogs have a great chance at overtaking Hawaii and Boise State in the WAC next season, especially with quarterback Tom Brandstater back for his senior campaign. The signal-caller improved his QB rating by over 30 points while completing 63% of his passes. He also turned around his TD-INT ratio going from 13-14 in '06 to 15-5 this past season.

Dan Hawkins will begin his third season in Boulder next year and the Buffaloes already picked up their play by compiling a .500 regular season. Don't forget they lost their first six games just two years ago on their way to a 2-10 campaign.

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NEW YEAR'S BOWL RECAP

Let’s see. We’ve got Georgia, Southern Cal, and Virginia Tech, all with legitimate (or semi-legitimate) claims for a spot in the BCS title game. Instead, they’re thrown back into the mix for other BCS bowl games.

And none of them ending up facing the other?

What good, we ask, is the BCS, if the best it can do is offer a questionable national title matchup, and can’t even put the next-best teams together in its other bowl games?

And this isn’t just hindsight. Certainly, right at the outset on “BCS Selection Sunday,” Georgia and Southern Cal were more than a bit disappointed with their "no-win" bowl-game assignments. As we saw in the Sugar Bowl, Hawaii was no Boise State from a year ago, and was simply no match for the Bulldogs in what proved to be an embarrassing mismatch in the Sugar Bowl. Meanwhile, the Rose Bowl committee’s decision to keep alive its archaic Pac 10-Big Ten structure boomeranged with Illinois’ performance against SC. The Illini probably belonged in the Alamo or Champs Sports Bowl, not the Rose Bowl. It wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to figure that a Missouri, or West Virginia, or Kansas, or even Tennessee, would have been better opposition for the Trojans in Pasadena than the Illini.

Before we go any further, we understand (sort of) why the Rose Bowl didn’t take Missouri or one of the other teams mentioned. BCS by-laws limit to two the number of teams from any given conference to play in its bowl games. There’s also the BCS pecking order, not too different from a “draft” of the eligible teams. Its non-title bowl games don’t necessarily get to pick the best matchup available. They pick the teams in order, with, of course, the Pac-10 or Big Ten champs (if not selected for the BCS title game) slotted into the Rose Bowl, the SEC champ into the Sugar, ACC champ into the Orange, and Fiesta with the Big XII winner. The Big East champ, any at-large teams, and, when eligible, Notre Dame, get the chances to oppose those teams.

So, what good really is the BCS, beyond its title game matchup, which often hasn’t been much of a matchup at all?

Nonetheless, here are a few of our post-New Year’s bowl observations.

1) Do Georgia or Southern Cal deserve consideration in a split national championship scenario? Perhaps, but it’s not likely. In a season in which so many teams slipped on the proverbial banana peel, both of these teams did so twice. In Georgia’s case, the fact it didn’t even win the SEC East (it tied for the top spot with Tennessee, but lost on tiebreakers vs. the Vols) scuttles its bid right off the bat. Ironically, the Bulldogs would have had a claim to BCS honors even with their two losses had Tennessee lost either of its last two regular-season games, vs. Vanderbilt or Kentucky, each of which could have beaten the Volunteers with last-second field goals. A win by either the Commodores or Wildcats would have put Georgia into the SEC title game, and had it beaten LSU once there, it would have likely gotten a bid to the BCS title game. But “what ifs” do not count. Likewise, SC cannot be given a mulligan for its loss to 41-point underdog Stanford, nor does it get absolved from losing at Oregon three weeks later, even if QB John David Booty missed the Ducks game due to injury. Unfortunately, and really through no fault of its own, SC’s schedule didn’t end up helping it this season. Non-conference foes Nebraska and Notre Dame, usually ranked and contending for national honors, each experienced their worst seasons in decades. And when the dust settles in the final polls, SC will not have beaten a team ranked in the top 15, or perhaps even the top 20 if Arizona State slips down the rankings as expected. A national title-winning season needs a real marquee win or two, and for the Trojans, wins over the weakening Sun Devils on Thanksgiving and overmatched Illini in the Rose Bowl don’t qualify.

Realistically, however, the Bulldogs and Trojans might have been playing the best football of any teams at the end of the season, so we can only imagine the fun it would have been to have had some sort of playoff, or even the much-discussed BCS “plus one,” this season. Unfortunately, we don’t, so the Bulldogs and Trojans will likely do no better than second, third, or fourth (depending upon the results of Oklahoma and Virginia Tech’s bowl games) in the final rankings.

2) Biggest New Year’s Day disappointment? Hawaii, by a good margin. The Warriors never even had a look at their game vs. Georgia, which dealt with QB Colt Brennan and June Jones’ Red Gun as if it were Western Kentucky’s offense. No drama whatsoever, as the Warriors were outclassed from the kickoff vs. a faster and more-skilled SEC foe. Sadly, other wins by non-BCS conference reps in recent BCS bowls such as Boise State’s dramatic win over Oklahoma in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, and Utah’s win in the Fiesta vs. Pitt three years ago, are in danger of being forgotten. Georgia’s domination, and Hawaii’s inability to compete, disappointed many.

Close behind Hawaii would have to be Arkansas, which was throttled by Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. The Razorbacks performed like a team beset with distractions, which was exactly the case after the resignation of Houston Nutt, madcap coaching search that eventually settled upon Bobby Petrino, interim HC Reggie Herring and the rest of the staff knowing they would be dismissed after the bowl game, and, finally, the hullabaloo surrounding RB Darren McFadden and his possible ineligibility for the game. At least Arkansas had something of an excuse for its poor showing.

Illinois? The Illini actually made a game of it in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl vs. SC, but a turnover at the goal line, Joe McKnight’s flukish 65-yard run off a fumbled lateral, and another subsequent turnover doomed the Illini. With every bounce and break going against it, Illinois soon became deflated, and no team steps on an opponent’s throat any better than Pete Carroll’s SC. And the rout was on.

3) Biggest BCS shocker: West Virginia over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. We suppose we needed one such "huh?" game in the BCS, and this was it. Under interim HC Bill Stewart, the Mountaineers played like an angry team in Glendale and took out their frustrations on the stunned Sooners, who might have been guilty of reading too many press clippings about how the game was going to be a romp. But they were diced up by the West Virginia spread option, and QB Pat White in particular, whose 151 yards rushing and 2 TD passes paced a 48-28 WVU shocker. When the smoke finally cleared in the desert, the Mountainerrs had piled up 350 yards on the ground in the stunner. And, surprisingly, Stewart was named WVU's permanent head coach the next day. We assume the Mountaineers' performance in the Fiesta had a lot to do with that move. Time will tell if it was a wise, or knee-jerk, decision.

4) Best New Year’s Day individual performance: Missouri RB Tony Temple. His 281 yards rushing absolutely destroyed Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and proved that the Tigers weren’t a one-man team featuring Heisman finalist QB Chase Daniel. It also erased Rice’s Dicky Maegle from the single-game Cotton Bowl rushing record set in 1954 against Alabama with 265 yards (although Maegle didn’t run quite that far; one of those gains the infamous 95-yarder in which Maegle traversed about 50 yards or so before Bama’s Tommy Lewis jumped off the bench on the sidelines and tackled Maegle, who was nonetheless awarded a 95-yard TD by the ref, as he was in flight down the sidelines!). Indeed, with Daniel, Temple, and exciting true frosh WR/KR Jeremy Maclin, Mizzou was as exciting as any team in the country. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see the Tigers vs. a better New Year’s Day foe than distracted Arkansas.

5) Best New Year’s Day storyline: Michigan’s Lloyd Carr winning his final game as Wolverines head coach. This one reminded us a lot of Ohio State’s Earle Bruce winning his finale 23-20 in the 1988 Cotton Bowl against favored Texas A&M. Much like the Buckeyes with Bruce 20 years ago, Michigan dug deep for its retiring (or pushed-out-the-door?) coach, rallying from a late 35-31 deficit to outscore the potent defending national champ Florida and the Gators’ Heisman-winning QB Tim Tebow, 41-35. In a year with so many not-so-pleasant storylines, especially regarding coaches, Carr’s win in his finale proved one of the feel-good moments of the campaign.

Other notes from bowl season...

Biggest individual disappointment:
UCF RB Kevin Smith and the Golden Knights’ offense against Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl. It’s not as if Smith and the UCF offense didn’t have their chances against the Bulldogs, who only gained 201 yards of total offense and didn’t score a TD until the final two minutes of the game. But Smith and the UCF attack couldn’t budge Sylvester Croom’s gnarly defense, which limited Smith to 119 yards on 35 carries (only 3.4 yards per pop) and held the potent Golden Knights without a TD in MSU’s grim 10-3 win. Smith thus ended 61 yards short of breaking Barry Sanders’ all-time single-season rushing mark of 2628 yards set with Oklahoma State in 1988.

Worst performance by a team: Tie between Nevada’s offense and Memphis’ defense. The Wolf Pack’s notorious "Pistol" offense looked more like a popgun in the New Mexico Bowl vs. the host Lobos, who won their first bowl in 47 years with a 23-0 shutout. Hotshot RS frosh QB Colin Kaepernick, who passed for 19 TDs and threw only 3 interceptions after taking over as Nevada QB at midseason, endured a miserable afternoon in Albuquerque vs. Rocky Long’s unorthodox 3-3-5 defense. And Memphis’ defense was practically invisible against Florida Atlantic in the New Orleans Bowl, making Owls QB Rusty Smith look like the second coming of Dan Marino with his 5 TD passes in FAU’s 44-27 romp.

Name teams with no-show team performances: Arizona State and South Florida. The Sun Devils appeared something of a spent force at the end of the regular season, and the four weeks off following the regular-season finale vs. Arizona and the Holiday Bowl vs. Texas apparently didn’t help. The Longhorns ran roughshod, 52-34. Meanwhile, the Bulls looked lost in El Paso against Oregon in the Sun Bowl, run ragged by the Ducks’ 3rd-string QB, Justin Roper, who tossed 4 TD passes while RB Jonathan Stewart rambled for 253 YR in the Ducks’ 56-21 win. Oregon’s offensive performance was also a huge sigh of relief for o.c. Chip Kelly, who had come under criticism late in the season for devising a potent offense that many thought would only work when QB Dennis Dixon was healthy. But given time to prepare, Roper looked quite good, and the Ducks looked like their old selves against USF.

Best warning shot for 2008: Kevin Riley, QB, California. After the Bears were going nowhere behind QB Nate Longshore in the 2nd Q of the Armed Forces Bowl vs. Air Force, HC Jeff Tedford summoned Riley into action. The Bears were never stopped thereafter, driving for six straight TDs as they rallied for a 42-36 win. Riley, whom many believe offers Tedford a lot more upside than the erratic Longshore and with the sort of swagger that Nate can only dream about, completed 16 of 19 passes in the comeback, and served notice that he’ll be the man to beat for the Cal QB job next fall.

Best nostalgic bowl moment: Pat Summerall doing play-by-play for Fox on the Cotton Bowl telecast. We haven't heard the old Giant too much since he was gently nudged from the stage by Fox a few years ago, occasionally getting an NFL regional assignment in recent years. But as a resident of Dallas, and an Arkansas alum, Summrall proved a perfect fit for the Cotton Bowl, with his understated delivery as familiar and welcome as ever. His in-the-booth interview with former Arkansas HC and AD Frank Broyles was the best "for-old-times-sake" moment of the bowl season.

Special commendation: Air Force QB Shaun Carney. What a shame to see Carney go down with a gruesome knee injury just as the Falcons were ready to take a 31-21 lead over Cal in the 3rd Q of the Armed Forces Bowl. With Carney in the lineup, perhaps the Falcons could have staved off Riley and Cal’s rally and simply outscore the Bears, but Air Force lost momentum without its leader and ended up a 6-point loser. Carney, however, rates a winner in our book, though it was a shame to see such a “gamer” go out in the final outing of his gridiron career after never missing a contest due to injury the past four seasons.

A salute to Shaun Carney seems a fitting way to end this bowl recap!

goldsheet.com

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Shocks and ahhs

The top moments of the wild season were two upsets, but there was so much more.

From A (Appalachian State) to Z (Zook, Ron), the 2007 college football season will be remembered as the year everything happened. So many things, in fact, that when Times reporter Chris Dufresne compiled his top 10 moments, some great ones didn't make the final cut, including Kansas' rise from a hayseed program to Orange Bowl glory and Trinity University's 15-lateral, miracle win over Millsaps College. Dufresne's list:

1 The Appalachian upset

The boys from Boone, N.C., kicked off the season Sept. 1 with an almost inexplicable, 34-32 victory over No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor. The stunner was sealed when Corey Lynch blocked a 37-yard field-goal attempt on the final play. Appalachian State became the first lower-division team to beat a top 10 team and the shock waves set the tone for a season of unexpected twists and turns.

The win prompted the Associated Press to change its rules and allow pollsters to cast votes for lower-division schools.

2 Stanford 24, USC 23


Date: Oct. 6. Backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard's 10-yard scoring pass to Mark Bradford with 49 seconds left at the Coliseum lifted Stanford to a win that matched Appalachian State's on the improbability meter. News of the upset nearly stopped play miles away at the Rose Bowl, where USC rivals UCLA and Notre Dame were playing.

For the second straight year, a loss to an inferior team kept USC from playing for the national championship. In 2006, UCLA shocked USC, 13-9, at the Rose Bowl, which denied USC a title-game matchup against Ohio State.

3 Louisiana State wins

LSU spotted Ohio State an early 10-0 lead and then scored the next 31 points on its way to a 38-24 win in the Bowl Championship Series title game. LSU became the first school to win two BCS national titles and the first two-loss team to do it.

LSU and Ohio State were the last teams standing Dec. 2 after a wild weekend that saw No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia lose. Ohio State moved from No. 3 to No. 1 and LSU jumped from No. 7 to No. 2.

4 Hell meets almost Heaven

Almost as shocking as Appalachian State over Michigan and Stanford over USC: West Virginia, a 28-point favorite, needed only to beat lowly Pittsburgh at home Dec. 1 to earn a trip to the national title game. But the Panthers prevailed, 13-9 (what is it about shocking upsets, USC, and that score?). That started a chain reaction that led to Coach Rich Rodriguez's leaving Morgantown for Michigan.

Bill Stewart was appointed West Virginia's interim coach and led the Mountaineers to a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, after which Stewart was selected head coach.

5 Dennis Dixon's injury


One-loss Oregon's very real chances of winning the national title and crowning its first Heisman Trophy winner were crushed Nov. 15 in Tucson when superstar quarterback Dennis Dixon was lost to a season-ending knee injury against Arizona. Dixon, a senior, had injured his knee in Oregon's previous game against Arizona State, but he asked the school to keep the news secret in an effort to continue playing.

Despite wearing a knee brace, Dixon's left knee buckled when he made a cut with 6:01 left in the first quarter. Oregon finished 9-4.

6 Flynn to Byrd

It may have been the play that best defined the tenuous nature of this year's race to the national title. Louisiana State needed only a field goal to beat Auburn on Oct. 20 in Baton Rouge but tempted fate (and the clock) with a bold, if not insane, call in which Matt Flynn hit receiver Demetrius Byrd for the game-winning touchdown pass with one second left.

Had Flynn not been able to get off the pass in time, or taken a sack, LSU would have lost and never played in the national title game.

7 Navy beats Notre Dame

Well, it couldn't last forever. Notre Dame had defeated Navy an NCAA-record 43 straight times before the Midshipmen righted the ship with a triple-overtime win over the Irish in South Bend on Nov. 3. How long had it been? Roger Staubach, in 1963, was the Navy quarterback the last time Navy had prevailed.

The loss dropped Notre Dame to 1-8. Navy had a winning season again under Paul Johnson, who was hired to succeed Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech.

8 Hawaii arrives; Jones leaves

Hawaii spent the whole season trying to prove it was worthy of a BCS bid and earned it by finishing the regular season as the nation's only unbeaten team. The Warriors finished 12-0 and No. 10 in the final BCS standings to earn a Sugar Bowl bid, but the fun ended there.

Georgia crushed Hawaii, 41-10, in New Orleans and then Coach June Jones crushed Hawaii fans by taking the job at Southern Methodist.

9 UCLA fires and hires


This was supposed to be Karl Dorrell's statement year, as the Bruins returned 20 starters on a squad that was ranked No. 14 in the AP preseason poll. But ugly losses to Utah and Notre Dame, plus a rash of injuries, led to a 6-6 finish and Dorrell's firing Dec. 3.

After an extended search, UCLA hired Rick Neuheisel, who once threw passes to Dorrell when they were Bruins teammates in Westwood.

10 Sophomore wins the Heisman

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win college football's most coveted award after a season in which he became the first major college player to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns. Tebow then became the third straight Heisman winner to lose his bowl game, following Reggie Bush in 2005 and Troy Smith in 2006.

latimes.com

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